The RTC Interview Series: Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. To read through the entire 2013-14 preseason interview series, click here. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein.

Jon Rothstein Shares His Big East Preseason Thoughts With Us

Jon Rothstein Shares His Big East Preseason Thoughts With Us

Rush the Court: The new Big East has formed with its roots based almost exclusively on basketball. What will that do for the conference’s reputation from a national standpoint?

Jon Rothstein: I think we are going to have to wait and see how these schools that are left in the conference perform on a national level. From the periphery, I think everyone is looking at the Big East as a conference that can send either five or six teams to the NCAA Tournament. That would put the Big East probably on the same par as the American Athletic Conference. A lot of its reputation is going to be formed by how many teams the Big East will send to the Tournament on a consistent basis.

RTC: Marquette has been the popular preseason pick to win the league. The Golden Eagles lost Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Trent Lockett from last season’s Elite Eight team, so what is it about this season’s squad that makes it so formidable?

Rothstein: This is the deepest and most talented frontcourt that Buzz Williams has had since he has been the head coach at Marquette. On the other hand, this is also going to be the least experienced backcourt that he has had. I initially picked Marquette to win the Big East at the start of the offseason, but going back on it now, I wish I had picked Georgetown to win the league.

RTC: What makes you believe Georgetown has the talent to win the league?

Rothstein: To me, Georgetown replenishes talent as well as any team in the country. The thing about the Hoyas that is interesting to me is that they are able to win with different styles. You saw them feature a perimeter attack when they had Chris Wright, Jason Clark and Austin Freeman. You saw them use an inside attack with Henry Sims leading the way. Last season, we saw Otto Porter really blossom and do a bit of everything. Georgetown always finds a way to win consistently, but it does it in different ways.

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Big East M5: 10.30.13 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on October 30th, 2013

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  1. Renowned college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings for the upcoming season. The Big East comes in as the second best conference in the nation, behind the Big Ten. This is surprising after Louisville, Syracuse, and several other quality teams left, as well as seeing ESPN writer Dan Hanner have the Big East in the middle of the pack of the power seven conferences. Pomeroy has Creighton leading the league, ranked 13th, with Georgetown right behind them at 14. Marquette and Villanova follow at 24 and 26. Pomeroy’s rankings look fairly different than Hanner’s, which has Marquette as the top team in the league and ranks the bottom seven teams lower giving the Big East a much lower rating. Pomeroy admits that his predictions have the “simplest algorithm possible without being a complete joke.” This is not the best way to predict how well a team will play during the season, but it is fun to see what a respected statistician says about the upcoming season. The high ranking for the Big East should give fans optimism and reason to believe the Big East will compete to be one of the top conferences in the nation.
  2. CBS Sports writer Jeff Borzello wrote an interesting piece about the team outside his top 25 that he thinks has the most potential and St. John’s was his clear cut choice. With so much talent, it is easy to see why. The Red Storm return all five starters as well as Jamal Branch and God’s Gift Achiuwa, who will have major roles. He points out that the biggest addition is freshman Rysheed Jordan. Steve Lavin said “He has tremendous poise and makes good judgments on the court. He plays with a hard edge, which is an indication of his competitiveness and that’s why he has had success since a young age on the court.” Jordan was named Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year and his addition raises the potential even higher. Last year’s team also had talent, but a lot of inexperience. This year players like D’Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson will have to take a big step forward in becoming more complete and smarter basketball players. Lavin will also have to impress this year after having a reputation for being a great recruiter, but not being able to win with top talent. All the pieces are in place for this to be a big season in Queens.
  3. Last night, Butler scrimmaged against Nova Southeastern and won handily 101-64. Obviously it was an easy game for them, but it is still nice to see it wasn’t close, as opposed to DePaul‘s scrimmage against Lewis University, which saw the Blue Demons trail at halftime before using an early run in the second half to win by five. Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star took a look at Butler freshman Rene Castro. Castro is a point guard who looks like he could end up being a key contributor this season and possible starter by the end of the season, as Keefer predicts. Castro has a good bit of improving to do especially on the defensive side of the ball and needs to adjust to the college game, but he has impressed and is working hard on his outside shot. First-year coach Brandon Miller could use Castro’s physical abilities to bring another aspect to the team. If Castro is the real deal, he could make sophomore Kellen Dunham’s life much easier by using his quickness to get into the lane and kick it out to him for three’s. Castro has big goals, saying “Our goal is to make the NCAA Tournament and fight for a championship.”
  4. The Big East is benefiting from the thrilling World Series on Fox, as Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal points out. Fox is airing several commercials publicizing the upcoming season on Fox Sports 1 and is reaching millions as game 4 on Sunday night outdrew the NFL. The commercials are pushing it’s opening night games of Providence-Boston College and Lafayette-Villanova. Fox Sports also announced its lineup of announcers for the upcoming season. Besides the already announced star combo of Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery, Justin Kutcher, Dick Stockton, Thom Brennaman, Brian Anderson, Eric Collins and Kevin Kugler will have play-by-play duties and Kevin O’Neill, Gary Williams, Donny Marshall as well as several other former players and coaches will serve as analysts. FS1 has some big names announcing games with Stockton and Brennaman being well-known announcers who have plenty of experience. O’Neill and Williams should be interesting to have in the booth as they will be making their debuts, but have had great success coaching and will have interesting analysis.
  5. The Big East announced that it has hired Tom Jernstedt as senior adviser. He will be tasked with helping commissioner Val Ackerman on officiating, scheduling, postseason play and an entire strategic plan. Jernstedt worked for the NCAA for almost 40 years and Ackerman says that ”few have as keen a grasp as he does of the intricacies of the NCAA and the college basketball world.” ESPN’s Dana O’Neill makes the point that the hiring is very important as it gives the Big East credibility from the start. His past experience will be key in getting the Big East through the tough early stages of establishing itself as a power conference. Their is a lot of work to be done and Ackerman will benefit from having someone who knows the ins and outs of the NCAA and the college basketball world.
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Big East M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013

