McDonald’s released its selections for its 24 All-Americans yesterday. If you have followed the high school recruiting rankings, the selections are about what you would expect (Shabazz Muhammad, etc) with a few names that have been up and down in the rankings missing. The most interesting omission is Nerlens Noel, who recently reclassified to the class of 2012 and may end up being the highest rated player in this year’s graduating class, but was left off the list of All-Americans. We have not heard an explanation from the selection committee as to why he was left off and we doubt that they will, but we suspect it was that he was not on the original list of nominees.
North Carolina‘s Dexter Strickland, who has been sidelined since tearing his right ACL during a game on January 19, underwent surgery on his right knee yesterday. According to reports, the surgery went well although no timetable has been given on when Strickland would be able to return to the court. It will probably be at least another month before the school can realistically begin to estimate when Strickland could return. While Strickland’s numbers are modest (7.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game), he was a very efficient player (team-leading 57% from the field) who provided solid perimeter defense (something that was missing on Tuesday night) and a capable backup for Kendall Marshall, two qualities that the Tar Heels lack now.
As usual Luke Winn’s weekly power rankings are full of excellent advanced stats and amusing figures, but the most interesting thing to us in this week’s rankings is his inclusion of Notre Dame. Our initial reaction was shock, but the more we think about what the Irish have done this season the ranking sort of makes sense. We do not agree with the exact spot he has them at (#11), but they should merit some consideration as at least a top 20 team. What the Irish have accomplished this season is amazing since Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season leading some idiot to write off the Irish nearly two and a half months ago.
This season has been a rough one for Villanova, but they got a little good news yesterday when they found out that Maalik Wayns has sprained his left MCL and did not suffer more serious damage from the injury that he suffered during the team’s game on Tuesday night over Providence. While Wayns did not participate in yesterday’s practice, he is listed as day-to-day and may not miss any game time as the Wildcats are idle until next Wednesday when they play at USF.
Connecticut‘s attempt to convince the NCAA to allow it to play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament has been met with quite a bit of criticism from the national media. The two most notable names to come out against the Huskies proposal are Mike DeCourcy and Dana O’Neil. In his morning column yesterday, DeCourcy called the school’s attempt to be allowed to play in next year’s NCAA Tournament “obscene” and rips the NCAA for being so lenient in its prior rulings that the school felt emboldened to offer such weak penalties. O’Neil is a little less caustic than DeCourcy (shocking, right?) and essentially says that if the NCAA were to accept Connecticut’s more lenient penalties it would send a dangerous message as it has already punished well-known members of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, who have far fewer resources to help its students than Connecticut has. While we appreciate DeCourcy’s vigor, the point that O’Neil makes would seem to indicate that the NCAA has no choice, but to allow Connecticut a pass after punishing the other schools would create a major political firestorm for a group that does not need any more bad publicity.
Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 7th, 2012
Adam Zagoria came out with his Big East All-Rookie Team for this year and while some may say it seems a bit early to be locking in what are traditionally postseason honors, how can one not want to talk about the “Diaper Dandies” of this league? Depth of talent has long been a trademark of the Big East and it is difficult to recall a season in which so many newcomers have played such integral roles on their teams. This is due in some part to the fact that the conference underwent a youth movement coming into the year with many teams restocking with big freshman classes. Handicapping the Big East coming into the year proved particularly difficult given the youth factor presented by many teams in the league. This is also why it is not surprising that some of the more experienced teams, particularly teams with multiple key junior and senior leaders such as Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette, are finding higher ground in the standings while the youngest teams such as St. John’s, Rutgers and Providence have displayed predictable inconsistency. However, as illustrated by Zagoria’s list, squads up and down the conference have fantastic building blocks for the future getting valuable experience on the court this year.
Big East weekly honors time again and it is difficult to find a more deserving Player of the Week than Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall. The fact that Woodall went off last week to the tune of 26.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game would be enough to merit consideration, but the numbers are vastly overwhelmed by Woodall’s overall contribution to winning basketball. The Panthers have won four straight games since his return and have thereby pulled their season out of the dumpster. In the spirit of the Big East’s depth of youth, it is fitting that the conference named Co-Rookies of the Week for the first time since 2005-06 in Louisville’s Chane Behanan and Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton. Both players hit for 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in single games last week. Honor Roll recipients were: Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins who had 18 points, five assists and four rebounds in a big win over Marquette; West Virginia’s Darryl Bryant who averaged 23.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists including a 32-point torching of Providence in an overtime victory; Providence’s Gerard Coleman who averaged 22.5 points and six rebounds for the week including a career-high 30 in the loss to West Virginia; St. John’s D’Angelo Harrison who filled it up with two-game averages of 26.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists; and Georgetown big man Henry Sims who averaged 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in a 2-0 week for the Hoyas.
