Big East Summer Capsules: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by mlemaire on July 20th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Pittsburgh.

1. Not to be outdone, this season will be Pittsburgh’s last hurrah in the Big East too.

After Syracuse announced it had come to terms with the Big East on a departure date, you knew it wouldn’t take long for Pittsburgh to follow suit and the Panthers surprised no one when they announced they would be leaving at the same time as Syracuse. The school will have to pay the Big East $7.5 million, but that is chump change compared to what the school stands to make after the switch to the ACC. The real losers here are once again Big East basketball fans. Physical, gritty, and well-coached, the Panthers epitomized Big East basketball and also just so happened to be one of its best programs under Ben Howland and now Jamie Dixon. They don’t have the same storied history and star power that Syracuse has, but fantastic players such as Brandin Knight, Levance Fields, Carl Krauser, and DeJuan Blair all left indelible marks of the basketball memories of fans, and the league will be hard-pressed to find a team to replace Pitt.

2. Get ready for the emergence of Lamar Patterson.

Lamar Patterson is poised for a huge junior season. Photo: Associated Press

Ashton Gibbs has graduated after what feels like eight years in a Panthers’ uniform and he has taken an awful lot of points with him. The Panthers are in the market for some scoring. Transfer Trey Zeigler – more on him in a minute – should help, but based on summer league reviews, the player who will be the most help in the scoring department is junior Lamar Patterson. Everyone seems to agree that Patterson’s solid but unspectacular statistics have been because he wasn’t selfish enough. Well apparently he got the message, and so he has used his improved shooting touch and aggression to basically dominate summer league competition and put himself atop the list of potential breakout candidates for next season. He has always had physicality and athleticism to become a standout performer, but now it appears he has added the necessary polish to be one of the conference’s most improved and well-rounded players.

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Pittsburgh: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by mlemaire on May 18th, 2012

Our apologies for plagiarizing borrowing the ideas of our colleagues over at the Pac-12 microsite, but we liked their post-mortem team breakdowns so much that we decided to replicate them with our conference. So over the course of the next two weeks, we will break down each team’s season, starting from the bottom of the conference standings. Next up is Pittsburgh.

What Went Wrong

For a team that began the season in most pundits’ Top 10, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Pittsburgh’s season an unmitigated disaster, especially given the consistent high level of play we have grown accustomed to from Jamie Dixon’s teams. It started with a casual loss to Long Beach State at home in the third game of the season, and after a disappointing loss to Wagner a month later, the free fall began. Shortly after the loss to The Beach, star point guard and offensive catalyst Travon Woodall got hurt and missed the next two months of the season.

The Sudden Departure Of Prized Recruit Khem Birch Early In The Season Was Only The Beginning Of The Problems For Jamie Dixon's Club.

Two weeks later, prized freshman Khem Birch left the program just as he was showing signs of putting it together and blasted his teammates on the way out. Forced to play the point position with Woodall out, star guard Ashton Gibbs suffered through the worst shooting season of his career and neither Talib Zanna nor Dante Taylor developed into the consistent post threat Dixon had hoped for. The most obvious reason for their decline was the sudden absence of defensive intensity from the Panthers. They had never finished worse than 53rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency under Dixon. This season they finished 151st in the category. If you are looking for what went wrong, that is a good place to start.

What Went Right

To be fair, the team did go through a mini-resurgence down the stretch, but it was too little too late. The emergence of Woodall as a multi-faceted scorer and distributor was a blessing and he should be even better next year assuming he stays healthy. Senior workhorse Nasir Robinson was his ultra-efficient self, and increased playing time for sophomores Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore helped them become effective role players who will be counted on to play an even bigger role next season. he number one bright spot for folks on the Main Line was the emergence of Pinkston in conference play. I guess if you want to count winning the College Basketball Invitational Championship as an honor, then you can add that to the list of what went right. To be clear, we don’t count that.

