“Reinvented” Notre Dame Is Not Done Yet

Posted by WCarey on January 5th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday afternoon’s game in South Bend between Duke and Notre Dame.

In the preseason, expectations were fairly high for Notre Dame as it began its first campaign as a member of the ACC. While there were questions about the team’s frontcourt depth, the Irish returned three key starters in the backcourt in seniors Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and junior Pat Connaughton. Unfortunately, the Irish quickly showed that they have some glaring weaknesses by suffering four losses in the first two months of the season. The first setback came on November 17 when Mike Brey experienced his first November defeat at the Joyce Center versus Indiana State. While Notre Dame then notched easy wins over Santa Clara, Army, and Cornell, its defensive shortcomings became more evident during its subsequent trip to Iowa City where Iowa handed them a 98-93 defeat. A week later, the Irish were stunned again on their home court in a game that North Dakota State controlled from start to finish. After regrouping to score an impressive victory over Indiana in the Crossroads Classic on December 14, the Irish then went to Madison Square Garden and choked away an eight-point lead with 51 seconds remaining in a defeat by Ohio State.

Notre Dame's First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

Notre Dame’s First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

The four setbacks on the court were not the only losses Notre Dame suffered in the 2013 portion of the season. A day after the Ohio State loss, news broke that Grant – the team’s leading scorer – would not be enrolled at the university for the remainder of the season due to an academic matter. The team also lost sophomore Cameron Biedscheid – who was already redshirting this season – a few days after Christmas when he announced his intention to transfer.

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Luck Of The Irish? Hardly.

Posted by jstevrtc on February 9th, 2011

Walker Carey is an RTC contributor.

Just before the start of this season, not much was known about this year’s edition of Mike Brey’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Over the course of the last four seasons, Notre Dame’s roster has had three consistent standout performers in forward Luke Harangody, combo guard Kyle McAlarney, and point guard Tory Jackson. Even with the services of Harangody and Jackson last season, the Irish posted a campaign that was widely viewed as a disappointment. ND finished last season with a 23-12 record, and their season ended when Old Dominion upset them on the first day of the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, there were many questions about a team that underperformed last season and graduated their two best players.

Hansbrough Has Led By Both Word And Example

One thing the Irish did have on their side entering the season was an experienced starting lineup. Ben Hansbrough, Scott Martin, Tim Abromaitis, Carleton Scott, and Tyrone Nash are all either fourth or fifth year players. Martin entered the season, however, having not played the past two — he sat out the 2008-‘09 season after transferring from Purdue and the ‘09-‘10 season after tearing his ACL last preseason. Scott also entered the season without much experience, as prior to this season he was not a regular in Mike Brey’s rotation. Even though Hansbrough, Abromaitis, and Nash had varying levels of experience, questions still remained regarding all three of them. Hansbrough and Abromaitis had battled inconsistency throughout their Irish careers, while throughout his time as an Irishman, Nash had played second fiddle to Harangody in the frontcourt.

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Let’s Kick It Off: Observing a College Football Weekend Through A Hoops Lens

Posted by rtmsf on September 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-10 Conferences and an occasional contributor.

Hooray! Today is the official end of the Great Sports Desert – you know, that period of time between the first Monday in April and the first weekend of the college football season. Beginning tonight, there are actual meaningful sporting events that I am interested in. Let’s be clear, I love college football. Easily my second favorite sport. But, I’m a college hoops junkie first and foremost, and part of the reason I love the start of college football season is because that means that the start of college basketball is within shouting distance from here. And, while looking over the slate of college football games this weekend, I couldn’t help but imagine some of these matchups as college basketball games. So, here I have, in reverse order, the ten most intriguing matchups of the college football weekend, provided they are re-imagined as season openers in basketball season.  (ed. note: yes, he is sick, but we love him for it)

College Sports is Back on the Calendar!

First, a nod to a handful of games which, being a junkie and all, definitely appeal to me, but were just a bit off of my top-10 list:

  • Pittsburgh @ Utah – on Thursday night, with only six other games on. If this was basketball season, and there were only six other games on, you could bet I’d watch some of this. Sure, Utah isn’t going to be very good, but it would be interesting to see Pitt go on the road early into a hostile environment.
  • Murray State @ Kent State – a very good mid-major matchup between one of last season’s Cinderellas and one of the MAC’s always competitive teams.
  • Connecticut @ Michigan – this game just sounds really good, but in reality, UConn is down and Michigan is, well, I would say Michigan is down, but its been awhile since they’ve been up.
  • Richmond @ Virginia – a big intrastate matchup between the A-10 and the ACC. If Virginia was just a little bit better, this may have made the cut, because UR will be very good again, but a road trip into the John Paul Jones Arena would be a good early test for Kevin Anderson and company.
  • Northwestern @ Vanderbilt – as enticing as this Wildcat/Commodore matchup would be between two talented teams with NCAA Tournament hopes, this just misses the cut.

