RTC 2009-10 Impact Players: Lower Midwest Region

Posted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009

impactplayers

Ed. Note: the previous posts in this series (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Atlantic South, Deep South and Mid-South) are located here.

It’s time for the sixth installment of our RTC 2009-10 Impact Players series, the group of rust belt and farming states that we like to call the Lower Midwest.   Each week we’ll pick a geographic area of the country and break down the five players who we feel will have the most impact on their teams (and by the transitive property, college basketball) this season.  Our criteria is once again subjective – there are so many good players in every region of the country that it’s difficult to narrow them down to only five  in each – but we feel at the end of this exercise that we’ll have discussed nearly every player of major impact in the nation.  Just to be fair and to make this not too high-major-centric, we’re also going to pick a mid-major impact player in each region as our sixth man.  We welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments where we left players off.  The only request is that you provide an argument – why will your choice be more influential this season than those we chose?

Lower Midwest Region (OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, KS)

lower_midwest

Ed. Note: for the purposes of our analysis in this region, Butler was considered a high-major program.

  • Cole Aldrich – Jr, C – Kansas. Much like North Carolina one October ago, Kansas appears to be the unanimous selection to begin the season atop every poll and ranking. One of the main reasons for such accolades is the continued improvement of Cole Aldrich, the Kansas double-double machine in the post. Remember the national semifinals against UNC in 2008 when Aldrich burst onto the scene recording eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in a then career-high 17 minutes? That was the night college hoops fans first saw what Aldrich can provide for Bill Self and his Jayhawks. In a full season of play, Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins were the anchors behind Kansas’ surprising run to a #3 seed and a Sweet 16 berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Cole Aldrich and a pretty good player named Blake Griffin were the only players in the Big 12 to average a double-double in 2008-09. Speaking of stats, Aldrich’s triple-double in the second round against Dayton – 13/20/10 blks- was the first recorded triple double in KU’s illustrious basketball history. Aldrich led the conference in blocks with at 2.7 BPG, finished second in rebounding at 12.4 RPG, second in FG% at 60% and tenth in FT% at an impressive 79% for a 6’11 center.  Aldrich possesses great length, a high motor and displays the fundamentals under the basket that Self loves. The insane talent around Aldrich this season will only put less of a load on his shoulders as the big man can rely on Collins for the clutch outside shot, Xavier Henry on the wings, Thomas Robinson on the block or Tyrel Reed to knock down the long-range three. But the pressure will be on Aldrich to provide a post presence that simply cannot be matched in the Big 12 (sorry Dexter Pittman).  If he achieves his potential, a national POY award isn’t out of the realm of possibility for Kansas’ prized junior center.
  • Craig Brackins – Jr, F – Iowa St. Craig Brackins won’t get half the airtime this season as any of the other high-major names on this list, but he could end up becoming the best player of the group when it’s all said and done.  It’s not as if Brackins came out of nowhere – he was a five-star recruit out of Brewster (NH) Academy in 2007, and he turned down offers from Indiana and Pitt, among others – but, when you play in the Big 12 and your team is generally an afterthought (4-12 in 2008-09), it’s tough to get noticed.  But noticed he got on Jan. 24th in a nationally-televised home game against the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks.  Brackins sliced and diced the vaunted Jayhawk defense for 42/14 in a losing effort that had Bill Self afterwards stating that the lanky center could be the “best player in the country today.”  That single game may have put the Iowa State star on the casual fan’s radar screen, but it’s not like Brackins wasn’t tearing it up against everyone else too:  32/16 against N. Iowa; 28/17 against Jacksonville St.; 38/14 against Houston; 25/13 against Nebraska.  The all-Big 12 first teamer nearly averaged a double-double for the season (20.2 PPG and 9.5 RPG) despite seeing hard and fast double-teams every time he touched the ball.  It was widely presumed that Brackins would jump into the NBA Draft last summer after such a spectacular season; after all, projections for him of the lottery and mid-first round were prevalent.  However, Brackins said that he had some unfinished business to attend to at ISU (meaning, getting the Cyclones to an NCAA Tournament), and he returned to what should be an improved squad with 6’7 juco transfer Marquis Gilstrap’s arrival on the blocks and a solid returning backcourt of Diante Garrett and Lucca Staiger.  The only true weakness he has exhibited so far in his career is his 28% from beyond the arc, but with more firepower on the team this year he may be less inclined to feel like he has to do it all (Brackins attempted 37% of ISU’s shots last year).  Regardless of how the team’s season plays out in 2009-10, there should be no doubt that Brackins is on the short list of best post men in America.  With another year of seasoning under his belt at the collegiate level, however, we could be looking at a top five pick next June.  Don’t flip the channel so quickly if you see that Iowa St. is playing on the tube this year – it may be one of your few chances to see one of the best big men in the country.
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RTC Aftermath: #2 UConn 72, Notre Dame 65

Posted by nvr1983 on March 1st, 2009

I’m assuming that most of you got a chance to see this game unlike the last RTC Live when Providence knocked off #1 Pittsburgh. As a result this RTC Aftermath will not be quite as extensive as our first edition, but what we lack in length we will make up for in quality.

This was my first trip to Storrs, Connecticut and I have to say that I was surprised at how small the town is. I’m not sure if I missed the town center coming off of I-84, but it’s easily the smallest town for any state school that I have visited. The campus itself is pretty nice even if it lacks the uniqueness of some other campuses I have visited on this year’s RTC Live tour. Gampel Pavilion is a relatively nondescript building much like the other places we have visited this year with the except of UNC with the Dean Smith Center. Interestingly, the Huskies split their home games between Gampel and the XL Center in Hartford. While the XL Center seats more fans (16,294 compared to 10,167 in Gampel), the students seemed almost unanimous in agreement that they prefer the atmosphere when the games are held at Gampel. The one complaint they did have about Gampel was the lack of student seating. From what we were told (and my eyes seemed to confirm it), students are confined to a small section behind one basket and in the upper level behind another basket. Most of the students would have preferred to have been situated along the sidelines to make the atmosphere more imposing for visiting teams similar to Cameron Indoor at Duke as much as the students hated to say it. I’m not sure how the boosters seated along the sidelines would react to the proposition, but it is an interesting idea.