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Big East Afternoon Five: 01.23.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 23rd, 2012

  1. You will have to excuse the late posting as I attended the NFC Championship game last night in San Francisco and completely shirked my Morning Five duties, so instead, you folks get an afternoon five. It’s hardly news at this point but No. 1 Syracuse suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of Notre Dame on Saturday. The Orange shot the ball terribly (18-53 for the game) and the Fighting Irish couldn’t miss, especially from behind the arc, but it certainly didn’t help that ‘Cuse center Fab Melo didn’t play in the game due to an academic suspension. ESPN‘s Andy Katz reported that the school hopes to get Melo back in time for next Saturday’s game against West Virginia, which means Syracuse fans shouldn’t be unduly worried. But Jim Boeheim’s squad does play a very good Cincinnati team tonight on the road, and they will need to rebound aggressively to make up for their center’s absence.
  2. After beating Cincinnati in overtime on Saturday, we figured it was time to give Bob Huggins and his West Virginia Mountaineers they credit they deserve, and the Charleston Daily Mail agreed. The Mountaineers were considered a tournament team before the season started, but now they are just a game behind Syracuse in the loss column and angling for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team is led by runaway favorite for Big East Player of the Year, Kevin Jones, and volume-scoring point guard Truck Bryant, but they are also getting contributions from freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne as well. Last week, we argued that it was still early to call the Bearcats the conference’s second-best team; well, it’s still too early to consider the Mountaineers the conference’s second-best team, but they have inserted themselves in the discussion.
  3. Tennessee is an improving team, especially now that they added stud freshman Jarnell Stokes in the middle of the season, but losing to the Volunteers on Saturday was a bad loss for Connecticut and their hopes for a top seed come tournament time. It is never a good thing when two players (Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier) take 35 shots and its even worse when they combine to make just 14 of those shots. Andre Drummond looked like he had turned a corner last week, but Saturday was his second-straight subpar performance and Stokes thoroughly outplayed him on both ends of the floor. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the loss was that Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith, two of the players supposed to replace suspended freshman Ryan Boatright‘s offensive production, were basically non-factors. The Huskies desperately need one of those two guys to get going if they are going to get back to their winning ways.
  4. Not too many people expected Louisville‘s Kyle Kuric or Pittsburgh‘s Tray Woodall to suit up when the two teams met on Saturday, but both did, to drastically different results. Kuric buried five three-pointers and finished with 21 points in 33 minutes, while Woodall went 0-5 from the field and had more turnovers (three) than assists (two) in 21 minutes as the Panthers lost and fell to a shocking 0-7 in the conference. Obviously it is good news for both teams that either player even made it onto the court, but it seems clear that Woodall is still a ways off from being 100% and he is arguably more important to Pittsburgh than Kuric is to Louisville. The Cardinals still have enough athletes to fill the scoring void of Kuric, at least in part. But the Panthers need Woodall’s playmaking ability to help the offense and also allow Ashton Gibbs to return to the wing, where he is more effective and more comfortable. It will be interesting to see if Pitt coach Jamie Dixon tries to rush Woodall back in the midst of what is looking like a lost season at this point.
  5. The last of the five is reserved for observations about someone we have already mentioned — UConn freshman Andre Drummond. Physically and athletically, Drummond is a stud. There might not be another player in the country that has his combination of size, strength, athleticism, skill, and speed. You just wouldn’t know it from watching him play recently. Saturday against Tennessee, Drummond managed just six points on eight shots in 31 minutes. And the game before, a loss to Cincy, Drummond had just four points and six rebounds on nine shots. The linked observations make a good point, it is no longer a question of talent, it is a question of desire and consistency. Drummond should not be criticized for his mild-mannered attitude off the court, it is what makes him one of the more refreshing and likable stars in college basketball. But he needs to start being more assertive on the court, and once he does, the rest of the country better look out.
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Big East Morning Five: 01.03.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 3rd, 2012