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  1. New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
  2. Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
  3. One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
  4. Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG:  ”Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: ”[Creighton's] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton's] product is shown nationally.”
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC's] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
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Big East M5: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 16th, 2013

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  1. Welcome back to Rush the Court’s Big East Microsite, fans old and new. Basketball season is nearly upon us, which means we are officially in “long, somewhat arbitrary list” season, and there’s no longer list to obsess over for the next few days than CBS Sports‘ top 100 college hoops players in 2013-14. Six Big East players from six different programs made the group. As one would expect, Creighton’s Doug McDermott headlined the sextet, coming in at the #3 spot, only behind anointed Jayhawk Andrew Wiggins and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. Matt Norlander calls McDermott “the premier scorer in college basketball.” Xavier guard Semaj Christon comes in at #19, Providence guard Bryce Cotton at #66, Georgetown’s Markel Starks at #75, St. John’s forward Jakarr Sampson at #85, and Marquette’s forward/free throw assassin Devante Gardner rounds out the league’s top players at #96. A few commenters argued that the Big East is underrepresented on the list, citing Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin and Butler’s Kellen Dunham as possible snubs, but ultimately, these lists in early October mean very little.
  2. NBC SportsCollegeBasketballTalk is working through its team-by-team season preview, and yesterday was all about Marquette. Rob Dauster calls the Golden Eagles the favorite to win the Big East this year, citing a frontcourt which he expects to be “one of the best in the country.”  The big question marks for Buzz Williams’ team lie in the backcourt, where he will have to rely on fairly untested junior Derrick Wilson (13.1 MPG, 1.1 PPG in 2012-13), and streaky senior Todd Mayo in the starting lineup.  However, Marquette’s greatest strength, Dauster argues, is Williams’ ability to manage his teams to fit their individual strengths and talents on a year to year basis, and there’s no reason to disagree with that.
  3. The “best names” lists are not the only places where you can find St. John’s guard Sir’Dominic Pointer. CBS Sports‘ Jon Rothstein included the junior in his recent “Ten Glue Guys to Watch” post along with Creighton’s Grant Gibbs and Georgetown’s Nate Lubick. In discussing Pointer, Rothstein talks about coach Steve Lavin’s nickname for his guard (who, honestly, does not need a nickname): “Costco,” which refers to his ability to give the Red Storm “a little of everything” on the stat sheet. Rothstein also praises Gibbs’ maturity as a sixth-year senior and his clutch passing ability, as well as Lubick’s ability to facilitate from the high post — a key attribute for a Georgetown forward in coach John Thompson III’s Princeton offense.
  4. Normally, Big East teams don’t want to hear from John Cahill any earlier than they have to, but his presence at practice was welcomed by Creighton earlier this week. As the newly named supervisor of officials in the Big East, Cahill traveled to Omaha to discuss the conference, new NCAA mandates, and how the Bluejays can expect the rules of the game to be enforced in their new league. According to Cahill, this season will see far more fouls called for hand-checking contact on the perimeter in an effort to increase overall scoring. However, he does not expect the Big East to lose it’s hard-earned identity as a physical, defense-oriented conference: “The thing that I found in my officiating career is that in the Big East, every possession is defended and challenged.”
