Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #3 Notre Dame

Posted by mlemaire on November 10th, 2012

Expectations; it’s something that coach Mike Brey and Notre Dame aren’t used to. Last season the Fighting Irish were pegged to finish ninth in the preseason coaches’ poll and they went on to win 13 conference games and make it to the Third Round of the NCAA Tournament. But this season, thanks to the return of nearly every meaningful contributor from last season’s team and the addition of a few precocious freshmen, expectations are high and the Fighting Irish are expected to contend with Louisville, Syracuse, and Cincinnati for the Big East crown. Brey and his squad won’t be able to play the role of underdog anymore, but they won’t have to either as they finally have the talent and the depth to compete with any team in the conference. If they can tighten up their defense, develop more interior depth, and become more efficient offensively, this team will be one of the best in the country. But if they struggle to defend and the offense becomes stagnant, we could be looking at just the latest in a long run of Notre Dame teams to flame out on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

2011-12 Record: 22-12, 13-5

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Round of 64, lost to Xavier 67-63.

Things Are Looking Up for Mike Brey, Who Might Have Assembled His Best Team Yet (AP Photo)

Schedule: Last season the Fighting Irish played the 236th-most difficult non-conference schedule and so this season, the program added a few challenges while also keeping most of the creampuffs as well. The biggest match-up will be against No. 3 Kentucky in the SEC/Big East Challenge at the end of November, but St. Joseph’s is their first opponent in the CvC Classic Championship and while they aren’t ranked, they favorite to win the Atlantic 10. And Purdue under Matt Painter won’t be an easy game either.

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ACC Team Previews: Boston College Eagles

Posted by mpatton on October 16th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 ACC teams. Today’s victim: Boston College.

Boston College was bad last season. The Eagles lost nearly everything from 2010-11, getting left with mostly walk-ons and freshmen. The result was a team lacking in both talent and experience. Add in the ill-timed sickness of Patrick Heckmann, who to that point was Steve Donahue’s most polished player, and the recipe for a disastrous conference season was complete. Somehow the Eagles pulled out four ACC wins, including one over eventual conference champion Florida State. However, only seven of the Eagles’ 16 conference games were decided by less than 10 points. In those games Boston College was 4-3, winning the four games by a combined 12 points. This year should be significantly better for Donahue’s club, although the Eagles will still likely finish near the bottom of the conference.

Steve Donahue’s Team Will Be More Experienced This Season

Newcomers

Steve Donahue added two scholarship players to the roster this year, Joe Rahon and Olivier Hanlan. Notre Dame transfer Alex Dragicevich also joined the team but he won’t be eligible until 2013-14. Rahon and Hanlan should be able to contribute right away, sharing minutes with 5’10″ sophomore Jordan Daniels at the point guard position. The two should provide much-needed depth in the backcourt. Both were consensus three-star recruits coming out of high school, meaning they have a ways to go before contributing positively at the power conference level. However, Boston College needs bodies, so look for both to see significant minutes.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by mlemaire on August 7th, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Notre Dame.

1. You win some and you lose some… eligibility petition that is.

It was a tumultuous May for Notre Dame fans and head coach Mike Brey emotionally. The beginning of the month brought the somewhat expected  bad news in that that star forward Tim Abromaitis‘ petition for a sixth year of eligibility had been denied despite his sterling academic record and unfortunate injury history. It had always been a long shot but if Abromaitis had been able to return, the Fighting Irish could have been a contender for next season’s conference crown. A little more than a week later the news was better as forward Scott Martin‘s petition for a sixth year of eligibility was granted by the NCAA, giving the program’s fan base the shot in the arm they were looking for. Now, Martin is assuredly not the same player as Abromaitis, but he did post 9.5 PPG and 5.7 RPG last year while offering positional versatility, smart decision-making, and veteran leadership. It would have been wonderful for the program to get both players back, but they should be more than content to even get one guy back from what seemed like an unlikely possibility. Martin is a consummate glue guy and will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in Notre Dame’s success next season.

2. It certainly doesn’t seem like Mike Brey is going anywhere any time soon.

Mike Brey’s Coaching Prowess Paid Off To The Tune Of A New, 10-year Contract (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

With still three years left on his contract extension, Notre Dame didn’t bother waiting to show Brey exactly how much they appreciated his run at the helm of the program, giving him a new, 10-year contract that will run through June 2022. Brey has made a name for himself in the Big East by taking the program to eight NCAA Tournaments despite slightly lesser talent than some of his peers. Brey is a three-time conference coach of the year and he is best known for his methodical offensive approach that often allows Notre Dame to stay in close games even when they are athletically over-matched. There is no question that Brey deserves the contract and the Fighting Irish are doing the right thing by showing Brey they are committed to him as their basketball coach, because he is one of the best in the business and the university isn’t and never will be a basketball school. At the same time, a lot can happen between now and 2022.

