Season In Review: Providence Friars

Posted by Will Tucker on April 29th, 2013

The Friars (19-15; 9-9) made huge progress in Ed Cooley’s second year at the helm of the rebuilding project in Providence. After limping through the first half of the season with injuries to key players, chemistry issues and no bench to speak of, the Friars rattled off seven of their last nine games to close out Big East play. They posted their first .500 conference record since 2008-09, and with it earned a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2008-09 as well, losing their first game of the NIT on the road at No. 2 seed Baylor.

Preseason expectations

Big East coaches pegged the Friars #13 at media day, while we slightly more optimistically ranked them #11 here at the microsite. Ed Cooley returned the Big East’s reigning two-time assists leader in senior Vincent Council, but his highly-anticipated recruiting class had unraveled in the offseason and his frontcourt remained somewhat of a mystery. In short, nobody really knew what to expect from the program that had been a dismal 12-42 (.286) in Big East play since its last postseason bid.

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Reigning Big East Most Improved Player Kadeem Batts returns in 2013-14 (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Good

Ed Cooley finally got his team to play on both ends of the floor, stamping out the paper bag defense that was Keno Davis’ indelible legacy in Providence. KenPom ranked the Friars 74th in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency –– a figure that, while not outstanding, displayed uncharacteristic balance: Their defense had ranked outside the top 200 in two of the past three years. On paper, only Syracuse was more efficient in defending the three among Big East teams, and Providence snuck into the league’s top 10 in scoring defense as well. At the individual level, it was Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts who led the team’s resurgence. In his junior year, Cotton (19.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.9 APG) stepped into a leadership role few outside of Tucson, Arizona, could have envisioned for the spot-up shooter whose only Division I offer came from Providence. Cotton led the Big East in scoring and three-pointers (98 makes) despite playing more minutes per game (37.8 MPG) than all but six other players in the nation. In the frontcourt, Batts (14.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 47.8% FG) fashioned himself into the Big East’s Most Improved Player after an underwhelming sophomore season that left the 6’9″ forward shrouded in uncertainty entering 2012-13.

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Big East M5: 02.20.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 20th, 2013

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  1. Ed Cooley says he hasn’t mentioned the possibility of any sort of postseason berth to his Providence team. “I’m just trying to go a game at a time and that’s not coach-speak. That’s reality,” he said, “We’re still fragile. We just have guys trying to believe right now.” While it may be poor etiquette for any coach to broach that topic when his team is below .500 in conference play, it’s fair game for fans. By late last night, all but 10% of 345 respondents in a Providence Journal poll believed the Friars would make either the NIT (72%) or NCAA Tournament (18%). Any discussion of the latter is premature unless the Friars pull off the upset at Syracuse tonight. But Kevin McNamara suggests that prolonged early injuries to Vincent Council and Kris Dunn could constitute a “special circumstance” with the selection committee, should the Friars play their way onto the bubble. We evaluated the outlook for Providence in their final five games in yesterday’s Big East Burning Question.
  2. It’s not all roses in Syracuse, as Jared E. Smith over at TNIAAM presents three alarming trends that have come to the surface since Cuse’s watershed victory at Louisville. Despite leading the Big East with 8 assists per contest overall this season, Michael Carter-Williams has only averaged 4.3 APG in the past six games, and his team is 1-3 when he fails to dish out 5 assists. Smith identifies other culprits in the poor three-point defense from the back end of Boeheim’s zone and a chronic inability to produce the prolific transition offense to which Orange fans are accustomed. Syracuse is producing half as many transition points as last year’s team, and consequently entered last Saturday’s Seton Hall game averaging 8 PPG fewer than their predecessors. Cuse plays two of the league’s hottest teams this week in Providence and Georgetown, so it’s an inopportune moment to grapple with the issues Smith highlights.
  3. Notwithstanding the Scottie Reynolds shot that knocked his team out of the 2009 Elite Eight, Jamie Dixon may have been at his “most inconsolable” as a Pitt coach after his team’s collapse to Notre Dame on Monday night. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook predicts Pitt will achieve the modest requirements to wrap up their NCAA invite, but says they’re clearly just as “capable of blowing the bid.” The loss only confirmed the alarm raised in last week’s 10-point loss to Marquette: “[Pitt] is trending the wrong way at the worst time of the season.”
  4. Speaking of Pitt, Cardiac Hill wonders whether the infusion of blue chip talent coming out of high school next year will influence the length of Steven Adams’ career in Pittsburgh. Adam Zagoria had quoted an anonymous NBA GM who extolled the 2014 draft class and called this year’s group “historically weak” (when can we take that annual refrain out back and euthanize it, by the way?). This prompted CH to ask: “If Adams doesn’t take a huge step forward, one could wonder if he’d be better of coming out this season or waiting until 2015 if next year’s class is as stacked as the GM claims.” It’s an interesting dilemma, and from a broader perspective it’s a kind of cynical calculus necessitated by the one-and-done rule.
  5. Though Cincinnati as a team is 14th in the league in free throw shooting percentage, Mick Cronin claims it’s more an issue of the wrong players getting to the line. “If [Sean Kilpatrick] or Cash [Wright] shoots all of our free throws, I like our chances,” said Cronin, who lamented, “Your bigger guys are the ones who tend to get fouled.” Therein lies the problem, for Cincinnati, whose star guards are the only starters that shoot better than 66%. For their part, Justin Jackson and JaQuan Parker have hit 54% of 156 combined free throw attempts. Despite struggling in many other facets of his game, sixth man forward Titus Rubles’ 67% foul shooting offers a situational substitute should Jackson become a liability late in a game.
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Big East Burning Question: Can Providence Finish With a Winning Conference Record?

