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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Weekend Storylines: Exams Over, But Tests on the Court Just Beginning

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 28th, 2013

Here’s to hoping that this week brought you plenty of holiday cheer, because it surely did not supply you (or anyone else!) with much quality college basketball. Entertaining Diamond Head Classic final aside, this week was as slow as the college basketball season gets. Don’t despair, however, because Santa has delivered a Saturday chalk-full of college hoops. Two big-time rivalry games occupy the prime real estate on this weekend’s marquee, but there’s plenty of substance, albeit understated, sprinkled throughout Saturday’s docket of action. Here’s a quick primer on the big games in Syracuse and Lexington, plus a few other worthwhile narratives to monitor on this busy Saturday.

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

A Couple Of Old Big East Friends

In the world of college basketball, eleven months is far from an eternity, but my, oh my; how things have changed since the last time Villanova and Syracuse locked horns! What was a Big East conference game last January will be an ACC versus (new) Big East affair today (2PM EST, CBS), and with both teams set to embark on their maiden voyages in the new leagues next week, the Carrier Dome will serve as the clinic for anyone needing one final dose of Big East nostalgia. Subplots abound in this game, but I’ll be especially interested to see how Villanova attacks the Syracuse zone. The Wildcats haven’t been a bad offensive team to this point in the season, but the Cats’ statistical breakdown on the offensive end puzzles. Villanova is 18th best in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.1%), also shoots the ball pretty well from the stripe (72.2%), but struggles from beyond the arc (204th nationally in 3P% at 32.7%). With those splits, you’d expect Jay Wright’s team to focus their efforts inside the three-point line. So far, however, they’ve done the exact opposite – the Wildcats are 7th in the country when it comes to percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (45.7%). Will the chucking continue against an Orange zone that begs opponents to settle for deep shots (43.1% of Syracuse opponent’s field goal attempts are threes), or can the Wildcats throw aside this bit of statistical dissonance and find a way to get quality interior looks against the zone? Remains to be seen, but expect 30,000+ to get a first-hand view of the answer.

Battle For The Bluegrass 

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Four Thoughts on Cincinnati’s Jimmy V Win Over Pitt

Posted by CD Bradley on December 18th, 2013

Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati's 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

Brad Penner/USA Today Sports
The defense of Sean Kilpatrick (right) and his fellow Bearcats was key in Cincinnati’s 44-43 win over Pittsburgh at the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.

  1. It is clear that the question that will determine Cincinnati’s fate this year is whether their aggressive defense can overcome their inept offense. It did so, barely, Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats held the Panthers without a field goal for more than 11 minutes of game action, bridging the half, but only managed to outscore punchless Pitt 6-5 over that span. After a veritable offensive explosion in which Pitt made four field goals in less than three minutes, Cincinnati endured an even longer drought, failing to make a field goal for more than 13 minutes. And yet, Cameron Wright‘s driving layup with 1:09 remaining gave Pitt a 43-42 lead. Admittedly, a key reason the Panthers failed to connect from the field was that Cincinnati continually chose fouls over allowing points in the paint; Pittsburgh shot 29 free throws (making 19) to Cincinnati’s three. But between all the fouls, the Panthers hit only 11-of-33 field goals, a testament to the consistent defensive pressure they faced all night.
  2. There was much moaning and complaining on Twitter about the lack of aesthetic appeal offered by last night’s match-up. And while it was no offensive masterpiece, scoring efficiency wasn’t awful at right around 0.9 points per possession. What really set apart this game, though, was the glacial pace of it. At approximately 48 possessions (the average this season is around 68), it was one of the slowest games of the year. As pointed out by @BPredict (proprieter of the Basketball Predictions blog), it’s only the third game so far this season with fewer than 50 possessions, and the first that didn’t involve Delaware State. Cincinnati’s style of play lends itself to slow games, with its lack of any discernible offensive sets paired with relentless defense designed to deny scoring opportunities. Read the rest of this entry »
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Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh: Four Key Storylines at Tonight’s Jimmy V Classic

Posted by CD Bradley on December 17th, 2013

Here’s a look ahead to the Jimmy V Classic game between former Big East rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh guard Cameron Wright (3) and Cincinnati forward Titus Rubles (2) go for the ball during last year's matchup. The two old rivals square off Tuesday night. (AP)