Pre-game
Pre-game
My view from underneath the basket
My view from underneath the basket
Clark Kellogg and Jim Nantz
Clark Kellogg and Jim Nantz

Pre-Game: For the second game in a row, we were there for a team’s Senior Night. Or was it Senior Day this time since the opening tip was at 2 PM? While the Huskies did not have as many seniors as Providence did, the scene was no less emotional as the fans were particularly excited for two players: A.J. Price, who has battled personal problems (he was the other guy in the Marcus Williams computer theft case) as well as medical problems (radiosurgery for an arteriovenous malformation and ACL surgery), and Jeff Adrien, the team’s physical inside presence and fan favorite for his interaction with the student section before and after games. As an added bonus, Jim Calhoun was honored for winning his 800th game (on Wednesday at Marquette). The student section was given cardboard Calhoun faces (think PTI’s Role Play) and they unveiled a banner celebrating the fact his 800th win although there were some technical difficulties when they tried to unveil the banner.

Adrien and Calhoun
Adrien and Calhoun

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RTC Live: Notre Dame at #2 UConn – Saturday 2 PM ET

Posted by nvr1983 on February 26th, 2009

rtc_live

We’re following up Tuesday Night’s RTC Live where Providence knocked off #1 Pittsburgh leading  to the first RTC Aftermath with a trip to Storrs, Connecticut, where Notre Dame will attempt to knock off UConn. While the game is significant for the Huskies (a win would mean they would go back to #1), it is enormous for the Fighting Irish. Mike Brey‘s squad remains on the bubble despite winning 4 of their last 5 games (including a 33-point annihilation of a very good Louisville team that played very poorly) after going a month without a win (7 consecutive losses), but a win over Jim Calhoun‘s Huskies would be huge for their NCAA tournament resume and would put them in position to finish 10-8 in the Big East with their remaining games against Villanova and St. John’s in South Bend.

The last time these teams met was on January 24th when UConn came into the Joyce Center and beat the Fighting Irish, 69-61, to end Notre Dame’s home winning streak at 45, which was the longest in the nation at that time. In that game, UConn held Notre Dame to 33% FG and used a 13-1 run in the 2nd half (along with a huge edge at the line–30 attempts compared to 4 for the Irish) to put the game away. Jerome Dyson, who won’t be playing on Saturday as he is out for the year with a meniscal tear, led the Huskies in scoring with 15 points to go with 9 rebounds. Jeff Adrien also had a big game with 12 points and 19 rebounds. Luke Harangody led the Irish with 24 points and 15 rebounds despite playing against Hasheem Thabeet, the likely national defensive player of the year. Notre Dame’s other big scoring threat, Kyle McAlarney, started off hot hitting his first three shots from beyond the arc before going pulling a John Starks-in-Game 7 performance by missing his last 12 shots from the field. Senior guard Ryan Ayers also struggled with his shooting going 1-for-10 from the field in the game.Since that game, which was featured on ESPN GameDay, the teams have gone in opposite directions. The Huskies went on a roll with the exception of their hiccup last Monday against Pittsburgh while the Irish, who were ranked 19th in the nation at the time, lost their next 5 games as part of their month-long 7-game losing streak.

The big match-up in this game will be in the middle where Harangody will be battling Thabeet, who called out Harangody on an ESPN cover in the pre-season (Thabeet later apologized). These two will likely end up on the first team All-Big East squad and on an All-American team. While Harangody dominated Thabeet statistically in the first match-up, Thabeet’s defense disrupted Notre Dame’s attack enough to help the Huskies escape with the win. [Please don't leave a Chamberlain-Russell comparison in the comment section. This also applies for Michael Lewis-style Shane Battier arguments.] One of the interesting aspects of this match-up outside of the obvious offense/defense contrast is whether Harangody’s outside game can draw Thabeet away from the basket opening up space for Notre Dame to clean up underneath. Unfortunately for the Irish, they don’t have another interior presence on the offensive end. Thus, barring an explosion from Harangody, which he is capable of, the interior match-up will probably end up being a draw with Stanley Robinson and Adrien making up for any statistical advantage that Harangody has over Thabeet because I’m not expecting much out of Zach Hillesland (5.4 PPG and 5.5 RPG) against the Huskies frontline.

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Set Your Tivos: 02.07.09

Posted by nvr1983 on February 6th, 2009

Set Your Tivos
I’m not sure why everyone complains about February. Sure the NFL season is over, but at least we don’t need to hear about steroids, holdouts, and whether or not both feet were in bounds. There isn’t a blockbuster “Game of the Year” match-up today, but there are several solid games for the hoops aficionado. So just settle into your favorite spot on the couch and dig in. In the spirit of promoting healthy habits, we suggest that you try to have some vegetables today so use some ketchup on your food today.