Posted by Will Tucker on February 19th, 2013

The consensus at Big East Media Day in October was that Providence would remain mired in the league’s storm drain this season. Despite an auspicious (albeit banged up) recruiting class and preseason All-Big East point guard Vincent CouncilEd Cooley’s peers tabbed his team #15 in the league. We were more generous with the Friars, pegging them at #11 in our league projections. With five games remaining in conference play, they’re now 6-7 and in the midst of the program’s first four-game Big East winning streak since 2004 after knocking off Notre Dame over the weekend. They’re also right where we expected them to be in the standings, and sit one win behind ninth place. So today’s Burning Question asks: Can Providence finish with a winning Big East record for the first time since 2008-09?

 

Dan: Providence’s four-game winning streak should inspire some confidence going forward, as they’re playing much better basketball than we’ve seen from them in the last few years. Heading into the Notre Dame game, I thought that despite their improved play, it was still a bit of a long shot for the Friars to hit or exceed .500 in the Big East this season; I was working on the premise that the Irish would find a way to beat the Friars. The Notre Dame win is a very nice feather in the cap for Ed Cooley’s squad, though. Extending the streak to five games will be very difficult, as Providence travels to the Carrier Dome on Wednesday where Syracuse hasn’t lost since February 9, 2011. After that, Rutgers and Seton Hall should be wins if Providence keeps up its strong play, but there is no counting eggs before they hatch in the Big East, and games against St. John’s and Connecticut in Storrs will be very difficult. At worst, I think Providence finishes Big East play at 8-10, which would be a major step up from where the Friars have been so far in the Ed Cooley era, but if they can steal one from Syracuse, St. John’s, or UConn, which is very doable, the Friars can finish the year with a conference record of 9-9 or better, a great step forward for the program as it looks to compete with the likes of Georgetown and Marquette in seasons ahead.

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Kadeem Batts is a key actor in the Friars’ run (Credit Mark L. Baer, USA TODAY)

Will: Though a four-game Big East winning streak seems like a fairly pedestrian accomplishment on paper, such streaks are hard to come by this season: Georgetown is the only team with a longer active conference winning streak (seven games). The Hoyas and Friars are the only Big East teams who haven’t lost in February, and are arguably the two hottest teams in the league. Providence itself hadn’t even won three consecutive conference games since Keno Davis’ first year in 2008-09. Unlike the porous defenses PC fielded in the Davis era (they allowed 80 points per game against Big East competition that year), Ed Cooley’s team has fashioned an energetic 2-3 zone that’s held its last four opponents to 55.5 PPG and stymied the league’s second most efficient offense on Saturday. The Friars are unequivocally rounding into form, both in terms of chemistry and physical health. So what are the chances they can parlay their recent momentum into a winning Big East record? Read the rest of this entry »

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Providence Shows Its Growth With Recent Big East Wins

Posted by Dan Lyons on February 7th, 2013

Dan Lyons is an RTC Big East microsite contributor who also writes for the Syracuse blog, “Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.”  You can find him on Twitter @Dan_Lyons76.  He filed this report after Wednesday night’s match-up between Cincinnati and Providence at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

Providence has played this entire season teetering on the edge.  On one side, losses to the likes of Penn State, UMass, Brown, and DePaul don’t inspire much confidence for Ed Cooley‘s squad going forward.  On the other hand, the only game this season that really got away from the Friars was the January 2nd 80-62 loss to then #4 Louisville.  Every other Friar loss has been within ten points, with two having gone to overtime – the games against Penn State and UConn.  Since the loss to UConn, however, Providence’s luck has seemed to turn a bit.  They went to Villanova, a team that had just logged back to back home wins against the conference’s two big dogs Louisville and Syracuse, and knocked off the Wildcats, and then followed that up with last night’s close win at home against #17 Cincinnati.