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ACC Summer Recess: Boston College Eagles

Posted by mpatton on July 11th, 2012

Over the next four weeks we’ll be taking a step back and looking at each team in the ACC to assess where each program — and the conference as a whole — stands before we totally turn our attention to the 2013-14 season later this fall. Today’s targe: Boston College.

Where They Stand Now

The bottom of the ACC was a dumpster fire last season. Think of an acclerant cocktail of mediocre coaching, inexperienced youth and genuine lack of talent to make it extra volatile. Somehow Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech all finished conference play with four wins. However, if forced to pick the team occupying the lowest point in the conference cellar, Boston College would steal the honor. It wasn’t entirely the Eagles’ fault: Steve Donahue was in his second year of coaching and saw his roster truly gutted, leaving a motley crew of freshmen, transfers and walk-ons. To make matters worse, Donahue’s best player – Patrick Heckmann – went down with mononucleosis in January. The good news is that Donahue is a very capable coach. He stole a win against the eventual ACC Champion Florida State Seminoles, and his team significantly improved over the course of the season.

Patrick Heckmann Led the Eagles During Nonconference Play Last Season (AP/A. Gallardo)

Who’s Leaving?

The Eagles lose six players, including transfers Matt Humphrey (who is transferring to West Virginia, the second transfer of his career) and Gabe Moton. While the losses won’t help the Eagles, Humphrey didn’t fit well with Donahue’s system and Moton managed less than 20 minutes of playing time for a team that should only get better. The four departing seniors combined to play just over 23 minutes a game, contributing a combined 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds a game.

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ACC Weekly Five: 06.07.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on June 7th, 2012

  1. The Dagger:  In a series on unbeatable records in college basketball, the Yahoo! Sports blog looks at North Carolina‘s 56-game home winning streak against Clemson. The streak started in 1926 and the record’s persistence is one of the strangest quirks in ACC history, more a testament to chance than dominance or inferiority (though, historically, both of those factors played a part). This article discusses the 2008 showdown where Clemson seemed on the cusp of clear victory only to have the Tar Heels storm back to win and preserve the streak. Though outside the scope of this discussion, the other half of the 2008 series, played in Clemson, was maybe even more exciting if you can ignore the stakes of the streak. In that game, Wayne Ellington played the best game of his college career and hit clutch shot after clutch shot to will UNC to a victory that left the Tigers stunned.
  2. BC Interruption: In transfer news, former Notre Dame player Alex Dragicevich will land at Boston College. Dragicevich is 6’7″ and didn’t particularly stand out during his stint with the Irish. Still, he is a warm body who knows how basketball is played. Right now, this counts as a nice “get” for the undermanned and under-talented Eagles.
  3. NY Daily News: Former Maryland player, Ashton Pankey is headed to Manhattan College. Pankey was actually a key player for the Terrapins, playing valuable minutes, rebounding, and making the most of his limited scoring opportunities. Pankey is transferring to be closer to home due to family and personal reasons, a rationale that could potentially allow him to play next season if the forward is granted an NCAA waiver. One of the more promising big men among the ACC freshmen, Pankey will be a valuable asset to the Jaspers as soon as he is eligible to play.
  4. News and Observer: Leslie McDonald, the North Carolina guard who missed all of the past season because of a ligament tear sustained while playing in the NC Pro-Am summer league, is fully rehabbed and ready to play. McDonald redshirted last year, and his defensive acumen, as well as his sweet shooting stroke promise to help a Tar Heel team that sorely needed his skills last season.
  5. Washington Post: Allan Chaney, the former Virginia Tech player who collapsed during a practice in 2010 and was later diagnosed with viral myocarditis, has been cleared to play by his doctor. Last year, the Virginia Tech athletic department decided that they wouldn’t risk playing him under any circumstances, but that hasn’t deterred Chaney’s hopes. According to the player, a number of other schools have expressed interest in his abilities, and the athletic forward has been giving a return serious thought. Though Chaney expects to finish his undergraduate academic career in Blacksburg, his plans are open for 2013 and a possible one year stint at a school with a graduate program that would allow Chaney to play immediately.
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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 30th, 2012

