Four Thoughts: Syracuse vs. Cincinnati Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 24th, 2012

Game recaps are boring. If you want to read them, search your local newspaper or the Associated Press. Four Thoughts is our brand new, not-so creatively titled feature where, in lieu of a game recap, we give you (in this case a belated) four thoughts about key Big East action. Enjoy!

1. Syracuse showed its resiliency.

Last season the Orange got off to a blistering 18-0 start, but when they traveled to Pittsburgh and lost a hard-fought game, the wheels started to wobble. After losing to the Panthers, Syracuse then lost five of their next seven games, including a 22-point shellacking by Seton Hall at home. The team was eventually bounced in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, much to the disappointment of ‘Cuse fans who just a few weeks earlier had been thinking National Championship.

Last night, the Orange had a chance to head down a similar path. Two days earlier they had lost their first game of the season on the road to Notre Dame and now they were headed to “The Shoe” to take on a rugged Cincinnati team still smarting from their overtime loss to West Virginia on Saturday. If Syracuse lost, most would probably be willing to forgive them and brush the loss off as part of the pitfalls of playing two road games in three days.

But they didn’t lose, and even when the Bearcats took the lead early in the second half, Jim Boeheim‘s club didn’t panic, instead calmly engineering a mini-run in the middle of the second half to take the lead for good. Good teams find ways to win ugly, and Syracuse played ugly basketball, especially at the start of both halves. But they withstood those barrages, calmed down, and overcame their shooting deficiencies to beat a strong conference foe on the road, proving they are still a national title contender in the process.

2. Hello Rakeem Christmas, it’s nice to finally meet you.

Rakeem Christmas Played His Best Game Monday, But Was It A Trend Or A Fluke?

No one expected Christmas — a four-star prospect coming out of high school — to average a double-double out of the gate, but it’s fair to say that ‘Cuse fans were hoping for more than 3.5 points per game and 3.3 rebounds per game out of the ultra-gifted forward. But, for whatever reason, Boeheim hasn’t trusted Christmas yet this season. He has started every game this season but — much like Fab Melo last year — Christmas would get yanked quickly and is still averaging less than 13 minutes per game. The quick hook led some to believe that Boeheim was messing with Christmas’ confidence.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 23rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was
  • Number One Goes Down:  For the seventh time, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish took down a top-ranked team in the Joyce Center, knocking off Syracuse 67-58. Despite all of that prior success, the Irish hadn’t beaten a #1 team at home in 25 years. That didn’t matter on Saturday night. Taking advantage of Fab Melo’s absence, Notre Dame slowed the pace and worked the ball inside, scoring in the paint or kicking it out to an open shooter on the wing. Notre Dame shot 50% for the game and limited the Orange to 34%. Using a +13 edge on the glass, Notre Dame was able to control the tempo and prevent Syracuse from getting out in transition where it is so lethal. I have to say I was surprised. Looking at Syracuse’s schedule last week, I thought the Orange could run the table. They had played better than any team in the nation on a consistent basis but drove into a buzzsaw on Saturday. Even if Melo had played, I’m not sure it would have made a major difference.
  • South Florida On A Roll: It seems as if nobody has noticed, but South Florida is 5-2 in the Big East after a 2-0 week with wins over St. John’s and DePaul. USF has won on the road at improving Villanova and also took down Seton Hall at home when the Pirates were ranked. The Bulls also beat Rutgers, one game after the Scarlet Knights beat Florida. How has USF done it? Jawanza Poland has played very well since returning from a back injury and Stan Heath is getting timely contributions from guys like Victor Rudd and Ron Anderson Jr. However, the two main reasons for USF’s success are point guard play and defense. Freshman Anthony Collins has been fantastic at the point, averaging 5.3 APG in Big East play to go with a #28 national ranking in assist rate. Although he’s turning the ball over a bit too much, Collins has given the Bulls a huge boost at the most important position in college basketball after years of bad guard play in Tampa. On the defensive end, South Florida’s opponents average only 57.6 PPG, tops in the Big East. With a combination of defense, good rebounding and timely scoring, USF is starting to make some noise in the crowded middle of the Big East.

