Season In Review: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by mlemaire on May 15th, 2013

If you are one of those glass half-full type of people, then you could easily point out that a season which saw Pittsburgh finish 24-9 and 12-6 in the Big East is a giant step forward from the year before when the Panthers went just 22-17 and 5-13 in the conference. But chances are that if you are a Pittsburgh basketball fan, you aren’t one of those glass half-full type of people and that is because all of Pitt’s regular season success has never translated into anything more than a single trip to the Elite Eight and a few Sweet Sixteen appearances. The Panthers were good enough to make it back to the NCAA Tournament, which likely saved coach Jamie Dixon from a wave of criticism this offseason, but it wasn’t exactly a triumphant return to the Big Dance. Advanced metrics loved the Panthers because of the team’s exceptional efficiency on both ends of the floor, but that didn’t stop them from shooting 35.1 percent from the field in a first-round clunker against Wichita State and departing from the NCAA Tournament in unceremonious fashion.

Preseason Expectations

Most pundits were cautiously bullish on the Panthers’ chances of rebounding from the 2011-12 debacle. Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson were both gone, but the team returned basically every other contributing player and also added Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler (15.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 46.1% FG as a sophomore with the Chippewas) and ballyhooed freshman center Steven Adams, a seven-footer from New Zealand who was universally considered an NBA talent. No one expected the Panthers to shock the world this season, but both the coaches and our writers had Pitt pegged as one of the top five teams in the conference, and during the regular season at least, they made us look smart.

It Will Be Another Long Off-season For Jamie Dixon After Another Disappointing Early Exit From the NCAA Tournament.

It Will Be Another Long Off-season For Jamie Dixon After Another Disappointing Early Exit From the NCAA Tournament.

The Good

Despite the disappointing finish, there are plenty of team-wide positives Dixon can point to this offseason. For starters, the Panthers’ trademark defense returned with a flourish. After finishing outside the top 150 in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2011-12, the Panthers leaped all the way back into the top 20 in that category by creating turnovers and contesting shooters on every possession. The offense was even more efficient, finishing just outside the top 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency thanks in large part to the team’s terrific offensive rebounding, taking care of the basketball, and insistence on scoring inside of 20 feet. Also, he very much looked the part of a freshman point guard at times this season, but James Robinson (6.1 PPG and 3.5 APG in just 26.6 MPG) is going to develop into an excellent floor general for Dixon as quickly as next season. Neither Woodall nor Lamar Patterson took their games to the next level, but they were still the only two consistent offensive threats on the roster. Even Adams (7.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 57.7 FG%) proved himself to be an excellent prospect, although he didn’t exactly set the conference ablaze like so many had predicted.

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Big East M5: 04.05.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2013