  1. Thursday night was going to be the end of the road no matter what for Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers certainly didn’t want to see their season come to an end this way: Stanford 75, Minnesota 51 in the NIT Championship in New York. Minnesota had 22 turnovers, didn’t have a player score more than 12 points (Rodney Williams), and missed 16 of its last 19 shots of the first half as Stanford began to take control. The future is bright for Tubby Smith and Co. — particularly if Trevor Mbakwe returns next season — and perhaps a brutal loss like this to end the year could serve as a jump-off point for next.
  2. One season comes to end for Minnesota, and a new chapter begins for Illinois. The Fighting Illini finally got around to hiring and introducing a new head coach on Thursday with a press conference to welcome former Ohio coach John Groce. He was brought to Champaign with a five-year contract worth $1.4 million annually after spending the last four seasons in Athens. The expectations are high at Illinois, and Groce knows it. He will be charged with recruiting Chicago heavily, and bringing Illinois back to the Big Ten forefront.
  3. Of the many people skeptical of the Groce hiring and how it all went down over the last few weeks, Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com is not one of them. Greenberg admits that Groce was not the Illini’s first choice but Illinois fans will be pleased to have him once Groce settles in. Greenberg writes: “At 40, Groce is the perfect coach to take over the University of Illinois. He’s young, hungry and aggressive. He recruits point guards and gives them the keys to his offense. His teams play fast, shooting 3s and causing turnovers.”
  4. Back  to Minnesota, which was in the position to win a postseason title on Thursday but may not have a chance at winning the big one — the NCAA Tournament — unless the athletic department makes some major moves. NIT chairman C.M. Newton, who also hired Tubby Smith at Kentucky and watched him win a title there, said Minnesota’s facilities are not on par with Ohio State, Michigan State, or other teams that can compete annually for national championships. ”He’s not had the chance at Minnesota yet,” Newton told the Pioneer Press. “They’re going to have to make some decisions facilitywise in order for him to do that, in my opinion. They’re behind Michigan State and Ohio State and others.”
  5. Alex Dragicevich, who spent the last two seasons at Notre Dame, wasn’t a fit for Northwestern during the recruiting process. Now that he is looking to transfer, could things be different the second time around? The Chicago Tribune‘s Teddy Greenstein reports that there appears to be mutual interest between the two parties, and things could evolve over the next few weeks. He averaged 20.9 minutes and 6.6 points per game last season with the Fighting Irish.
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Big East Evening Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 28th, 2012