  1. Cincinnati had an encouraging week, earning victories over Oklahoma and on the road at Pittsburgh. One of the key elements of the Bearcats’ success has been sophomore sharpshooter Sean Kilpatrick, who was recognized for his efforts as the Big East Player of the Week. Kilpatrick averaged 18 points and eight rebounds on the week. To the surprise of no one Rutgers’ Eli Carter is the Big East Rookie of the Week. Carter made big shot after big shot en route to a career-high 31 points in the Scarlet Knights’ upset victory over then #10 Florida. He followed that performance up with 23 points and five steals in a two point loss at South Florida. Big East Honor Roll recipients for this week are: West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant who netted a career-high 34 points in a win over Villanova. The 34 points ties Bryant with Providence’s Bryce Cotton for the single game scoring high among Big East players; Notre Dame sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich who scored a game-high 22 points in the Irish’s upset victory over Pittsburgh; St. John’s freshman Moe Harkless was trumped by Carter for Rookie of the Week honors, but he made a case, dropping 32 points on Providence to go with 13 rebounds in his first Big East game. The 32 points represented a record for Big East debuts; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb continues to lead the Huskies in scoring after averaging 19 points per game in his team’s two wins; Syracuse’s Fab Melo capped of a break out week with a spot on the Honor Roll. The sophomore big man set a school record with 10 blocks in a win over Seton Hall. Melo nearly turned his block party into a triple-double in that game, adding 12 points (career-high) and seven rebounds.
  2. Big East play started this past week which meant some inevitable poll shifting given increase in overall competition. Syracuse (15-0) however showed no signs of relinquishing its hold on the top spot as they rolled to wins over Seton Hall and DePaul. Louisville (12-2) lost both of its highly anticipated match-ups with #9 Georgetown and #2 Kentucky and slipped seven spots to #11 as a result.  After the win over Louisville, Georgetown (12-1) firmed up its top ten status when the Hoyas grinded out a victory over Providence on Saturday.  Marquette (12-2) fell six spots to #20 after they were handled by Vanderbilt. Connecticut (12-1) has won seven in a row and was rewarded with a #8 ranking, up one from last week.  The Huskies have an interesting week coming up as they hit the road to take on Seton Hall tonight and Rutgers on Saturday. Pittsburgh (11-4), losers of three straight dropped out of the polls after being ranked #22 last week.  The Panthers were not completely shut out of the voting however, receiving eight votes. Cincinnati (11-3), one of the contributors to Pittsburgh’s slide, is riding a six-game winning streak of its own and fittingly received six votes while Seton Hall (12-2) grabbed two.
  3. Following their loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, Pittsburgh fell to 0-2 in Big East play for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They are permanently without their starting center, Khem Birch, who is transferring. They have lost three in a row. Panic time? While things appear to be a bit chaotic for the Panthers at the moment, getting point guard Travon Woodall back healthy would go a long way toward getting the Panthers back on track. Woodall has missed seven of the last eight games while trying to recover from a torn abdominal muscle and strained groin. His only action came in the form of 18 ineffective minutes against Notre Dame (0 points on 0-5 shooting, 0 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers). Woodall was off to a great start prior to the injury, averaging 14.1 points and, most importantly, 8.3 assists per game.  His absence has meant more responsibility for freshman John Johnson, who showed well in the Cincinnati loss with five assists but was tagged with a key offensive foul in clutch time. Perhaps more telling is the play of preseason Big East Player of the Year Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs has been forced to play the point which has taken away from his productivity, particularly in the shooting department. With all credit and thanks to pittblather.com for these stats: Before Woodall’s injury Gibbs was hitting 42.9% of his three-pointers. The rest of the team was even better at an incredible 48.8%. Since Woodall’s injury Gibbs is down to 28.3% and his teammates have plummeted to 24.4%.
  4. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch will start 2012 by racking up some frequent flyer miles. Birch will embark upon a week full of visits in his quest to find a new basketball home. According to multiple reports, he will be on Florida’s campus today followed by a trip to New Mexico State tomorrow and UNLV on Friday. New Mexico State’s inclusion on this list may surprise some but perhaps it should not. One big reason for Birch’s consideration of the Aggies is his 7’4” friend, Sim Bhullar. Bhullar is a fellow Canadian who was headed to Xavier before decommitting due academic reasons. He subsequently enrolled at New Mexico State and plans to play next season. Further the Aggies have five Canadians on their current squad. ESPN’s Dave Telep reported Birch also plans to visit Gonzaga and Oregon State. Washington and Xavier have also been reported as having interest. Because Birch will have to sit out two semesters upon transfer, it is likely he will decide in the next two weeks so he can enroll for the spring semester and start the clock ticking.
  5. Not that they needed it, but Seton Hall may have an extra bit of motivation heading into their home match-up with #8 Connecticut, courtesy of UConn freshman Andre Drummond. When Drummond was asked about Seton Hall senior center Herb Pope he said, “I don’t even know who [Pope] is. I’m not trying to be disrespectful. They said the name to me in practice and I was like `Wait, who’s Herb Pope?'” In Drummond’s defense, he is a freshman and this is his first time facing the Pope and the Pirates. However, while Seton Hall may not have the exposure or pedigree of Connecticut, Pope certainly requires no introduction. He is a Big East Player of the Year candidate. Pope is averaging 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and is the Big East’s active career double-double leader with 27. Further, on the day before a game one would think Drummond would have been exposed to enough scouting and game prep to know the name of the person he would be matched up against. It will be an interesting introduction tonight at the Prudential Center.
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Set Your TiVo: 12.27.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 27th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