Pat Connaughton Celebrated With Fans After The Irish Stung The Top-Ranked Orange. (Matt Cashore/U.S. Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (20-1, 7-1) – The Orange remain the best team by far in the Big East and I still think they are the best team in the nation even after losing at Notre Dame. Nothing went right for the Orange against the Fighting Irish. The Orange were out-shot 50% to 34%, out-rebounded by 13, and couldn’t string stops together when they were trying to get back in the game.  Should we have seen this coming? The cracks in the foundation appeared in a closer-than-expected win over Pittsburgh last Monday. The Panthers probed the Syracuse zone fairly well, getting to the free throw line area and making good interior passes. Fab Melo had 10 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks in that game, but didn’t play in South Bend due to a mysterious academic issue. Pitt out-rebounded Syracuse 38-24, meaning the Orange were minus-27 on the glass for the week. Syracuse ranks #320 in defensive rebounding percentage, an issue that needs to be addressed immediately by Jim Boeheim, with or without Melo. Syracuse is struggling from three point land as well, tenth in three-point percentage in Big East games (31.9%). Scoop Jardine had 12 points and ten assists against the Panthers, but didn’t make a field goal (0-5) against Notre Dame. A tougher than expected week is ahead. Could the Orange lose again after winning 20 games in a row? This week: 1/23 @ Cincinnati, 1/28 vs. West Virginia. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.23.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 23rd, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Syracuse has a quick turnaround on the road after losing to Notre Dame on Saturday. Can Cincinnati make it two straight losses for the Orange? Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

#1 Syracuse @ Cincinnati – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • After suffering a surprising first loss at Notre Dame on Saturday, Syracuse is back in action 48 hours later on the road against one of the hottest teams in the Big East. Cincinnati would tie Syracuse in the loss column with a win, becoming one of six teams with two losses. How do the Orange avoid that fate? It’s simpler than you might think. Shoot the ball better (34% vs. ND) and defend at a high level. Even without Fab Melo in the lineup, Syracuse has much more depth than Cincinnati. Good guard play out of Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters will be important for the Orange. Cincinnati will look to slow the pace and make this game a half court battle. Syracuse needs to rebound the ball well and get out and run at every chance. Waiters adds that spark off the bench for Jim Boeheim but Jardine has to take care of the basketball and move the ball well in half court situations.

    With Fab Melo Out, Will Cincinnati Find It Easier In The Paint ?

  • The Bearcats are 5-2 in the Big East and this would obviously be a monumental win for their NCAA Tournament resume. With no Melo, Cincinnati will find it a bit easier to get shots off around the basket as well as to rebound. Cincinnati is ranked a paltry #228 in two-point percentage but Yancy Gates could be the key guy for Mick Cronin. Cincinnati shoots a lot of threes and opportunities will be plentiful against the 2-3 Syracuse zone. If the threes aren’t falling, Gates needs to be there to clean the boards and finish the second opportunities. Without Melo anchoring the paint, Syracuse, already vulnerable on the defensive glass to begin with, could really struggle to keep Gates off the backboards. Sean Kilpatrick shoots 39.4% from deep for a team that gets over a third of its points from beyond the arc. If the Bearcats aren’t shooting the ball well over the zone, it’s lights out for Cincinnati. To get quality shots against the zone, the ball must be moved to the free throw line area. If Cronin rotates players like Kilpatrick back and forth from the three point line to the foul line, Cincinnati should be able to get quite a few open looks.
  • One thing Cincinnati must be careful of is long rebounds off of missed threes. That can lead to easy transition buckets for Waiters and the Orange, increasing the pace to a level Cronin doesn’t want to see. The Bearcats must slow the game down, protect the ball and get back in transition. Cincinnati has not defended all that well in Big East play but it must tonight in order to pull the upset. Keep an eye on the turnover margin. Cincinnati does a fabulous job of ball protection with Cashmere Wright running the point but Syracuse may be the best team in the nation at forcing steals and turnovers to fuel its transition attack. If Cincinnati shoots well and keeps control of the ball, the Bearcats will be in this game to the end with a chance to hand Syracuse its second consecutive loss.
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Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Cincinnati and Vanderbilt will look to keep rolling but a Big 12 clash highlights Saturday’s slate.