  1. We missed yesterday, so you are getting a double dose of Big East news this morning because we feel bad. We start with the scouting report on Louisville, based on the opinions of opposing coaches, and put together by the good folks at CBS Sports. The information isn’t exactly new if you have been following the Cardinals all season. Take care of the ball against their press, try to slow down their transition attack, keep Peyton Siva out of the lane, and you will have an excellent chance of winning the game. The good news for Kentucky is, that their defense is so good, Louisville should only be able to score in transition and off of turnovers. So assuming that Marquis Teague can handle the press, and assuming Kentucky’s athletes get back and set up defensively, they should be able to handle the Cardinals with relative ease.
  2. You didn’t think we were going to make it a whole week without a borderline insane story about the fervent passion of Louisville and Kentucky fans did you? In fact, we didn’t even make it through half the week before news broke that two fans got into a fight while awaiting treatment at a dialysis center. You really can’t make this stuff up. If you want to look on the bright side, this is part of what makes college sports so awesome. It may be a wild generalization, but fans of professional sports teams don’t care half as much about their teams as these folks in the Bluegrass State. And the passion for Alabama and Auburn football is on an entirely different level. I am setting the over/under on the breaking of more crazy stories like this at two, which won’t count fallout from the outcome of the game, which is sure to bring out only the best in both team’s fan bases.
  3. In predictable and also understandable fashion, the media has jumped all over the “hated rivals” storyline. Luckily, there is only one columnist angry enough to really put perspective on the whole rivalry, and that is noted flame-fanner Gregg Doyel. His column isn’t long, and it doesn’t make any profound points, but it does succinctly sum up just how insane this game will be.
  4.  The list of Big East players headed to the NBA Draft continued to swell yesterday as Georgetown forward Hollis Thompson announced he would forgo his senior season and hire an agent. Thompson tested the waters last season before withdrawing his name and from the looks of John Thompson III‘s comments, this decision is hardly surprising. The real question is whether Thompson will end up drafted. I understand the move, because his stock isn’t likely to rise dramatically even if he has an excellent senior season, but right now he looks like he will need to get lucky to stick with a team. He does have the skill set and size to be an NBA small forward, but he hardly dominated collegiate competition, so how can he be expected to make an impact at the next level?
  5. Our pal Jeff Goodman over at CBS Sports has released his initial transfer list and there are some interesting names worth noting. First, the list is what alerted me to the news that Notre Dame guard Alex Dragicevich is transferring out of South Bend, a blow to Mike Brey’s program which was going to rely more heavily on his outside shooting next season. The list also reminded me of one of the more interesting Final Four storylines and that is that Louisville forward Jared Swopshire already announced he won’t be back next season, but for now he is playing meaningful minutes on a team eyeing a national championship. Thanks to playing time and the scholarship numbers game, Swopshire will be looking for a new home. But for now, we are sure he is relishing the position he is in.
  6. Speaking of Goodman and transfers out of the Big East, soon after the list was published, Goodman tweeted that Providence sophomore Gerard Coleman was a likely candidate to transfer out of the program. Assuming Vincent Council stays in school and both highly touted freshman guards arrive on campus in time for next season, the Friars’ backcourt was looking awfully crowded. But if Coleman does indeed transfer, coach Ed Cooley loses quite the luxury. Coleman’s play tailed off in the second half of the season, but he is a quality scorer and is physical enough to give Cooley a legitimately dangerous three-guard lineup. On the other hand, his departure will open up more playing time for Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn, which can really only be a good thing, assuming the duo is as good as advertised.
  7. As an unabashedly biased Villanova fan, I have spent a good deal of words explaining that Wildcats’ guard Maalik Wayns would be silly to enter the NBA Draft this season, so it’s only logical that Wayns made it final recently, announcing plans to hire an agent and forgo his senior season on the Main Line. Look, players enter the draft for a litany of reasons, so saying he made a stupid decision without knowing his true reasons is rather presumptuous of me. That said, Wayns is looking like a second-round pick at best, and a great senior season probably could have given his draft stock a much-needed shot in the arm. Despite his penchant for taking terrible shots and making questionable decisions, Wayns would have been a huge help to ‘Nova’s rebuilding efforts next season, but now they will need to look elsewhere for that leadership.
  8. Not everyone in West Virginia is spitting on the Big East on their way out the door. Charleston Gazette columnist Mitch Vingle penned a letter to Big East basketball that reads like a breakup letter from a guy who is already regretting the split. He uses some personal reflections mixed with classic personalities from the conference to show plenty of awesome things about the conference and its rich basketball history. The sad thing is, the Big East will miss West Virginia too. Yes, of course they will miss their football tradition and revenue, but the Mountaineers are a quality basketball program, and no amount of SMU and Central Florida will change that. The Mountaineers made their choice, choosing money over tradition, and now so many of us will be left to cling to memories that may never happen again.
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Night Line: Notre Dame Keeps Winning With Balanced Offensive Attack

Posted by EJacoby on February 23rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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 games.

The Indiana Hoosiers have been praised throughout this season for having one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. But as IU has begun to sputter of late, a different team in Indiana is proving to be similarly efficient with a variety of offensive options. By thumping West Virginia on Wednesday night, 71-44, Notre Dame has now won nine straight games after yet another versatile offensive attack that was too much for the Mountaineers to handle. Mike Brey’s boys in South Bend remain tied for second in the Big East and are a dangerous matchup thanks to all the different options they can throw at opponents.

The Fighting Irish are Clicking Through Collective Offensive Play (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

The Fighting Irish began this season with much riding on their fifth-year senior star Tim Abromaitis, who was expected to make a run at Big East Player of the Year. But when the forward suffered a season-ending ACL injury on November 25, the entire dynamic of the team changed. It took plenty of bruises — the Irish were just 8-5 in the non-conference — but this team has figured out how to play as a group without Abromaitis. While only six players on the team average 20 minutes or more per game now, each one is capable of being the star on any given night. In fact, during the current nine-game winning streak, five different players have led the team in scoring. Coming into tonight, guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and forward Jack Cooley were all averaging between 12 and 13 points per game on the year, while emerging swingman Pat Connaughton was averaging 12.6 per contest in his last five games. The other starter, forward Scott Martin, also averages 9.1 PPG in Big East play, giving the Irish a full lineup of capable scorers.

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Mike Brey: Still A Few Tricks Up His Sleeve

Posted by rtmsf on January 26th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Notre Dame’s victory at Seton Hall on Wednesday night.