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  1. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon and point guard Tray Woodall made some sympathetic comments about the Panthers’ former assistant, Mike Rice. Dixon was careful not to defend Rice’s actions but became visibly emotional as he called the disgraced coach “a good friend” and “a good person.” Woodall, who said Rice was the reason he came to Pitt in the first place, defended his former coach unequivocally. “They are going at my man Mike Rice too hard,” Woodall tweeted, contending he was “not the only coach to put his hands on a player, or talk the way he did.” If Woodall’s comment was in earnest and there are other college basketball coaches behaving like Rice, we can only hope they’re exposed and swiftly purged from the coaching ranks.
  2. Saturday’s Syracuse-Michigan game represents an elite point guard match-up between Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke: It’s only the second meeting of two players with season averages of 12 points and six assists per game to take place in the Final Four since officials began tracking dimes in 1983. The first such meeting? UNC’s Raymond Felton versus Illinois’ Deron Williams in the 2005 National Championship game. ESPN’s stat divination personnel tells us (predictably) that Burke holds an advantage on offense –– particularly in running the pick-and-roll –– while MCW is more productive on defense. Surprisingly, advanced stats reveal that Burke is a very competent on-ball defender, holding opposing players to 36% shooting and 0.75 points per play, while his Syracuse counterpart yields 32% and 0.79 points in on-ball situations. MCW’s overall defensive efficiency of 0.87 points per possession is second only to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart among power conference point guards.
  3. C.L. Brown points that out Russ Smith is putting together a potentially historic individual NCAA Tournament effort. His 13 steals already place him at the top of that category in his program’s history, and he’s gaining ground in a number of record book stats both at Louisville and nationally. Through four games, Smith has averaged 26 points per game, shot 54% from the field, and hit 80% of his 40 free throw attempts. Extrapolating through two more games, Smith is on pace to finish ninth all-time in NCAA Tournament history in total points (156); second in steals (19); and, fourth in free throws made (48).
  4. Jim Boeheim says Rick Pitino should have been inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame last year. The Hall will announce its 2013 inductees on Monday, and Boeheim told the press assembled in Atlanta Thursday that “[Pitino’s] got better credentials than probably 80 percent of the coaches in there.” Pitino bestowed his own sound bite upon the media when he jokingly predicted that his mentor’s thriftiness would ensure he’s coaching for quite a while longer. “He’s just a cheap guy… and he’s going to coach until he’s 90 and hoard away every penny he’s ever made.” On the topic of his own retirement, Boeheim said he’s stopped making predictions: “People really used to get excited when I said [I would retire soon] because [if] we didn’t go to the Final Four that year, they didn’t want me back. But now the majority still probably wants me back next year — right now. After Saturday, who knows?”
  5. Rob Dauster points out that Boeheim had a hand in developing the careers of both Pitino and Michigan’s John Beilein. The Boeheim-Pitino connection is well documented, but the Louisville coach yesterday noted in a more obscure anecdote that Boeheim brought him to central New York as an assistant coach in part because he wanted a man-to-man defensive mind on staff. Ironically, it was Pitino who got the most out of the experience, learning the aggressive 2-3 zone that would become a trademark of his best Louisville teams some 30 years later. Beilein also revealed that Boeheim had been a huge advocate of his while the Wolverines coach was slowly moving up the coaching ranks. “He assisted me a great deal in actually getting my first Division I job,” Beilein noted, referencing an influential call the Syracuse coach put in to Canisius in 1992 on his behalf after Beilein had been passed over by several opportunities to graduate from Division II coaching.
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Pittsburgh: What Went Wrong With the Panthers?

Posted by mlemaire on March 22nd, 2013

Despite a promising season that  had the metrics lovers thinking that the Panthers were a sleeper choice to make a run into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, Pitt was run out of the gym by Wichita State on Thursday afternoon. Here are a handful of thoughts on some of the issues surrounding the Panthers as their season is now finished.

Another year ends in disappointment for Pittsburgh and coach Jamie Dixon

Another year ends in disappointment for Pittsburgh and coach Jamie Dixon.

  1. Tray Woodall’s final game was an abject disaster. The Panthers’ fifth-year senior floor general was supposed to be the key to Pittsburgh making a splash in their return to the NCAA Tournament, instead, he may be the primary reason they are going home after just one game. The diminutive Woodall forced shots, never really looked to penetrate, and finished 1-of-12 from the field with five turnovers and just one assist before fouling out. Everyone knew the game between these two physical teams would be a low-scoring one, but Pittsburgh’s shot-making ability is predicated on Woodall’s ability to drive and kick. Instead he spent a lot of time on the perimeter, missed all five of his three-point attempts, basically ignored the roll guy on pick-and-rolls and barely ignited the offense at all, leading to the disastrous performance by the whole team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by mlemaire on March 21st, 2013

Jamie Dixon’s club is back in the NCAA Tournament after a dismal 2012 season but this year hasn’t been without its bumps and bruises. The advanced metrics love Pittsburgh and think the Panthers are one of the top 10 teams in the country, but a junk non-conference schedule and troubling conference losses caused the Panthers to slip all the way down to a No. 8 seed and their path starts with a polished and veteran Wichita State team and  could lead through No. 1 Gonzaga next.

Will This Finally Be The Year Jamie Dixon Can Silence Some Critics?

Will This Finally Be The Year Jamie Dixon Can Silence Some Critics?

Region: West
Seed: No. 8
Record: 24-7 (12-6 Big East)
Matchup: vs. Wichita State in Salt Lake City

Key Player: As Yankee great Reggie Jackson would say, Tray Woodall is the straw that stirs the drink for the Panthers. The dynamic point guard hasn’t broken out the way some expected him to this season, but he still leads the team in scoring (11.8 PPG), assists (5.2 APG) and three-point shooting (38.2% 3FG), in addition to his ball-handling and offense-running responsibilities. His ability to create for the rest of the team and handle the bulk of the possessions for the Panthers will be crucial if they want to get out of their half of the bracket and make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Woodall played well down the stretch (with the exception of a “meh” effort in the Big East Tournament loss to Syracuse) and if he can keep the momentum rolling and maintain his confidence, Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at knocking off Gonzaga in the Third Round.

