Set Your TiVo: 01.16.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 16th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The first official “Big Monday” of the year kicks off in a big way with four games on ESPN starting at 3:30 PM EST. We have previewed the two big ones below. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

#17 Louisville at #21 Marquette – 3:30 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • Marquette has struggled in the first half of its last three games, but it should look to come out with great energy against Louisville, an old Conference USA rival that moved to the Big East with Marquette in 2005. The Golden Eagles have won two straight games with strong second half efforts, but the key in this game will be jumping on the Cardinals from the start. Marquette likely won’t be able to score easily against Louisville’s #12 defense but Marquette can create advantages in other areas. Look for Marquette to push the pace and try to score in transition. The Golden Eagles will likely be out-rebounded so a significant turnover margin in their favor could propel them to a lot of points in transition. Louisville ranks #224 in defensive free throw rate and Marquette shoots 70.5% from the charity stripe. Creating turnovers and getting to the line will take care of any disadvantage on the glass. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder do the bulk of the offensive work for the home squad, which averages nine steals per game.
  • The Cardinals really struggle to shoot the basketball as they are ranked #137 in offensive efficiency. To win this game on the road, Louisville will have to put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season along with crashing the offensive glass when it has the ball. With Gorgui Dieng inside and a number of guards that aren’t afraid to rebound, Rick Pitino’s team has the toughness needed to get second chances around the bucket. It would be nice for the Cardinals if Russ Smith had another game like the 25-point performance on Saturday against DePaul. Smith has been inconsistent, but when he scores he really goes off. A better offensive game from Peyton Sivawould significantly help Louisville’s chances as well. He hasn’t been all that impressive in Big East play, but a smart game from their point guard will make Louisville much tougher to beat. If the Cardinals aren’t turning the ball over, they can control the pace and make it harder for Marquette to score.

    Can Rick Pitino's Team Regroup After A Tough Stretch?

  • Louisville has won six of the past seven games in this series, but may be without its leading scorer, Kyle Kuric. He sprained an ankle last week in practice and his status is questionable for today’s game. If he plays, Louisville won’t have to rely as heavily on the Smith’s for offensive production. In addition to DJO and Crowder, Buzz Williams needs a third scorer to emerge on a consistent basis. Todd Mayo can be that guy, shooting 48% in Marquette’s wins and only 33% in its losses. When Mayo and/or Vander Blue are contributing, the Golden Eagles are one of the tougher teams in America to beat. A smart game plan by Louisville would be to go after those two defensively and try to prevent them from getting touches. Johnson-Odom and Crowder will get their points, but shutting down Marquette’s ancillary pieces is the key to beating them. Louisville was blown out at Providence last week but we expect a better showing this time. Marquette is the favorite, but Louisville could make this a very close game.
Share this story

Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

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: Seton Hall 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)

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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 »
Share this story

Four Thoughts: Marquette v. Georgetown Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 5th, 2012

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

1. It has been obvious for sometime, but now it’s confirmed, Jason Clark is nobody’s second fiddle.

Jason Clark: From Third Option to First Option

Clark should never have been this easy to hide in Georgetown‘s system since the minute he stepped on campus. He played 18.3 minutes per game as a freshman and has played more than 30 minutes per game and averaged at least 10 points per game in every season since. But playing behind Chris Wright and Austin Freeman meant that Clark was a major contributor who received very little attention and acclaim. Freeman and Wright are gone now, and they left a whole lot of offense and shots behind the them.

Fortunately for the Hoyas, Clark has picked up right where they left off and is in the midst of a better senior season than Wright had. Once considered more of a perimeter player, Clark was just 2-7 from behind the three-point arc last night — and he still finished 9-14 with 26 points at the end of the game. It didn’t matter who Buzz Williams put on him — especially in the second half — Clark consistently beat his opponent off the dribble and the Hoyas shot 76 percent in the second half. Nobody thought Georgetown would be 13-1, just like nobody considered Clark a favorite for All-Big East honors. A lot has changed in two months.