Kadeem Batts' 25 points and nine rebounds were essential in Providence's upset of #17 Cincinnati.

Kadeem Batts’ 25 points and nine rebounds were essential in Providence’s upset of #17 Cincinnati.

Providence’s road to relevance under Cooley has been a treacherous one, but there has been reason for hope.  Cooley has been recruiting well above the expectations laid forth by Providence’s 42-53 record over the last three seasons.  Last season Cooley reeled in five-star prospects Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo and he currently has 2013 commitment from four-star small forward prospect Brandon Austin.  He also inherited a team with capable players like Kadeem BattsBryce Cotton, and Vincent Council.  However, in a college basketball landscape where inexperience is no longer an excuse for poor performance, Providence’s turnaround hasn’t translated to on-the-court success as quickly as some fans probably hoped.

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Big East M5: 02.06.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 6th, 2013

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  1. Providence hasn’t been relevant in basketball in a long time and this season has been no exception. The popular argument seems to be that in order for Ed Cooley to turn the program around, he needs the entire team to buy in to his plan. The point is a good one as the Friars have arguably as much pure talent on their roster as any other team in the conference yet still can’t put anything together. The evidence of such issues is pretty damning actually. Transfer Sidiki Johnson took a voluntary leave of absence from the team recently and two of the program’s best players, LaDontae Henton and Vincent Council, both sat to start the Connecticut game because of issues with Cooley — and you know Ricardo Ledo doesn’t care about the long-term success of the program given his recent comments about considering the NBA. Ledo is the only one with a decent excuse since it isn’t his fault he has to sit out this season, but Johnson has set new records for using up good will wherever he goes and this is hardly the first issue Council has created because of his cavalier attitude. The article is right. Cooley can stockpile the most impressive collection of basketball talent on the Eastern Seaboard and it won’t matter unless he can get the whole team to buy in to what he is selling. Until then, Providence is going to be a program that produces a few NBA players without ever winning many college games.
  2. Yes, it is just the ranting of an angry fan, but there was already plenty of buzz around the topic of whether DePaul should fire head coach Oliver Purnell and that buzz has only grown louder after the Blue Demons were embarrassed on their home court last night by a mediocre Villanova team. The loss came on the heels of two hard-fought overtime losses last week but it was also the seventh-straight defeat for Purnell’s club, which really hasn’t shown much improvement now in his third year at the helm. The school paid Purnell handsomely to spurn Clemson in the hopes that he would come in and rebuild a once proud program. Instead, his lack of ties to Chicago have hurt him in recruiting and, never one to be mistaken for a strategy whiz, Purnell’s team consistently blows winnable games and is often obviously outplayed. No matter how the team finishes this season, Purnell probably deserves to watch his first recruiting class graduate and if the team’s best players, Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, don’t do something silly like enter the NBA Draft, it could be the best and deepest club Purnell has coached in Chicago. But if he can’t make it work next season with a solid recruiting class and a host of returning talent, I wouldn’t bet on him making it through another full season unscathed.
  3. With questions swirling about whether super-sub James Southerland‘s season is done, the good folks at Troy Nunes Is A Magician took a quick look at why the program’s fans hate freshman guard Trevor Cooney so much. The article does a fine job of examining the issue on its own so there is no need to rehash everything, but we will say that if Southerland is deemed ineligible for the rest of the season, ‘Cuse fans better get used to seeing Cooney because head coach Jim Boeheim doesn’t have a whole lot else to work with. Would it be nice if Cooney shot better than 29 percent from behind the three-point arc and played better perimeter defense? Of course it would. But we are talking about a redshirt freshman who is receiving inconsistent minutes and still hasn’t found his range yet. Don’t get us wrong, heading into the NCAA Tournament with Cooney as our sixth man would make us nervous too, but let’s cut him some slack and give him another year or two before ‘Cuse fans angrily try to run him out of town.
  4. We have confirmation of some “needed wake-up call” talk down in Louisville where Cardinals players speaking to the media stopped just short of calling their three-game losing streak a good thing because it let the team know that letdowns wouldn’t cut it. While there is still no supporting evidence to convince me that losing three important conference games in a row is a good thing, the argument works well with a team like Louisville. Advanced metrics and eyeballs tell you that Louisville is as complete a team as there is in the country and certainly a viable national championship contender. Seeding is important and a three-game losing streak obviously has an effect on that, but if the Cardinals actually learn from their struggles and are able to maintain intensity and focus for the rest of the season, then maybe I will start buying more of the talk  about these “moral victories” and “wake-up calls.”
  5. File this under someone should probably tell Larry Brown there is no Santa Claus either, as the famous first-year coach at SMU is still holding out hope that the Big East as it currently stands will stick together for another year or two, long enough for the Mustangs to get a taste of the conference. It is possible that the Catholic 7 will be forced to play out their contracts with the Big East, but it is more likely that after some legal wrangling, the Big East gets paid and the Catholic 7 jumps ship sooner and starts collecting checks from their supposedly impending television deal. The 72-year-old Brown seems to just now be coming to grips with all of the conference realignment and you can assume by his assertion that it is “ruining every other sport” other than football that he is not at all a fan. We don’t disagree with Brown, we just think it might be time to get with the picture and realize that the Big East that SMU enters will not look the same as the Big East that SMU thought it had signed up for.
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Big East M5: 01.08.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 8th, 2013