  5. Providence fans are pretty bullish on head coach Ed Cooley, and rightfully so. Since stepping on campus a couple of years ago, Cooley has taken the Friars’ recruiting to another level, as GoLocalProv‘s Kevin Farrahar rightfully points out. Where the Friars landed just four RSCI top-100 players from 1998-2010, Cooley has brought eight to campus since taking the job in 2011.  The class of 2014 is shaping up especially nicely for Providence, as it already includes seven-footer Paschal Chukwu from Cooley’s old stomping grounds of Fairfield, Connecticut, as well as highly-rated forward Jalen Lindsay and Delaware product Ben Bentil. This increased recruiting prowess, as well as a more manageable schedule in the “new Big East,” may help rejuvenate the Providence program as it looks to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2004.
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Season In Review: St. John’s Red Storm

Posted by Dan Lyons on April 29th, 2013

St. John’s 17-16 season saw some highs – wins over #14 Cincinnati and #20 Notre Dame – and plenty of lows  - the Red Storm dropped eight of their last 10 games en route to an 8-10 conference season and an 11th place conference finish. In postseason play, St. John’s dropped its first game of the Big East Tournament in the second round against Villanova and advanced to the second round of the NIT with a win over Saint Joseph’s before falling to Virginia.

Preseason Expectations

Here at the Big East microsite, we had St. John’s ninth in our preseason rankings, citing their youthful talent and athleticism as reasons for optimism, but we believed the team was still a year or so away from the NCAA Tournament.  The Big East coaches had St. John’s ranked 10th in their preseason poll.

(Credit AP Photo/Al Behrman)

(Credit AP Photo/Al Behrman)

The Good

D’Angelo Harrison (17.8 PPG) and Jakarr Sampson (14.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG) were two of the more underrated players in the conference last season, and should only continue to get better.  Sir’Dominic Pointer was an effective slasher for the Johnnies, shooting 51% from the field. Phil Greene IV regularly scored in double digits and became a solid third option for Steve Lavin’s squad, while Chris Obekpa was one of the nation’s premier shot-blockers, swatting four shots per game.

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Five Thoughts From the Big East Tournament: Wednesday Evening Editon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2013

Brian Otskey attended the evening session of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Villanova likely clinched a bid by winning tonight. It’s not that a win against St. John’s gets the Wildcats in, it’s the fact that they didn’t lose and now have 20 wins, including victories against Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Georgetown and at Connecticut. Twenty wins isn’t what it used to be but Villanova, in my estimation, has done enough to get into the field of 68. The Wildcats didn’t play particularly well overall but they did what they do best: get to the free throw line and convert. Villanova went 19-of-23 from the charity stripe, making five more free throws than St. John’s even attempted. Jay Wright’s team was +10 at the line in a 13-point win, pretty much the difference in an otherwise evenly played game. Both teams committed 17 turnovers in a sloppy contest that was interesting at times but the outcome never really in doubt.