#5 Missouri @ #3 Baylor – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

This Clash Between Big 12 Powers Offers a Contrast in Strengths

  • This game could really come down to which team imposes its will. For Missouri, it would love nothing more than to speed the game up, force turnovers and not let Baylor get set in its half court defense. Missouri’s strength is its guard play. Frank Haith employs a four-guard lineup and it has worked wonders this season. The Tigers have shot the ball very well this season and that’s going to have to continue on the road in Waco. Missouri has struggled against teams with bigger front lines so its guards must shoot well if penetration is cut off and Ricardo Ratliffe is limited inside by Baylor’s trees. Kim English, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon can flat out shoot the basketball and Haith will need all three contributing in order to beat Baylor. It will be a bonus if Ratliffe can get anything going inside but Mizzou’s guards must continue to make shots in a tough environment.
  • Baylor is the stronger team inside and Scott Drew knows it. Getting Perry Jones III to assert himself in the paint along with Quincy Acy could be the key for the Bears in this game. Baylor will have the home crowd and energy behind itself and capitalizing on that is going to be very important against a team that loves to speed you up and force turnovers. In order for Jones and Acy to get the ball, Baylor’s guard play must be up to the task. Missouri will pressure Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton all game because the Tigers need to run up the turnovers and transition points in order to offset what should be a significant Baylor edge on the glass. If Baylor can slow the game down a bit, limit turnovers and get the ball inside, it should be on its way to a win. If Jones III and Acy are hot in the paint, that will open up Brady Heslip and Jackson from deep. Jackson does so much for this team with penetration, passing and shooting ability but Heslip is great spotting up or coming off a screen. Baylor has multiple weapons of varying height, something Missouri may have a very hard time dealing with.
  • As we said, Missouri must speed the game up and create turnovers against the turnover-prone Bears. Ratliffe is a very good post player but we’re not sure if he’s going to be able to score consistently as the only Mizzou big man against Baylor’s immense height in the paint. If Missouri can’t get anything inside it must knock down deep shots and get to the free throw line. The Tigers shoot 77.6% from the charity stripe and that could end up being their most efficient way of scoring against Baylor aside from the three ball. Baylor didn’t defend well against Kansas but Missouri was exposed in a tough environment at Kansas State. If Baylor is physical and sticks to the game plan of good half court offense, the Bears should win. Missouri should play better in its second time on the road against a very good team but you have to favor Baylor at home given the size mismatch.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)

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Night Line: Cincinnati’s Talent and Toughness Has the Bearcats Rising to Success

Posted by EJacoby on January 19th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

After No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Syracuse, it’s still unclear exactly who the second best team in the Big East Conference is. But after Cincinnati defeated No. 12 Connecticut on the road on Wednesday night in impressive fashion, we might have an answer to that question. With their 10th victory in 11 games, the Bearcats have improved to 5-1 in the Big East with three road wins, including two over top competition in UConn and Georgetown. This team has already gone through enough adversity for an entire season and is now starting to peak after all of it. Cincinnati is identified first for its ugly brawl with Xavier on December 10, but with the way this team is now playing, it might soon be recognized instead as an excellent basketball team.