The latest installment of the Top 25 came out yesterday and there was not much movement at the top as numbers one through six remained unchanged, including Big East leader No. 2 Syracuse (23-1). Georgetown (18-4) hopped up two spots to No. 12 after earning two victories last week. Marquette (20-5) went 1-1 last week but slid three notches to No. 18, while Louisville (19-5), winners of five in a row on the heels of last night’s drubbing of Connecticut, suddenly find themselves surging as well as back in the rankings at No. 24. That rounds out the Big East’s representation in the poll, but perhaps not for long as Notre Dame stands next in line at 26th with the 83 votes they received.
While Notre Dame is certainly savoring every minute of their shorthanded success this season, steps were taken yesterday to try to lock in some experienced depth for next year as the Irish applied for rare sixth years of eligibility for injured players Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin. As the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Hamilton points out, when evaluating for a sixth year the NCAA normally focuses on players who have missed two full years due to injury. That is not the case for either Abromaitis, who was suspended for four games and played in two games this year before tearing his ACL, or Martin, who sat out a year due to transfer (from Purdue) in addition to missing this season with a torn ACL of his own. However there are mitigating factors in both cases that Notre Dame hopes will tip the scales in its favor. As Hamilton also points out, should the Irish secure both players for next year it will take them over the NCAA’s 13-scholarship limit, so other roster changes in the form of players paying their own way or leaving would need to be made to ensure compliance.
You have to love how coaches are always coaching, motivating, and working the psyches of their players and perhaps always paranoid, invariably looking at chicken salad but seeing chicken you-know-what instead. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim (a.k.a Jimmy Brackets) provided some tournament analysis saying there is too much parity to define any clear cut deep-run favorites. As for his own team, the 23-1 squad that is ranked second in the country, the one that is arguably the deepest team in the country, and the one that has a #1 seed in its sights, Boeheim says he is concerned about three-point shooting based on the Orange’s recent poor performances beyond the arc. Hey, in true head coaching form, Boeheim has to find something to pick on, right? The fact of the matter is if there is any team built both for the long haul of the regular season and the do-or-die tournament format, it is Syracuse. They have experience at every position and can exploit matchup issues with their surplus of depth. Furthermore, the Orange are a team that can impose their will defensively with a zone that coaches who play against it every year have trouble preparing for, much less those who might be faced with a day to figure it out during tournament play.
It has been nearly three full days since President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address to the country, and it has also been nearly three full days since our brethren covering the SEC did their State of the SEC post. Since we are both slightly behind and also not creative enough to come up with our own ideas, we decided to take a belated look at the Big East in a similar (read: exactly the same) post.
Kris Joseph & Syracuse Are The Class Of The Conference Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)
We would love to report that the state of the conference is strong, but as a whole, it has not been a good season for the Big East. The 2007-08 season was the last time the conference had only one team finish in the Top 10 but it is in danger of having that happen again. Syracuse will undoubtedly finish in the Top 10 and is a worthy national title contender, but after that, things get murkier. Last season the conference had five teams finish the regular season ranked inside the Top 15. As of now, the conference only has four teams in the Top 25. The reason for the slip is that consistent winners like Villanova and Pittsburgh have been really bad, and teams like Connecticut and Louisville lost a lot of key talent. But let’s take a closer look as well.
Despite the swirling off-the-court issues, the Carrier Dome has been rocking all season and for good reason. The Orange are an excellent blend of experience, talent and depth. Star forward Kris Joseph is going to end up on the All-Big East team and sophomore combo guard Dion Waiters could find himself on the short list for that team as well. Their lone blemish is an ugly road loss to Notre Dame and that looks more like an aberration that signs of a regression.
Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Notre Dame’s victory at Seton Hall on Wednesday night.
Mike Brey is used to it by now. After losing Luke Harangody to an injury late in the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish coach changed the way his team ran its offense by going to the “burn.” Its been a staple of his program ever since, which is a stark contrast from Brey’s teams in the mid to late-2000s that played at a tempo ranked in the top third of Division I or better.
