What’s Trending: Tyler #ENNIONS, Dick Vitale Pop Art, Holly Rowe, and More…

Posted by Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) on February 14th, 2014

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Nick Fasulo (@nickfasuloSBN) is your weekly host.

Raw emotion meets raw weather, as Dick Vitale was caught puttering through a North Carolina blizzard only to find out the Duke vs. North Carolina game would be postponed due to the winter storm. We have applied a bit of an Andy Warhol Pop Art feel to it, while some feel like the original would be perfect album art for an upcoming indie rock band’s latest LP.

Dick Vitale snow picture

Tyler #ENNIONS Ennis Keeps Syracuse Undefeated

It will challenge for Game of the Year, capped off by a strong nominee for Play of the Year. Tyler Ennis, the savvy Orange point guard, has been huge in close games for his team all season long. You’ve seen the buzzer-beater, now check out the reaction from his giddy head coach and others around the web.

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Three Thoughts as Xavier Dominated Butler Last Night

Posted by WCarey on February 12th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s game between Xavier and Butler in Indianapolis.

Xavier began February quite ominously with a home loss to Seton Hall and a 23-point defeat at Villanova. Coupling those two losses with a loss at Providence to end January, the Musketeers went from a team that was projected as a lock for the NCAA Tournament to a team on the bubble. Riding a three-game losing streak, Xavier was able to get back on the winning track last Saturday with a hotly contested home victory over Providence. With games at Butler and at Marquette next on its schedule, Chris Mack’s team was presented with a great opportunity to score two more Big East road wins and help improve its overall NCAA Tournament résumé in the process. The Musketeers passed the first test on Tuesday night with a thoroughly dominating 64-50 win over Butler in Indianapolis. The following are three thoughts from last evening’s action.

Xavier Got the Sweep of Butler Last Night

Xavier Got the Sweep of Butler Last Night, as the New Big East Programs Move in Opposite Directions

  1. Xavier’s Defensive Effort Was Impressive. In the Musketeers’ victory over Providence on Saturday, they held the Friars to just 53 total points and a 37.5 percent shooting mark from the field. That defensive intensity carried over to Tuesday, as Butler was held to just 50 points on the evening. The half-century mark scored by Butler was significantly below its season average of 70.9 points per game and represented the team’s lowest scoring output of the season. Xavier’s strong field goal percentage defense was on display once again, as Butler was held to just 34 percent shooting on the evening. Musketeers’ junior guard Dee Davis was tasked with the role of guarding leading scorer Kellen Dunham and he completed it with great success, as Dunham finished the evening with just two points on 1-of-10 shooting. Xavier’s interior defense was also suffocating given the fact that Butler’s starting frontline of Khyle Marshall, Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz finished the evening a combined 5-of-17 from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 02.07.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on February 7th, 2014