And on to the top 10:

  • #10 – Washington State @ Oklahoma StateKlay Thompson, Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto invade the Gallagher-Iba Arena to provide a good early season test for a young Cowboy squad minus last season’s two leading scorers. While the young Cowboy guards Ray Penn and Keiton Page keep this close throughout, too much Thompson eventually does them in.

Predicted Football Score: Oklahoma State 31 Washington State 10

Predicted Basketball Score: Washington State 72 Oklahoma State 66

  • #9 – UCLA @ Kansas State – Kansas State is one of the teams on the short list of national title contenders. UCLA is, well, honestly, not very good at least judging by last season’s performance. But, they’re still UCLA. And their frontline of Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and Tyler Honeycutt will test Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge and company, perhaps even to a draw. We’ll also get a first chance to see if the Bruins have even remotely solved their problems at the point, an area of concern that will eventually be the deciding factor in this matchup as Jacob Pullen eventually gets over on Malcolm Lee and the Wildcats pull away in the second half.

Pullen is Back With Another Strong Team

Predicted Football Score: UCLA 23 Kansas State 17

Predicted Basketball Score: Kansas State 70 UCLA 60

  • #8 – Syracuse @ AkronJim Boeheim taking his Orange on the road early against a Midwest mid-major? Sure, that’ll happen. But, if it did, I’d be thrilled to see my first glimpse of Syracuse freshman center Fab Melo battling the Zips own young center, sophomore seven-footer Zeke Marshall. Sure, the Orange’s talent would probably win out in the end with Akron not having an answer for Kris Joseph, but I’m pretty sure that we’d get at least 30 minutes of pretty compelling basketball here.

Predicted Football Score: Syracuse 24, Akron 20

Predicted Basketball Score: Syracuse 67 Akron 55

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Big East Tourney Daily Diary: Semifinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is spending the week as the RTC correspondent at the Big East Tournament.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, he will post a nightly diary with his thoughts on each day’s action. Here is his submission for the semifinal games.

Georgetown 80, Marquette 57

  • Georgetown whooped Duke. They smacked Villanova. Just yesterday they knocked off Syracuse. That said, would you believe me if I told you that this may be the Hoyas’ most impressive win of the season? Marquette doesn’t get blown out. Prior to this, their ten losses were by an average of 3.5 ppg; just 3.0 in seven Big East losses. They hadn’t lost by more than nine on the season (at Wisconsin) and seven in Big East play (Pitt). 14 of their 21 Big East games were decided by five points or less. With 13 minutes left in this game, Marquette was down one. From that point on, the Hoyas blitzed Marquette, something that simply does not happen.
  • Greg Monroe had a two minute stretch where he showed why people are saying he is a lottery pick. From deep in the left corner, he drove baseline and finished with a dunk. The next possession, he knocked down a three. The following possession, he took a rebound and went coast-to-coast, finishing it with a gorgeous bounce pass to Austin Freeman for an and-1 layup. And for good measure, he blocked a Jimmy Butler shot 20 seconds later.
  • Marquette is going to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. At least one. This is a team that is scrappy, tough, and runs a difficult offense to defend.
  • Jimmy Butler is one of the key players for Marquette. Along with Lazar Hayward, his ability to defend inside and play on the perimeter is a huge reason Marquette is able to play – and is successful doing so – the style they play. Hell, two weeks ago he hit a buzzer-beater in overtime to beat St. John’s. He’s a pretty important part of this Marquette team. You wonder, then, why the Marquette fan sitting next to me asked, after Butler’s tip dunk in the first half, “Jimmy Butler? Who’s Jimmy Butler?” Fan fail.
  • Over the course of the night, as with any big time event, the MSG people like to run promotions that give away money. All week, they have been using this game with an oversized die where three of the same roll in a row wins you $10,000. They’ve done it in each of the 12 previous games, and not once did anyone win, only a few times did they even get to the third roll. Well, in both games tonight, the contestant won the $10,000.
  • There’s more. At halftime of the first game, three people came to center court to try and win $10,000 in a Dickie V impersonation contest. The first two were heartily booed by the NYC crowd. The third contestant, however, had shaved his head bald, was wearing a half of a gray wig, had on a fake unibrow, screamed “Are you serious?!?!?” a good five times, and received a standing ovation and $10,000. I had to pay $8 just to take part in the MSG dinner buffet. I think I need to find a new profession.