Veteran Coach Mike Brey Has Tailored His Offense To Fit His Personnel This Season (AP)
This season, with Tim Abromaitis out for the year with a torn ACL, Brey continues to have his team playing deliberate, grind-it-out type of games, such as the upset win over previously undefeated and top-ranked Syracuse this past Saturday in South Bend. It worked wonders again Wednesday night as the Irish rolled to a surprisingly easy 55-42 road win over Seton Hall in Newark, following up the big home win over the previously-No. 1 Orange with a solid performance away from Purcell Pavilion, something Notre Dame hasn’t historically put forth all that well.
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 (in this case a belated) four thoughts about key Big East action. Enjoy!
1. Fab Melo would have helped Syracuse, but he is not the reason they lost.
Fab Melo's Absence Hurt, But It Wasn't Why Syracuse Lost
The former-five-star recruit turned serviceable offensive center and excellent rim-protector has been one of the key reasons why Syracuse has enjoyed so much success this season. When we learned that Melo would not travel to South Bend for Saturday’s tilt with the Fighting Irish, everyone knew the Orange would not be as effective, but even if he had played, there is little chance ‘Cuse could have pulled out a win in this one. Jim Boeheim‘s club finished with just two blocks and was outrebounded 37-24, which shows that the primary effects of Melo’s absence were felt where we expected them to be felt — around the rim and on the glass. But the reason the Orange lost is because they couldn’t shoot the ball effectively, and they basically let Notre Dame have open shots whenever the Fighting Irish wanted them. Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters went a combined 8-26 from the field, including 3-11 from behind the arc, and Notre Dame shot an efficient 50 percent from the floor and from behind the three-point line. To be blunt, you don’t win games that way.
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
Number One Goes Down: For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.
Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)
Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game. Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
Top Tier Chaos: As you see in the poll question, it’s awfully hard to rank the top half of this league right now. Syracuse is the clear #1 by a wide margin, but the second spot is up for grabs between six teams: SetonHall and West Virginia are playing the best basketball but Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville remain threats. Big East teams always beat each other up in conference, play but that usually happens in the middle of the league. This year, it is happening at the top. One thing is for sure: the race for second place will be an up-and-down affair over the next two months.
UConn Hates Jersey: Before Tuesday, Connecticut had won 21 combined games in a row against Seton Hall and Rutgers. After Saturday, the Huskies headed back up the New Jersey Turnpike with two losses to Jersey’s Big East teams. Kevin Willard has his team rolling at 14-2 and absolutely crushed the Huskies on Tuesday night in Newark while Mike Rice continued to show signs of improvement in a 67-60 win Saturday night in Piscataway. As Jeff Borzello put it on Twitter, the North Jersey road trip has become a whole lot tougher. If St. John’s can get back to where it was last year and Seton Hall and Rutgers continue to improve, New York City-area basketball could be on the verge of a renaissance.
Seton Hall Ranked?: We will see what happens on Monday, but Seton Hall is on the verge of a top 25 ranking for the first time since January 30, 2001. That year, the Pirates were headed in the opposite direction, out of the top 25 after a preseason top ten ranking. Tommy Amaker (now at Harvard) had signed a ballyhooed freshman class highlighted by the late Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett, and Marcus Toney-El, but it all fell apart for the Pirates as they finished 16-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Alabama. Seton Hall came close to a ranking in 2004, but never made it into the poll. This time around, the Pirates are 14-2 (3-1) with wins over VCU and St. Joe’s on a neutral floor and Dayton on the road, in addition to West Virginia and Connecticut at home. The Hall is in position for a terrific seed in the NCAA Tournament if it keeps up this level of play and Kevin Willard, along with John Thompson III and Jim Boeheim, has to be among the top contenders for Big East Coach of the Year. The Pirates were picked 13th in the preseason Big East coaches poll.