    Villanova Should Be Solidly Into the NCAAs Now

    Villanova Should Be Solidly Into the NCAAs Now

  2. St. John’s might not even make the NIT. Just six weeks ago, St. John’s was 14-7 overall and 6-3 in Big East play. The Johnnies were being talked about as a possible NCAA Tournament team as one of the surprise teams in the conference. The Red Storm has since fallen on hard times and tonight’s loss to Villanova was their fifth in a row and seventh in eight games. At just 16-15 overall, it begs the question if St. John’s will even receive an NIT invitation. An 8-10 Big East record is certainly good enough (even though five of the wins are against teams that played on Tuesday night of the league tournament) but if the NIT committee is anything like the NCAA committee, conference record supposedly does not matter. It would be a good experience for the (very) young Red Storm to continue playing this season with a chance to get to the NIT finals here at Madison Square Garden, one of their home arenas. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 03.01.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 1st, 2013

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  1.  Just when you thought the conference realignment mumbo jumbo couldn’t get more confusing, news broke yesterday that the Catholic 7 will be starting their own league next season and they will be calling themselves the Big East conference. From what I can tell, the old Big East, now built around football, will be selling its name to the Catholic 7 and renaming itself something different. Meanwhile the Catholic 7 gets to keep a conference name that is synonymous with excellent basketball and plans to add Xavier, Butler, and probably Creighton as it establishes itself as a basketball-first conference. The move is being spearheaded by the Fox Sports Network which has promised the schools from the Catholic 7 a lucrative TV deal and is helping grease the wheels for their impending exit. Ignoring the ridiculousness of a television network being the driving factor in conference realignment (hardly a new idea) the best part of this news is that for once, we will have a basketball-first conference.
  2. The NCAA tried its best to make sure that St. John’s forward Orlando Sanchez never played a single game for the Red Storm, but in the end, the school and the talented big man won their appeal, on their fourth try. Sanchez has sat out the entire season while waiting for the NCAA to sort out his eligibility issues that stem from his time with a club team in the Dominican Republic. The NCAA denied his appeal three times and the Red Storm were actually forced to bring in seasoned litigators and threaten to go to federal court and now finally Sanchez is free to play…next season anyway. The news is great for coach Steve Lavin and his club. Sanchez will be 25 when he suits up next season and has impressed scouts with his size, versatility, and athleticism. The Johnnies have been sorely lacking an offensive threat on the interior and if they can put Sanchez on the floor with shot-blocking phenom Chris Obekpa, the Johnnies could be a dangerously balanced team next season.
  3. Not everything about UConn‘s double overtime loss to Georgetown on Wednesday was disheartening as mercurial sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels had his best game as a collegiate, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double. Daniels’ impressive performance was probably one part excitement for fans who have been waiting for the uber-talented underclassmen to live up to his hype as a recruit, and one part frustration as it is somewhat puzzling as to why Daniels hasn’t been able to have more games like this. The fact that a player of Daniels’ size and athleticism has just one double-double is somewhat absurd and only serves to highlight what a streaky player he has been this season. But assuming Daniels returns to school next season alongside the rest of his team, and assuming he continues to improve and get better, the Huskies could be a very dangerous team next season.
  4. The Pittsburgh Panthers are likely headed back to the NCAA Tournament this season after a one-season hiatus. But while it is a nice accomplishment and one that the team and coach Jamie Dixon should be proud of, the program has set the bar so high in the past decade, that the new questions about what it will take for Pitt to have serious success in the NCAA Tournament have already started to arise. Somehow, for all of their success and talent, the Panthers never made the Final Four under Ben Howland or Jamie Dixon, and they have made the Elite Eight just once. Most programs would take 11 tournament appearances in the last 12 seasons and boast about it for years, but Panthers’ fans expect more and Dixon expects more as well. Dixon really only has himself to blame for helping set the bar so high, but the program’s shortcomings in the NCAA Tournament are troublesome and rather glaring. They have never beat a higher seed? That is shocking given how good some of Dixon’s teams have been. This season will be another interesting case study because as much as advanced metrics love the Panthers and as much talent as they have on their roster, they have been inconsistent this season and they need to make sure that occasional complacency doesn’t spill over into the NCAA Tournament.
  5. At this point I feel like Bud Poliquin is just trolling the rest of us with his column. One day after a jumbled and meandering column about Jim Boeheim‘s decorum in press, Poliquin was back, republishing a column from 1989 that centers around Boeheim getting a little bit combative in a press conference and proves Poliquin was just as difficult to follow then as he is today. The man is an institution at the Syracuse Post-Standard and an excellent columnist, especially when it comes to Syracuse basketball, but the column from March of ’89, just like the column from the other day, doesn’t really make much of a point and contains so much flowery language and prose that it is very difficult to follow along. So let me try to synthesize what the previous two columns have been about: Jim Boeheim, coach of the Syracuse basketball team, can occasionally get a bit snarky with reporters when he doesn’t like their questions, and he has been doing this for years.
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Big East M5: 02.22.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 22nd, 2013