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  1. In this weeks Fast Five from Seth Davis, he discusses two Big East teams tournament chances. After being asked which bubble team has the best chance of making a deep NCAA tourney run, he gives five teams, including Providence. He points out that their upcoming schedule has a few resume boosting games and dynamic scorer Bryce Cotton is an opponents worst nightmare. Davis is also asked whether Xavier has worked itself onto the bubble or out of the tourney. He thinks that they are currently safely in, being one of two teams to beat Cincinnati  and owning wins over several of the Big East’s bubble teams. The road ahead is difficult though with five road games. They luckily play Providence, Villanova, and Creighton at home. Here is an in-depth look at where all the Big East teams stand on the bubble.
  2. Matt Norlander of CBS Sports wrote an excellent piece about Doug McDermott and his quest to 3,000 points. McDermott is on pace to surpass the barrier during the Big East Tournament and if he continues his current average of 25 points per game he will finish fifth on the all-time scoring list. Norlander does a great capturing all the amazing stats and feats that McDermott has accomplished thus far. For a player that barely earned spot on the team as a freshman it is remarkable that he will become the first player in 30 years to be a first team All-American three years in a row. McDermott does it all while shooting at a high percentage and being a team player. Norlander also dives into Doug’s relationship with high school teammate Harrison Barnes, who went on to play at North Carolina, and his father Greg, who took the Creighton job during Doug’s senior year of high school. McDermott is not a boisterous player, letting his game do the talking, and NBA teams are starting to catch on.
  3. Grant Gibbs, McDermott’s teammate, has been fighting an injury the last month, but has been writing a blog for USA Today. Gibbs gives an update on his knee, saying he’s still in the rehab process and they are taking it day-to-day. Gibbs points out two things that have helped the Bluejays in the Big East so far; most teams are not used to their style of play and it is difficult to prepare for them the first time, and not being every teams game of the year like they were in the Missouri Valley Conference. Gibbs also has an idea for a new name for the league, MECCA- Midwest to East Coast Conference of America. He says it would make sense because teams hail from the Midwest to the East Coast and the conference tournament is at Madison Square Garden, considered the mecca of basketball. Gibbs’ writing is informative and funny, but the Creighton faithful hope that they get their sixth-year senior back soon.
  4. St. John’s is beginning a run towards a spot in the NCAA Tournament and Matt Giles at NYC Buckets asks whether their defense is fueling their second half surge. The Red Storm struggled mightily at the beginning of conference play, but have suddenly turned it around and have won five of their last six. Their defense was known to be great at blocking shots with Chris Obekpa, but now they are turning teams over nearly a quarter of possessions. Giles points to Steve Lavin’s abandoning of the match-up zone.  The team has loads of athleticism, but the zone allowed teams to find holes. Now teams are struggling to win one-on-one matchups, ending up forcing tough shots or running into Obekpa. Another key point is that they are allowing far too many offensive rebounds, letting Marquette and Providence collect 21 and 20 offensive rebounds each. If they can limit second possessions, this St. John’s defense is going to be tough to score on the rest of the year.
  5. Xavier’s Jalen Reynolds was suspended for breaking team rules last week. He is back to practicing with the team, but there is no update as to when he will return to games. Reynolds might not be a major contributor, but his loss hurts the Musketeers front court depth. Reynolds was averaging 10 minutes per game and gave Chris Mack energy off the bench and allowed starters to get a breather. Xavier has lost both games since his suspension and have not looked the same recently. Obviously Reynolds needs to follow team rules and be a good teammate, but Xavier could use the freshman back for the final stretch of conference play.
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Big East M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Jameson Fleming on January 27th, 2014

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  1. Things aren’t going well for Georgetown as demonstrated by this sad fan which may be the funniest college basketball meme of the season. The Hoyas have lost five of six games to fall to 11-8 on the season and are on the outside looking in with respect to the NCAA Tournament. That stretch began with Joshua Smith’s first missed game (and he’ll miss the rest of the season), and Jabril Trawick only played in the first loss to Providence. Those two certainly have their flaws, but they’re significantly better than the other players who remain in John Thompson III’s frontcourt. It appears that it will be a long 2014 for the Hoyas and Sad Scott is only going to get sadder over the next two months.
  2. Creighton is fully embracing Ethan Wragge‘s status as a three-point shootin’ lumberjack. More importantly, Wragge has also adopted the persona as depicted in an excellent Omaha.com profile about the nation’s best shooter. Wragge revealed in the article that at one time he considered transferring from Creighton, but thankfully for Bluejays’ and college basketball fans everywhere, he stuck around. Wragge currently leads the nation in effective field goal percentage at 73.4 percent and true shooting percentage at 74.1 percent, and his 50 percent three-point stroke makes him a key part of the top offense in college hoops this season.
  3. Xavier coach Chris Mack thought he had escaped LaDontae Henton when the Providence wing picked the Big East’s Friars over the Atlantic 10’s Dayton during his recruitment. Then the Musketeers joined the Big East and Mack was stuck facing Henton, who had 23 points in the Friars’ win on Saturday, anyway. Henton’s improvement is one of the primary reasons why Providence has been able to weather a storm of player injuries and suspensions to be in a position to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.
  4. Butler‘s Big East struggles culminated over the weekend with a 17-point home loss to St. John’s. The Bulldogs, a team that had already dropped six of seven conference games heading into the Saturday match-up, may have finally hit rock bottom according to IndyStar.com writer Zak Keefer. With three road games in a row coming up next, Butler is likely to find itself looking up at DePaul in the league standings for the rest of the season. This could turn out to be the first year that the Blue Demons don’t finish last in Big East play since 2008.
  5. Are things already going sour for Steve Lavin at St. John’s? The Red Storm only have one NCAA Tournament appearance in four years under the head coach and they likely aren’t headed to the Big Dance once again this year. The pressure may be on Lavin after a recent report suggested his relationship with the school is going south. He’s already denied the report, of course, but Lavin needs to start winning with the tremendous amount of talent he keeps bringing into this Big East staple.
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Big East M5: 01.24.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 24th, 2014