West Virginia 53, Notre Dame 51

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Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Season in Review

The Big East regular season ended on Saturday, and I think it is safe to say that the league had a bit of an unpredictable season. Don’t believe me? Show me a season preview that had Syracuse winning the league, Pitt getting a double-bye, UConn playing on Tuesday, and with South Florida and Notre Dame finishing above UConn and Cincinnati.  See? Unpredictable.

But what does that mean? Was the Big East better from top to bottom than it was last year? Did teams like Marquette, USF, and Notre Dame benefit from a down year?   The one thing that is for sure is that the top of the Big East is nowhere near the top of last year’s Big East. Five Sweet 16 teams and three No. 1 seeds is a pretty phenomenal feat. But last year the conference only sent seven teams to the tournament, and there is a very good chance that number will be surpassed this season.

The way the Big East bubble is shaping up right now, five teams are in – Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pitt and Georgetown. Louisville and Marquette should be ok, but a loss on Wednesday and things could get dicey depending on how the rest of the bubble plays out. If Notre Dame happens to lose their first Big East Tournament game (to either Seton Hall or Rutgers), then the Irish could be in trouble as they will likely be right on the cut line.  That gives us eight that are reasonably safe.

It is possible, however, for the Big East to get two more teams in. If today was Selection Sunday, then Seton Hall may actually be in the tournament. While they have 11 losses, the average RPI of the team’s that have beaten the Pirates is 26 and they have not lost to a team with an RPI below 64. Add into that mix that the Pirates have wins over Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, at Cornell and an RPI of 53. Its not a great profile, but its a very weak bubble this year. That could be enough.  The other team that still has a shot of an at-large bid is UConn, simply because the Huskies have more good wins than most of the bubble teams. That said, they also have 14 losses. UConn will likely need to make it to the Big East semis for any kind of real shot at a bid.

The Big East Conference released their all-conference teams today, and there isn’t much there that I disagree with. (Note: there are six players on the first team because one of those six will win POY; POY, COY, and ROY will be announced on Tuesday between Big East Tournament sessions)

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RTC Live: Notre Dame @ Georgetown

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2010

Welcome back to RTC Live as we are here courtside at the Verizon Center as Notre Dame takes on Georgetown. The Irish have been playing arguably their best basketball of the season the last two games despite Luke Harangody still being out with a knee injury. No word yet on ‘Gody’s status (last I heard, Mike Brey had said he was doubtful). Without the big fella in the lineup, Notre Dame has relied on Tim Abromaitis, Ben Hansbrough, and Tory Jackson to shoulder a much bigger load of the scoring. If these three get hot (which they have a tendency to do), Notre Dame can compete with anyone in the country. Georgetown picked up a nice win against Louisville on the road last time out, and it was once a gain a result of Austin Freeman showing up. The junior guard scored the first eight second half points, had 18 in a 24-3 run to open the second half, and scored 24 of his 29 points in the second stanza as the Hoyas cameback from 11 down early in the game. Georgetown has three guys with the ability to carry the team. When they are all playing well at the same time, look out.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on February 26th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin Is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Barring an improbable collapse or an unforeseen run through Madison Square Garden, there are just six Big East teams that are still sitting somewhere on the bubble.

Syracuse, Villanova, Pitt, Georgetown, and West Virginia are all playing for seeding and a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. South Florida, Providence, Rutgers, DePaul, and St. John’s are all playing for pride and, well, pride.

That leaves the six teams sitting in the middle of the league — Marquette, Louisville, UConn, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, and Seton Hall — with a shot at dancing. Commencing Big East Bubble Breakdown.

Marquette:
  • 18-9, 9-6; RPI: 54, SOS: 65
  • vs. RPI top 25/50/100: 2-6, 3-7, 6-7
  • Best Wins: Xavier, Georgetown
  • Worst Losses: DePaul
As has been the case all season long for Marquette, their inability to win close games early in the season has been a killer. The Golden Eagles’ RPI does not properly represent how well this team has played this season. None of their nine losses have come by more than nine points, and seven have come by less than five points. It seems like Marquette’s luck is starting to turn a corner, as they have now won their last four close games, including Wednesday’s buzzer-beating W at St. John’s. Marquette gets Seton Hall on the road and Louisville and Notre Dame at home before heading to the Big East tournament, where it looks as if they will get a first round bye. Win three more games, and Marquette will lock up a bid.