#20 Syracuse at #16 Villanova at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The appetizer for a great day of basketball. This isn’t necessarily a must win for either team, but a win today would probably boost their NCAA seed by at least a spot on Selection Sunday. Both teams have virtually assured themselves a NCAA bid (particularly with Syracuse’s relatively easy remaining schedule in the Big East). One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that if the Orangemen lose, there is a decent chance that they will drop out of the top 25 leaving the Big East with only 5 teams in the top 25 after having as many as 9 teams earlier this season. Anyways, back to the game. Watch the match-up at point guard featuring Jonny Flynn against Scottie Reynolds. The winner of that match-up will likely win the game barring an explosion by either Eric Devendorf or Dante Cunningham.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Cincinnati at Georgetown at Noon on The Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Georgetown is killing me this year. I saw them play in Orlando against Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic. They lost that game, but it was pretty clear to me that day that they had the talent to make it to the Sweet 16 at the very least. I never imagined that they might be in a position at this point in the season that they might not make the NCAA tournament. To be fair, at that time I was also operating under the assumption that Tennessee was good. The Hoyas were able to break their 5-game losing streak against Rutgers and will need to beat the Bearcats if they want to get some momentum heading into their game against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. If John Thompson III is able to figured out a way to keep Deonta Vaughn in check, the Hoyas should be able to ride Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summer to a victory.

Notre Dame at #12 UCLA at 1 PM on CBS: The Irish are desperate for a victory having lost 6 straight games. They will have to end their losing streak in one of the rare non-conference match-ups this month. Everybody knows Luke Harangody is going to get his (25.3 PPG and 13.2 RPG), but Notre Dame will need Kyle McAlarney to break out of his prolonged shooting slump and get a great game out of Tory Jackson, who will be matched up against the Bruins veteran PG, Darren Collison. Look for UCLA to pull away in the 2nd half behind Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holiday.

Miami (FL) at #3 Duke at 1:30 PM on Raycom, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: I’m fully expecting Duke to come back strong at home after the massacre at Littlejohn on Wednesday night, which is something that rtmsf actually predicted before the game (sort of), but nobody picked up on until after the game. (Ok, nobody has really picked up on it yet.) On the other hand, Miami was on the right side of the other blowout upset beating Wake Forest by 27. Look for Kyle Singler to rebound with a strong game after a weak “effort” against Clemson that was plagued by foul trouble. Coach K will likely use Gerald Henderson, the only Blue Devil who showed up against Clemson, on Jack McClinton in an attempt to slow down the mercurial Miami star. If Singler and Henderson can contain or at least equal Dwayne Collins and McClinton, respectively, the Blue Devils should return to their winning ways. Well at least until UNC invades Cameron on Wednesday night.

kyle-singler

#17 Texas at Nebraska at 2 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Texas will be looking to rebound after back-to-back losses on the road. Today, they return to Austin to take on the Cornhuskers. Look for A.J. Abrams and Damion James to have big games as Rick Barnes‘s squad will definitely be motivated in this one after falling 3.5 back of conference leader Oklahoma. If Abrams and James have big games that should be enough to hold off Nebraska’s balanced attack.

Michigan at #1 UConn at 6 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This is a game that the Huskies should be able to win fairly convincingly particularly with the game in Gampel Pavillion, but as this year has taught us never expect too much out of the #1 ranked team in the country. A Michigan win would obviously do wonders for their NCAA tournament chances, but it will tough particularly with John Beilein‘s recent changes in his rotations including bringing DeShawn Sims off the bench in their 71-51 win over Penn State in their last game. The new lineup, which is still led by Manny Harris, may provide some match-up problems for UConn and their big men. I expect UConn to pull this one especially with the recent play of Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, but Michigan could give them problems and Beilein certainly knows all about the Huskies dating back to his days as the coach at West Virginia.

Charleston at Davidson at 6 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Most people will tune in just to watch Stephen Curry, but this could actually be a realtively close game (a rarity for the Wildcats in the weak Southern Conference). When these teams met earlier this season, the Wildcats escaped with a 4-point win on the road after Charleston had a chance to tie it with a 3 with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. This is particularly meaningful as the Wildcats haven’t lost a Southern Conference game since January 20, 2007 (a 43-game winning streak). As an added bonus, you can see Bobby Cremins (former head coach of Georgia Tech) try to come up with a scheme to guard Curry. Cremins is one of the few coaches in the country who has had a player who was at Curry’s level or even above that as he coached Kenny Anderson (along with Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver aka “Lethal Weapon 3″) to the NCAA Final 4 in 1991.

www.zimbio.com
Credit: www.zimbio.com

Florida State at #10 Clemson at 7 PM on NESN and Fox Sports: I’m actually more interested in this game than the others for my own selfish reason since I’ll be doing another RTC Live when Clemson comes to Boston College on Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers have returned to Earth after their beatdown the hated Blue Devils just a few days ago. Oliver Purnell‘s squad had better be ready because the Seminoles are a fairly dangerous team (ask Roy Williams, who needed a Ty Lawson 3 at the buzzer to pull out a win against FSU). This is a classic letdown game so it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on it especially if Toney Douglas gets hot or if either Trevor Booker or K.C. Rivers isn’t on his game after the celebrations following the Duke win.

#19 Minnesota at Ohio State at 8 PM on The Big Ten Network: Minnesota will be licking its wounds after getting crushed by Michigan State at the Breslin Center earlier this week. Unfortunately for Tubby Smith, the Gophers have to head to Columbus to take on a Buckeye team that just knocked off Purdue. If Evan Turner is hot, the Buckeyes could make a move into the top 25 with a win here knocking the Gophers out in the process.

#23 Arizona State at Oregon State at 8:30 PM on Fox Sports: James Harden and the Sun Devils will be looking to complete the Oregon sweep against Craig Robinson‘s Beavers. [Ed. Note: Isn't Robinson related to some famous guy? I thought I heard something about it on the news.] The Beavers, who were undefeated following Barack Obama‘s Inauguration, finally lost to Arizona ending Oregon State’s hopes of riding Obama-mania to an undefeated term. If the Sun Devils can contain Calvin Haynes, they should hand the Beavers a second consecutive defeat.

Do you pay your taxes?
No, Mr. President. I’m not Reggie Love.