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  1. Following his amazing performance against Villanova, Creighton’s Ethan Wragge has become something of a ‘cult hero’ on the national stage. Omaha.com‘s Tom Shatel dove into Wragge’s journey to this point, and things haven’t been very easy for a fifth-year senior who struggled as an underclassman and occasionally considered transferring elsewhere. After averaging between spot duty minutes off the bench for nearly four years, Wragge has finally broken into the starting lineup and is hitting around four three-pointers (and for the most part, only three-pointers) per game at a 50 percent clip. We’ve already touched on the “Lumberjack Day” which will be held in his honor in a few weeks; finding out his full Creighton story makes him that much easier to root for.
  2. With Villanova coming to town this weekend, Marquette can use all the help it can get. Luckily, it sounds like the cavalry may arrive in the form of JaJuan Johnson, who is expected to return from a sprained his ankle he suffered in practice. Playing time won’t be guaranteed for anyone, however, as Buzz Williams expects to cut down his rotation as Marquette makes a push for the postseason. Journal-Sentinel writer Michael Hunt says it will be the veterans who carry the Golden Eagles if they are to go dancing: “If Marquette is to go to the tournament for the sixth time in Williams’ six years, it will largely be up to the four seniors to carry the team, particularly Davante Gardner, who has put together consistently good games since moving into the starting lineup five games ago, and Jamil Wilson, who is starting to get it together on a consistent basis.”
  3. Marquette and Georgetown were expected to be the standard-bearers for the Big East this season, at least until some of the newcomers got their bearings in the new league. However, both of those teams are struggling while Creighton and Xavier sit in two of the three slots in the conference standings. Omaha World-Herald writer Steve Pivovar believes that while his hometown Bluejays are a good story, the Big East needs the recognizable brand-name programs to step up: “Unfortunately, not everyone will have at their fingertips on the mountain of data that the Division I basketball tournament committee members will possess to judge the Big East fairly. That’s where having the league’s two most recognizable names — Georgetown and Marquette — at the top of the standings might help in how the Big East is perceived.”
  4. Many didn’t expect much from Xavier or Providence this season, and it’s not hard to see why on paper. The two teams are built on the backs of transcendent players in Semaj Christon and Bryce Cotton, but it wasn’t always obvious where their depth would come from. Of course, Christon and Cotton have played their parts, with Cotton as one of the conference’s most prolific scorers and Christon leading the way for a team that is only one half-game out of first place. The two teams face off this weekend in an important match-up for the Big East standings, as crazy as that may have sounded back in October.
  5. Xavier head coach Chris Mack has done a great job with the Musketeers this season, and he will now be celebrated as all top sports figures should — with a bobblehead doll. Mack gave Cincinnati.com an incredibly funny interview about the giveaway, which features some self-promotion: Each figure has Mack’s Twitter handle @CoachChrisMack etched into the base.
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Big East M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 20th, 2014