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  1. After Syracuse kicked off its Big East farewell road tour with a 55-44 win over USF in the Sun Dome, Jim Boeheim admitted he wouldn’t be accompanying his team to the ACC were Syracuse leaving the Big East of yore. “If it was the same and we were leaving, I wouldn’t leave. I would have just retired. It’s not the same.” Boeheim didn’t seem to elaborate, which leaves us to wonder if he would have eschewed a lateral move to the ACC out of loyalty to the school’s home of 30 years. Perhaps in light of a growingly tenuous conference landscape, Boeheim doesn’t want his retirement to hamper Syracuse’s footing in its new league. Either way, it’s an ironic position considering his administration effectively co-authored the Big East’s death sentence more than a year ago.
  2. Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono won Big East Rookie of the Week honors for the second week in a row yesterday. Confronted by an embarrassing 4-4 record a month ago, the home-grown freshman has helped orchestrate a six-game winning streak, which he capped off with a 36-point performance in Nova’s overtime win over St. John’s. His seven made three-pointers fell one short of Ray Allen’s single-game record –– quite an achievement for a freshman who missed his entire high school senior season with a back injury.
  3. New York Post columnist Zach Braziller has issued a mea culpa for dismissing Louisville’s Russ Smith as a high-major prospect. The writer has spent plenty of time around future pros covering New York City high school hoops, and even he was blindsided by Smith’s metamorphosis. “I felt he was making a mistake by going to prep school, that he should pick whatever mid-major would have him.” While he now appreciates the unrefined talent Smith possessed three years ago, what most impressed Braziller was the junior’s unwillingness to crow to his detractors: “The way basketball is, you just have to end up being lucky,” Smith told him.
  4. Seth Davis calls Marquette his team of the week in college hoops, after a marquee win over Georgetown and a 2-0 Big East start. Davis cautions that Buzz Williams’ team still needs to prove it can pull out similar wins on the road. Elsewhere, MU blog Paint Touches writes that Jamil Wilson has found his niche as a high post zone-buster, after channeling a dash of Jae Crowder in the Georgetown win.
  5. On the heels of last weekend’s 10-point home loss to DePaul, Friarblog argues that Providence has “regressed in all areas” over the past two weeks, despite adding Kris DunnVincent Council and Sidiki Johnson to its roster. After a promising 8-2 start, Ed Cooley’s squad has now dropped four in a row and claims a share of the worst Big East record to this point (0-2). Along with some salient observations about the Friars’ turnover bug and a call for Ed Cooley to make systemic adjustments on defense, the post resurrects this artifact from the dustbin of history:Davis-Full-Court-Pressing-System-774

 

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Morning Five: 12.28.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 28th, 2012