Pittsburgh guard Cameron Wright (3) and Cincinnati forward Titus Rubles (2) go for the ball during last year’s matchup. The two old rivals square off Tuesday night. (AP)

  1. For nearly a decade, the Bearcats and Panthers squared off in the old Big East, but they now find themselves representing the AAC and ACC, respectively. And of course, it was Cincinnati that tried to follow Pittsburgh to its new conference, only to be left behind by fellow conference-mate Louisville. So the two teams are certainly no strangers to each other; Pitt seniors Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson have played against Cincinnati seniors Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson each of the past three years, with the results split evenly at 2-2. It wouldn’t be surprising if Cincinnati had a bit of extra motivation to show the ACC what it passed on, and Pitt likewise will probably want to reinforce that its new league made the right choice.
  2. Both of these programs have a bit of reputation for soft scheduling in the non-conference portion of the season, and this year is no different. Cincinnati will be just Pittsburgh’s second top 60 foe, according to the rankings from KenPom (Stanford, #46, lost to Pitt by 21 in Brooklyn last month). The Panthers will be the Bearcats’ third such foe, both this season and in a row. The first two parts of the Cincinnati scheduling-up trifecta hasn’t gone particularly well; they lost a hard-fought game at New Mexico only to follow up with a drilling by crosstown rival Xavier. For both teams, a win tonight might well be the strongest victory on their resume when conference play starts, which could well prove very important come Selection Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »
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AAC M5: 12.17.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 17th, 2013

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  1. Tonight is a big one for the AAC as two of the name-brand programs that will actually still be in the conference next season are playing in New York as part of the Jimmy V Classic. There are few stages at this point in the season that are bigger than the Jimmy V Classic and to represent half of this year’s field is a big deal. Both games are big tests for Memphis and Cincinnati but there is one team with a lot more at stake at Madison Square Garden — Mick Cronin’s Bearcats. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten anybody worth talking about and they were mildly embarrassed in the Crosstown Classic by Xavier over the weekend. We have harped on the Bearcats’ offensive struggles, but perhaps surprisingly, the team’s biggest issue is an apparent lack of toughness. I am still putting the finishing touches on my white paper Advanced Methods of Quantifying Toughness, so it’s easier to just say they weren’t great on either end of the floor against the Musketeers. Still, toughness is ostensibly supposed to be one of the Bearcats’ hallmark competencies and they didn’t do a great job on the glass or defending the three-point line, so it would probably help if they toughened up in those areas.
  2. As a college basketball fan, it would have been awesome to see Florida’s much-hyped freshman Chris Walker suit up for the Gators tonight, but I bet Memphis fans are breathing a sigh of relief. Well okay, so it wasn’t likely that Walker was going to light the world on fire, but Memphis only plays two real big men in Austin Nichols and Shaq Goodwin (and Florida already had a size and athleticism advantage to begin with). The game will obviously be competitive, but it will be especially interesting to see how the personnel decisions on both sides shake out. Memphis will want to play three guards and the Gators will probably want to rotate Casey Prather and Dorian Finney-Smith at small forward — both of whom are too big and athletic for the Tigers’ guards. Josh Pastner is going to have to bring his A-Game to face a coach as good as Billy Donovan, and it will be fun to watch them match wits tonight.
  3. Although it will have no effect on the 2013-14 season, the news of UConn guard Rodney Purvis‘ shoulder surgery still made headlines on a slow news day. Purvis transferred from North Carolina State and is sitting out this year anyway, so it makes sense to fix a torn labrum in his left shoulder now so he can be ready for next season. I know… fascinating stuff. But it gives us an excuse to talk about Purvis, a former McDonald’s All-American who started 23 games as a freshman for the Wolfpack. He transferred without much fanfare but he is an athletic 6’4″, 200-pounder, who scored in double figures in 12 games last season. Granted, most of those games came before conference play and he was a bit more inconsistent as the competition improved, but he will be expected to take on the lion’s share of the load Shabazz Napier leaves behind. I don’t really know how what I just wrote has anything to do with his impending surgery, but that’s fine. Just log those few sentences away for now and call me out when I self-plagiarize for an impact transfer preview for next season.
  4. The conference’s banner program will also be in action tonight as Louisville hosts Missouri State. The Bears aren’t the same mid-major headache they once were, but they are 8-1 on the season and their only loss was on a neutral floor to Virginia, so they will be dangerous. Head coach Rick Pitino is especially worried about their potent three-point shooting ability, and while he is overstating their offensive brilliance a bit, he would be wise to make sure his team defends the three-point line. In the end, there is little chance that Missouri State has enough defensive ability to hang with the Cardinals on the road, even if Louisville is still missing scoring point guard Chris Jones. The bottom line is that the Bears will probably make it interesting in the first half but Louisville has more than enough horses to pull away in the second 20 minutes.
  5. The South Florida Bulls play host to Dunk City tonight as Brett Comer, Chase Fieler and the rest of the Florida Gulf Coast will be in town for an intrastate match-up. Although they are probably the less recognizable team, the Bulls will play as the favorites as the Eagles are struggling to recapture the magic from last season and have lost three of their last four games. Of course they are still the more compelling storyline for ESPN.com and thus Myron Medcalf wrote a worthy profile of life after last season’s NCAA Tournament run that is worth reading. It’s not AAC news necessarily… or like …at all. But we are equal-opportunity providers and when we see a good story with some connection to the league, you better believe we are posting it.
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AAC M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 16th, 2013