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  1. The major institutional news around the league yesterday was that ESPN had elected to match a prior offer from NBC in an attempt to retain media rights to the Big East. ESPN’s bid of $130 million over seven years would shell out $10 million for men’s basketball in 2013-14 before doubling for the latter six years to incorporate football games as well. Should Mike Aresco and the league’s school presidents agree to the deal, each school would make $1.8 million annually in a 12-team format, which is less than they make in the current ESPN contract. Annually, each member would make $1.2 million less than Catholic Seven schools will reportedly fetch from FOX; about $18 million less than members of the other five power conferences; and about $12 million less than they would have made off the ESPN offer they torpedoed in 2011.
  2. On the heels of the ESPN offer, Rumble in the Garden excerpts and interprets some substantial Catholic Seven logistical updates from the blog of writer Mark Blaudschun. The two developments that immediately jump off the page are speculations that the C7 won’t inherit the Big East name, and that it’s unlikely to secure a long-term commitment from Madison Square Garden to host its conference tournament. While the naming issue might seem trivial, RITG points out that its outcome could carry major implications on the matter of disbursing NCAA Tournament units and exit fees from schools departing to the ACC and Big Ten.
  3. With Steve Lavin back on the sideline, St. John’s has three remaining NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents on the regular season schedule, and they each present prime opportunities to help the Johnnies build their own Tournament resume. Despite taking losses on the road to Syracuse and Louisville in Lavin’s absence, St. John’s RPI actually improved from #59 to #58 before defeating USF on Wednesday night. It’s not enough to earn an at-large bid yet, but at least they’re positioned to control their own destiny. Howard Megdal at Capital New York points out that a 2-2 split of the remaining schedule would bring St. John’s to 10-8 in the league, and that only twice since 2005-06 have 10-win Big East teams failed to earn an NCAA berth.
  4. In anticipation of this weekend’s highly anticipated installment of the storied Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry, Mike Waters at the Syracuse Post-Standard breaks down his top 10 moments in the series. Some of the anecdotes recalled from the annals of this vitriolic feud put the relative civility of its recent history in perspective. Michael Graham’s punch of Andre Dawkins in 1984 (which didn’t result in ejection), followed by Patrick Ewing’s serendipitously misplaced haymaker thrown at Pearl Washington the following year highlight a more violent era in the rivalry.
  5. UConn overcame unfavorable momentum and dismal rebounding among other things to overcome a slumping Cincinnati team in overtime last night, 73-66. Shabazz Napier’s 11 points in overtime helped the Huskies match the point total of their entire second half (18) in just five minutes. Napier finished with 29 points on 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, and Kevin Ollie credited him with architecting his team’s victory down the stretch: “The last three minutes of the game, and OT, it was just put it in Shabazz’s hands and let him make a play… there weren’t a lot of X’s and O’s.” Napier didn’t glamorize his performance either, telling reporters, “In overtime, I just want to get the game over with. I get tired of playing.”
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Big East M5: 02.13.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 13th, 2013