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  1. We are usually disappointed when a basketball game is not played, but when that game/event is the previously mentioned four games at one time concept championed by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis we have to applaud. As we have stated before we appreciate the work that Hollis has done to make early season college basketball more visible, but in this case that proved to be his undoing. According to reports the primary road block to putting on the event was the lack of a television network or more specifically group of networks willing to broadcast the four games at the same time. At some level we are disappointed that college basketball could not generate enough interest to get this to happen, but in the end we are glad that the sport was not made in to a circus.
  2. After a rough start, UCLA has started to show signs of becoming a solid team, but just as you would expect with any good Hollywood drama the Bruins cannot have a dull moment. With a big home game against Missouri looming tonight, the team now has to deal with rumors that yet another player–this time it is freshman Tony Parker–is considering transferring based on a series of tweets he posted (and then deleted) about how unhappy he was at UCLA. To be fair, the rumors that Parker might be the third Bruin in a little over a month to leave the school are based on some pretty extreme conjecture, but it does not reflect well on the program and Ben Howland that another player is even reported to be considering transferring even if those close to Parker deny the rumors.
  3. Providence may not turn out to be the threat in the Big East that they were expected to be before they were hit by injury and eligibility issues, but they will get a little help when Vincent Council returns to action tonight. Council, who was sidelined just four minutes into the season after injuring his hamstring, will give the Friars a veteran presence at point guard. Council may look “very, very rusty” as Ed Cooley reported, but when paired with Kriss Dunn they could form a very formidable backcourt by the end of the season.
  4. At this time, you could make a strong argument that Kansas coach Bill Self is the best in the business with his incredible run of conference championships and his ability to regularly produce national title contenders. Yesterday, Self turned 50 yesterday and dismissed a recent column from SI.com that stated that he was the coach most likely to challenge Mike Krzyzewski and his all-time wins record he said this of his chances: “Zero. Whoever [Ed. Note: That would be this guy.] wrote that, doesn’t know me very well. I don’t think that I’ll want to coach near that long.” To be fair to Glockner, he said that Self was the most likely to do it although it was more likely that none of the current crop of coaches would do it. Although Self’s ten-year, $52 million contract would be finished well before he approaches whatever total Krzyzewski ends up at it we have a hard time believing he would not chase it if he were close particularly with the amount of money that Kansas would probably put up for him to chase it.
  5. Earlier this week we linked to some of the first 2012 retrospective posts that we had seen and now we have the first 2013 prospective post courtesy of Luke Winn, who tries to provide us with ten predictions for 2013. This may not be the type of column you are used to seeing from Winn (or at least not the kind that we usually link to here), but Winn does cover many of the big topics that we expect to be addressed in the next calendar year. Some of them are nothing more than pure speculation, but there are a couple of interesting educated guesses including one potential job opening that could lead to a huge swing of the coaching carousel.
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Big East M5: 12.14.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 14th, 2012