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  1. While Xavier is talking about how its victory over Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic is going to propel the Musketeers to success, the Bearcats are left picking up the pieces from what was an ugly blowout loss on Saturday. Mick Cronin’s bunch has now lost two games in row in their first two real tests of the season and they haven’t looked like much of a Tournament team in either game. The Musketeers controlled the game from the opening tip and they didn’t even need the services of their best player, Semaj Christon, who was hampered throughout the contest with foul trouble. Xavier is a legitimately excellent defensive team, but the Bearcats were woefully inept on offense and the sense is that this will be a theme throughout the season. The team shot 32 percent from the field and Sean Kilpatrick is the only player Cronin can put on the court with above-average offensive ability. Justin Jackson is an elite athlete but can hardly be considered a polished offensive product; Titus Rubles is a good player but may have even less offensive ability than Jackson; and Shaquille Thomas, Troy Caupain and Jermaine Lawrence have potential but remain too inconsistent to be counted on regularly. Their ordinarily staunch defense never fully showed up either as they forced 20 turnovers but let the Musketeers shoot the lights out on them from everywhere on the court. There is enough talent on the roster and a distinct lack thereof on many of the other teams in the conference so the Bearcats will win some games, but no one is going to take them seriously until they can consistently put the ball in the basket.
  2. I guess we can table some of that “Is Josh Pastner on the hot seat at Memphis?” talk for awhile, and not just because the Tigers have finally won a Top 25 game and have seemingly improved on the court. Rather, Pastner recently made a sizable financial contribution to the school’s athletic department to the tune of $250,000. Donations of that size aren’t unheard of in big-time collegiate athletics, but it’s usually rare to see a coach employed by a school plunking down a chunk of change that large. It is apparently the largest gift ever by a Memphis coach and although it is also a tax write-off, it’s still a generous move by Pastner. On the court Memphis started slowly but eventually put down a feisty Arkansas-Little Rock team and are headed into Tuesday’s big match-up with Florida in New York City with an opportunity to make another statement. At least Pastner made his donation before the game, a nice insurance policy in case his Tigers get blown out.
  3. While Rick Pitino was “Bringing Sexy Back” in a terrific photobomb at the recent Justin Timberlake concert in Louisville, his team took care of business in not-so-convincing fashion on the court this weekend by beating Western Kentucky. The Cardinals struggled to pull away in the first half and needed Tim Henderson’s three-point shooting to help jump start the offense in the second half. Louisville’s less competitive schedule means it is quite difficult to judge the Cardinals fairly or accurately on their body of work, but these knock-down drag-out battles with mediocre teams don’t give Louisville the look of a repeat national title contender. The backcourt is as deep and talented as any in the country, but it is the inconsistency from the team’s star forwards that are hurting them. Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harrell were supposed to be dominant forces up front this season, but Harrell needs a lot of refinement on the offensive end of the floor and Behanan has had plenty of ups and downs already. You imagine that Pitino will get most of that sorted out as the season continues, but some of these performances should be at least slightly worrisome.
  4. The Cardinals also found out on Saturday what life is like without floor general Chris Jones, who is dealing with a sprained wrist. His absence mattered little against a team in Western Kentucky without a lot of defensive ability, but it will matter more if Jones misses multiple games and it’s hard to believe his wrist will be 100 percent when Louisville squares off with Kentucky on December 28. That isn’t to say that he won’t play, because he almost certainly will. I’m just pointing out that sprained wrists don’t heal completely in two weeks and the Cards will need Jones’ production on both ends of the floor if they are going to beat the Wildcats.
  5. It has been an up-and-down season for Rutgers, but the biggest news surrounding the program came off the court when former Georgetown forward Greg Whittington committed to play for the Scarlet Knights. It’s been awhile since any of us has seen Whittington play in a meaningful basketball game because he was academically ineligible for a long stretch of last season and dealt with an ACL injury this summer, but when he did play, the forward averaged nearly a double-double and will be an excellent addition to Eddie Jordan’s frontcourt. Of course, it’s unclear when Whittington will be eligible and how much time he will have left in college basketball, but perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is that Whittington was reportedly getting interest from Memphis, proof positive that Jordan can recruit against the big boys.
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After a Quiet Week On College Hardwood, Weekend Action Set to Heat Things Up