2. Georgetown will not be able to keep up their “Cardiac Kids” act all season. 

Nobody should be trying to downplay what the Hoyas have done this season with an inexperienced lineup and a lot more contributors than stars, but they aren’t exactly the type of conference juggernaut you expect to roll through a rugged conference schedule. This a team that scored just 49 points in a win over Providence and they probably won’t shoot 76% in the second half again all season. They are also very young and their rotation is barely eight deep. John Thompson III and his team have already proven they belong in the NCAA Tournament, and there are definitely enough wins on the schedule to earn themselves a high seed. Just don’t be surprised if this team loses one or two or even three games down the stretch that they probably shouldn’t. There just isn’t enough experience on the roster to keep winning these nail-biters forever.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 12.20.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 20th, 2011

  1. It’s Big East weekly honors time and Louisville sophomore guard Russ Smith checks in as your Player of the Week.   This represents Smith’s first career Player of the Week honor as he made the most of his third career start with career highs in points (24) and steals (7) in Louisville’s 95-87 win over Memphis.  The seven thefts by Smith tied him for third all-time in Louisville history for steals in a game. Connecticut center Andre Drummond wrestled Rookie of the Week honors back from Providence’s LaDontae Henton with a career high 24 points in a win over Holy Cross to go along with eight rebounds and five blocks.  This is Drummond’s second Rookie of the Week honor of the year.    As for the Honor Roll, guess who’s back, back again? Pope is back, back again.  Seton Hall big man Herb Pope continued his weekly award streak as he overwhelmed Mercer with 24 points and 17 boards in an overtime win for the Pirates; Cincinnati junior guard Cashmere Wright (18.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7.0 APG), who stepped up for a short-handed Bearcat squad to lead them to two wins on the week; Marquette freshman guard Todd Mayo picked up his first career weekly honor and is first career start this past week, netting a career-high 22 points in a win over Northern Colorado; Syracuse sophomore guard Dion Waiters who also hit for 22 points in his team’s 88-72 victory over NC State; and West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones, who shot 11 for 16 from the floor on his way to,  you guessed it, 22 points in the Mountaineers’ 84-64 rout of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
  2. There was not a lot of movement in the polls amongst Big East teams this week, but that is more attributable to the fact that it gets crowded at the top than anything else. The conference now boasts four top ten teams as Marquette (10-1) grabbed the #10 spot, joining Syracuse (11-0) who maintained its perch atop the rankings, Louisville (10-0) who held steady at #4 and Connecticut (9-1) as the Huskies climbed a notch to #8.  Pittsburgh (10-1) and Georgetown (9-1) also held their spots at #15 and #16, respectively.  We are starting to see a clear separation in the league with six teams in the top 16 and no other squad garnering so much as a vote in the Associated Press poll, although Seton Hall (9-1) did scratch out one tally in the ESPN/USA Today rankings.
  3. Former Connecticut star Kemba Walker claimed the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award last year among the many honors and accolades he received for his exploits in the Huskies’ National Championship run.  This year’s nominees for the Cousy Award were revealed yesterday by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and, to the surprise of no one, the Big East was well represented.  Was it represented well enough though? Conference nominees include Connecticut sophomore Shabazz Napier, Louisville junior Peyton Siva, Pittsburgh senior Ashton Gibbs, Villanova junior Maalik Wayans and a pair from Syracuse in senior Scoop Jardine and junior Brandon Triche.  Let the debate begin as notable omissions include Providence junior Vincent Council and Seton Hall senior Jordan Theodore.
  4. Marquette is still not certain if injured first string center Chris Otule will be back this season but Buzz Williams and company have been encouraged by the play of replacement starter Davante Gardner. With the #10 Golden Eagles soaring, Gardner is keeping his role in perspective, and the team’s goals in mind saying, “I’ve got to come through now since Chris might be out for the season.  When he got hurt, I got down a little bit, but I knew I had to start picking it up and do more for the team.” Gardner, a 6’8” sophomore, tipped the scales last season at 300-plus pounds en route to averages of 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in just nine minutes per game.  Following his freshman campaign, Gardner worked hard with strength and conditioning coach Todd Smith and dropped an estimated 10-15 pounds while shedding about half of his body fat.  While he still needs work on the defensive end, Gardner has put up solid offensive numbers in Otule’s absence over Marquette’s last two games, averaging 14 points and six rebounds while shooting 60% from the floor and 91% from the foul line.
  5. Kids say the darndest things.  And that is what Louisville’s youngster, freshman forward Chane Behanan, did after his team’s 95-87 victory over Memphis on Saturday when he declared, “we’re the number one team in the country in my eyes. We’re going undefeated. Point blank, period.”  You can bet Behanan will have a media relations course on his schedule next semester after that one.  While this will probably not amount to much in the grand scheme of things, it would have still been better left unsaid as it really can do nothing but hurt the team’s cause.  The Cardinals had themselves in an advantageous position psychologically as many have questioned their lofty ranking while they continued to win and rise in the polls. The no respect card plays well, and Behanan now has the Cardinals drawing into a new deck.
Share this story

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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 »
Share this story

Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Buzz Williams And Marquette Picked Up A Huge Win At Wisconsin

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

Power Rankings

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

Big East Morning Five: 12.05.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 5th, 2011

  1. Pittsburgh learned it will have to do without junior point guard Travon Woodall for four to five weeks due to a groin strain and abdominal tear suffered in a victory over Duquesne last Wednesday. Woodall played 33 minutes in the contest and finished with nine points and seven assists.  A player in the midst of a breakout year, Woodall, who has received Big East Honor Roll recognition in each of the last two weeks, is Pittsburgh’s second leading scorer (14.1 PPG) and the nation’s third leading assist provider at 8.3 per contest. The Panthers were without Woodall for their 61-56 road victory over Tennessee in the Big East-SEC Challenge. Freshman Jason Johnson, who is expected to see increased time at the point in Woodall’s absence, had a big three-point play down the stretch to help secure the victory. Johnson played 18 minutes, scoring eight points and dishing out three assists.
  2. Another Big East team was missing their floor general this weekend as #16 Marquette took to the floor on the road against #9 Wisconsin without point guard Junior Cadougan (7.7 PPG, 6.3 APG).  However, unlike Travon Woodall, Cadougan’s absence will be brief as he was issued a one-game suspension due an unspecified violation of team rules.  While Golden Eagle head coach Buzz Williams would not provide full details on the nature of the violation, he revealed that it was not a legal issue and said, ”He made a mistake yesterday, and my decision was to suspend him from this game. That’s the end of it. He made a mistake that was not intelligent in nature. It did not hurt anyone, but it was not how his mom raised him.” Despite losing Cadougan, Marquette came away with a big 61-54 win over the Badgers to remain unbeaten at 7-0.  Freshman guard Todd Mayo saw an increase in minutes as a result and tied his career high with 14 points to go with five rebounds.
  3. Speaking of suspensions, Providence fans were welcomed with an encouraging bit of news on Saturday when GoLocalProv.com reported 6’9” redshirt sophomore forward Kadeem Batts, who has not played at all this year due to a suspension by head coach Ed Cooley for unspecified violation of team rules, will be reinstated in time to suit up for the December 20 home contest versus New Hampshire. There has been no public confirmation on this from the Providence athletic department but if true it would conclude Batts’ suspension at 11 games.  No specifics are known regarding the basis for the suspension, but rumors have circulated that it was a class attendance issue.  If it is true that Batts will return for the New Hampshire game, the timing is consistent with an academically related issue as the fall semester will have ended by that time. Batts started all 32 games a year ago averaging 7.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
  4. Time for your daily dose of Syracuse and Bernie Fine.  After Syracuse’s 72-68 home victory over Florida on Friday, head coach Jim Boeheim issued a mea culpa for his strong public comments in defense of former assistant coach Bernie Fine who was fired amid allegations of sexual misconduct. When the story broke Boeheim came out firmly in defense of Fine, as well as to go on the offensive against the accusers, indicating that there was a financial motive to the accusation on the heels of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  His comments on Friday reset his stance on both Fine and his accusers: “What I said last week was out of loyalty. I reacted without thinking. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’m trying to learn from my mistake, and this has been a hard time. That’s all I can say. There’s an investigation going on which I fully support, because we all need to know as much as we can (about) what happened. . . I shouldn’t have questioned what the accusers expressed or their motives. I am really sorry that I did that and I regret any harm that I caused.”
  5. Powered by a 4-0 Saturday sweep, this year’s Big East-SEC Challenge title was claimed by the Big East, 8-4.  Most of the games went true to form in terms of results with the only so-called ‘upset’ coming when Hollis Thompson buried a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds to propel Georgetown to a 57-55 victory over #12 Alabama on Thursday.  The Hoyas, who were led by Jason Clark’s 22 points in the Alabama triumph, also rolled over NJIT 84-44 on Saturday to raise their record to 7-1 and could secure a spot in the Top 25 when the rakings come out later today.

Here is a complete score rundown of the games:

  • Big East Wins (8): Georgetown 57, Alabama 55; Providence 76, South Carolina 67; Syracuse 72, Florida 68; Cincinnati 57, Georgia 51; Louisville 62, Vanderbilt 60; Seton Hall 81, Auburn 59; Connecticut 75, Arkansas 62; Pittsburgh 61, Tennessee 56
  • Big East Losses (4): Kentucky 81, St. John’s 59; Mississippi 70, DePaul 68; Louisiana State 55, Rutgers 50; Mississippi State 75, West Virginia 62
Share this story

RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
Share this story

RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

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

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story