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  1. It’s become overwhelmingly clear that the seven Big East Catholic basketball schools will publicly articulate their plan to split off from the league, although it appears outright dissolution is off the table; “a more likely scenario will be that they simply break away and start anew.” As one of the departing ADs told Kevin McNamara at the Providence Journal, “the train has left the station. Get on board or get run over.” The basketball schools will likely shun the wandering eyes of UConn and Cincinnati in favor of raiding the A-10 of programs like Butler and Xavier, who will view a centralized Catholic basketball league as a destination rather than a stepping stone affiliation. There remain a tremendous number of loose ends to tie up before either of the splintering Big East factions can move forward developmentally. Branding rights (the “Big East” title––however toxic––carries AQ status); a tournament venue in Madison Square Garden; exit fees; NCAA Tournament units, which are much more lucrative than television revenue, and will provide a rolling annuity for another five or six years –– we’re entering uncharted territory, and these issues will be painstakingly hammered out in court for months or years to come. Pete Thamel’s piece (linked above) does the best job of depicting the tedium of what has quickly become the most convoluted episode in the realignment saga to date. As one AD told Thamel, “If anyone tells you they know what’s going to happen with the legal issues, the brand, the name, Madison Square Garden and all those issues, I don’t think they’re being honest.”
  2. Michael Carter-Williams describes the exasperation he experienced in his freshman year, as the former McDonalds All-American resigned to riding the pine behind a veteran backcourt. Yahoo!’s Jeff Eisenberg presents a vignette from the Syracuse locker room after a win at Providence in January: The freshman sat by himself after his teammates left, dreading the disapproval of his local friends and family who had traveled to see him play only to watch the Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters show for all but four minutes. The notion of a blue-chip recruit waiting his turn is an old-school ethic that’s becoming harder and harder for coaches to sell, and Carter-Williams demonstrated a patience that would have eluded many 18-year-olds accustomed to the superstar treatment. “Michael had to pay his dues like when I went through high school and college,” said MCW’s high school coach, Mike Hart. “He got very frustrated at times. But we all knew his time would come and I’m glad everyone was patient.” Syracuse fans probably share that sentiment.
  3. Two weeks after undergoing surgery to install an orthopedic screw in his fractured left hand, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng is out of his cast and could return to the court in about a week. Pitino was initially hoping his center could return by the Cards’ Big East opener against Providence on Junary 2, and my pessimistic outlook for Dieng-less Louisville had been predicated on that timetable (the joke is on me for credulously accepting one of Pitino’s infamously conservative injury prognoses). On his Wednesday night radio show, the UofL coach said he was eying the December 22 Western Kentucky game as a good opportunity to ease Dieng back into the lineup. The coach said he’d “love to get 15-18 minutes out of him” against WKU to prepare for the Battle for the Bluegrass five days later. Though Kentucky will presumably enter the Yum! Center with a “3” in its loss column rather than beside its initials, Pitino won’t trivialize any Calipari-coached UK team after losing four straight against the Cats. Barring a medical relapse, you can bank on Gorgui Dieng playing 20-plus minutes in that game.
  4. Rutgers AD Tom Pernetti has suspended Mike Rice for three games without pay and fined him $50,000 for inappropriate behavior in practices. Rice has caught flak in the past for sideline misanthropy, and was cautioned by his AD after being ejected for the first time in his career in a loss at Louisville last season. So it wasn’t much of a shocker when Brendan Prunty at the Newark Star-Ledger reported that the suspension was triggered by an internal investigation that revealed “abusive, profane language” he used towards his team and an episode in his first two seasons “in which Rice threw basketballs at some players’ heads during practice.” The timing couldn’t be any worse for the RU coach, whose team will play decent UAB and Rider squads without him before tripping to Syracuse to play the role of sacrificial lamb in Cuse’s Big East opener. Rutgers is off to a 6-2 start –– its best since 2010-11. In that season, Rice’s inaugural campaign ended in a 6-15 nosedive. This is the kind of distraction that could trigger a similar collapse.
  5. With the imminent addition of Vincent Council, Kris Dunn and Sidiki Johnson to Ed Cooley’s arsenal, Friarblog declares “the gang’s all here.” Not only will the Providence coach have a bevy of skilled bodies at his disposal after struggling to field the most spartan rotation all year, but that depth will grant Cooley wider latitude in exploiting mismatches on offense and not forcing players to play roles outside of their comfort zones. For example, he can slide LaDontae Henton primarily to the three-spot, and stop plugging an uncomfortable Josh Fortune in at point guard due to attrition at the position. It will be a relief to see Providence finally catch a break and watch what they can do with a promising roster at full strength.
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The Freshman 10: The Best and Worst of Big East Newcomers

Posted by mlemaire on December 6th, 2012

The season is only a month and some change old but it is never too early to check in on the progress of some of the conference’s most heralded and surprising freshmen. While young bloods like Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Nik Stauskas of Michigan have made an instant splash on the college scene, the Big East’s crop of rookies have made a more muted impact.  There was no methodology when it came to selecting which freshmen to analyze, so we just chose 10 of the most interesting freshmen to follow. Of course, conference play hasn’t even begun yet, so evaluating their body of work is somewhat of a trivial venture. But don’t you worry, we will be back later in the year to check in on some of these players again.

DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse)

The Learning Curve For Prized Freshman DaJuan Coleman Has Been Steeper Than Some Expected

It is still far too early to make a judgment call on what type of player DaJuan Coleman can become this season. But those who expected the highly touted forward to come in and immediately start anchoring the paint for the Orange probably need to adjust their expectations. To his credit, he seems to be getting better each game. But in six games against subpar competition, Coleman hasn’t seen much playing time and has shown only promise and inconsistency when he does play.

Anyone with eyes can see the wide-bodied forward is going to be an excellent rebounder and considering he is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in just 16.3 minutes of playing time, he is already on his way to validating that obvious observation. But he isn’t a shot-blocker which is fine so long as he is an efficient scorer in the post and an elite rebounder. He has an impressive skill set and nimble feet for a man his size, but the ball rarely makes it back out to the perimeter if it goes to Coleman in the post, and he will need to take better care of it and make smarter decisions if he wants to continue to receive looks in the paint. His downfall offensively may be his sketchy free-throw shooting (55 FT%) as he is the type of strong interior player destined to draw a lot of fouls, and if he can even make his free throws at a 66 percent clip, he will be a much more productive scorer.

Jakarr Sampson (St. John’s)

It should come as no surprise that Sampson has adjusted to college basketball quickly because the Akron native was supposed to be suiting up for the Red Storm last season before lackluster academics forced him to return to prep school. But now that he is on the roster, he has wasted little time making his mark on both ends of the floor and is the clear front-runner for conference rookie of the year honors. The lanky 6’8″ forward already had a well-deserved reputation as a sensational dunker, but his game is more nuanced than that. Sampson has thus far started all nine of the team’s games, averaging 30.8 minutes per game, and he ranks second on the team in scoring (13.8 PPG), first in rebounding (6.6 RPG), and second in blocks (1.6 BPG).