Good Things Come In Threes For Seton Hall (Jim O'Conner/US Presswire)
Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) – Marquette put a second-half scare into the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but Syracuse made the winning plays down the stretch to hang on. Syracuse remains a juggernaut and an easy (by Big East standards) road schedule awaits. Syracuse already went to DePaul and Providence and has trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers on the schedule. Quite frankly, that sequence is a joke for a team everyone knew would be at or near the top of the league. I realize this team has a target on its back every night, but the only true road tests for the Orange could be at Louisville and Connecticut in February. Syracuse shot 61% for the game at Providence on Wednesday, placing six players in double figures. No Syracuse player took over eight shots, a testament to this team’s depth and balance. Scoop Jardine had 11 assists and only one turnover in the victory. Against Marquette, Syracuse jumped out to a huge lead but let the Golden Eagles climb back in it. Dion Waiters was the spark off the bench yet again, totaling 12 points and seven assists. The Orange shot only 39% at home against MU, but escaped with the win. This week: 1/11 @ Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence.
Georgetown (13-2, 3-1) – Let the controversy begin. Truth be told, ten different people could very well come up with ten different ways to rank the top seven teams in the Big East. Despite losing at West Virginia and struggling for the balance of the game against Marquette, I’m moving the Hoyas up to the second spot. Why? It has more to do with the performances of Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette rather than Georgetown itself. After all, the Hoyas did beat a good team (Marquette) this week, something none of the aforementioned three teams can say. The Hoyas overcame a 17-point deficit against Marquette, led by Jason Clark‘s 26 points. That 26 could have been 30+ if Clark made his free throws (6-13 from the stripe). Hollis Thompson also added 16 points on 6-7 shooting as Georgetown shot a sizzling 63% against the Golden Eagle defense. Against West Virginia, Georgetown allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 50% but the Hoyas couldn’t convert from deep (2-14 3FG). Thompson led the way with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough on the road. Regardless of what the rankings may have said coming into the game, I’m not going to hammer the Hoyas for losing at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to play. Believe it or not, I don’t think Georgetown is as good as its resume. That may sound confusing but I’m not sure Georgetown is as good as its record. However, the Hoyas may not lose again until early February if they play to their potential. A relatively soft stretch begins this week. This week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 @ St. John’s. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 27th, 2011
We ate. We drank. We were merry. We took some TUMS and are back. Hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday weekend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
Khem Birch Leaves Pittsburgh: In what was certainly a surprising development, Pittsburgh announced that highly-touted freshman Khem Birch would be leaving the program for personal reasons. No future destination for Birch was announced. The 6’9” freshman averaged 4.4 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 15 minutes per game for Jamie Dixon, including a season-high 15 points at Pennsylvania on November 25. Birch, a Canadian, was a five-star prospect out of Notre Dame Prep. Birch’s departure will be felt by a Panthers team still trying to find its identity. Pittsburgh remains a very deep team but has to get its defense in order to be able to win consistently once conference play begins.
Khem Birch Left Pittsburgh, Which Shocked No One Familiar With The Commitment Issues Of Well-Traveled Young Phenoms
Cincinnati Responds In Impressive Fashion: After losing a bunch of guys to suspensions (including Yancy Gates) stemming from the brawl with Xavier, Cincinnati somehow put together its two best offensive performances of the season. The Bearcats scored 78 in a win at Wright State before throttling Radford with 101 points on Saturday. Maybe the suspensions were just what Mick Cronin needed to get his team focused. While the competition wasn’t great, Cincinnati all of a sudden looks like an improving team after this week.
Syracuse (11-0) — The Orange passed their first road test of the season, winning comfortably at NC State on Saturday. Dion Waiters led the way off the bench yet again with 22 points on 9-14 shooting while Kris Joseph added 21. Now that Syracuse has gotten by NC State without any trouble, the Orange could hold onto the top spot in the national rankings for quite some time. Jim Boeheim has some tricky games coming up against upstart Seton Hall, conference title contender Marquette and still-dangerous Villanova, but those are three games Syracuse should not lose. One area for the Orange to focus on in practice this week is defense. NC State shot 57.7% from the floor on Saturday. This week: 12/20 vs. Bucknell, 12/22 vs. Tulane. Read the rest of this entry »
The big news of the weekend that we will have more analysis on later is that Pittsburgh freshman Khem Birchdecided to leave the program over the weekend and is in fact already gone. The article cites sources saying that Birch still may change his mind, but this is a weird story with lots of implications for the Panthers. We will save most of the story for our later post, but this is a big blow to Jamie Dixon’s team, which was already struggling. Birch wasn’t making a major impact yet, but he was improving. This will be a story to follow.