Louisville:
  • 18-10, 9-6; RPI: 42, SOS: 9
  • vs. RPI top 25/50/100: 1-5, 2-6, 6-9
  • Best Wins: UConn, Syracuse
  • Worst Losses: Western Carolina, St. John’s
Louisville is in a tough spot. They have a solid RPI bolstered by very good strength of schedule, but they have not really beaten anyone this season. The win at Syracuse is as good as it gets, but after that, their best W is against a UConn team that could lose their last four games by 20 points and no one would be surprised. If the eye test matters to anyone, Louisville will pass with flying colors. They have a very good front line, anchored by Samardo Samuels and the suddenly-dangerous Jared Swopshire. Their backcourt, which has been inconsistent this season (although there have been some injuries), is as talented on paper as any in the conference save Villanova. Louisville has a tough schedule down the stretch, but that means that they will have three chances to really improve their resume — at UConn and Marquette (who are both fighting for a bubble spot as well), and at home for Syracuse (who will likely be playing for the Big East title and will be looking for revenge). Lose all three, and Louisville is in trouble. But if they win all three and make some noise in the Big East Tournament, and this is a team that could be a top six or seven seed.

Connecticut:

  • 17-11, 7-8; RPI: 40, SOS: 2
  • vs. RPI top 25/50/100: 3-5, 3-6, 9-9
  • Best Wins: Texas, Villanova, West Virginia
  • Worst Losses: Providence, Michigan
The Huskies are coming along at the right time. Since Jim Calhoun returned from his illness, UConn is 3-1 with wins over Villanova and West Virginia. Overall, UConn is in a similar boat to Louisville, as their lofty RPI is, in large part, a result of the tough schedule they have played. UConn brings up an interesting question – how will the committee handle the seven games Jim Calhoun missed? With him, the Huskies are 14-7. Without him, they are 3-4 with a loss to Providence. But UConn also beat Texas without him and lost to Cincinnati in terrible fashion without Calhoun. The Huskies get Louisville at home and South Florida and Notre Dame on the road. Win their last three and their first game in the Big East, and this team wins.

Cincinnati:

  • 16-11, 7-8; RPI: 59, SOS: 29
  • vs. RPI top 25/50/100: 1-3, 4-6, 6-11
  • Best Wins: Maryland, Vanderbilt, UConn X 2
  • Worst Losses: St. John’s
Cincinnati is in a really tough spot. Before beating DePaul, the Bearcats had lost four of their last five games and seven of their last eleven. And now they are sitting at 59th in the RPI without a good conference win under their belts. They will get three chances at getting one in their last three games, as they go on the road to face Villanova, get Georgetown at home, and play West Virginia on the road as well. As I said, the Bearcats are in trouble.

Seton Hall:

  • 16-10, 7-8; RPI: 52, SOS: 18
  • vs. RPI top 25/50/100: 1-7, 3-9, 6-10
  • Best Wins: Cornell, Pitt
  • Worst Losses: South Florida
You know, Seton Hall’s resume is not as bad as many people think it is. They have a couple of nice wins, beating Cornell on the road and knocking off Pitt and Louisville at home. They do have 10 losses, but of those ten, the only one that can be considered a “bad” loss came in overtime at South Florida during that two week stretch when South Florida was pretending they were good. The Pirates play three more regular season games – Marquette at home and Rutgers and Providence on the road. If they can win all three of those, a task which is far from improbable, the Pirates will head into the Big East Tournament at 10-8 in the league with a very real chance of being able to play their way into the tournament.

Notre Dame:

  • 18-10, 7-8; RPI: 72, SOS: 63
  • vs. RPI top 25/50/100: 1-7, 3-9, 6-10
  • Best Wins: West Virginia, Pitt
  • Worst Losses: Loyola Marymount, Northwestern, Rutgers

Call me crazy, but is Notre Dame playing better basketball without Luke Harangody? Since the all-american went out with a knee injury against Seton Hall, ND has looked downright scary at times. They lost to Louisville on the road in double overtime most recently they just put a whooping on Pitt at home. Without ‘Gody on the floor, ND seems to play better defense and move the ball better. The rest of the team also seems to be a bit more aggressive, knowing that they don’t have to get the big fella touches. In the three games ‘Gody has been out, Tim Abromaitis has up his average to 23.3 PPG in the last three. Ben Hansbrough is averaging 16.3 PPG. Tory Jackson is averaging 13.7 PPG, and scored 25 the night ‘Gody was hurt. Clearly, Notre Dame is a better basketball team with Luke on the floor, and they are going to need him if the Irish are to navigate a difficult stretch run — at Georgetown, UConn, at Marquette. With the losses ND has this season, they probably needed to sweep those three games and pick up at least one win in the Big East tournament for a shot at an at-large.

PLAYER AND TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kemba Walker and the Connecticut Huskies

Since we last checked in with you guys, UConn has gone on a tear. The Huskies have been left for dead a number of times this season, but I think that even the most diehard UConn fans at given up hope after an embarrassing loss to Cincinnati at home. Its one thing to lose at home, its another thing to get upset at home. But to lose the way UConn did was a downright disgrace. They didn’t play with any heart or emotion and showed no energy on either end of the floor. Should I even mention that it was Calhoun’s first game back from an illness? The performance was bad enough that just about everyone at the game questioned whether or not Calhoun had lost this team.