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Five Thoughts From the Big East Tournament: Thursday Afternoon Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2013

Brian Otskey attended the Thursday afternoon session of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Georgetown is suffocating. The Hoyas limited Cincinnati to just 38 shots in a 40-minute game, in some ways due to Cincinnati’s turnovers but mostly due to Georgetown’s style of play. They grind and wear opponents out, especially one that struggles to score like the Bearcats. The Hoyas aren’t the flashiest of teams but they make big plays in big moments (Nate Lubick’s three field goals came at opportune times) and always seem to have an answer on both ends of the floor. This isn’t an overly talented team but it’s one of the nation’s best-coached. Georgetown runs a disciplined offense and is ultra-physical defensively, a bad combination for a Cincinnati team that needs to play defense for the full shot clock and then can’t get points off its defense on the other end. The Bearcats couldn’t get anything going today and give most of that credit to Georgetown.

    Gto

    Georgetown Wore Down the Bearcats Today

  2. Mick Cronin understands the big picture. His team didn’t play well today and he was clearly disappointed in that, but Mick Cronin spent the majority of his postgame press conference discussing conference realignment and, essentially, his reasons for being a college basketball coach. It was a great listen and refreshing to hear a coach who understands the true meaning of college sports. Cronin blasted realignment (his school is currently left out in the cold so that’s understandable), but his larger point rang true. Everyone, whether it’s schools, conferences or the NCAA, needs to do more to promote the welfare of student-athletes. “These guys aren’t just jerseys” was a quote that stood out to me. Cronin discussed everything from how money is the sole factor in most of this to getting his players degrees and good jobs after graduation. This isn’t the first time Cronin has said what is truly on his mind. He has my respect for what he does. I only wish more coaches were as serious about all of this as he is.
  3. It was obvious coming into the week but it still needs to be noted: This tournament won’t be the same without Syracuse. No team in this league comes close to bringing to the Garden the passion of Syracuse fans. When the Garden is Orange from top to bottom and side to side, the Big East Tournament is better for it. The atmosphere was incredible for today’s Syracuse/Pittsburgh quarterfinal game and just imagine what it is going to be like tomorrow night when Syracuse meets Georgetown in the semifinals! Syracuse fans are loud and yes, sometimes too full of themselves, but this tournament simply won’t be the same without them. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.12.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 12th, 2013

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  1. Syracuse and UConn seem to be moving in very different directions as basketball programs on a number of levels. Syracuse is looking for another top-10 finish to the season and a high seed in the Big Dance. UConn, on the other hand, is ineligible for all postseason play. Syracuse is moving on to the ACC, leaving behind the shell of the once-great Big East. UConn was left at the altar, wondering what its next move will be. And this week, like ships passing in the night, Syracuse gained back dynamic sixth-man James Southerland, while UConn will likely be without big man Enosch Wolf after an arrest this week. Wolf was charged with third-degree burglary, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct after refusing to leave a campus apartment and getting in a physical altercation with a female resident at 6:00 AM. According to Kevin Ollie, Wolf has been suspended indefinitely.
  2. When he suffered a sprained ankle in the first half of what would become an epic five-overtime game against Louisville, Pat Connaughton probably didn’t realize how crucial his presence would be. The sophomore returned to the game later and ended up playing 56 minutes and contributing 16 points and 14 rebounds in the hard-fought Irish win. Connaughton probably didn’t feel great about it on Sunday, but luckily for him Notre Dame is off until Wednesday night when the Irish will take on DePaul. Ice up, Pat.
  3. Jim Boeheim is old, you guys, and I guess it works for him. The Hall of Famer has noted on many occasions that he doesn’t own a computer, and apparently he just recently got into this whole “cell phone” business, mostly because of his young kids. However, in a shocking revelation brought on by the constant Syracuse rumor-mongering surrounding the James Southerland situation, we have now learned that Boeheim knows what a blog is! And surprise, surprise — he resents them as much as we all imagined he would!
  4. Pittsburgh had a slow start to the Big East slate this year, and a lot of that derived from a lack of production from vaunted freshman center Steven Adams.  However, in recent weeks Adams has really come along with his offensive production, allowing Pitt to go back to a more traditional inside-out Panthers attack. The post presence of Adams and power forward Talib Zanna allows Jamie Dixon’s offense to harken back to the days where Levance Fields was able to feed DeJuan Blair under the hoop. The recent emergence of Adams and Zanna’s solid production opens things up for guards like Tray Woodall, who had to shoulder much of the scoring load earlier in the year.
  5. Rutgers has probably played better than many expected this season, but its 3-8 conference record doesn’t really reflect it. The Scarlet Knights have been in many close games but have so far failed to contain the opposition’s best player down the stretch. This problem came to pass once again in Saturday’s 69-63 loss to Georgetown. Scoring has been an adventure for the Hoyas all season, but they have been able to get by on the shoulders of star forward Otto Porter, who led the way by scoring 19 points (including 10 of Georgetown’s final 12) and grabbing 14 boards. Good defensive teams can remove a singular threat like Porter, or at least slow him down in crunch time, but Rutgers isn’t quite there yet.
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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on February 1st, 2013