As we head into conference season, we will focus on two games that feature four teams that need a quality win to kick off the “second season”.

Jamie Dixon Needs Someone To Step Up Against Notre Dame

Pittsburgh @ Notre Dame – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 HD (***)
  • Without point guard Travon Woodall (currently listed as a game-time decision), Pitt is a two-man team.  Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson have taken 41% of the teams field goal attempts. Luckily, the level of competition the team has faced since the Woodall injury has not been stellar. However, they ran into a tough Wagner team last Friday that gave the Panthers their second home loss to a mid-major team this season. Gibbs is only shooting 38.5% from two-point range and shoots an equal amount of two-point and three-point attempts (just over 100 from each). Robinson is shooting much better from inside the arc, hitting 68.9% of his two-point attempts. To grind out a few more wins prior to Woodall’s return, Jamie Dixon’s team will need to get help from someone other than Gibbs and Robinson. Keep an eye on who steps up against Notre Dame. If a third scorer does not emerge, the pressure on those two may be too much.
  • Notre Dame is in desperate need of a win against a quality opponent. Through 13 games this season, they have zero wins against a school from a major conference. They have lost to Missouri, Georgia, Gonzaga, Maryland, and Indiana. While the Notre Dame offense ranks in the top 50 in efficiency, they have managed to shoot 50% eFG or under in 7 of their 13 games – going 2-5 in those games. Pitt has only allowed three of its opponents to shoot over 50% eFG. In more bad news for Mike Brey’s team, the Panthers are #1 in the country in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage. Both areas are weak spots for the Irish. Since the Irish may be catching Pitt in one of its last gamess without its point guard, it is a perfect time for them to pick up a quality win at home. However, they will have to play a lot better than they have played all season.
  • Notre Dame must figure out a way to hit more shots and grab more rebounds. Unfortunately, Pitt is stronger in both areas. Keep a close eye on the Panthers’ rebounding numbers and field goal defense. If they win in those areas and get some contribution from another source than Gibbs and Robinson, they will win. The Irish must keep Pitt a two-man show, if they are to have a shot in this one.

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Big East Morning Five: 12.05.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 5th, 2011

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

Here is a complete score rundown of the games:

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

Posted by mlemaire on December 3rd, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the RTC Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Brian Joyce and Michael Lemaire take on Pittsburgh v. Tennessee.