With Villanova looming on the horizon, most had written off the season. But at Villanova, the Huskies — and specifically Kemba Walker — woke up. Walker went for 29 points and a team-high nine boards to lead UConn to an upset win. Five days later, UConn went to Piscataway and knocked off Rutgers. And just this past Monday, the Huskies held off a tough West Virginia team down the stretch, running their winning streak to three games and giving UConn fans a real reason to hope for the postseason this year.

In the three wins, Walker averaged 22.0 PPG, shot 7-15 from three, and got to the line an incredible 36 times. He’s turning into a leader for the Huskies, something they have been waiting for all season long.

POWER RANKINGS

The Final Four Contenders

1. Syracuse (26-2, 13-2)
2. Villanova (23-4, 12-3)

The Sweet 16 Contenders

3. West Virginia (21-6, 10-5)
4. Pitt (21-7, 10-5)
5. Georgetown (19-7, 9-6)

The We-Passed-The-Eye-Test-ers

6. Marquette (18-9, 9-6)
7. Louisville (18-10, 9-6)

The You-Don’t-Want-To-Play-Us-ers

8. Connecticut (17-11, 7-8)
9. Seton Hall (16-10, 7-8)

The Sleepers

10. Cincinnati (16-11, 7-8)
11. Notre Dame (18-10, 7-8)

The Deep Sleepers

12. South Florida (16-11, 6-9)
13. St. John’s (15-12, 5-10)

The Rest

14. Providence (12-15, 4-11)
15. Rutgers (14-14, 4-11)
16. DePaul (8-19, 1-14)

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Set Your Tivo: 01.27.10

Posted by THager on January 27th, 2010

***** - quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** - best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** - set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** - set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* - don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

#23 Vanderbilt @ #14 Tennessee – 7pm on ESPNU (*****)

Bruce Busts Out the Orange Blazer in Big Games

This should be an absolutely fantastic game. It features one of the country’s favorite teams right now in Bruce Pearl’s new-look Volunteers, as well as the most underrated team in the country in Vanderbilt. These teams are in-state rivals, and a win will be huge for either team. Tennessee just suffered their first loss since the arrest of four players earlier this month to Georgia over the weekend. This group of “new” players has not had to face adversity yet this year on the court, so it will be key for their confidence to win this one at home. Vanderbilt is on a tear, winning their last nine games en route to becoming the only undefeated team remaining in the SEC. They have shown the ability to play both sound offense and defense at times, but tonight’s game will truly test their grit when they play in Knoxville, where the Volunteers have not lost since last season. As Wayne Chism goes, so goes the Vols. He only scored six points in UT’s loss to Georgia and eight points in their loss to USC, but he has shown the ability to carry the team on his back as well (Ole Miss comes to mind). If Chism gets going against the Commodores, Tennessee will keep their home winning streak alive.

Notre Dame @ #3 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

This is a fantastic game, but it may be lost among the plethora of incredible matchups available tonight. The Irish are right on the bubble if the season ended today, and they have six winnable games coming up on the horizon, so a victory over Villanova tonight could spark the fire they need to push through this season. Notre Dame is not getting much love in the polls, at #68 in the RPI and #80 according to Ken Pomeroy, but they are comparable to Villanova statistically. They average over 80 points a game and give up just 0.6 points more per contest than the Wildcats. Villanova is one of those teams that finds ways to win games, but Notre Dame has already beaten a top ten team previously this season in West Virginia. That victory was at home, though, and they will need to step up their game to win at the Wachovia Center, where the Wildcats are undefeated. Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher are the two guards to watch in this game, but Notre Dame also has some underrated guards in Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson that get overshadowed by their big men. Those two average more than five assists per game (Villanova has just one guard averaging over 3.5 per game) to complement forward Luke Harangody who can get down the court fairly quickly for a 246-pound player. Villanova has had more success this season, and is probably more talented as well, so expect the Wildcats to get off to their best start in school history tonight.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on January 15th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin Is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Let me paint you a picture.

Pitt is loaded. They have the Big East player in the post, an all-conference 20 PPG scorer on the wing, and a senior leader at the point running the show. They have depth, balance, quality role players, and one of the most unappreciated coaches in the game.

That was last season.

This season its a different story.

DeJuan Blair is gone. Sam Young is gone. Levance Fields is gone.

Before the season started, the consensus seemed to be that with those three went Pitt’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament trip. Nothing the Panthers did before the start of Big East play changed that assumption. Not coming back from a 13 point second half deficit against Wofford. Not an ugly, two overtime win over Duquesne. Not the 47 points they scored against New Hampshire. Not the loss to Indiana in Madison Square Garden.