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 14th, 2013

The end of the winter exam period could not come soon enough for college basketball fans. Yes, we know that it’s important for the kids to take care of their academics, but even the most fervent of followers would have to admit they could only take so many more nights of Bryant being featured in the headline contest of the evening. Nothing against the Bulldogs and their tidy 6-5 start, but this weekend’s spate of entertaining match-ups should help us all regain a little sanity Last night’s Hawkeye State battle served as a worthy appetizer for Saturday’s feast of action, but before you grab the remote and plop down in the front row seat in your living room, check out these four storylines to monitor on Saturday.

Arizona Takes Its #1 Ranking to Ann Arbor Today

Arizona Takes Its #1 Ranking to Ann Arbor Today

Chances For Validation, Redemption In Ann Arbor

It may be hard to believe now, but public perception of Arizona and Michigan was pretty comparable at the start of the year. Needless to say, that is no longer the case. The Wildcats, now also known as the #1 team in the land, get a shot at validating that ranking when they visit Ann Arbor today (12:00 EST, CBS), while the floundering Wolverines will seek to redirect the trajectory of their season. Wins over the #1 team in the country have a way of curing a lot of ills, but it will take a yet-to-be-seen vigor for Michigan to earn that antidote, even on their home floor. Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan will clash with Aaron Gordon and the rest of that vaunted Arizona front line down low, but keep an eye on the battle of the Ni(c)ks. We saw against Duke how crippling a subpar night from Nik Stauskas can be for the Wolverines; if Nick Johnson’s rep as one of the best stoppers out West carries weight in Ann Arbor, Michigan may again find themselves searching for other scoring outlets. For Michigan, Saturday is an opportunity to prove that the Wolverines still might be who we thought they were; for the Cats, it’s another chance to show us that they are exactly who we think they are.

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For Real or Fraudulent: Sean Kilpatrick’s Hot Start?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on December 13th, 2013

Although his stated reason for passing on the NBA Draft and returning to Cincinnati for his senior season was that he wanted to be the first player in his family to graduate and get his degree, it’s not hard to imagine that Sean Kilpatrick also wanted to make up for a disappointing junior campaign on the court as well. Charged with becoming the new face of the program following the graduation of hulking forward Yancy Gates and leading a younger Bearcats’ team coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance, Kilpatrick faltered slightly.

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through 8 Games, But Red Flags Remain

Sean Kilpatrick Has Been Unstoppable Through Eight Games, But Red Flags Remain

Kilpatrick raised his scoring average to 17 points per game, but a five percent increase in usage rate combined with an unexpected inability to shoot the three-pointer (37% in 2012 to 30% last season) led to an effective field goal percentage of less than 50 percent and didn’t exactly paint Kilpatrick as the picture of efficiency. He was still able to create his own shot and was plenty capable of filling it up (as Marquette found out when he went for 36 in a win in January) but the onus was on him to carry the offensive load every night and his shot-selection and decision-making suffered because of it. He was still an above-average rebounding guard and plus defender but the breakout that so many had expected never really happened and the Bearcats were as a result bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Creighton.