Mike Brey is used to it by now. After losing Luke Harangody to an injury late in the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish coach changed the way his team ran its offense by going to the “burn.” Its been a staple of his program ever since, which is a stark contrast from Brey’s teams in the mid to late-2000s that played at a tempo ranked in the top third of Division I or better.

Veteran Coach Mike Brey Has Tailored His Offense To Fit His Personnel This Season (AP)

This season, with Tim Abromaitis out for the year with a torn ACL, Brey continues to have his team playing deliberate, grind-it-out type of games, such as the upset win over previously undefeated and top-ranked Syracuse this past Saturday in South Bend. It worked wonders again Wednesday night as the Irish rolled to a surprisingly easy 55-42 road win over Seton Hall in Newark, following up the big home win over the previously-No. 1 Orange with a solid performance away from Purcell Pavilion, something Notre Dame hasn’t historically put forth all that well.

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

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

Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Tuesday’s action, and was mistakenly removed briefly Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Rick Pitino’s Interesting Announcement: I was one of the folks who questioned why Rick Pitino would announce he plans to retire five years from now when his contract with the University of Louisville runs out. You would figure this will hurt recruiting, but Pitino seemed relieved and at peace with his decision. Of course, many things can change over a five-year time frame, but I’ll take Pitino at his word. As ESPN.com’s Andy Katz writes, he will leave quite the influential mark on the college game once he exits the stage.
  • Conference Play Begins: At long last, Big East play is finally here. 13 conference games were played this past week and some storylines are already beginning to emerge. Pittsburgh is 0-2 for the first time under Jamie Dixon while Villanova is also 0-2 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Syracuse has continued to steamroll through its schedule and is among the select few teams capable of winning a national championship. Slowly but surely, Connecticut seems to be finding its identity. Once the Huskies establish a leader on the floor, they may begin to take off. Georgetown and Seton Hall have surprised the conference this season, filling the void vacated by the Panthers and Wildcats in the top half of the league. While the conference is down a bit, this is sure to be another terrific Big East basketball season. Enjoy the ride over the next two months.

Is Fab Melo College Basketball's Most Improved Player? (Dennis Nett/Syracuse Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (15-0, 2-0): Simply put, this team is rolling. Syracuse blasted its two opponents this past week, obliterating Seton Hall by 26 points and winning by 19 at DePaul. Most impressive was the game against the Pirates, one in which Fab Melo recorded 12 points, seven boards, and a school record 10 blocked shots as Syracuse avenged last season’s home loss to Seton Hall. Even more amazing is that Syracuse won by 26 without Kris Joseph scoring a single point. How’s that for depth? The Orange forced 23 Pirate turnovers and held them to 31.7% shooting, including an 0-11 FG line for Fuquan Edwin. Against DePaul, Syracuse held Brandon Young to 0-8 shooting. That’s 0-19 FG against Syracuse for two guys averaging a combined 31 points. Syracuse still needs to improve its rebounding (Seton Hall was +2 on the glass) but this team is scary good and some are saying it hasn’t even reached its full potential yet. This week: 1/4 @ Providence, 1/7 vs. #13 Marquette.
  2. Connecticut (12-1, 2-0): The Huskies struggled for most of the game at South Florida, but managed to pull away late behind Jeremy Lamb’s 23 points on 8-11 FG. In the St. John’s game, the Huskies shot a scorching 60.4% and assisted on 21 of their 29 made field goals. Andre Drummond helped out in a big way, going for 16/11. Connecticut won both games without Jim Calhoun but the final one without their headman will be the toughest. UConn visits Seton Hall on Tuesday and won’t have their energetic coach to fire them up against a much stronger opponent than either USF or St. John’s. On the road and without its coach, Connecticut is somewhat vulnerable. This team lacks a true leader like Kemba Walker, but it slowly moving up the Big East power rankings. This week: 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 1/7 @ Rutgers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Morning Five: 01.03.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 3rd, 2012