#18 Pittsburgh vs Tennessee

Mike: At the beginning of the season, I would have picked Pittsburgh to win this game by a large margin, but the Panthers have struggled mightily against inferior opponents and do not have the look of a contender, at least not yet. To make matters worse, Jamie Dixon announced Friday that starting point guard and one of the team’s best offensive players, Travon Woodall, was going to miss a month because of a number of different injuries. The Panthers still have star guard Ashton Gibbs and efficient forward Nasir Robinson, but Woodall (14.1 PPG, 8.3 APG, 45% 3FG) had really improved his game this year and was truly the engine that made the Panthers go. Dixon will be forced turn to freshman John Johnson who is lightning quick and a strong on-ball defender, but his offensive game lacks polish and he has only been playing a little more than ten minutes per game this season. Expecting the true freshman to replace Woodall’s production is foolish, but if he can take care of the basketball and feed Gibbs and Robinson he should prove a capable stop gap in the short term. Tennessee isn’t particularly deep, but their backcourt tandem of Trae Golden and Jordan McRae is lethal from behind the arc and as Brian pointed out, Jeronne Maymon really played well in Maui and could be an emerging force in the paint for the Volunteers. Usually the staple of Jamie Dixon’s teams is their defense. However, this year, Pitt has been the most efficient offensive team in the country, but they are #168 in adjusted defense and are really missing the length and versatility of Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown. I think this is going to be a very close game but with the way Pitt is playing and the injury to Woodall, I think Tennessee has too much firepower on offense for the Panthers. I think Ashton Gibbs will have a huge game, but I don’t think it will be enough in the end. Prediction: Tennessee 72 — Pittsburgh 68

Jamie Dixon's Team Has Struggled Defensively

Brian: I really liked Tennessee‘s effort and intensity in Maui. They truly played with a sense of urgency that I hope continues throughout the season. Jeronne Maymon’s effort was especially impressive. He is averaging 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, but it was his 32-point, 20-rebound performance against Memphis that made me a believer. He’s built like a defensive lineman, and he’s got a fairly nice shooting touch from mid-range. Cuonzo Martin‘s team wont be as easy to defeat as many believed in the preseason. Tennessee was picked to finish 11th out of 12 SEC teams, but the Vols are much better than that. That being said, I’m not sure Tennessee has an answer for Ashton Gibbs, who is averaging 19.1 PPG on 42.9% shooting from three-point range. The Vols haven’t been effective at stopping the outside shot, and Gibbs’ shooting could be what does them in during this one. I expect to see a great effort from the Vols, but I think they will come up short. Prediction: Pittsburgh 81 — Tennessee 73
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Big East Morning Five: 11.30.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 30th, 2011