#15 Memphis at #18 Gonzaga at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Spokane is the site of ESPN GameDay today and it features a match-up of two highly regarded programs that hit rough patches this season, but have rebounded well. Gonzaga appears to have used their victory over Tennessee in Knoxville as a catalyst for their resurgence (Patty Mills‘s injury didn’t hurt either). Memphis, on the other hand, appears to have found its rhythm again with John Calipari‘s decision to move freshman Tyreke Evans from shooting guard to point guard (the kid is lost when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands). Evans has responded with his best play of the season and the Tigers have not lost since the move. Interestingly, both teams dominance in their leagues means that this is a huge game for each in terms of NCAA seeding. A win today would probably be worth 2 seeds on Selection Sunday assuming both teams are able to run the table for the rest of the regular season. Despite the fact that both teams have pretty balanced scoring attacks (4 starters in double figures for each team), the key to this game will likely be the PG match-up of Evans versus Jeremy Pargo. If the more experienced Pargo can outplay Evans, the Bulldogs should be able to run away with this one. If he isn’t, we could be in for a hard-fought game.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.24.09 & 01.25.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 23rd, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Check in with RTC on Saturday all day long as we piggyback the slowly burning wick of Boom Goes the Dynamite, your virtually live weekly journal of notes and observations about the day’s biggest games. 

Saturday
Game of the Day
#3 UConn at #19 Notre Dame at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Irish will be looking to bounce back from consecutive road losses (at Louisville and at Syracuse), but that will be a tall task (insert Hasheem Thabeet joke here) against UConn–a team that many consider the best in the Big East (not just based on ranking). Reigning Big East POY Luke Harangody will have his hands full on the inside battling Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. The match-up on the outside should be even more interesting with the Irish backcourt of Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, and Ryan Ayers battling A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker. I’m not sure if the Irish have anybody to contend with slashing ability of UConn, but the key to this game will likely be the production of Price and Walker.

Although UConn is clearly the superior team in this match-up, they will have a tough time in South Bend as the Fighting Irish come into the game with a NCAA-best 44-game home winning streak. Mike Brey desperately needs this game if he wants to establish his team in the upper half of the league. A win for UConn would solidify their place as the Big East favorites and build on their already strong resume. It will be a hard-fought game, but I think in the end Jim Calhoun‘s squad will end the streak tonight.

Others to Watch
#11 UCLA at Washington at 4 PM on FSN: After a slow start (2-3), the Huskies have rallied to win 11 of their last 12 with their only loss coming by 3 points in OT to Cal. I’m not sure what clicked up there in Seattle, but now they are looking like a Pac-10 contender. If they want to challenge for the league title, they will have to knock off UCLA, the current kings of the Pac-10. I’m sure that Ben Howland has been all over his Bruins for their awful execution down the stretch last Saturday in their loss at home to Arizona State. It does not look like the Bruins have fully recovered from that meltdown as they nearly lost in Pullman to Washington State Thursday night and only survived thanks to a career-high 20 points from Nikola Dragovic. UCLA will need more consistent play from its perimeter players (Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, and Jrue Holldiay) or hope they find an inside game if they want to make yet another Final 4 appearance. For those of you who haven’t been following the Huskies, keep an eye on their diminutive freshman point guard Isaiah Thomas (15.8 PPG and 3.2 APG). It looks like is a future star in the Pac-10. Let’s hope that he isn’t charge of personnel moves/recruiting.

#23 Baylor at #5 Oklahoma at 4 PM on ESPNU: This is a match-up of two of the top 3 teams in the Big 12 (at least according to the polls). The Bears rely on a balanced attack with 5 players averaging double figures led by Curtis Jerrells, who averages 17.1 PPG. Scott Drew will need all 5 guys to hit their averages and hope for a little luck to steal one in Norman as Oklahoma is the clear favorite in the league. They are led by national POY candidate Blake Griffin who comes in averaging a ridiculous 22.3 PPG and 13.6 RPG. If he can get consistent support from Willie Warren and Tony Crocker this Sooner team could make deep run in March because I don’t think anybody in the country can guard Griffin.

Keep an eye on
Maryland at #2 Duke at Noon on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Even though this has traditionally been a heated rivalry I normally would not keep this game here except for the fact that if Duke wins they will be your new #1 team in the country. If they do get to #1, John Stevens is pretty sure that you will hear about it.

UW-Milwaukee at #17 Butler at Noon on Time Warner Sports 32, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Butler is clearly the class of the Horizon League, but UW-Milwaukee may be the second best team in the conference so if anybody is going to knock Butler off in their conference tournament and create total chaos on Selection Sunday it may well be the Panthers.

#24 Memphis at Tennessee at 3:30 PM on CBS: It’s amazing that this match-up, which featured two powerhouses last year, has been reduced to this level. Memphis has the excuse of losing Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts. The Vols certainly lost some key players, but after coming into the season ranked in the top 10, this has to be a very disappointing start for Bruce Pearl. This would be a good way to start to resurrect the Vols’ season.

Wisconsin at #24 Illinois at 4 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Bruce Weber will be looking for his Fighting Illini to continue their impressive start against a Badger team that is coming off 3 straight losses with the last 2 coming in OT.

#13 Xavier at LSU at 8 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Normally I would hype this game as a mid-major team trying to steal one against the mighty BCS, but I can’t really do that this year with Butler ranked 13th and the SEC’s conspicuous absence from the polls (Florida is ranked in one, but will be gone with that awful loss to South Carolina). Ignoring that, this would be a great win for Xavier to add to their already strong resume for Selection Sunday, but they shouldn’t be overconfident heading into Baton Rouge as the Tigers having been playing well this season and are undefeated at home. [Yes. I realize I just warned Xavier not to be overconfident heading into a road game against a SEC team.]