setDVR

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

The biggest game of the season thus far is upon us, as the top two teams in the Big Ten collide in what could be an epic battle of offensive efficiency. There are some important match-ups in the other conferences as well that should keep your Super Bowl weekend packed with great sports. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#1 Michigan at #4 Indiana – 6:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (*****)

Darius Morris may be gone, but Tim Hardaway Jr. is primed for big things in 2011-12. (Melanie Maxwell/AnnArbor.com)

Tim Hardaway Jr.’s defense could be the key to a Michigan win. (Melanie Maxwell/AnnArbor.com)

  • Michigan versus Indiana should be one of the best offensive duels we see in college hoops this season. Both teams have scoring options all over the floor, shoot the lights out from two and three, and have proven to be incredibly efficient all season long. There is very little that separates these two teams on paper. One factor that could play huge role even before the game starts is the availability of Michigan forward Jordan Morgan. Morgan rolled his ankle early in the game against Illinois and sat out against Northwestern on Wednesday. Morgan gives the Wolverines another sneaky offensive threat and size on the inside. He is a key player on the defensive glass, which will be very important for the Wolverines. If Indiana gets too many second chance points, it will be a long night for John Beilein and company. You will also want to keep an eye on the potential match-up between Tim Hardaway Jr. and Victor Oladipo. Oladipo is clearly the Hoosiers most valuable player at this point and is filling up the stat sheet recently. Michigan must find a way to lock down Oladipo. Additionally for Michigan, keep an eye on Jon Horford. Horford has been very solid in the last two games making up for the loss of Morgan. The Wolverines will need Horford to be at the top of his game, if they want to win. Finally, keep a close eye on Michigan’s demeanor early in the game. If you recall, the Wolverines came out rattled and uninspired against Ohio State on the road. Early mistakes put them behind big. If that happens in Bloomington, it’s unlikely Michigan can bounce back against an offense as good as Indiana’s. If Indiana gets off to a fast start, you won’t see the Wolverines panic.  However, if the fast start is due to mistakes and uninspired play, it’s curtains. While the offenses will be at center stage in this game, the winner will be the team that plays better defense. Watch perimeter defense closely as both teams are excellent from distance. Whoever is able to defend the perimeter better will win the game.

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Walk-on Contributions Help Louisville Exorcise Late-Game Demons Against Pittsburgh

Posted by Will Tucker on January 29th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and Big East microsite writer. He filed this report after Monday night’s Louisville-Pittsburgh game.

Louisville endured a three-point shooting onslaught from Pitt down the stretch to hold on to a 64-61 victory on Monday night in the Yum! Center. The Panthers hit five of their eight threes in the final seven minutes, but the Cardinals made the necessary plays in the final possessions — demonstrating a resilience conspicuously absent in close losses to Syracuse and Georgetown. Most impressive was the fact that the Cardinals pulled out the win in spite of sudden attrition on its wings. Wayne Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Kevin Ware (unspecified suspension) weren’t in the lineup, subtracting 38 reliable minutes per game from Rick Pitino’s rotation.