Sean Kilpatrick & Yancy Gates are Finally Smiling for Streaking Cincinnati (AP Photo)

Cincinnati has been a fairly mediocre team during the Mick Cronin era. They hadn’t finished above 10th place in the Big East standings until last season’s sixth place finish, and they have won 20 games just once in the past six years. Despite rumors of their coach being on the hot seat, the program has had faith in Cronin and his hard work in recruiting and teaching is finally paying off with these talented Bearcats. Then came the fight with Xavier last month, which threatened to ruin this team’s chances yet again. Instead, the lessons learned from that day seem to have awakened this team. While nobody in the program would wish for that nasty fight to be a catalyst for success, the fact is that the Bearcats are playing at a more functional, higher level right now than they have in years. Having star caliber players in Sean Kilpatrick and Yancy Gates doesn’t hurt, but when you consider how good this team is right now after everything it’s gone through, it’s safe to say Cincinnati is one of the most intriguing teams in the country.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.18.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 18th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good conference matchups tonight across the country. We will give you full breakdowns of the two best games to watch, including a big-time Big East matchup early in the evening. Check the comments section for other games to track tonight!

Cincinnati at #12 Connecticut – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Yancy Gates and UC Are Trending Up, Up, Up (AP)

  • Cincinnati is an impressive 4-1 in true road games this season, including victories at Georgia, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown. They have played at an increasingly high level and are 9-1 since the brawl against Xavier that left several players suspended. At full strength now, the Bearcats will not be intimidated in Gampel Pavilion and will look to establish their physical defense early in the game. Mick Cronin’s team gives up just 58.8 points per game on the season and is strong with the ball, averaging a +5.5 in turnover margin. On the offensive end, Sean Kilpatrick has developed into a true scorer this season (16.2 PPG) and will look to establish an inside-out game with Yancy Gates (12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG) to put the UConn defense in a difficult position. Establishing their brand of physical game early on will give Cincinnati a chance to win another big road game.
  • UConn has had their ups and downs this season, though the Huskies are still undefeated at home and have perhaps the most talented roster in the Big East. It’s looking like Ryan Boatright will not be available tonight as he’s being investigated by the NCAA, which could be a significant blow to the Huskies’ offense. The freshman, averaging about 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game, is adept at creating his own shot, but then again UConn has been dealing with suspensions and off-court issues all season and should be fine without him. Stud big man Andre Drummond continues to improve and gain confidence, averaging 15 points, 12 boards, and 2.5 blocks in his previous two games. Going inside early and often has been working for the Huskies, allowing Jeremy Lamb (17.9 PPG) to create his own shot without the defense keyed in on him all the time. Allowing just 36.8% field goal shooting in conference, UConn can match the defensive brand of basketball that Cincinnati brings to this game.
  • There are some great matchups to watch in this game, including Kilpatrick vs. Lamb on the wing as explosive scorers and Gates vs. Drummond inside as a clash of interior styles. Who wins tonight could come down to who is making the most shots, which seems obvious, but really applies here between two teams with similar physical defenses and offensive playmakers. Give Connecticut the advantage at home.
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.


Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.09.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 9th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

While Monday night isn’t an “official” ESPN Big Monday, we might as well call it that. Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas will be on the call in Hartford as the Big East takes center stage this evening.

West Virginia at #14 Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • It was a rough last week for Connecticut as the Huskies fell twice in the state of New Jersey, first at Seton Hall and then at Rutgers on Saturday. Returning to the XL Center in Hartford should give the team some confidence. Turnovers have been the big problem for UConn of late, especially on the most recent road trip. The Huskies committed 33 turnovers in their last two games with eight of those by Andre Drummond in the low post. The Connecticut offense can run smoothly with players like Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Ryan Boatright, but the Huskies must limit turnovers against a West Virginia defense that can be taken advantage of in the paint. Jim Calhoun’s team usually plays well when it makes threes but tonight the focus should be inside. West Virginia allows opponents to shoot 48.3% inside the arc and you would think this is the perfect game to get Alex Oriakhiback on track. Using Boatright’s quickness, Napier’s passing ability, and Lamb’s versatility, the Huskies should be able to penetrate the West Virginia defense. Turnovers, of course, would limit that success. 