Sunday
Game of the Day
#12 Louisville at #8 Syracuse at Noon on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Finally we have a great game on Sunday. After several weekends with loaded Saturdays followed by a set of duds on Sunday, we get the hottest team in the Big East (Louisville) traveling to play at the team with the most to prove (Syracuse). We at RTC had been critical of Rick Pitino‘s Cardinals when they started slowly but they seem to have turned it around although it seems like the nation did not seem to take notice until they knocked off then #1 Pittsburgh. On the other sideline, Jim Boeheim‘s squad will be looking to bounce back from a difficult stretch where they lost games on the road to Georgetown and Pittsburgh with a win at home against Notre Dame sandwiched between those losses.

This game will likely come down to which team’s strength wins out. Syracuse has the edge on the outisde with Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Andy Rautins having the upper hand in their match-up Earl Clark and Edgar Sosa. Louisville will have the edge on the inside with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Williams going against Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris. I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched with Syracuse’s advantages being perimeter play and home court while Louisville’s advantages being inside play and momentum. I’ll go with the easy 2s and momentum and take Louisville to continue their current hot streak.

Others to Watch
#7 Michigan State at Ohio State at 3:45 PM on CBS: OSU had been playing better before its trip to Illinois the other night.  Still, West Virginia is the only team to get them on their home court this season, so Michigan St. had best bring a better game than it brought Wed. night against Northwestern, or they’ll be staring at 2 Ls this week.

#4 Pittsburgh at West Virginia at 4 PM on Big East Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: This game suddenly became even more interesting considering how dominant the Mountaineers looked tonight in DC against Georgetown.  Pitt recovered nicely with a home win against Syracuse, and they match up very well with the undersized WVU team, but so did Georgetown.  One thing you can be sure about in this one – most players will leave this one black and blue.

Virginia Tech at Miami at 5:30 PM on FSN: Anyone want to lay odds on which Virginia Tech team shows up coming off their victory over #1 Wake Forest on Wednesday?  Will it be the Hokie team that lost to Seton Hall and Georgia, or the one who led Wake from start to finish?  We’re betting it’s the SH/Georgia version.

Georgia Tech at #9 Clemson at 7:45 PM on FSN: This is a really weak set of FSN games this weekend (frankly the entire weekend is disappointing).  Still, if you’ve got nothing else going on, you can spend a couple of hours watching Paul Hewitt try to save his job and Oliver Purnell try to convince you that the Tigers are legit.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.17.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 16th, 2009

Set Your Tivos

Game of the Day #1

#12 Georgetown at #2 Duke on CBS at 1:30 PM

John Thompson III might want to think about asking the AD at Georgetown for a new schedule maker. I can understand wanting to get your team ready for the tournament, but this is ridiculous. Coming off a brutal start to their Big East schedule (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Syracuse), the Hoyas get a respite by heading out of conference with a leisurely trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have a 67-game home non-conference winning streak. Normally a trip to Cameron would be a major focus of any team’s season, but with the Hoyas’ recent schedule it will be interesting to see if they have anything left in the tank.

This has the potential to be an entertaining game with great matchups all over the floor. The most interesting matchup will be Greg Monroe against Kyle Singler. While Monroe has more potential and will be a higher NBA Draft pick, Singler is quite talented too and plays at a high level more consistently. I’m not sure how Duke will open up because I don’t think Brian Zoubek has a chance against Monroe, but with Monroe’s tendency to coast it might not be such a big issue for stretches of the game. The matchup will be made more interesting by the fact that Duke was the front-runner for Monroe (the #1 high school recruit at times last year) for most of the recruiting season before committing to Georgetown. If Monroe had joined Singler in the middle, Coach K could have had a legitimate title contender.

If Coach K decides to put Zoubek on Monroe, Singler will end up playing against DaJuan Summers who has really stepped up his game this year (15.1 PPG on 53.8% FG and 44.4% 3FG). Either way, it should be an interesting match-up on the inside. Singler probably has the most complete game of any of the 4 bigs in the starting lineup, but Zoubek is still the weakest link of the Duke starting lineup despite his tremendous improvement since he has been at Duke.  Singler’s ability to shoot from outside brings up another intriguing aspect of this game about whether Monroe can come out and defend Singler if necessary. The Hoyas might be best served to put Summers on Singler to keep Monroe out of foul trouble because they will need Monroe to play 30+ minutes if they hope to pull off the upset in Cameron. In the end, it might be the battle on the inside and who controls the boards that will determine outcome of the game despite the talented guards on both sides.

The backcourts also provide some interesting match-ups: Nolan Smith vs. Chris Wright, Jon Scheyer vs. Jessie Sapp, and Gerald Henderson vs. Austin Freeman. All of these are intriguing match-ups with solid players who are capable of taking over a game at any time. Keep an eye on Henderson in this one since he’s the one world-class athlete on the Duke team and he has stepped it up recently including taking over the 2nd half of the game against FSU last Saturday.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2009

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

Give me an honest answer. What do you think is a more impressive accomplishment? Winning the Big East regular season title, winning the Big East Tournament, or reaching the Final Four?

Me? I’m going with the Big East regular season title. Every single time you step on the court in this league, it is a dogfight. It’s ridiculous what these teams go through. Take a look at the next six days for Syracuse: they head to DC on Wednesday to take on Georgetown, return back to Syracuse to face Notre Dame on Saturday, then travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers for Big Monday. Three games against top 15 teams in the span of six days culminating in a date with the #1 team in the country. And that isn’t an uncommon occurrence this year. Every team does it at least once (Running the Gauntlet, we’ve gone over this kiddies). The only conference that can match a run like that is the ACC, and that would have to mean one of Wake Forest, Clemson, Duke, or UNC plays the all of the other three. Tennessee playing Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas in the span of a week just isn’t quite the same thing.

What I love about this year’s version of the Big East is the unpredictability. I could legitimately see four different teams winning the regular season title and three others that, if they get hot, could reel off six or seven straight wins and end up on top. Before league play started, it was UConn. Then they lost to Georgetown on opening night, and the Hoyas became the team to beat. Then Pitt rolled through DC to become the new and current favorite. Who is next? Pitt plays Louisville and Syracuse this week. If one of those two knocks off the Panthers, are they the favorite of the week?