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  1. Georgetown was once considered a favorite in the Big East, but these days they are just trying to hang on to their NCAA Tournament hopes. The Hoyas have dropped  two straight — 80-67 to Xavier and 67-57 to Seton Hall — and are really struggling to score. Long offensive droughts have doomed the Hoyas in the last two games, and outside of starting guards D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, there aren’t many options available. Josh Smith and Jabril Trawick have been out for the last few games each, and Mikael Hopkins has been held to two points in three of his last five games. With Marquette on the schedule tonight, the Washington D.C. scorekeeper may not see a lot of action.
  2. Speaking of struggling Big East programs, Butler‘s inaugural Big East campaign has not started the way that Bulldogs’ faithful would have hoped with the team losing its first five Big East games. On Saturday night, however, Butler stopped the bleeding in its fourth overtime contest in six games, pulling out its first Big East win over Marquette, 67-59. Golden Eagles head coach Buzz Williams credits Butler’s culture for the program’s recent success, and says that getting back to “The Butler Way” is a path towards renewed success:

    “Maybe the reason Butler went to back-to-back Final Fours is because of the culture and who was a part of that culture, how they embraced that culture… You can’t jump to a conclusion and say, ‘We’re on Fox Sports every day, we’re sold out every game and yadda-yadda-yadda,’ and get away from how you built it. When you get away from how you built it, that’s when teams typically take a dive. You’ve got to make sure you continue to recruit guys who believe in what coach [Brandon] Miller believes, what Barry Collier is about.”

  3. Bryce Cotton continues to play all-conference caliber basketball for Providence, and his latest victim was Creighton. Cotton scored 23 points and doled out six assists to lead the Friars past the Bluejays on Saturday. Greg McDermott gave Cotton a lot of praise after the guard knocked off his team: “This is by far the lowest possession game we’ve played all year, and Cotton did a great job of controlling the tempo of that game. He’s got the ball in his hands all the time, and it’s difficult to get it out of his hands… He creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates, and he obviously made a lot of big plays tonight.”
  4. St. John’s winless Big East record has to be one of the shockers of the season, and the Red Storm had to be relieved to see Dartmouth pop up on the schedule to break up their conference slate. The Big Green held on in the first half of this colorful match-up, but the stifling Johnnies’ defense led them to a comfortable 69-55 win. Head coach Steve Lavin was relieved by the team’s effort: “The only way we’re going to solve the challenges we’re facing is looking within individually and collectively as a group and trying to support each other through a tough time. Eventually, you make your breaks by sticking to it.”
  5. In the midst of all of the struggling Big East programs, Villanova continues to shine. One of the only missing pieces for the Wildcats is a true post presence, but center Daniel Ochefu has strung together a few strong games in a row and may be poised to add that last element to Jay Wright’s already strong assembly of talents. Against DePaul, he scored 14 points while shooting 6-of-6 from the field, grabbed six rebounds, blocked three shots, and even dished out four assists. If Ochefu continues to get better, the Big East rich may just get richer.
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Conference Play Already Delivering Unexpected Drama

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 11th, 2014

We may still be in the nascent period of conference play, but early developments have hinted that a number of league races may not play out as planned. Heading into another good college basketball weekend, here are a few of the more surprising twists supplied by the early days of conference action.

The American Athletic Conference Is Up For Grabs

Remember when Louisville was supposed to be head and shoulders above the rest of this conference? Or when UConn was the Cards’ only real competition for the inaugural AAC crown? Yeah, me neither. Rick Pitino’s team may still be the AAC favorites, but after a non-conference season featuring just one victory over a top-100 team, the recent dismissal of Chane Behanan, and Thursday night’s home loss to Memphis, it’s safe to say that the Cardinals’ grasp on pole position has been significantly weakened. As for the Huskies, an ugly 0-2 beginning to conference play (losses at Houston and SMU) has altered the trajectory of their season. Shabazz Napier and company should be able to handle UCF later today, but with a trip to Memphis and a home date with Louisville looming next week, a 1-4 start to conference play is a definite possibility. It’s not the AAC we expected to see, certainly, but this unforeseen parity could give the league one of the better, more entertaining conference races the rest of the way.