The Chicago Sun-Times writes what most of the country already knows — Notre Dameis not very good this season. It obviously didn’t help to lose Tim Abromaitis before he could even play five games and this team has been stricken with injury issues, but they are still discovering their offensive identity and it might not happen for a while. There is talent on the team, like redshirt freshman Jerian Grant and sophomore Eric Atkins, but Mike Brey has his hands full this season and the Fighting Irish will need to make a lot of strides if they want to sniff the NCAA Tournament.
This story is barely relevant now but it is interesting to see that Marquette star Darius Johnson-Odom was suspended for Friday’s game against Northern Colorado for violating team rules. The Golden Eagles still won handily, and we will likely never know what team rules he broke, but this isn’t really the leadership Buzz Williams is looking for out of his senior and best player. There is really no point speculating other than to say that Marquette has the talent to make a deep run this season, and Johnson-Odom’s play and leadership will be essential to that goal. Hopefully he has received the message.
One of the more sordid and strange stories of the weekend came from the Syracuse Post-Standard when they took an in-depth look at what went on inside Bernie Fine‘s house. The story is long and well-worth the full read, but as our crack research team noted, it is “a bit disturbing” that his home is being called “a hangout for boys.” It’s even more disturbing if he really was taking in troubled children and then molesting them. That type of abuse of power is just sickening.
Anybody want to actually talk about what Syracuse is doing on the basketball court instead? Well the link is just a boring game recap, but I am using it to talk about how deep the Orange are… again. Dion Waiters is a star in the making, and he is coming off the bench. That is insane. They have depth at every position, star talent across the board, and if their big men can continue to improve, they will be tough to beat this season and should be considered a favorite for the National Championship.
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
Crosstown Knockout: Suspensions were handed down on Sunday for the embarrassing incident at the conclusion of Saturday’s Cincinnati/Xavier game, a 76-53 Musketeers victory. Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis each received six game bans while Ge’Lawn Guyn will sit out for one game. On the other side, Xavier suspended Dezmine Wells and Landen Amos (a walk-on) for four games while Mark Lyons will sit for a pair and Tu Holloway for one. As for Gates and company, six games doesn’t seem nearly enough, especially when only one of those is a Big East game (a probable loss at Pittsburgh to begin with). Mick Cronin’s comments certainly were interesting. The UC coach waxed poetic in the postgame press conference but didn’t follow those words up with strong actions. On the other hand, Cronin told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that the suspensions were handed down by those above him in the Cincinnati administration. Even so, it would seem hard to believe the administration wanted to go easier on the players than the head coach. If Cincinnati wanted to be serious, it would have suspended Gates and the others for a large chunk of the Big East season and the rest of non-conference play, or simply kicked them off the team. Instead, this incident is yet another example of placing sports and winning games before justice and learning a life lesson. If this happened off the basketball court, Gates would likely have been charged with battery. Instead, Gates only has to sit six games against the steady diet of non-conference cupcakes Cronin has feasted on over the last two years. From the fight itself to the way the aftermath has been handled, this has been one huge embarrassment for both Cincinnati and Xavier.
To Many, Saturday's Brawl Between Xavier And Cincinnati Signifies A New Low For College Basketball (USAT)
West Virginia and Marquette Involved in Thrillers: The Mountaineers ventured to Wichita, Kansas, and took on Kansas State in what was essentially a road game despite it being played away from the Little Apple. Bob Huggins was able to defeat his student, Frank Martin, but it took two overtime periods to do so. It was a thrilling game full of big shots and lots of toughness. It was very important for West Virginia to add a quality road win to its resume and while the Wildcats may not be as good as last season, this win could make a big difference if the Mountaineers find themselves on the bubble come March. Marquette took on Washington at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night and found itself in a dogfight with the Huskies as UW took the early lead. Marquette fought back to take a three-point halftime lead when the game really ramped up. The high level of play led to numerous lead changes in an up-and-down affair that eventually came to an end when Jae Crowder knocked down a three from the corner to win it for the Golden Eagles, one of only nine undefeated teams remaining in college basketball as of this writing.