The more I think about it, winning the Big East tourney title may be a tougher feat than reaching a Final Four as well. For the first time, all 16 teams will be headed to Madison Square Garden to participate in the conference tournament, which just so happens to be the number of teams that play in each regional in the NCAA’s.

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Dynamic Duos in Search of a Third Wheel

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2009

John Stevens is featured columnist for RTC.  His columns will appear on Tuesdays throughout the season. 

Ask any college basketball coach what a team needs to succeed in March and you’ll get a variety of answers — solid point guard play, a big inside threat, conditioning, luck, a guarantee that John Stevens will NOT bet on you – all popular answers.  A “go-to” guy is also a popular response, but I think history has shown that simply one standout player will not prove sufficient.  These days you have to have a balanced squad in addition to having at least two players you can call actual “go-to” guys.  A viable third option can have you breathing rarified air, indeed.  This season has proven incredibly interesting in that we have a lot of teams that are being seemingly led — whose very identities are made — by a couple of standout players.  In addition, if these teams that are led by Dynamic Duos see a helpful third option emerge — watch out.  There’s at least one of these teams in each of the major conferences, so let’s take a look at them.


 
ACC — Miami (FL)
 
True, the Hurricanes’ schedule is a little bland, but you can’t ignore a team with tough wins both at Kentucky and at Boston College.  Jack McClinton (16.9/2.8/3.1) and Dwayne Collins (12.1/7.8/1.3) have propelled this Miami team that has eleven guys who average at least 10 minutes a game which means that they have many options in terms of developing that third option.  Cyrus McGowan is an efficient player who provides 7.2/6.1 and he does it averaging 5 minutes less than the other significant scorers on that team, but the most likely candidate here to step up as the third option is James Dews, who averages 9.2/2.7 but upped his game in those big wins above against UK and BC by contributing 18 and 12, respectively.  You gotta give props to a guy who elevates himself in the big games.


 
Big 12 — Missouri
 
On their way to a 13-3 record so far, Missouri hasn’t exactly been sleeping on the job schedule-wise, tallying wins against USC and a surprising California side and losing a tough one to Xavier.  To that end, DeMarre Carroll (16.1/6.6) and Leo Lyons (14.6/6.2) have been a true Dynamic Duo for the Tigers because after that the production falls off to Matt Lawrence (9.6/2.3), especially in terms of rebounding (note: of course, Lyons needs to get this recent traffic thing sorted out).  Along with J.T. Tiller, Lawrence represents the most likely candidate to be the next option; Tiller averages the third most minutes on the team but Lawrence is actually more productive despite playing 4 fewer minutes per game.

I bet Demarre can beat me at curls. (photo credit: kansan.com)

Big East — Notre Dame
 
I know I don’t have to tell you about Luke Harangody; despite the special player he is I personally find more excitement watching Kyle McAlarney (16.6/2.6/3.4) because the man just has locker-room range.  Seriously, he’d shoot from his dorm room if they’d let him.  And even then you better get a guy on him.  ND might not seem like a Dynamic Duo-led team because they have two other starters — Tory Jackson and Ryan Ayers — averaging over 30 minutes a game (Jackson actually plays more than Harangody, by the numbers), but the offensive dropoff is certainly evident after McAlarney and the team is defined by those top two fellows.  Jackson is the obvious third option candidate, here; he puts together a good floor game on the whole (4.6 rpg/5.9 apg/1.5 spg).  It’s not like he doesn’t do enough, but if he became even more of a third scoring option to take even just a little of the heat off of the Harangody/McAlarney exacta, Notre Dame will become an even bigger Final Four threat come March.


 
Big Ten — Michigan State
 
People still seem to be defining the Fighting Izzos by that rectal-exam-with-an-audience that UNC gave them a while back.  This is a mistake.  Raymar Morgan (15.1/7.1) and Kalin Lucas (13.9/5.9 apg) have been the Dynamic Duo for Sparty so far, as everyone knows, but these guys have reeled off nine straight since getting tuned-up by the Tar Heels and they basically have their third option back, now, in the form of Goran Suton, already averaging 9.2/6.8 in only nine games back.  This will likely continue to rise.  It makes Michigan State a team you cannot ignore as we enter the second half of the season.  They’ve obviously put the North Carolina game behind them.  Everyone else should, too.
 
Pac-10 — Arizona State
 
We all know James Harden (23.1/5.8/4.7) and we’re getting to know Jeff Pendergraph (13.6/7.1).  After that, the offensive production and glasswork drops off a little to Richard Kuksiks (10.9/3.6), the apparent choice for presumed third option, here.  He’s up to playing even more minutes than Pendergraph on the average, and he’s shooting a pretty tasty 53% from 3-point range.  I am, however, going to anoint Derek Glasser as the best option for third-man-in; he’s only contributing 6.4 points (fifth on the team) but he’s a great distributor of the ball (5.3 apg, leads team), has shown a tendency to come up with a timely pilfer, and is darn reliable at the line (81.1%, second on team) — all important qualities during tournament time.  Even the slightest increase in his point production would make ASU even more dangerous than they already are.
 