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  1. Mike Hopkins is the longtime head coach in waiting at Syracuse, and when he takes over for Jim Boeheim, expect him to bring a more progressive approach to the team, especially when it comes to statistical analysis.  A Syracuse.com article by Donna Ditota describes Hopkins and Marquette’s Buzz Williams’ use of advanced statistics in scouting their teams’ opponents. Specifically, the article describes their usage of tempo-free statistics, especially those created by statistics-legend Ken Pomeroy and Sports Illustrated writer Luke Winn who produce some of the most influential stat-based college basketball analysis out there.  As a college basketball fan, it is great to see the rapid adoption of these advanced statistics, especially by two programs as successful as Syracuse and Marquette.
  2. Buzz Williams is not only concerned with his team’s statistics, but he has his own numbers to maintain as well. After Marquette’s loss to Georgetown on Monday night, Williams was asked about a technical foul that he was called for that helped Georgetown extend a three point lead to seven, giving the Hoyas the momentum that they needed to ride out the game. Williams had a quick-witted response: “I was trying to get my average up on technicals. This is my 162nd game in the Big East and I’m averaging one every 50 games. So I felt like I needed to get one because I haven’t had one in two years. That was my fifth technical since I’ve been here. I think any time you get a technical, it’s a bad time.” While a technical foul can occasional help a coach fire up his team, Williams’ timing in this case was extremely poor.
  3. It is really strange that Otto Porter hasn’t had more Big East player of the year love this season. Looking at Georgetown’s point totals all year, Porter may be the single most important player to his team in the entire conference. The prototypical Hoya forward averages over 15 points and a shade under eight rebounds a game for an otherwise listless offense, and as ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil notes, he has his squad just a half-game behind arch-rival Syracuse for the conference lead. Porter is the rock in the middle of Georgetown’s lineup, and if the Hoyas make a serious run at a Big East crown this season, it will be on the sophomore’s shoulders. He deserves a bit more recognition for his efforts.
  4. Mick Cronin has this coachspeak thing down pat. When asked about his team’s offensive struggles, Cronin turned the question around and criticized his team’s defensive effort: “There’s going to times when your best shooters miss wide open shots. It’s unfortunate but it happened in the last five minutes against Pittsburgh. The answer when that happens is to be great defensively and to be great on the backboard and we were far from it.” In Cincinnati‘s case, Cronin isn’t wrong. As I saw first hand in the Bearcats’ recent loss at Providence, Cincinnati really struggles in the half-court without great efforts from their guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Unless they find a forward on campus somewhere who can create for himself in the next couple weeks, Cincy’s best bet is playing a more aggressive brand of defense and forcing more transition opportunities.
  5. Steve Lavin missed most of last season recovering from prostate cancer, and the on-court results left a lot to be desired as St. John’s finished with a 13-19 overall record. The Johnnies have had a solid turnaround this year, and are probably just on the outside looking in at being a possible bubble team at 15-9 (7-5 in the Big East). With Lavin’s status now up in the air as he and his family cope with the loss of his father, Red Storm players aren’t looking to make excuses but are rather looking to gain motivation from this moment as they rally around their coach. Amir Garrett and D’Angelo Williams both echoed this sentiment, with Garrett telling the Daily News that he thinks that the situation can bring the team closer together. A win against Louisville would be a major statement from the Johnnies, especially if they can do it without their leader present.
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Big East M5: 02.11.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 11th, 2013