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Big East M5: 11.28.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on November 28th, 2012

  1.  Everyone has already used up all the good “Big East is turning into Conference USA” jokes so I will refrain, but we would be remiss not to mention that two more C-USA teams — East Carolina and Tulaneplan to defect to the Big East and will join the conference in 2014. The move is considered a reactionary decision to Rutgers’ impending departure, and a proactive decision considering the conference, smartly, expects more teams to defect in the coming months (Connecticut and Louisville, we are looking at you). As Big East fans, I wish we could say we were excited, but from a basketball perspective, Tulane and East Carolina hardly move the needle, if they move it at all. Don’t get us wrong, the Big East is trying to stave off irrelevancy and adding more teams is really the only way to do that, but adding mediocre teams from Conference USA is really only a band-aid, especially if UConn and others don’t plan on staying for much longer. I seriously doubt basketball fans are going to pack Madison Square Garden for a Big East Tournament matchup between Tulane and SMU.
  2. Things started well enough for Villanova as Jay Wright’s club began the season 3-0 including a solid win over Purdue in Madison Square Garden. But since then, everything has gone downhill in a hurry. A blowout loss to Alabama was followed by an embarrassing home loss to Columbia, and things hit a low point on Sunday when the Wildcats blew a second-half lead and lost in overtime to Big Five rival La Salle. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Wright and his team, but things were never supposed to get this bad, and the Wildcats have enough talent that they have no business losing by double figures to a mediocre team from the Ivy League. It should also be noted that this sort of embarrassing effort has become commonplace for ‘Nova over the last few seasons, and if they don’t start playing with more intensity and passion, Wright, even with his Final Four pedigree, could find himself on the hot seat at the end of the season.
  3. The biggest match-up involving a team from the Big East will be Thursday’s showdown between Notre Dame and Kentucky in the SEC/Big East Challenge. The Wildcats aren’t the same dominating force they were last year, but as the Fighting Irish understand, they are probably just as supremely athletic, especially in the frontcourt. Notre Dame probably has the advantage in the backcourt, at least when it comes to experience, but it will be extremely interesting to see Jack Cooley square off against Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein in the post as it figures to be a battle between great athleticism and great fundamentals. Cooley isn’t half as athletic as Kentucky’s young frontcourt, but he is more experienced and he won’t get rattled in the post.
  4. With UConn guard R.J. Evans out for at least another game because of a chest injury, coach Kevin Ollie has turned to junior combo guard Niels Giffey to pick up the slack. And if the first six games are any indication, Giffey will be up to the challenge. The Huskies have a talented backcourt duo in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, but Ollie  considers Giffey the team MVP to this point because of his work ethic, intensity, and “glue guy” qualities. Giffey won’t wow anybody with his athleticism or overall skill set, but he can knock down an open three-pointer, rebounds well for his size, and is the type of scrappy player that every good team needs in the rotation. Conference play will really tell us what type of role Giffey has carved out on this team, but it’s not as if the Huskies have played all pushovers, so if Ollie and his team leave an impression this season, chances are Giffey will be a big reason why.
  5. Speaking of role players on teams without a lot of scholarship athletes who are being forced into crucial roles, Providence freshman Joshua Fortune has been playing A LOT for coach Ed Cooley. The forgotten guard in the Friars’ much-ballyhooed recruiting class has been thrust into duty because of injuries and is averaging better than 38 minutes and nearly 10 points per game through six contests. The Friars have very few competent Big East players and the 6’5″ Fortune is one of them. His shot selection and decision-making has been sketchy as he has more turnovers (22) than assists (17), but these are valuable minutes considering he will soon experience the brunt of a Big East schedule. One thing is for certain, there is no way Cooley can expect Fortune to handle this workload all season, as no freshman can. The good news is that fellow guard Kris Dunn should be back some time after the new year, and when he and senior Vincent Council return, Cooley will finally boast one of the best backcourts in the conference.
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Morning Five: 11.15.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 15th, 2012