SEC — Kentucky
 
The textbook Dynamic Duo team.  Probably not a better example in all of college basketball this season.  We’re not even going to talk about Jodie Meeks’ (24.2/3.4, 90.1% FT) legendary performance last night and Patrick Patterson (18.9/9.3) is creeping up every online NBA mock draft, a bittersweet fact for Wildcat fans.  After that, the offensive production falls all the way down to Perry Stevenson at 7.1ppg.  Heck, Patterson is actually third on the team in assists (2.6).  As far as possibilities for third-option status, with this team that’s a tough question.  They are absolutely loaded with pure, talented athletes, but UK followers have waited all year for a third player to assert himself.  Still hasn’t happened.  It has to for this team, because Meeks can’t score 54 every night and there will probably be more than one night where Meeks goes cold and Patterson is well-defended (or vice-versa).  My choice for third option for this team is DeAndre Liggins, the team’s assist leader at only 3.6 apg.  If he can cut down on freshman mistakes and provide even a small increase in his point production, Kentucky will be formidable — and that means this year, not next year.  Without a third option, Selection Sunday might get a little tense for this Kentucky team.


 
It will be especially interesting to see if Miami (FL), Missouri, and Kentucky eventually see a third player emerge for them, since they’re…well, it’s too early to use the “b-word,” but let’s just say they’re fighting for tournament entry right now.  Even if it isn’t the player I’ve predicted, if any of these squads see a third person elevate his game in hopes of providing more assistance to the Dynamic Duo already leading them, you best keep an eye out for them.  These teams are close to making the jump, even now.  Adding a good third option to their particular Dynamic Duo will improve them exponentially, and I wouldn’t want to see any of them in my sub-bracket.

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Set Your Tivos: 01.12.09 & 01.13.09

Posted by nvr1983 on January 12th, 2009

Set Your TivosBecause of the weak schedule the next two days, I’m doing a 2-for-1 edition of Set Your Tivos covering both Monday and Tuesday night for you today.

Monday
#13 Notre Dame at #20 Louisville at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: After a tough victory at Villanova on Saturday (best game of the day), Rick Pitino will be looking to have his Cardinals build on the momentum as the reigning Big East POY Luke Harangody comes to town. The Cardinals will have their hands full with the experience of the Fighting Irish to go along with the inside play of Harangody (24.5 PPG and 12.7 RPG) and the outside shooting of Kyle McAlarney (16.5 PPG on 46.3% from 3). While Harangody gets all the hype (for good reason), Mike Brey‘s chances of taking Notre Dame deep into March will likely ride on the shooting of McAlarney, who may be the best pure shooter in the nation (Stephen Curry fanatics: feel free to flame away in the comment section). However, the Irish’s chances tonight will depend on the play of PG Tory Jackson (11.8 PPG, 5.9 APG, and 4.5 RPG). If Jackson can outplay the enigmatic Edgar Sosa, Notre Dame has a good chance at pulling out a win tonight. If Sosa is having an off night, Louisville will need strong performances from their interior guys (Earl Clark, Samardo Samuels, and Terrence Williams) against Harangody and hope that McAlarney doesn’t go off. We keep waiting for Louisville to play to their “potential”. Will this be the night?

- #11 Texas at #5 Oklahoma at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: A match-up of teams that couldn’t beat Arkansas. Blake Griffin will probably end up with another ridiculous 20/20 and Texas doesn’t have anybody who can match-up with (nobody in college does) so the Longhorns will need to focus on limiting Willie Warren (the diaper dandy who has been surprisingly consistent this season). If Rick Barnes wants to get the victory, he will need strong games out of A.J. Abrams and Damion James. [Side note: What is going on with Connor Atchley? His numbers are down across the board.] I’d like to give Texas a chance here with Abrams bouncing back from his awful effort against Arkansas, but I’m going to have to with the Sooners since Griffin is a double-double machine and my gut feeling that Warren will go off.

Tuesday
Memphis at Tulsa at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Tulsa remains a bit of a mystery with an 11-5 record, but their best player (and one of the best in Conference USA) Jerome Jordan has played very poorly in several of their losses. I’m not really expecting Tulsa to beat the Tigers here, but it will be interesting to see if anybody in Conference USA can challenge Memphis, who is down this year as Tyreke Evans hasn’t played to the level that many expected him to after all the hype that he has received.

- Kentucky at Tennessee at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It looks like these two disappointing teams will be battling for the SEC East title this year. Regardless of the relatively slow starts for both teams, this should be an interesting one from a rivalry perspective and whethere Kentucky’s dynamic duo of Jodie Meeks (24.2 PPG) and Patrick Patterson (18.9 PPG on a ridiculous 70.9% FG and 9.3 RPG) can do enough to match Tennessee’s superior depth (headed by Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism). I’d normally call this one a toss-up, but the home court should give the Vols the edge.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2008

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

The Big East is proving why it is the best conference in basketball, as the 16 teams in the conference have lost a grand total of five games. I mean, Seton Hall barely sneaks into the top 10 in the conference and they are 4-1 with wins over USC and Virginia Tech early on. To be fair, most of the games that have been played at this point in the season have come against cupcakes, but a Big East team has already knocked off a marquee team in every other major conference (UConn has beaten Wisconsin and Miami (FL), Syracuse beat Florida and Kansas, Notre Dame beat Texas, and Seton Hall beat USC).

Power Rankings (AP, Coaches):

CONTENDERS

1. UConn 5-0 (#2, #2) – It is pretty tough to argue with UConn atop the BIAH Big East Power Rankings. They are 5-0 and coming off of a victory in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. More on the Huskies in a bit.

2. Notre Dame 4-0 (#8, #8) – Notre Dame gets the nod at #2 because of their win over Texas in Maui. Now that Kyle McAlarney has found his stroke (13-23 from the floor, 11-20 from deep in his last two games after starting the season 2-13), it is clear that the Irish are going be able to put up points with anyone. Their biggest question mark right now is defense and rebounding. Against Texas, Notre Dame was out-rebounded 45-33 and gave up 15 on the offensive glass.

I know that the Irish have two first-team all-conference players on their roster, but PG Tory Jackson is just as, if not more, valuable than both McAlarney and Luke Harangody. He is the guy that makes the potent Irish offense run. He is as quick as they come and can get into the lane against just about anyone, but he plays under control and rarely picks up a charge. When he gets into the paint, he is just as good at finishing as he is at drawing a defender and finding an open man (he’s led the Big East in dimes the last two years). To top it off, he has been knocking down his perimeter shot this season.