  1. It almost went unnoticed given how much news is being made off the court at Syracuse, but the Orange actually played a game Tuesday night, their first since longtime assistant Bernie Fine was fired amidst allegations of sexual molestation. Jim Boeheim‘s crew walloped Eastern Michigan 84-48 behind a balanced offensive attack and a smothering defense. James Southerland (19 points and five rebounds) led the way offensively, and the Orange forced the Eagles to make 17 turnovers and held them to just 34.7% from the field. But let’s be honest, the game was a mere footnote to the circumstances surrounding the program and Boeheim’s first press conference comments since the firing. ESPN obviously gave the game and the hubbub surrounding it the full-court press last night. Not only did Dana O’Neill, Andy Katz, and Tim Keown all pen opinion columns on the story, the network also sent O’Neill all over campus to interview students about the mood in the community and the student body. It was quite an impressive breadth of coverage, but I am not sure we learned anything new other than Syracuse students don’t want to be associated with Penn State and its sex abuse scandal, and that most people still don’t know what to make of the most recent evidence (i.e. tape recording and third accuser). Yahoo! also was on hand to cover the press coverage and Pat Forde justifiably ripped into Boeheim for trying to make jokes while very serious allegations are being bandied about. Boeheim may not have known anything about the alleged abuse but cracking jokes in a press conference isn’t exactly the best way to apologize for the nasty remarks you made about the alleged victims.
  2. After beginning the season inside most people’s list of the Top-10 teams in college basketball, Pittsburgh has failed to engender any confidence in their lofty ranking, losing at home to Long Beach State and struggling to put away teams like Rider, Robert Morris, and LaSalle. There has been a bright spot though and his name is Travon Woodall. Woodall was little more than a role player in his first two seasons, but as HoopSpeak points out, he has emerged as a full-fledged star and perhaps the team’s most important player. The article notes that his statistics have been inflated due to inferior competition, but 15 PPG and 8.5 APG is still worth taking note of. But, the article also points out that if there is still one piece missing from his game, its his decision-making. He is still too careless with the ball and for a guy that coach Jamie Dixon is going to lean on to play heavy minutes, that is not good. The season is long and Dixon will have plenty of time to right the ship, but how far the ship sails will depend mightily on how far Woodall continues to progress.
  3. In addition to poor foul shooting and silly fouls by freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova appears to have been bitten by some egregious score-keeping in their painful loss to Santa Clara in the 76 Classic Sunday. Apparently, up by three points with less than ten seconds to play, Villanova wanted to foul Santa Clara after letting some time run-off, so they asked the scorer how many fouls the team had, and they were told five. That information was wrong, they had six, Santa Clara made two free throws and then made two more after Pinkston missed the front end of the one-and-one and committed a stupid foul going after the rebound. To his credit, coach Jay Wright didn’t blame the scorer for the loss, which was the right move because although the official scorer clearly screwed that one up badly, the Wildcats didn’t deserve to win that game. Sure they are young, but they are also very talented and should be able to make the NCAA Tournament. First they will need to work on closing out games, something last year’s team did especially poorly down the stretch.
  4. We usually try to avoid linking to box scores in our Morning Five, but we present the Providence-Holy Cross box score from last night only to illustrate how bright Providence‘s future might be. Holy Cross is not an especially strong opponent, so the numbers can be taken with a grain of salt, but 59 points from sophomores Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman and freshman LaDontae Henton is pretty impressive. Throw in the fact that freshman Brice Kofane grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds and it is safe to say we are looking at the future of Providence basketball, and that doesn’t even include the pair of five-star guards (Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn) slated to arrive on campus next season. Unfortunately for Friar fans, the box score also shows that coach Ed Cooley really only played five guys last night, showing just how thin the team is this year. But if those aforementioned players continue to develop, and the freshmen play as advertised when they arrive, the Friars may be contenders sooner than anyone thinks.
  5. Beset by injuries, Louisville continues to take moral victories when it comes to their players’ health and this news should be considered just that. Junior forward Rakeem Buckles was cleared to return to practice last week and should be making his return to the court soon for the injury-riddled yet undefeated Cardinals. Buckles will likely be eased back in considering the last thing Rick Pitino wants is for him to re-injure himself, but Pitino desperately needs depth in the frontcourt and Buckles should provide just that. The junior averaged 6.8 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 16 games last season and if he can replicated even half of those numbers while spelling star freshman Chane Behanan, I bet Pitino will be happy. Forward Stephan Van Treese is out indefinitely after he re-injured his knee so getting Buckles back in time for conference play will be a huge boon for an inexperienced and thin frontcourt.
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Big East Morning Five: 11.23.11 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 23rd, 2011