But there’s something we didn’t take into consideration.

Jamie Dixon isn’t like most coaches.

Jamie Dixon doesn’t rely on talent to win. He doesn’t need a roster full of McDonald’s all-Americans. In fact, when Dixon brought freshman Dante Taylor into the program, he was Pitt’s first McDonald’s all-american since Bobby Martin and Brian Shorter joined the Panthers in 1987.

What we ignored was the fact that Dixon develops players. He grooms the kids that are overlooked by other programs to fit his system. Like Keith Benjamin and Ronald Ramon and Tyrell Biggs and even Levance Fields and Sam Young before them, guys like Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee bided their time last year. They played their limited minutes while practicing every day against some of the best players in the country, while learning how to defend, execute, and carry themselves like Big East champions.

Now that Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown are back in the rotation, now that this Pitt team is finally complete, we are finally seeing just how good the Panthers are; just how good of a program and system that Jamie Dixon runs.

Pitt’s team is built on toughness, defense, and execution on both sides of the ball. While we pointed out in the preseason that the Panthers had flaws this year — they don’t have any sure-fire lottery picks, they don’t have a dynamic playmaker at the point, they don’t have anyone that can go out and get you 25 points on a given night — what we didn’t point out was that they have a group of kids that bought into what Dixon was selling.

Like every team in Dixon’s tenure, this year’s Panthers defend. They rebound. They get seemingly every loose ball. They run their offense until they get an open look or a lane to the rim. They hit big shots. They demonstrate the physical toughness and the mental make-up required to compete with more talented teams, and to beat them on the road.

And they have just enough natural talent to get by.

Proof?

How about a 4-0 start in the Big East.

Three of those wins came on the road — in Syracuse, in Cincinnati, and in Hartford. All three are difficult places to play, and all three were NCAA tournament caliber teams.

When playing the cream of the Big East crop, there will be few games where the Panthers will be considered the more talented team on the floor even with their run the last two weeks. But rest assured, the Panthers will come away with more than their share of wins.

If the Big East was a car show, Jamie Dixon would be me and Pitt would be my 1995 Honda Accord. While the Jags breakdown, and the Lambo’s get speeding tickets, and the Corvette’s are traded in for newer models, and the Hummers guzzle gas, my Accord keeps getting the job done. The paint may be chipped on the side, the AC may be broken, there may be four blown out speakers that are useless because I don’t have a CD player and the radio antenna was ripped off, but you better believe that Accord gets me where I need to go and gets me there on time, all on 30 miles-per-gallon.

And while Pitt may not be the most aesthetically pleasing basketball team to watch, Dixon keeps steering this team right where it wants to be.

Atop the Big East standings.

Other notes from this week

  • I think it is safe to say we have the choke of the year, possibly in the country. Up 50-48 with 15 seconds left, Cinci’s Rashad Bishop took the ball out of bounds under St. John’s basket. He thought he had Deonta Vaughn open deep, but pulled a Pennington and underthrew the baseball pass. It was picked off by Dwight “Buckets” Hardy, who was fouled, making both free throws. With the game now tied and just 8.5 seconds on the clock, Lance Stephenson threw an inbounds pass away, which was stolen by Hardy who, again, knocked down two free throws. Vaughn missed a three at the buzzer that would have won it as the Bearcats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
  • Speaking of “Buckets” Hardy, one thing I’ve noticed in watching, and attending, a lot of these games is the number of fantastic nicknames in this conference. You know about Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson, but how about Jamine “Greedy” Peterson of Providence, Stanley “Sticks” Robinson of UConn, Robert “Sticks” Mitchell of Seton Hall, or Darryl “Truck” Bryant of West Virginia. I know there are more out there, as well.
  • Pitt wasn’t the only team getting to 100% as the season progressed. Villanova has now played six games with Reggie Redding, who has been exactly what we expected – 10.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.8 SPG. Take away a two points/seven turnover debacle in Monday’s yuck-fest against Louisville, and those numbers are much more impressive. Nova also got Mouph Yarou back. Yarou had been out with Hepatitis B, but came back on Jan. 6th against DePaul. While his numbers have been less than stellar as he works his way into the rotation, what has impressed about Yarou is his conditioning (Wright is on record saying Yarou is in better-than-expected shape). If Yarou can provide some strength on the glass and on defense, he could end up being a very nice complement to Antonio Pena. All of a sudden, with these two in the line-up, Villanova got a lot more physical.
  • Samardo Samuels was a monster against Villanova. He finished with 21 points and seven boards, hitting every shot he took (4-4 from the floor, 13-13 from the line) and blocking four shots. The problem? Louisville was too concerned about shooting threes to consistently get Samuels the touches he deserved in the paint. The Cardinals will be at their best when they play inside-out, because if Samuels is scoring and defenses are helping down on him (which will more often than not be the case), it will get the Louisville guards better looks on the perimeter.