A fringe NBA prospect, Kilpatrick decided to return to school for his senior season and coach Mick Cronin must be glad he did. After the 2012 season much was made about how the departure of Gates would affect the team, but the Bearcats actually lost far more production from last season than they did from the season before. Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker graduated and took nearly 24 points per game and more than 600 shot attempts with them, which meant that opposing defenses this season were going to be even more focused on Kilpatrick.

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Big East M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 13th, 2013

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  1. Sports on Earth‘s Will Leitch compiled a list of the 25 ‘best jobs’ in college basketball, and only one Big East team made the cut: Georgetown. In his one sentence recap of the pick, Leitch says “In retrospect, it’s insane that anyone not named John Thompson ever coached this team.” With its academic profile, location in Washington D.C., a strong basketball city, and tradition, it’s hard to argue against the attractiveness of the Hoyas job. While Georgetown is the only team in his top 25, the “just missing the cut” list includes Butler, Creighton, Marquette, Villanova and Xavier. It’s interesting to see the three new members of the Big East on that list, certainly bolstered by the combination of good recent tradition and a boost by the new conference.
  2. One of the major debates about the new Big East is whether the league should be considered a “power conference.” Villanova blog VU Hoops tackled this question, looking at how the league stacks up according to national basketball analysts, including Jeff Sagarin and Joe Lunardi. Sagarin’s most recent rankings place the Big East fourth among power conferences, while Lunardi has six Big East teams in his current NCAA Tournament field. While the conference lacks power at the top — only Villanova is currently ranked in the Top 25 — the top eight teams all look competitive and the league should be well represented come March. Whether that makes it a power conference is probably open to interpretation, but Big East fans have some good basketball ahead of them.
  3. Numerous publications have released “__ most surprising teams in college basketball” lists as we hit the first quarter mark of the season, and Villanova is getting a lot of play in that category. Yahoo! Sports has the Wildcats second on its list, only behind undefeated Wisconsin. Jeff Eisenberg praises Villanova’s strong rebounding despite its smaller lineups, and their tenacious on-ball defense: “Despite often playing four guards and nobody taller than 6’7″, the Wildcats have been effective rebounding the ball and dominant defensively, surrendering a Big East-best 0.89 points per possession and forcing 16.7 turnovers per game.” Coming into the season the Wildcats were generally projected to finish in the top four or five spots in the conference and likely earn an NCAA bid, but expectations are soaring after a surge into the top 10 in the AP poll and all of the big wins that they picked up in the Bahamas.
  4. St. John’s hosts Syracuse at MSG this Sunday, renewing an old Big East rivalry. The game is big for both sides, but thoughts on this game are quite different between the two fan bases. For St. John’s, this game is a chance to avenge a number of bad losses to Syracuse over the last few years and to reclaim the title of “New York’s College Team,” a slogan that Syracuse proudly boasts both in upstate New York and in Midtown Manhattan. St. John’s fans also don’t love the fact that Syracuse’s strong New York City alumni come out in droves for games at Madison Square Garden. On the other side, Syracuse fans covet games in the Garden but don’t look at the Red Storm as a major rival, at least not since the halcyon days of Lou Carnesecca and Chris Mullin in the 1980s. Georgetown and UConn take the top two slots on most Orange fans’ lists of rivals, followed by some combination of Villanova, Pittsburgh, Louisville and the Johnnies, largely depending on when that person began following the Orange. Rumble in the Garden reflected on this upcoming game, and what it means for fans of both sides.
  5. Kris Dunn‘s Providence career has been marred by injury to this point, and he will unfortunately miss the rest of this season after shoulder surgery, the second on his right shoulder during his time at PC. In an article from The Day‘s Gavin Keefe, Dunn’s father John Seldon didn’t seem thrilled by the way his son’s shoulder issues were handled, especially considering that Dunn experienced some discomfort heading into a game against Rhode Island College in early November: “I’m not a doctor and not the coach. I’m just a parent. [Coach Ed Cooley] runs his program the way he runs his program. I’m not mad at the coach… If I’ve got a kid coming off an injury, I’m going to be watching him. The kid came back from a major injury and was healthy. I would try to take care of him.” Dunn hadn’t been putting up huge numbers for the Friars, but he is a major talent and was expected to combine with Bryce Cotton to form one of the better backcourts in the Big East.
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