  1. On October 28, the Big 12 formally announced that it had accepted West Virginia into the conference. Three days later, West Virginia sued the Big East conference in hopes of entering the Big 12, which had already agreed to accept them, as early as next year. The Big East wasn’t about to let one of their premier schools leave without a fight, especially considering it would set a dangerous precedent for other defectors Syracuse and Pittsburgh, so the conference countersued, hoping to block the Mountaineers’ move until 2014. Well, West Virginia recognized that decision, and appears ready to blatantly ignore it. Over the weekend, Athletic Director Oliver Luck said he expected West Virginia to be in the Big 12 next year, and couldn’t resist kicking the conference while it was down as well. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports relayed this juicy quote in a column Monday, “We were fortunate to get out,” Luck told the Charleston Gazette. “We got out [of the Big East] when the ship was seriously going down. I mean, only the tip of the sail was showing.” Ouch Mr. Luck, that wasn’t very nice. It is hard to argue with the logic on either side here, which makes this defection all the more ugly. West Virginia wants to get out and move on so they can get a piece of that juicy TV contract the Big 12 signed with Fox. And the Big East isn’t keen on letting their best football program and a quality basketball program leave at what they feel is a moments notice, because it opens the door for more lawsuits and hasty exits. This has all the makings of a long and protracted legal battle, so strap in Mountaineer fans, it could get bumpy.
  2. In related news, CBS Sports reported last night that the Big East’s courtship of Brigham Young University has come to an end. OK, you may not think this is as juicy as Ashton and Demi but we do!  The main point of contention leading to the break-up appears to be, yep, you guessed it…money!  BYU signed a lucrative eight-year television contract last year with ESPN to broadcast home games and it appears control of these rights is where the impasse lies. While The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting the Big East – BYU relationship may ultimately prove stalled, CBS Sports is taking a firmer position saying that the conference is done with BYU and exploring its next option, which is to add San Diego State as a football-only member.  The Aztecs would ostensibly be part of a plan to join fellow new football-only members Boise State, Air Force, and Navy along with soon-to-be-announced full members: Houston, Southern Methodist, and Central Florida. This would result in a 12 football and 16 basketball member Big East once all the Mayflower vans got done doing their thing. While the projected alignment arguably would create a better football conference than exists today, it would certainly result in a regression basketball-wise. To that end there have been some vocal proponents (see Rick Pitino) of adding two more all-sport, but basketball-centric members such as Temple and Memphis.
  3. After last week’s discouraging home loss to Long Beach State, Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon was glad to have six days off to rest his weary team and, according to him, “get the younger guys going”. The loss to the 49ers caused the Panthers to tumble all the way to #16 in the most recent AP poll heading into last night’s game against La Salle and the Panthers, while displaying a much improved defensive effort, got all they could handle from a tough Explorer team who took Villanova to overtime last week, and squeaked out a 73-69 win at the Peterson Events Center. While star senior guard, and preseason Big East Player of the Year selection, Ashton Gibbs struggled through a poor shooting night (3 of 15), it was one of the youngsters who keyed the defensive effort for Dixon’s squad. Freshman Khem Birch had an active 13 minutes, tallying four points, six rebounds, and three blocks.  Birch spent some time at the center spot last night, and drew praise from his coach, “He was more effective there,” Dixon said. “He was playing both (forward and center) and we’ve got to get him more comfortable playing there.” Junior guard Travon Woodall logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists to pace the 3-1 Panthers. The 5’11” guard also registered three blocks, including a huge one down the stretch to preserve the victory.
  4. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun held sophomore forward Roscoe Smith out of a preseason game for missing a “team commitment” and it looked like the sophomore role player might cede his playing time to talented freshman DeAndre McDaniels. The problem, according to Calhoun and teammates is that Smith tends to sulk in the face of adversity when he should be doubling his effort. Currently his averages (6 PPG and 3 RPG) are similar to last year’s numbers and that’s not great. Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi are going to carry UConn all season, but the team needs a healthy, energetic, and upbeat Smith — whether it is in the starting lineup or coming off the bench — once they play fiercer competition. The linked article notes that Smith was better on both ends of the court against Coppin State, but Coppin State isn’t a Big East-caliber team, and that same pep will need to carryover to the conference schedule if the Huskies hope to repeat.
  5. As noted here yesterday courtesy of future Friar Ricky Ledo, Providence has been on the prowl for some front court help.  We thought he meant for next year but as it turns out coach Ed Cooley may (and may is the operative word here) be getting a big for the second semester as 6’10” Daquan Brown announced via his Facebook page on Tuesday that he will be transferring to Providence.  While it is not known yet if Brown will be able to play right away, the need for more immediate help is likely due to the fact the Friars have been playing with just eight scholarship players as red-shirt sophomore Kadeem Batts, perhaps their best big man, is serving an indefinite suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules and freshman guard Kiwi Gardner is out pending appeal of an NCAA academic eligibility ruling concerning his prep school curriculum.  Brown, a New York native, is currently enrolled at Fresno State and on their basketball roster however he has yet to play there due to what appears to be his own indefinite team suspension. Out of Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School Brown appeared headed for Oklahoma State until academic issues redirected him to Barstow Community College (CA) where he averaged 12 points and ten rebounds per game. Brown visited Providence this past weekend and was in attendance for the Friars’ victory over Florida A&M.
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Jumping To Conclusions: Why Pittsburgh Is Overrated… For Now