3. Louisville 2-0 (#3, #3) – It is tough to gauge the Cardinals at this point in the season. They have played just two games, both cupcakes and both blow outs, and they won’t really be tested until mid-December. What we do know thus far is that freshman Samardo Samuels looks as good as advertised – he’s averaging 21 ppg and 5 rpg through two games. The ‘Ville also got good news when Terrence Williams was healthy enough to play in their first two games (he underwent minor surgery after tearing the meniscus in his knee). He’s not there yet offensively (6-17 from the floor, 14 points in two games), but he has been filling up the stat sheet as usual (9.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 3.5 spg, 1.5 bpg).

4. Pitt 5-0 (#4, #4) – The Panthers, like the Cardinals, are undefeated but have yet to really play anyone. They have, however, been getting phenomenal play out of their big three of DeJuan Blair (17.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 71%, but he missed the Belmont game on Tuesday with swelling in his knee), Sam Young (19.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 60% FG), and Levance Fields (13.6 ppg, 7.3 apg, 1.0 t/o’s). While Pitt lost Blair for the Belmont game, they got some good news with the return of wing Gilbert Brown.

The key to the season for this Pitt team is going to be their wing play, which is a big reason why Sam Young, the Panthers best perimeter shooter, is playing on the wing this year. It is still early, but the early indication is that after Fields (10-19) and Young (5-16). If someone can step up and knock down shots (back up PG Ashton Gibbs is trying to, he’s 5-11 from deep), they will see a lot of the court.

5. Syracuse 5-0 – The ‘Cuse are for real this year. They are 5-0 with wins against Florida and Kansas (in what was essentially a road game) and have looked unstoppable on offense at times. But they have also looked disinterested and lackadaisical at times as well, especially defensively. The Orange start and end with the play of Jonny Flynn, who has reinforced the notion that he is one of the best PGs in the country. Flynn is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch (and I am a UConn fan saying that). While Flynn may be the best player on Syracuse, he is far from all that they have. Paul Harris is just as tough as always, but has added a 15-17 foot jumper that you must defend. Arinze Onuaku has gone from a 275 lb fat boy to 275 lb of muscle (seriously, he looks like he should be on World’s Strongest Man). Kristoff Ongenaet, Rick Jackson and freshman Kris Joseph all are going to be able to provide hustle, rebounds, and defense inside. And they’ve gotten back the two things they were missing last year – perimeter shooting from the wings (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins) and another guy that can penetrate and score or create shots for others (Devendorf). But the biggest change I see in this year’s team is that Jim Boeheim has them playing a lot of man-to-man, which makes it all-the-more difficult for a team to prepare for the Orange. Boeheim has himself a tough team that is going to make some noise this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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ATB: Fresh Maui Breezes

Posted by rtmsf on November 25th, 2008

afterbuzzer1

Maui Invitational. Texas vs. Notre Dame could be the best game of the first month of the new season.  UNC vs. Oregon could be interesting, but won’t be.

  • Texas 68, St. Joseph’s 50.  The Texas defense has been absolutely superb so far this season, holding its three opponents to an average of 46.3 ppg and 29% from the field.  St. Joe’s was no different, struggling to find open looks against the long arms and quick feet of the Longhorns.  Damion James and AJ Abrams combined for 31/8 for the Horns, who will hook up with Notre Dame tomorrow in a blockbuster contrast of styles (ND is averaging 82.3 ppg).
  • Notre Dame 88, Indiana 50. This was a complete mismatch from start to finish, as the experienced Golden Domers meticulously picked apart the green Hoosiers in nearly every way possible.  Notre Dame shot 51% as it brought back to the fore that Indiana simply isn’t going to be very good this season.  Tory Jackson had 21/5/6 assts and Kyle McAlarney contributed 18 (all threes) for the Irish.
  • UNC 115, Chaminade 70. UNC rode a 67-pt second half to the second-worst loss that host Chaminade has ever suffered in this tournament.  Roy Williams kept Tyler Hansbrough on the bench throughout, figuring it best to keep him fresh for what will be a much tougher next two days of games.  Danny Green had a career-high 26 pts, while Ty Lawson added 19/6 assts.  UNC will play a revived Oregon next, but we guarantee that the Heels will put up more of a fight defensively than Bama did.
  • Oregon 92, Alabama 69.  At times during this game, Alabama appeared to be the least prepared and worst coached team in America.  And they were playing a team in Oregon that often appears that way themselves, which should really tell you something.  If we had a coconut for every time Bill Raftery or Jay Bilas said the word “terrible,” our living room would smell like Maui right about now.  UO hit a blistering 54% from the floor while holding Bama to 36%.  In a sidenote, Ronald Steele shot 3-11 from the field and just doesn’t look like the same player he was two years ago (before all of his knee injuries).

CBE Classic. It’ll be Syracuse vs. Kansas in KC tomorrow night for the championship.

  • Syracuse 89, Florida 83. Florida’s ‘improved’ defense got exposed exploited, giving up 89 points and 52% shooting to the more athletic Orange in an entertaining up-and-down game that featured several nice performances on both sides.  Paul Harris contributed 18/11 for the Orange, while Alex Tyus chipped in 24/4 for the Gators.
  • Kansas 73, Washington 54. KU’s Cole Aldrich dominated the more ballyhooed Jon Brockman by dropping 16/9/6 blks (vs. Brockman’s 7/18 on 2-9 shooting) in the Jayhawks’ blowout victory in the semis of the CBE Classic.  The Kansas defense held the Huskies to 29% shooting for the game, and frankly, Washington largely looked out of sorts for much of this game.

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

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

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

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

big-east-logo

WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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