    Will This Be The Game That Alex Oriakhi Reasserts Himself?

  • Aside from a loss at Seton Hall on December 30, West Virginia has been rolling. The Mountaineers beat Georgetown on Saturday and a win tonight would vault them into position for a run at the second spot in the Big East. The Mountaineers are also struggling with turnover issues as Bob Huggins has freshmen playing key roles. West Virginia plays so much better when it makes shots, but not necessarily from the outside. West Virginia’s biggest strength is Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant doing the bulk of the scoring with others chipping in from time to time. Jones had 22 and 16 against Georgetown while Bryant is averaging 27 PPG over his last two outings since a 3-16 shooting performance in the Seton Hall game. Not coincidentally, West Virginia won both teams with relative ease. West Virginia has to get Jones many touches but he’ll be facing his toughest test to date. Connecticut’s interior defense is solid as always, ranked #3 (37.6% against). If West Virginia can’t score inside, it won’t win this game. The Mountaineers have done a tremendous job getting to the foul line in Big East play but UConn historically doesn’t foul a lot with Calhoun at the helm. His big men are adept at blocking shots without breaking the plane of verticality and fouling. However, the Huskies have put opponents on the stripe at a higher than average clip in conference play.
  • This game will be a war with two physical and talented teams going at it. You would expect nothing less in a Huggins-Calhoun match-up. Both teams will crash the offensive boards with incredible energy and whoever wins that battle may end up taking the game. West Virginia has better numbers when it comes to defensive rebounding but the Huskies have a great knack for getting second chance opportunities. Should this game come down to the wire, Connecticut has the advantage being at home with better free throw shooters (though not by much). Staying on that theme, look for Napier to try to get to the line often. When he does, Connecticut usually has success. When he doesn’t, it’s tougher for UConn to score in the half court. Based on the recent trends and statistics, some people may think West Virginia has the edge here. That wouldn’t be surprising but we’ll go with the home team in a close one.

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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Top Tier Chaos: As you see in the poll question, it’s awfully hard to rank the top half of this league right now. Syracuse is the clear #1 by a wide margin, but the second spot is up for grabs between six teams: Seton Hall and West Virginia are playing the best basketball but Connecticut, Georgetown, Marquette, and Louisville remain threats. Big East teams always beat each other up in conference, play but that usually happens in the middle of the league. This year, it is happening at the top. One thing is for sure: the race for second place will be an up-and-down affair over the next two months.
  • UConn Hates Jersey: Before Tuesday, Connecticut had won 21 combined games in a row against Seton Hall and Rutgers. After Saturday, the Huskies headed back up the New Jersey Turnpike with two losses to Jersey’s Big East teams. Kevin Willard has his team rolling at 14-2 and absolutely crushed the Huskies on Tuesday night in Newark while Mike Rice continued to show signs of improvement in a 67-60 win Saturday night in Piscataway. As Jeff Borzello put it on Twitter, the North Jersey road trip has become a whole lot tougher. If St. John’s can get back to where it was last year and Seton Hall and Rutgers continue to improve, New York City-area basketball could be on the verge of a renaissance.
  • Seton Hall Ranked?: We will see what happens on Monday, but Seton Hall is on the verge of a top 25 ranking for the first time since January 30, 2001. That year, the Pirates were headed in the opposite direction, out of the top 25 after a preseason top ten ranking. Tommy Amaker (now at Harvard) had signed a ballyhooed freshman class highlighted by the late Eddie Griffin, Andre Barrett, and Marcus Toney-El, but it all fell apart for the Pirates as they finished 16-15 and lost in the first round of the NIT to Alabama. Seton Hall came close to a ranking in 2004, but never made it into the poll. This time around, the Pirates are 14-2 (3-1) with wins over VCU and St. Joe’s on a neutral floor and Dayton on the road, in addition to West Virginia and Connecticut at home. The Hall is in position for a terrific seed in the NCAA Tournament if it keeps up this level of play and Kevin Willard, along with John Thompson III and Jim Boeheim, has to be among the top contenders for Big East Coach of the Year. The Pirates were picked 13th in the preseason Big East coaches poll. 