(Credit Andy Lyons)

Louisville’s Tim Henderson played 14 sound minutes off the bench (Credit: Andy Lyons)

Leading up to the game, the two teams appeared headed in vastly different directions. Louisville had lost three consecutive Big East gut-punches and was facing the possibility of a 4-4 record in conference play less than two weeks removed from a #1 ranking in the polls; Pittsburgh had won four straight, capped off by an emphatic 38-point win over DePaul. Rick Pitino’s team needed no extra motivation (nor anxiety) to get up for Pitt, but that’s exactly what they got when they learned in the past couple days that Blackshear and Ware would sit out.

The outlook was bleak on paper, with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country entering the Yum! Center. Who would defend Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall, who were shooting 39% and 37% from beyond the arc, respectively? Louisville’s lineup was about to get smaller, and it had already allowed Big East foes to shoot more than 34% from outside (fourth worst in the league). Could UofL’s increasingly anemic offense survive the void left by Blackshear’s scoring, which accounts for 12% of their points in league play?

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Big East M5: 01.14.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2013

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  1. The big off-the-court news in the Big East this weekend was the mysterious suspension of Syracuse forward James Southerland for an eligibility-related issue. The Orange were still able to handle Villanova without their second-leading scorer, but if Southerland is going to miss an extended period of time, Syracuse will be in trouble. Southerland is one of the team’s best outside shooters and scorers and replacing his production and athleticism will be nearly impossible, That is why it will be important for freshmen Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney to step up and replace some of that production. As longtime Syracuse Post-Standard columnist Bud Poliquin noted, this marks yet another season marred with off-the-court controversy for Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim and the fact that the program has announced what the eligibility issue is that Southerland is being suspended for is rather ominous. This is obviously a story that is still developing and we will have more on where Syracuse goes from here later this week.
  2. After an impressive start in non-conference play, things have gotten markedly worse for Pittsburgh. The losses are one thing but now the Panthers will be without the services of its playmaker and point guard Tray Woodall as the senior suffered a concussion thanks to a head-on collision in the team’s loss to Marquette. The good news is that freshman James Robinson is mature beyond his years and an excellent point guard already. The bad news is that now Robinson will be playing a lot more and could burn out down the stretch, and Woodall is one of the best playmakers and passers in the conference. Coach Jamie Dixon played Lamar Patterson and Trey Ziegler a bit at point guard and both are relatively versatile, so it will be interesting to see if they can adapt. How much playing time Woodall will miss is anyone’s guess at this point, but its likely he will miss a good chunk of the conference schedule, not good news for a Panthers’ team struggling to find its way.
  3. There is no question that one of the main reasons Connecticut is overachieving is because of the newfound consistency of junior point guard Shabazz Napier. The Massachusetts native was terrific in the team’s huge road upset win over Notre Dame this weekend and he has been the heart and soul of the team this year. Napier is leading the team in scoring, shooting as well as he ever has from beyond the three-point arc, and cut down on his turnovers all while leading a young and undersized team with no hope for postseason play this season. Those are all compelling reasons why some folks are outraged that Napier didn’t make the final cut for the Bob Cousy Award. The junior has better statistical numbers than most of the field and has dramatically cut down on the maddening inconsistencies and questionable shot-selection that plagued him last season so it is a little strange that the committee didn’t give Napier the nod. It doesn’t matter much to Napier but it would be nice for the Huskies to have something to look forward to.
  4. The Big East will likely boast the No. 1 team in the country when the new rankings come out as a few top-ranked teams went down over the weekend and Louisville will likely stand alone at the top when all the dust is settled. More importantly, coach Rick Pitino is in rare form already, calling his team a bunch of Michael Jacksons when they don’t talk on defense and finding new and creative ways to motivate his team, which he has done effectively. The top billing is not always a welcome place to be but if any team has the mentality to hold onto it, its Louisville. The Cardinals are deep and their defense is downright scary good. As long as they are giving full effort, there is no one better, in the conference at least.
  5. The start to conference play has been rocky for Cincinnati as well. Coach Mick Cronin felt his team needed to toughen up and they responded by playing the best defense of the season in a 10-point win over Rutgers. The Bearcats do not have a lot of interior scoring options and often struggle offensively, so playing suffocating defense like they did Saturday will be crucial if they want to have success in the Big East. Of course beating the Scarlet Knights by 10 isn’t going to impress anybody for long, it is a step in the right direction for Cincinnati and if they can carry that over into the rest of the season, there is still a chance they can finish atop the conference.
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Home Sweet Home: Pitt Celebrates Two Millionth Fan at Petersen Events Center

Posted by rtmsf on January 12th, 2013

Jason Prziborowski is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Big East game between Pittsburgh and Marquette.