Posted by mlemaire on November 17th, 2011

Tucked away, within the second-to-last sentence of the preview of his team in this week’s Sports Illustrated,  Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs flashed a little bit of braggadaccio. “We’re good enough to win a national title,” the 6’2” senior told SI‘s Rebecca Shore when she asked about the collection of talent on the Panthers’ roster. And although it’s still very early, after last night’s 86-76 loss to a veteran Long Beach State team, that bold claim looks quite a bit bolder. Of course, when Gibbs gave that quote, the season hadn’t even started yet and coach Jamie Dixon is looking to him for leadership this season, so what else is he supposed to say? But he isn’t the only knowledgeable source who set high expectations for Pittsburgh this year. Many experts readily picked Pittsburgh to finish near the top of the Big East alongside Connecticut and Syracuse. Some even picked them to win the conference title.

If last night was any indication, Jamie Dixon will need to do a lot of coaching this season.

And why not? The team lost three excellent veterans in Brad Wanamaker, Gilbert Brown, and Gary McGhee. But they also returned a solid nucleus of Gibbs, Travon Woodall, Nasir Robinson, and Dante Taylor, and a highly rated recruiting class that included consensus top-10 recruit Khem Birch. They also had one of the most consistent and proven coaches in the country steering the ship. But after watching the 49ers thoroughly outplay the Panthers on their home court, it may be time for expectations to be reset.

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Playing Catch-Up: How The Big East Has Fared To Date

Posted by mlemaire on November 16th, 2011

Since the Big East microsite was a little later to the 2011-12 season than some of its other brothers and sisters, let’s take a few moments to get caught up on where things stand heading into this year.  These 16 teams are listed in no particular order.

Syracuse: Projected preseason Big East co-champs (with Connecticut) by the coaches and currently ranked No. 5 in the country by the Associated Press, the Orange are talented, deep and 3-0 to start the year. They captured the coveted de-facto New York state title with easy wins over Fordham, Manhattan and Albany. Through those three games, ten players have logged at least 30 minutes of playing time.  The early stat leaders have been 6’7” senior forward Kris Joseph (16.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) who notched his 1000th career point against Manhattan, and 6’8” junior forward James Southerland (13.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG).  However it is likely individual numbers will not tell the story as the wealth will be spread around Syracuse’s vast depth.  You know the names.

  • Guards:  Scoop Jardine (senior), Brandon Triche (junior) Dion Waiters (sophomore) and Michael Carter-Williams (freshman)
  • Forwards: C.J. Fair (sophomore) and Rakeem Christmas (freshman)

All of the above along with a fit and productive sophomore center Fab Melo will keep Jim Boeheim and the air horn busy all year long.  

James Southerland Has Been Great So Far This Season

Louisville: The good news is that Louisville is 2-0 as they prepare for this weekend’s matchup against Butler. The bad news is the Cardinals are already thinner then when they started the season, having lost versatile role player Mike Marra for the season because of a knee injury suffered against Lamar. The team might be deep enough to absorb the loss of Marra, but they will be thin up front, especially if sophomore center Gorgui Dieng (7 RPG, 4.5 BPG) is continuously in foul trouble. As is often the case with Rick Pitino-coached teams, the Cardinals played suffocating defense in holding both Tennessee-Martin and Lamar below 30 percent from the field and that defense will keep Louisville competitive all season long. Freshman Chase Behanan (12 PPG, 12.5 RPG) looks the part of a double-double machine, but he will be in danger of wearing down if he consistently has to play more than 30 minutes per game.

Pittsburgh: Everybody knew that Pittsburgh would have one of the better starting lineups in the conference this season, but after two games, the jury is still out on how deep Jamie Dixon’s bench goes. Rider only dressed nine players on Saturday and Pittsburgh still needed to come behind in the second half to win. Ashton Gibbs (22.5 PPG) is going to shoot a lot and will be in contention for the conference’s scoring title. Tray Woodall (52.9 3PT%) seems to have drastically improved his shooting and will be dangerous offensive weapon, and Nasir Robinson and Dante Taylor help form a rugged and experienced frontcourt. But if the Panthers want to contend for the conference crown this season, a lot will depend on the development of roles players like Talib Zanna and freshmen Khem Birch, John Johnson, and Cameron Wright.

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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

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

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

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

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

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

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