It's Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

It’s Early, But Russ Smith And The Cardinals Have Unexpected Company In Their Chase For The American Athletic Conference Crown

Butler Still Seeking Its First Big East Win

Expectations were initially modest for Butler this season, but a non-conference campaign with just a pair of minor blemishes – two-point losses to Oklahoma State and LSU – gave hope that the transitions between coaches (Brad Stevens to Brandon Miller) and leagues (A-10 to Big East) might be smoother than expected. Not so much, however, as the Big East has so far proved daunting for the Bulldogs, dropping their first three games: on the road at Xavier, and home games to Villanova and (gasp!) DePaul. Three total overtime periods were needed for those two home defeats, but no number of extra sessions will excuse a loss to DePaul, a program that was 7-86 in the five-plus Big East seasons that preceded their successful trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse. The Bulldogs are better than that Big East record would indicate, but a brutal upcoming schedule has the potential to permanently sink the Butler ship. Georgetown visits Indianapolis tonight, and 11 of the 12 games that follow come against teams in Ken Pom’s current top-75. At least for a season, the Butler faithful may end up missing not only Brad Stevens, but also the Atlantic 10.

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RTC Big East Microsite Week in Review

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 8th, 2014

After a bit of a holiday-induced hiatus, the week in review is back! We are in the infancy of the Big East basketball season, but the conference is beginning to take shape. Big East microsite writers Jameson Fleming, George Hershey and I bring you this week’s power rankings, all-conference team, and player and freshman of the week.

Villanova is Reaching for #1 in Our Power Rankings

Villanova is Reaching for #1 in Our Power Rankings

Player of the Week: Doug McDermott: We should probably rename this the “Doug McDermott Player of the Week Award.”  I would love to see someone else here, but then McDermott went out and scored 30 against Seton Hall and only 19 against DePaul.

Freshman of the Week: Josh Hart: The Big East doesn’t have many super freshmen this year, but Hart is carving out a nice role for Villanova. He’s scored double figures in each of his last five games and is hitting a remarkable 45.9 percent of his threes.

Power Rankings

  • 10.) DePaul (8-8, 0-3):
    Dan Lyons: New year, same DePaul?  That’s what it looks like so far this year for the Blue Demons, who have opened conference play 0-3.  They did keep it close against Georgetown and Marquette, but Creighton made quick work of DePaul yesterday.
    Jameson Fleming: The Blue Demons have been competitive against Marquette and Georgetown. That’s a good sign moving forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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New Year’s Resolution For Power Conference Teams? No More Cupcakes – Conference Play Is Here

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 4th, 2014

With conference play arriving almost everywhere this weekend (it’s about time!), let’s take a peek at some of the major Saturday (and a few Sunday) games and storylines in college basketball’s seven major conferences.

Say What You Want About The AAC, But The New League Will Pose A New Challenge For Memphis: Real Tests In January And February. The First Of Those Examinations Comes Today Against Cincinnati.

Say What You Want About The AAC, But The Recently-Birthed League Will Pose A New Challenge For Memphis: Real Tests In January And February. The First Of Those Examinations Comes Today Against Cincinnati.

AAC. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first-ever weekend of American Athletic Conference basketball! OK, so maybe it isn’t that exciting, but an old Conference USA matchup does offer the league a headlining game on 2014’s first Saturday. Cincinnati visits Memphis (12:00 ET, ESPN2) in an early match-up of presumed upper-echelon AAC teams, but look elsewhere if you seek a battle of stylistic comrades; the deliberate, defensively stout Bearcats (286th nationally in tempo, eighth in defensive efficiency) will look to put the clamps on an explosive Memphis squad that rarely presses the pause button (39th nationally in tempo, 19th in offensive efficiency). UConn and SMU, both 0-1 in league play, offer an alternate viewing option (2:00 ET, ESPNU), and with a visit to Louisville coming next, Larry Brown’s SMU team would be well served to get a win Saturday to avoid staring down the barrel of an 0-3 league start.