Pitt hoisted a banner at halftime of Saturday’s game against Marquette, marking the occasion of two million fans who have watched games at the Petersen Events Center. In addition, the banner marked a few notable achievements in The Pete’s 11-year history: 5-0 versus Top 5 opponents, a sellout each and every year, and six conference championships. Pitt plays its home games in the Petersen Events Center, the relatively cozy arena on campus that holds 12,508 spectators chomping at the bit to see Panther victories, something that typically happens early and often throughout the season. Pitt is in its 11th season at The Pete, and it has reeled off an astonishing winning percentage that is close to 90% in almost 200 games. All of this begs the question of why is it so tough for opponents to win there?

Two Million Fans Have Seen Numerous Pitt Wins at The Pete

Two Million Fans Have Seen Numerous Pitt Wins at The Pete

First and foremost, there is The Oakland Zoo, Pitt’s famed student section. The 2,000 deep U-shaped student section that occupies the majority of the bottom 10 rows of The Pete is a great place to start. An hour before tip-off, The Zoo is about 75% full, with students outfitted in this season’s gold Oakland Zoo t-shirts. On the back of every chair when students arrive sits a large single sheet of newspaper print. During starting lineups, every member of the section covers his or her face with this newspaper when the opposing team is announced. They want everyone in the building to know they are not impressed, a la McKayla Maroney of the US Olympic Gymnastics Team. The Oakland Zoo brings energy, dedication, and a presence, not to mention noise and intimidation, all of which is very hard for the opposing team to tune out.

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Big East M5: 01.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 11th, 2013

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  1. When asked after Louisville’s road win over Seton Hall about the five-year contract UConn finally wrote up for Kevin Ollie, Rick Pitino called the situation “a perfect match” and a “tremendous marriage.” He believes Ollie is the kind of charismatic “player’s coach” who can keep a team focused and engaged in the face of an impending postseason ban. “Kevin is the perfect segue into an APR situation… He’ll keep it fun for this team and he’ll have them motivated in the future.” The UofL coach also had some interesting comments about playing in Big East road venues, so check out the linked article.
  2. Seth Davis took a look at 20 potential bubble teams and whether their non-conference strength of schedules will help or hurt each of them in March. Davis subscribes to the school of thought advocating tougher non-conference schedules, and Big East schools don’t fare well in his appraisal. Pitt (SOS: #257) and Seton Hall (SOS: #260) are the only two conference schools to appear on Davis’ list, and he predicts both will suffer with the selection committee because of their soft non-conference slates. Seton Hall, in particular, “will need to at least finish in the top eight of the conference to feel good about their at-large chances.”
  3. That UConn out-rebounded DePaul by 20 boards the other night wasn’t an accident, but rather the product of a blue-collar rebounding ethic Kevin Ollie is trying to instill in the Huskies. Ollie was excited to see his guards in particular contribute more effort on the glass: “They’ve got to come down and get their nose in there and get dirty and box out and hit somebody. I saw that, and I want to continue to see that.” With no Andre Drummond or Hasheem Thabeet types around to clean the boards with their size and natural abilities, the coaching staff’s focus has become “to condition guys to play more physical, to hit their man first.” But they concede that process will take time before it pays dividends, and rebounding will likely remain a major weakness of the Huskies as they hit the most brutal stretch of their Big East schedule.
  4. Tray Woodall played with “a lot more emotion” after Pittsburgh’s recent loss to Rutgers, and it paid off in a big way when he orchestrated Tuesday’s 73-45 win at Georgetown. “This is my last year. It‘s my team. I‘m a senior on the team, me and Dante [Taylor]. There‘s more pressure on me. I want it. I embrace it.” Most importantly, Woodall embraced the challenge Jamie Dixon issued to him to play with the defensive intensity that has eluded his game throughout his career. He held scorer Markel Starks to six points on 2-of-8 shooting, with no assists and four turnovers.
  5. The ever-affable Jim Boeheim is going out of his way to make new friends in the ACC. Speaking nostalgically of his final Big East road trip to Providence after his team beat the Friars on Wednesday night, Boeheim lamented that he’d have to negotiate the new physical environments in his next conference. “I know where all the good restaurants are now, and now I’ve got to go down to Clemson, South Carolina. I’m sure there’s a couple of Denny’s down there.” The millionaire coach either believes Denny’s is actually a “good restaurant” or he’s painting Clemson with the podunk brush. Knowing Jim’s flair for the cynical and alienating, it’s probably the latter. Bret Strelow and Stephen Schramm at the Fayetteville (NC) Observer provided Boeheim with a helpful map. The good news is that the nearest Denny’s is 14 miles from campus –– a veritable hop, skip and a jump by ACC scale. Closer examination on Google Street View reveals that Jim is one step ahead of all of us:

    dennys boeheim wmt

    Boeheim to the ACC: a real GRAND SLAM?

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Set Your DVR: New Year’s Week Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 31st, 2012

setDVR

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

College hoops heads into 2013 with the opening of conference season in some of the major leagues set to begin . The slate of games scheduled for New Year’s Eve is not to be missed, as the Big East and Big Ten seasons both get underway. However, it is one final non-conference match-up that leads our breakdowns. Happy New Year!

Game of the Week

#16 Gonzaga at #21 Oklahoma State – 6:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (*****)

After Spinning His Wheels For Most Of The Season, LeBryan Nash Raised The Roof In Stillwater. (AP)

Le’Bryan Nash and company look to stop Gonzaga’s winning ways against the Big 12. (AP)

  • A win against Oklahoma State today will make Gonzaga the best team in the Big 12. Obviously, Gonzaga is still in the West Coast Conference, but they are already 4-0 against Big 12 teams this season with wins against West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Baylor. Monday’s game against the Cowboys, however, is their first true road test against a Big 12 opponent. The other games have either been at home or on neutral courts. The Zags usually have a size advantage against their opponents, but Oklahoma State can match their size and even has that advantage at the guard position. The Pokes have four guards who contribute heavily to the offense that are 6’3″ or taller, including 6’7″ Le’Bryan Nash. With Bulldog guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. measuring at 6’2″ and 6’1″, respectively, it will be very important to watch how Mark Few’s squad chooses to defend the perimeter size of the Cowboys. Much of that defensive pressure could actually fall on the Zags’ frontcourt. The Oklahoma State guards do most of their damage inside the three-point line because they are not much of a threat from the outside. Keep an eye on how this defensive responsibility affects Gonzaga’s offense inside. The Bulldogs will still need to pound the ball down low and get to the line because it’s their best chance of winning. If they can get to the line like Virginia Tech did against Oklahoma State, they can win this game in a tough road environment.
  • No team has shot over 50% eFG in a game against Oklahoma State this season, but the Cowboys face a Gonzaga team that is lethally efficient from two-point range. The GU frontcourt’s two-point shooting breaks down like this – Elias Harris shoots 58.8%, Kelly Olynyk shoots 72.3%, Sam Dower shoots 59.7%, and Przemek Karnowski shoots 65.3%. These player will put considerable pressure on Cowboys center Phillip Jurick and freshman forward Kamari Murphy. The key will be how OSU head coach Travis Ford uses his big guards on help defense to stop the Gonzaga low post attack. If Oklahoma State can figure this out, they will pick-up an important non-conference win as they head into Big 12 play.
  • Non-conference home losses are few and far between for Oklahoma State under Travis Ford. It’s hard to believe that Gonzaga can actually go 5-0 against the Big 12 this season, especially on the road in front of the Cowboy faithful at Gallagher-Iba Arena. This game will be extremely fun to watch, but the edge has to go to the Cowboys at home.

Other Games to Watch

#10 Cincinnati at #23 Pittsburgh – 12:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Pittsburgh is a very flimsy 12-1. The only good team they’ve play this season is Michigan and they lost that game. We’ll know very quickly if Pitt is any good against a tough and tested Cincinnati squad. However, the Bearcats have shot the ball quite poorly over the last three games. They cannot afford to continue to do so if they expect to win this one, especially at the “Oakland Zoo” in Pittsburgh. The match-up between Tray Woodall and Cashmere Wright should be great to watch all night. Expect Cincy to get back on track and win this game, though, from behind the three-point line. However, if they are shooting bricks like they have been in the past few outings, Pitt will get a great win to start off the Big East season.

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