Big East Continues to Disappoint: It’s still very early but it’s also hard not to notice that the conference may be looking at eight NCAA Tournament teams in a best case scenario. The Big East lost six games this past week, three by the dregs of the conference but three others by teams considered to be NCAA contenders. It was an awful week for Villanova as it blew two chances for quality wins away from home, losing in New York to Missouri and across town in Philadelphia to Temple. The Wildcats have lost four of their past five games and have zero wins of note on their resume to date. If Villanova doesn’t win at St. Joe’s this coming week, it may have to go 10-8 in conference play just to even be considered for the Tournament. Meanwhile, Cincinnati sits at 5-3 after the Xavier loss with key players in trouble due to the brawl. The Bearcats’ best win is a road victory over 4-5 Georgia, a bottom-tier SEC team. With no quality wins and two ugly losses already on their resume, the Bearcats probably have to beat Oklahoma on December 29 and go 10-8 in league play to have any chance.
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
Dominating the SEC: In the newly expanded Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East came away with a decisive 8-4 victory over the SEC. Only two Big East teams (DePaul and Rutgers) lost on their home floor while four conference members snagged important road wins across the south. The most impressive was Georgetown, a 57-55 winner over Alabama at Coleman Coliseum, a victory that should put the Hoyas in the national rankings this week. Providence earned a nice win at South Carolina while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati took care of business against Tennessee and Georgia. While this event doesn’t have the buzz of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for instance, I thought this was a success for both leagues. It’s good to get some quality games early in the season instead of fattening up on cupcakes. It’s a shame four Big East schools (Marquette, Villanova, Notre Dame and South Florida) had to sit out but that’s just the way it goes since the SEC only has 12 teams.
The Emergence of Georgetown and Marquette: As mentioned above, Georgetown knocked off Alabama, part of a 3-0 week bookended by two cupcakes. At 7-1 with a close loss to Kansas, the Hoyas look much better than originally advertised. Despite Georgetown’s admirable success, the most significant Big East win this past week came courtesy of Marquette. The Golden Eagles knocked off in-state rival and top ten Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday. The Badgers almost never lose at the Kohl Center so any team that comes out of there with a win deserves major props and earns my respect. I had my doubts about Buzz Williams’ team (ranked fifth here last week) but the win at Wisconsin is as impressive as it gets. Not to mention it was without starting point guard Junior Cadougan, suspended for the game by Williams for an unspecified violation of team rules, plus Jae Crowder was saddled with foul trouble most of the game. I’m officially on board the MU bandwagon.
Buzz Williams And Marquette Picked Up A Huge Win At Wisconsin
Jim Boeheim Apologizes: Syracuse’s important 72-68 victory over a quality Florida team took a back seat in the press room Friday night as Orange head coach Jim Boeheimapologized to those who accused former associate head coach Bernie Fine of sexual molestation. Saying he “misspoke very badly,” Boeheim appeared somber yet nervous as he stood in front of the large media contingent. He clearly looked like a man under a lot of pressure and he admitted as much, saying how difficult of a time this has been for him, his family, and his staff. On the surface it appears the Orange players are not distracted by all that is going on but it would be naïve to think they aren’t paying attention in some fashion. With the investigation ongoing and agencies such as the FBI and US Secret Service involved, it is highly likely that more information will come to light. The Orange players have to do their best to block out the distractions as they march deeper into a season full of high expectations. Two weeks into this, there still isn’t anyone out there who can confidently say what will happen over the next few months with regards to this investigation.
Syracuse (8-0) — Off the court issues aside, Syracuse sure is taking care of business on the court. The Orange destroyed former assistant Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan squad before getting by Florida on Friday at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse didn’t shoot particularly well against the Gators but managed to get to the line 21 times while out-rebounding Florida. Florida’s 20 turnovers also helped the cause. On the broadcast, Jay Bilas said Brandon Triche could become Syracuse’s best player. I can’t disagree. Triche is a solid three-point shooter who is terrific in transition and defensively on the outer flank of Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. The junior’s statistics are up pretty much across the board in five fewer minutes of game action. This week: 12/6 vs. Marshall, 12/10 vs. George Washington.
Louisville (7-0) – The Cardinals had to rally to defeat Vanderbilt on Friday evening with Peyton Siva sealing the win in the final seconds. A lot of people think Louisville is overrated but I’m not one of them. While the Cardinals certainly are banged up, Rick Pitino always gets the most out of his players. If Wayne Blackshear is able to make it back onto the court, watch out. This team could do a lot of damage with its defense come Big East play and has just enough capable offensive players to be satisfactory on that end once they put it all together. It also helps when you have such an advantage like this team does at the KFC YUM! Center. This week: 12/7 vs. IUPUI, 12/10 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson. Read the rest of this entry »