ACC. Will there be life after Jerian Grant for Notre Dame? If yes, then a visit from Duke (4:00 ET, CBS) will offer the Irish the chance to provide a more convincing affirmation than they offered in their first game without Grant – a gut-check overtime victory over Canisius. Garrick Sherman should have a chance to exploit the smallish Duke interior, no matter what Doug Gottlieb thinks about his beard. Elsewhere, Pitt and Syracuse join Notre Dame in making their ACC debuts. The Panthers visit NC State (12:00 ET, ESPN3), while the Orange play host to Miami (2:00 ET, ESPN3). And if you like defense, two of the nation’s 10 most efficient defensive units are set to meet in Tallahassee; Virginia and Florida State (5:00 ET, ESPN2) will tussle in a race to 50 between ACC sleepers.

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Big East M5: 01.02.14 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 2nd, 2014

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  1. There were definite ups and downs to be found during the marathon that was the first day of Big East play on Tuesday. While those within the conference will admit that the play on the court didn’t often set the basketball world on fire, there is still belief in the future of the league as a basketball power. Commissioner Val Ackerman cites past experience when discussing this topic: “When I was with WNBA, I remember saying it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. The same should be said about the Big East. There’s a long history here, but with a new conference, what we do in the first year or two isn’t necessarily going to be indicative.” While Big East fans hope that the league makes a splash here in year one, the 10 programs aren’t going anywhere, and there is plenty of time for this new-look conference to get its legs under it.
  2. Creighton wasn’t great offensively in its first ever Big East game, but the Bluejays’ defense was able to stifle a struggling Marquette offense, leading to a 67-49 win on New Year’s Eve. Creighton only shot 40 percent from the floor, but they were able to known down 13 threes and kept up with a bigger Golden Eagles’ squad in the paint, where they were only outscored by four. While this win was huge for Creighton — its first-ever in a power basketball conference — the performance is perhaps more telling about Marquette, whose well-publicized offensive struggles seem to be getting worse, not better. The Eagles were the preseason favorite to win the league, but without improvement soon, Marquette will struggle to punch a ticket to the Dance come March.
  3. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery are going to become very familiar voices for Big East fans (if they weren’t already), especially those who watched the entirety of Tuesday’s basketball marathon.  The team called noon’s Xavier-St. John’s game in Cincinnati and then hightailed it to Indianapolis for Butler-Villanova at 7:30. The IndyStar spent time with Fox Sports 1’s top team on the bus between games, allowing the two to reminisce about some of their favorite Big East and NCAA Tournament memories. Spoiler alert: Butler fans are going to appreciate this far more than… say… Syracuse, Kansas State, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Florida, or Wisconsin fans.
  4. In anticipation of Tuesday’s Creighton/Marquette clash, Andy from Anonymous Eagle and Jacob Padilla from The Creightonian got together for an enlightening Q&A discussion. Among the topics covered: Bluejay fans’ excitement for this season and the Big East conference; the importance of the McDermotts to the Creighton program; Marquette’s early season struggles; and the best places to get a beer and a bite to eat in Omaha. Even though it predates the game won by Creighton, both pieces are still fun reads. Check out Jacob’s answers here and Andy’s here.
  5. To round out a very ‘Creighton vs. Marquette’ heavy M5 this morning, we have footage from a raucous CenturyLink Arena crowd.  On one play, the sold out crowd belted out Neil Diamond’s stadium staple “Sweet Caroline” after the arena speakers had already cut off the song, and it seemed to throw off the Golden Eagles, who promptly turned over the ball. You can judge for yourself, but NBC Sports‘ Rob Dauster seems to think the crowd played a part in the play.
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Takeaways from the Big East Opening Day

Posted by George Hershey on January 1st, 2014

What an opener for the new Big East. The league had two overtime thrillers, there was an upset, and all three of the new members impressed. Here are some takeaways from a great day of hoops.

St. John’s vs. Xavier

St. John’s is great in transition, but struggles mightily in the halfcourt:  The Johnnies rushed out to a big lead in the first eight minutes, in large part to their transition offense. They scored their first seven points in transition off of turnovers or running after rebounds. Throughout the game it was evident that the halfcourt offense was not working well and often times ended with a contested jump shot. The Red Storm made a push in the second half by pushing the ball up-court, but ended up settling for tough shots as the game winded down. D’Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, and Orlando Sanchez all are capable of running the break and Jordan had a great game as he got to the rim, hit some outside shots, and showed a nice pull-up jumper. Many talk about this team’s great talent, but their halfcourt offense is limiting their ability to use their athleticism. If the Johnnies want to win go from an under-achieving team to an NCAA Tournament one, they need to get out in transition, while they improve their offensive sets.

