Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2013
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.