CO-PLAYERS OF THE WEEKScottie Reynolds, Villanova, and Austin Freeman, Georgetown

Georgetown was dead in the water against UConn. The Huskies had absolutely imposed their will on this game, forcing Georgetown into turnovers and poor shot selection while making it a glorified pick-up game. In other words, they were playing Husky basketball. In Jim Calhoun’s words, it was UConn’s best half of the season. But during the break, Georgetown regrouped and came out more focused on the offensive end. They started to run their offense, to work through their sets, and as a result got much better looks at the rim. It just so happened the majority of those looks came with the ball in Austin Freeman’s hands. Freeman would go on to score 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half (his previous career high was 21). For the week, Freeman averaged 23.0 PPG  as the Hoyas went 2-1.

Scottie Reynolds, on the other hand, solidified himself among the best player’s in the country with the most efficient display of clutch shooting I’ve ever seen. Villanova, down 17 points at one time in a first half that saw them turn the ball over 17 times, turned the tables on Louisville in the second 20 minutes, and Reynolds was the reason why. He scored 30 second half points, 36 on the game, while shooting just 9-10 from the floor, 13-17 from the line, and making all five attempts from three. For the week, the Wildcats went 3-0, and Reynolds averaged 24.0 PPG in the three games.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Clearly, the team of the week was Pitt, but seeing as I’ve already wasted the majority of this column on the Panthers, I’m giving the Irish the nod. All-in-all, the Irish are not a bad team. They have the most productive player in the conference in Luke Harangody. They have two solid shooters/scoring options on the perimeter in Tim Abromaitis and Psycho-B Ben Hansbrough. They have a veteran point guard in Tory Jackson. They have some talent coming off the bench. But what the Irish didn’t have was a win to justify their record. They got that on Saturday, as they hit their first nine shots and opened up a 25-4 lead on West Virginia before the Mountaineers decided to start playing. While Notre Dame wasted away just about all of that cushion when WVU got hot (they hit 9-19 from deep in the second half), Harangody scored a big bucket with three minutes left to answer a Dalton Pepper three and put the Irish back up, 69-66. After getting some key stops down the stretch, the Irish can now add claim a resume win.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Villanova: 15-1, 4-0

Last Week: 1/6 vs. DePaul 99-72, 1/9 vs. Marquette 78-76, 1/11 @ Louisville 92-84

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Georgetown

2. Pittsburgh: 14-2, 4-0

Last Week: 1/13 @ UConn 67-57

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Louisville

3. Syracuse: 16-1, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Memphis 74-57, 1/10 vs. South Florida 82-65, 1/13 @ Rutgers 81-65

Next Week: 1/16 @ West Virginia, 1/18 @ Notre Dame

4. Georgetown: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Marquette 59-62, 1/9 vs. UConn 72-69, 1/14 vs. Seton Hall 85-73

Next Week: 1/17 @ Villanova

5. West Virginia: 13-2, 4-1

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Rutgers 86-52, 1/9 @ Notre Dame 68-70, 1/13 @ South Florida 69-50

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Syracuse

6. Connecticut: 11-5, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Seton Hall 71-63, 1/9 @ Georgetown 69-72, 1/13 vs. Pitt 57-67

Next Week: 1/17 @ Michigan

7. Louisville: 12-5, 3-1

Last Week: 1/6 @ Providence 92-70, 1/9 vs. St. John’s 75-68, 1/11 vs. Villanova 84-92

Next Week: 1/16 @ Pitt

8. Notre Dame: 14-3, 3-1

Last Week: 1/9 vs. West Virginia 70-68

Next Week: 1/16 @ Cincinnati, 1/18 vs. Syracuse

9. Marquette: 10-6, 1-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Marquette 62-59, 1/9 @ Villanova 76-78

Next Week: 1/17 vs. Providence

10. Cincinnati: 11-6, 2-3

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Cal St. Bakersfield 87-58, 1/9 @ Seton Hall 76-83, 1/13 @ St. John’s 50-52

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Notre Dame

11. Providence: 11-6, 3-2

Last Week: 1/6 vs. Louisville 70-92, 1/9 vs. Rutgers 94-81, 1/14 @ DePaul 79-62

Next Week: 1/17 @ Marquette

12. St. John’s: 11-5, 1-3

Last Week: 1/9 @ Louisville 68-75, 1/13 vs. Cincinnati 52-50

Next Week: 1/17 vs. DePaul

13. Seton Hall: 10-6, 1-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ UConn 63-71, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 83-76, 1/14 @ Georgetown 73-85

Next Week: N/A

14. South Florida: 10-6, 0-4

Last Week: 1/10 @ Syracuse 65-82, 1/13 vs. West Virginia 50-69

Next Week: 1/16 vs. Rutgers

15. Rutgers: 9-7, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ West Virginia 52-86, 1/9 @ Providence 81-94, 1/13 vs. Syracuse 65-81

Next Week: 1/16 @ South Florida

16. DePaul: 7-9, 0-4

Last Week: 1/6 @ Villanova 72-99, 1/14 vs. Providence 62-79

Next Week: 1/17 @ St. John’s

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on December 2nd, 2009

checkinginon

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Despite the holiday, loyal readers of RTC may have noticed something missing last week.