Seton Hall vs. Providence 

Seton Hall can get out of the cellar in the new Big East: What a game! A great double overtime thriller on opening night. Seton Hall showed incredible fight and resolve yesterday as they saw their double digit lead dissolve in the final minutes. Some questionable calls did not help them in the extra sessions, but they made winning plays when it mattered. With starting center Eugene Teague our for the game, Kevin Willard was without his best post player. The Pirates forced the Friars into 14 turnovers, eight in the first half, which helped create  most of the early offense. They limited Bryce Cotton to 1-8 from three and the Friars struggled all night to score. The win should give the team a ton of confidence going forward as Brian Oliver, Brandon Mobley, and Jaren Sina stepped up to make crucial baskets. Sina came off the bench in overtime to hit a three with two minutes left to spark the Pirates. Oliver was the player of the game as his hot shooting provided most of the offense in the second half and Mobley came up time after time, especially with his three free throws with a minute left. This team may have suffered injuries to every significant player thus far, but their win over a high quality opponent while shorthanded is impressive, and there is no reason they cannot build off this win.

Smith Should Be A Bigger Force For Georgetown

DePaul vs. Georgetown:

Joshua Smith needs to produce more offensively: The big fella came in and dominated in his first game against Oregon, but since he was beaten up by Kansas, he has struggled mightily, and yesterday was no difference. Against a smaller and inexperienced front line, he only had five points and one assist, without even recording a rebound. There is no reason why Smith, who has been heralded as an excellent low post scorer since he arrived in UCLA, should not average at least 10 points during conference play. The Hoyas have struggled at times to score so far and Smith is a player who can provide instant offense. He also can create for his teammates by attracting double teams and finding them. Smith needs to get to the line, to get opponents in foul trouble and also get some easy points. The Hoyas have a good team with many pieces that make a winning team, but they could use a player you can dump it down to and let go to work on the block.

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New Big East Members Proving Doubters Wrong

Posted by George Hershey on December 31st, 2013

Before the season began, many pundits thought that the carry-over members of the Big East would do the heavy lifting as the new league got its feet wet. CBSSports.com, for example, predicted Creighton to finish third, Xavier sixth, and Butler eighth. ESPN.com picked Creighton to finish atop the league, but had Butler sixth and Xavier eighth. As just one example, one writer said about the Bulldogs: “New head coach Brandon Miller is left with a depleted roster in a new conference… the roster as a whole certainly does not reflect an NCAA Tournament team.” It was an understandable position — after losing its fantastic head coach, two best players to graduation, and top returning player to injury, Butler had major question marks. As for Creighton, the Bluejays brought back one of the best players in the nation in Doug McDermott, but there were doubts about their step up in competition from the Missouri Valley Conference, especially on the defensive end. Xavier too returned a great player in Semaj Christon, but the rest of the team was a major unknown and coming off a disappointing 17-14 season by Musketeers’ standards.

Xavier heads into conference play after an impressive start (Frank Victores/USA Today)

Xavier heads into conference play after an impressive start
(Frank Victores/USA Today)

Even though there were doubts and concerns from many of the experts, all three teams are making a case for an NCAA Tournament spot come March. Heading into the start of conference play on New Year’s Even, Creighton has only lost two games, back-to-back defeats to San Diego State and George Washington while at the Wooden Classic in Southern California. They have been very impressive otherwise, with the second-best adjusted offense according to Ken Pomeroy, and an improved, if not elite, defense (ranking 16 spots higher than last season at #64). McDermott, as expected, has been a strong NPOY candidate, and the rest of the team has shot the ball very well, making 44 percent of their threes (the third-best mark in the nation).

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