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  1. So, Mike Brey might be a bit prescient. Before Notre Dame’s epic five-overtime win over Louisville this weekend, the Irish coach showed his team film from great boxing matches as motivation, and made comments comparing the upcoming game to a 15-round bout. Brey may have intended his analogy to allude to Louisville’s frantic, fast-paced style of play that often wears out opponents, but as fate would have it, the game played out in a much more literal fashion. I expect that Brey will discuss first-round knockouts before this Wednesday’s game against DePaul.
  2. Steve Lavin missed St. John’s Sunday loss to Syracuse due to the passing of his father Albert “Cap” Lavin. Lavin and his father were reportedly very close, and Cap had played a part in this St. John’s season earlier this year, when the Red Storm traveled west to take on his alma mater, San Francisco. According to St. John’s assistant Rico Hines, who stepped in for Lavin during his absence in Syracuse, the players took the loss hard, as they had been able to spend time with the elder Lavin this season: “They were sad. They were really sad… Cap was one of those guys that watched every game or listened to it on the radio, and those guys knew that. … They all said they’d say a prayer for him, and we’ll try to play as hard as we can.”
  3. Syracuse’s long national nightmare is (probably) over. Shortly before tip-off against St. John’s Sunday, word leaked out that James Southerland had won his Friday appeal to a university academic panel, and that he’d be ready to play in the game. The re-introduction of Southerland to the team gives the Syracuse offense more potency from three-point range and vastly improves the Orange’s spacing on the floor, allowing guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche more room to operate.  Southerland played 26 minutes off the bench against the Red Storm, scoring 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field.
  4. The adjustment to Division I basketball for Pitt’s Steven Adams has been a tough one, and it has apparently had a negative impact on the seven-footer’s NBA Draft stock. Adams’ play has been improving of late, and with his newfound ability, Pitt has been playing inspired basketball. The Panthers have won four of their last five contests, and during that stretch the freshman has averaged a very solid nine points, nine rebounds, and two blocks per game.
  5. Cincinnati hasn’t been a pretty offensive team at all this year – without a significant low post threat like former Bearcat Yancy Gates manning the middle, it is almost entirely up to guards Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright to score in bunches from the outside.  Unfortunately for UC, that two-guard punch has been significantly hampered by a sprain to Wright’s right knee, which he sustained in a January 15 game against DePaul. Since returning from the injury, Wright has only scored in double-figures once, and as a team Cincinnati has averaged under 60 points per game during that stretch.  For a squad without many reliable offensive options, Wright needs to return to form as soon as possible or the Bearcats risk falling further down the Big East standings.
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Big East M5: 02.05.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 5th, 2013

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  1. Last night’s game between Syracuse and Notre Dame featured two top-25 teams jostling for position in the conference standings, but it also was the first and maybe the only time the Grant brothers–Jerian and Jerami–will get to play against each other in college. This will be the only meeting between the two teams this season and with Syracuse set to leave for the ACC posthaste,  who knows when the next time these two teams will play unless they meet in the Big East Tournament. The brothers are apparently quite close and Jerami even credits his older brother with making sure he didn’t give up when he wasn’t getting playing time early in the season. Jerami and his Orange repaid the older brother by throttling his Fighting Irish. Jerian may have scored more (15 to 14) but Jerami added six rebounds and two assists as Syracuse cruised to a 63-47 win.
  2. Pittsburgh finally got itself a marquee win over the weekend against Syracuse and then avoided the obvious letdown by beating Seton Hall last night for its sixth win in seven games. The Panthers tried their best to let Seton Hall beat them, shooting a season-low 34 percent from the field, but Pirates’ star Fuquan Edwin got hurt in a one-point game and Pitt managed to pull away thanks to its depth and its defense. Seton Hall is headed for a finish near the bottom of the conference, but the win was still huge since the Panthers will play three ranked teams over the course of the next nine days.
  3. The end of the James Southerland saga is now in sight according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports who cited a source to say Southerland’s eligibility appeal will be held Friday. Counting the game last night against Notre Dame, Southerland has missed six games and the team has gone 4-2 in his absence but surely Syracuse fans are excited to get one of their most dynamic offensive players back on the floor. Grant and Trevor Cooney were able-bodied replacements but they lack the scoring punch and athleticism of Southerland. The appeal is being heard by the university and assuming it is granted, the Orange could have Southerland back in uniform as soon as Sunday’s game against St. John’s. But few people know the severity of Southerland’s academic transgressions and even fewer will know the nature of the appeal, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.
  4. It has been a good past few weeks for Cincinnati and coach Mick Cronin. The Bearcats have won five of their last six and currently sit just a half-game behind Syracuse in the conference standings. They also recently secured one of the more high-profile recruits of the Cronin era when the Bearcats landed New Jersey native and five-star forward Jermaine Lawrence on Sunday. Lawrence is an athletic power forward with plenty of face-up skills and decent range. He will need to add some meat to his bones but he has the frame to add serious muscle and could make an immediate impact in terms of floor-spacing and natural ability. Perhaps more importantly is that it signifies that Cronin can recruit with the big boys and once he is able to do that with consistency, the Bearcats will be a perennial contender no matter what happens to the Big East.
  5. Steve Lavin has St. John‘s playing tough basketball, which is why freshman point guard Jamal Branch‘s knee injury and presumed sprained MCL is especially inopportune. Branch has been up and down since becoming eligible,  but recently he has been a spark plug for the Johnnies and the team is 5-1 since being inserted into the starting lineup. The Red Storm don’t really have a true backup for Branch and will likely use a combination of Marc Bourgalt and Phil Greene IV at the point in Branch’s absence. Hopefully Branch isn’t out long because while Lavin’s club doesn’t quite have the look of a tournament team, they are headed in that direction in a hurry.
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Big East M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 1st, 2013