Where was Checking in on the Big East?  Without BIAH waxing poetic about the happenings within the nation’s biggest conference, how were you able function?

For that, I must apologize.  But, you see, it wasn’t all my fault.  For starters, the editors at RTC are ruthless.  Not only did they have me traveling up and down the eastern seaboard during the busiest travel weekend of the year, they forced me to cover the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT for RTC Live.

Brutal, those guys.  I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Anyway, I probably could have found the time to put together a recap for you, but apparently grandmas don’t realize that having dial-up isn’t the same as having the internet.  Old folks, you gotta love ‘em.  She made me a mean Thanksgiving leftover sandwich as a peace offering.  She’s not all bad, that one.  I forgave her, just like I hope you all will forgive me.

Back to the point, since we have a lot to go over, and seeing as the first few weeks of the college hoops season are a bit hectic, the structure of this post is going to be a bit different than future posts.  But never fear, as your trusty Big East expert is here to guide you through it.  So tuck the children in, strap on your seat belts, and, well, you tell them, B.B…

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #3 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2009

seasonpreview

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Predicted order of finish:

  1. Villanova
  2. West Virginia
  3. UConn
  4. Cincinnati
  5. Louisville
  6. Georgetown
  7. Syracuse
  8. Seton Hall
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Marquette
  12. South Florida
  13. Rutgers
  14. Providence
  15. St. John’s
  16. DePaul

Preseason Awards.

  • Player of the Year. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
  • Newcomer of the Year. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Breakout Player of the Year. Kemba Walker, UConn

big east logo

All-Conference First Team.

  • Kemba Walker, UConn
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
  • Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown
  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

All-Conference Second Team.

  • Jerome Dyson, UConn
  • Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
  • Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
  • Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette

All-Conference Third Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville

All-Rookie Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Peyton Siva, Louisville
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova
  • Dante Taylor, Pitt
  • Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova

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RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: February/March (Part Two)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 27th, 2009

seasonpreview

The final two-part edition of our Top 65 games delves into the exciting stretch run of the final five weeks. These highlighted games should have tremendous implications on seeding and conference standings with heated rivals doing battle in the final push towards March Madness. Here’s a preview of what’s guaranteed to be the best slate of games 2009-10 has to offer (top games of November/December, January and the first part of February/March in case you missed them):

February 16- North Carolina @ Georgia Tech (#36 overall)- Many believe Georgia Tech has assembled the talent to play with the supposedly rebuilding reigning champs. Still, UNC should be the favorite to win the ACC and Tech may be right on their heels (no pun intended). Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors make up a frontcourt composed of two possible lottery picks. Iman Shumpert (5.0 APG) returns to bolster the backcourt at the 1 or 2 position while Zach Peacock and Mo Miller provide depth for a Tech squad looking for a late-season impact win.

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February 22- West Virginia @ Connecticut (#20 overall)- Whether Stanley Robinson is assigned Da’Sean Butler on the perimeter or Devin Ebanks in the post, Stix is the key for Connecticut this season and in this specific Big East battle. Robinson averaged 14.0 PPG and 9.0 RPG in his final ten contests last year and the UConn coaching staff strongly believes their athletic forward can replicate that success the entire season. He won’t be spending the first half in a sheet metal plant this time around, either.

February 23- Tennessee @ Florida (#62 overall)- The Gators could linger around the bubble this season in a difficult SEC East. Knocking off likely high seed Tennessee at home would send a message to the committee at this late date in the season. It’s imperative Kenny Boynton have an electric shooting game against Tennessee’s shaky defense for the Gators to have a shot. They’ll also need Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons to contain the Tennessee bigs inside and out.

February 24- Purdue @ Minnesota (#32 overall)- A difficult road contest for a Purdue team looking to capture the Big Ten title. Minnesota always plays at a different level defensively at the Barn, meaning this could be a battle of wills in the 50s that sends Big Ten haters screaming in the streets. How Minnesota’s youth, whether it be sophomores Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson or their freshmen Royce White and Rodney Williams, develops into late February should reveal whether the Gophers can pull off this upset.

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