  1. Yesterday was the first day of the early signing period, which runs from November 14 through 21. As we have said before we would think that at some point in the future the elite recruits would avoid signing at all and just enroll at schools so as not to put themselves in a situation of having signed at a school and have the coaching staff leave them for a better situation. Having said that there were a couple of big story lines with the most obvious being the success of the SEC, which has loaded up on the most highly rated recruits. We have already talked about the potentially ridiculous class that Kentucky is putting together, but it is also worth pointing out that Florida may end up with the second best class in the country when the dust settles. We will have much more on this later in the day so be on the look out for more details on what has gone down so far.
  2. When the NCAA declared Shabazz Muhammad ineligible it was not a matter of if, but when UCLA would appeal. The when turned out to be yesterday as UCLA formally filed its appeal to the NCAA to have Muhammad reinstated. Muhammad’s case has been discussed online ad nauseam, but a report suggesting that the NCAA may have already prejudged Muhammad came out yesterday based on a conversation overheard on a cross-country flight in which the boyfriend (possibly soon to be ex-boyfriend) of Abigail Grantstein, the NCAA’s lead investigator in the Muhammad case, allegedly told another passenger on August 7 that the NCAA was going to find Muhammad ineligible and not allow him to play this season, which contradicts the earlier NCAA statement that they had waited until they received all of the evidence (almost 3 months later) before deciding on Muhammad’s eligibility. Attorneys for Muhammad and UCLA are using this report as support to ask the NCAA to drop its investigation into Muhammad and reinstate him immediately. After criticizing the speed at which the Muhammad family provided it with information we wonder how quickly the NCAA will collect evidence on this one.
  3. Speaking of Muhammad, Arizona senior Solomon Hill has some advice for him: don’t go to college. Ok, maybe it isn’t that simple, but Hill has come out and said that he thinks that with the way that the NCAA is handling investigations into played eligibility he can see a day where top recruits skip college and just hire an agent out of high school rather than deal with NCAA investigations. While this is not a new idea we found this quote particularly interesting: “If you don’t want to be investigated, just don’t go to college. If you take money early, make the decision that you’re not going to attend college and you’re going to seek training. There’s nothing bad with that decision.” In addition, Hill also suggested that if Muhammad was not cleared by December he should just start preparing for the Draft. On the surface this seems like a perfectly reasonable idea, but we imagine that the UCLA fans and staff would prefer that Hill keep his ideas of the subject to himself.
  4. After just one weekend of college basketball there are already several notable injuries to report. The most significant are Mississippi State guard Jalen Steele, who will be out for six weeks with a fractured right wrist, and Providence guard Vincent Council, who will be out for four to five weeks with a hamstring injury (original article require registration). Two other stars who also sustained injuries, but should miss less time are UCLA guard Kyle Anderson, who is a game-time decision (right wrist contusion) for today’s game against James Madison, and Georgetown forward Otto Porter, who missed last night’s win over Liberty with a concussion and has no definitive timetable to return.
  5. Finally, in a score that is straight out of the Big Ten, Fresno State defeated UC Riverside 39-30, which might actually be a blowout given how low scoring the game was. The box score is full of interesting/horrifying stats in a game that was actually 35-27 before some window dressing made the final score slightly more respectable. The  Fresno State media release is billing it as a defensive stalemate, which is a euphemism they must have borrowed from some old Big Ten press releases. Perhaps the most important statistic is that only 806 people (plus the players and coaches) had to watch it although some people apparently watched it online and are using it as an example of the beauty of college basketball.
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Lost and Found Again: Unearthing Providence Guard Bryce Cotton

Posted by mlemaire on November 13th, 2012

On the heels of transfer announcements from Gerard Coleman and Bilal Dixon, the rumors started swirling at Providence in early April that yet another guard — then-sophomore Bryce Cotton — asked for his release and was set to leave the program. The thought was that with Vincent Council returning for his senior year and at least two superstar guard recruits entering the program, Cotton saw the writing on the wall and was headed for a place that offered more playing time.

The Friars Have A New Star Of The Show, But The Team Should Be Happy It Has Him At All

Friars’ fans did not take the news well  but the discussion was never about losing a starting guard, it was about losing “depth” and a solid player who could back up Council and uber-freshmen Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. Never mind that the then-sophomore was coming off a season in which he had averaged 38.6 minutes and 14.3 points per game, the message was already clear. Cotton was a nice player, but he wasn’t Council, or Dunn, or Ledo.

Fast forward to present day and you can bet that the Providence faithful is thanking its lucky stars that Cotton decided to stick around.   The backcourt logjam that was supposed to eat into Cotton’s minutes never materialized. In fact, the backcourt has gone from an area of strength to an area of weakness almost overnight. First Dunn had shoulder surgery, then Ledo was ruled ineligible, and then, early in the team’s season-opening win over the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Council injured his hamstring, leaving him sidelined for an undetermined amount of time.

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