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  1. The U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association released its Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List yesterday, which featured Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Louisville’s Russ Smith. The Big Ten placed four players on the list, followed by the Big East and Big 12 with two apiece. The award, which recognizes the best player in college basketball each season, hasn’t been claimed by a Big East player since St. John’s Walter Berry won it in 1986. While Carter was a consensus 4/5-star recruit with NBA prospects coming out of high school, the recognition denotes a long three-year journey for Smith, who was hardly even evaluated by national scouting services out of high school.
  2. Syracuse forward James Southerland will get an opportunity to appeal his recent academic suspension before a university panel next week, but not before missing two more games. Jim Boeheim’s leading three-point shooter will sit out for upcoming bouts at Pitt and at home against Notre Dame. But in light of DaJuan Coleman’s recent knee injury, Southerland’s presence under the basket might be missed most of all: The two combine to average 9.5 rebounds per game. The Orange bench will only go seven deep for at least two pivotal games, but at least for Syracuse fans there’s a definite possibility that Southerland could return this season.
  3. Speaking of timetables, Rick Pitino revealed during his weekly radio show yesterday that there’s a chance Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware could both return for Sunday’s game with Marquette. Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Ware (“indefinite” suspension) both practiced yesterday for the first time this week. Blackshear was expected to recover from his injury this week, but news of Ware re-entering Pitino’s good graces came as a surprise to Louisville fans. He seemed firmly and perhaps irrevocably planted in the doghouse after the Pitt game, when his coach claimed he “isn’t coming back anytime soon.” We’re left to wonder what exactly it was that Ware did, but Pitino indicated it wasn’t an egregious offense like drug use.
  4. Though outrebounded by a Big East-record 55-24 margin, UConn managed to outduel Providence on the road in overtime last night, 82-79. It was a war of attrition Ryan Boatright claims last year’s Huskies would have surrendered: “Last year’s team, when it got tough like that, when they made all those runs, we would have folded.” Jeff Jacobs at The Hartford Courant outlines a strong argument that the Big East members’ agreement to exclude the Huskies from the conference tournament looks increasingly disingenuous as league members disperse to greener pastures. “It’s too bad all those schools that are fleeing the conference sit in judgment of UConn. At this point, the only schools that should count are Cincinnati, South Florida and the schools that are coming in to be part of the Big East’s future.”
  5. They may be sitting in third place in the league standings with a 6-3 record, but Steve Lavin recognizes his St. John’s team is “still a work in progress.” Despite two impressive wins over ranked teams in the top half of the conference, the Red Storm have narrowly avoided upset against their last two inferior opponents and the meat of their schedule undeniably lies ahead of them. Lavin’s players are well aware of the criticism and seem excited for an opportunity to make a statement against another hot team. Said D’Angelo Harrison, “Teams are probably still doubting us because if you look at our schedule we’ve played the bottom half of the league. We’re looking to prove ourselves at Georgetown next.”
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