Good Things Come In Threes For Seton Hall (Jim O'Conner/US Presswire)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) – Marquette put a second-half scare into the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but Syracuse made the winning plays down the stretch to hang on. Syracuse remains a juggernaut and an easy (by Big East standards) road schedule awaits. Syracuse already went to DePaul and Providence and has trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers on the schedule. Quite frankly, that sequence is a joke for a team everyone knew would be at or near the top of the league. I realize this team has a target on its back every night, but the only true road tests for the Orange could be at Louisville and Connecticut in February. Syracuse shot 61% for the game at Providence on Wednesday, placing six players in double figures. No Syracuse player took over eight shots, a testament to this team’s depth and balance. Scoop Jardine had 11 assists and only one turnover in the victory. Against Marquette, Syracuse jumped out to a huge lead but let the Golden Eagles climb back in it. Dion Waiters was the spark off the bench yet again, totaling 12 points and seven assists. The Orange shot only 39% at home against MU, but escaped with the win. This week: 1/11 @ Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence.
  2. Georgetown (13-2, 3-1) – Let the controversy begin. Truth be told, ten different people could very well come up with ten different ways to rank the top seven teams in the Big East. Despite losing at West Virginia and struggling for the balance of the game against Marquette, I’m moving the Hoyas up to the second spot. Why? It has more to do with the performances of Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette rather than Georgetown itself. After all, the Hoyas did beat a good team (Marquette) this week, something none of the aforementioned three teams can say. The Hoyas overcame a 17-point deficit against Marquette, led by Jason Clark‘s 26 points. That 26 could have been 30+ if Clark made his free throws (6-13 from the stripe). Hollis Thompson also added 16 points on 6-7 shooting as Georgetown shot a sizzling 63% against the Golden Eagle defense. Against West Virginia, Georgetown allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 50% but the Hoyas couldn’t convert from deep (2-14 3FG). Thompson led the way with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough on the road. Regardless of what the rankings may have said coming into the game, I’m not going to hammer the Hoyas for losing at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to play. Believe it or not, I don’t think Georgetown is as good as its resume. That may sound confusing but I’m not sure Georgetown is as good as its record. However, the Hoyas may not lose again until early February if they play to their potential. A relatively soft stretch begins this week. This week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 @ St. John’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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Cincinnati Bearcats: With Suspensions Over, It’s Time to Think Bigger…

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 3rd, 2012

Cincinnati used its suspension-laden post-Xavier brawl schedule to find itself, and rekindled some of the high hopes they and their fans enjoyed entering the season.  The Bearcats went 6-0 while waiting for Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis to return from their suspensions.  And now that their penalties have come to an end and the returns are slated to occur Wednesday when Cincinnati hosts Notre Dame, some are now wondering if it is a good thing, given their recent short-handed success.  Of course the most notable and polarizing returnee is the senior center, Gates.  On the cusp of his return, the talk centered around what role he should serve given his team’s small-ball success without him.

Size Matters in the Big East

Guard play has been the reason for the six-game surge, but it had also been a primary issue accounting for Cincinnati’s pre-suspension struggles. Players like Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick had trailed expectations in the early going but have certainly stepped up their games when needed. Three-pointers were elusive before the streak (34.1% on 126 attempts in the team’s first eight games), but have been launched at a much more frequent and accurate clip during it (42.1% on 173 attempts in the last six games). That said, everyone knows that if you live by the three, you can easily die by the three.  Gates’ low-post presence will help keep opposing defenses honest and should assist Cincinnati in avoiding long droughts as long as he stays close to the basket and takes high-percentage shots.

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