  1. Cincinnati had an encouraging week, earning victories over Oklahoma and on the road at Pittsburgh. One of the key elements of the Bearcats’ success has been sophomore sharpshooter Sean Kilpatrick, who was recognized for his efforts as the Big East Player of the Week. Kilpatrick averaged 18 points and eight rebounds on the week. To the surprise of no one Rutgers’ Eli Carter is the Big East Rookie of the Week. Carter made big shot after big shot en route to a career-high 31 points in the Scarlet Knights’ upset victory over then #10 Florida. He followed that performance up with 23 points and five steals in a two point loss at South Florida. Big East Honor Roll recipients for this week are: West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant who netted a career-high 34 points in a win over Villanova. The 34 points ties Bryant with Providence’s Bryce Cotton for the single game scoring high among Big East players; Notre Dame sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich who scored a game-high 22 points in the Irish’s upset victory over Pittsburgh; St. John’s freshman Moe Harkless was trumped by Carter for Rookie of the Week honors, but he made a case, dropping 32 points on Providence to go with 13 rebounds in his first Big East game. The 32 points represented a record for Big East debuts; Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb continues to lead the Huskies in scoring after averaging 19 points per game in his team’s two wins; Syracuse’s Fab Melo capped of a break out week with a spot on the Honor Roll. The sophomore big man set a school record with 10 blocks in a win over Seton Hall. Melo nearly turned his block party into a triple-double in that game, adding 12 points (career-high) and seven rebounds.
  2. Big East play started this past week which meant some inevitable poll shifting given increase in overall competition. Syracuse (15-0) however showed no signs of relinquishing its hold on the top spot as they rolled to wins over Seton Hall and DePaul. Louisville (12-2) lost both of its highly anticipated match-ups with #9 Georgetown and #2 Kentucky and slipped seven spots to #11 as a result.  After the win over Louisville, Georgetown (12-1) firmed up its top ten status when the Hoyas grinded out a victory over Providence on Saturday.  Marquette (12-2) fell six spots to #20 after they were handled by Vanderbilt. Connecticut (12-1) has won seven in a row and was rewarded with a #8 ranking, up one from last week.  The Huskies have an interesting week coming up as they hit the road to take on Seton Hall tonight and Rutgers on Saturday. Pittsburgh (11-4), losers of three straight dropped out of the polls after being ranked #22 last week.  The Panthers were not completely shut out of the voting however, receiving eight votes. Cincinnati (11-3), one of the contributors to Pittsburgh’s slide, is riding a six-game winning streak of its own and fittingly received six votes while Seton Hall (12-2) grabbed two.
  3. Following their loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, Pittsburgh fell to 0-2 in Big East play for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. They are permanently without their starting center, Khem Birch, who is transferring. They have lost three in a row. Panic time? While things appear to be a bit chaotic for the Panthers at the moment, getting point guard Travon Woodall back healthy would go a long way toward getting the Panthers back on track. Woodall has missed seven of the last eight games while trying to recover from a torn abdominal muscle and strained groin. His only action came in the form of 18 ineffective minutes against Notre Dame (0 points on 0-5 shooting, 0 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers). Woodall was off to a great start prior to the injury, averaging 14.1 points and, most importantly, 8.3 assists per game.  His absence has meant more responsibility for freshman John Johnson, who showed well in the Cincinnati loss with five assists but was tagged with a key offensive foul in clutch time. Perhaps more telling is the play of preseason Big East Player of the Year Ashton Gibbs. Gibbs has been forced to play the point which has taken away from his productivity, particularly in the shooting department. With all credit and thanks to pittblather.com for these stats: Before Woodall’s injury Gibbs was hitting 42.9% of his three-pointers. The rest of the team was even better at an incredible 48.8%. Since Woodall’s injury Gibbs is down to 28.3% and his teammates have plummeted to 24.4%.
  4. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch will start 2012 by racking up some frequent flyer miles. Birch will embark upon a week full of visits in his quest to find a new basketball home. According to multiple reports, he will be on Florida’s campus today followed by a trip to New Mexico State tomorrow and UNLV on Friday. New Mexico State’s inclusion on this list may surprise some but perhaps it should not. One big reason for Birch’s consideration of the Aggies is his 7’4” friend, Sim Bhullar. Bhullar is a fellow Canadian who was headed to Xavier before decommitting due academic reasons. He subsequently enrolled at New Mexico State and plans to play next season. Further the Aggies have five Canadians on their current squad. ESPN’s Dave Telep reported Birch also plans to visit Gonzaga and Oregon State. Washington and Xavier have also been reported as having interest. Because Birch will have to sit out two semesters upon transfer, it is likely he will decide in the next two weeks so he can enroll for the spring semester and start the clock ticking.
  5. Not that they needed it, but Seton Hall may have an extra bit of motivation heading into their home match-up with #8 Connecticut, courtesy of UConn freshman Andre Drummond. When Drummond was asked about Seton Hall senior center Herb Pope he said, “I don’t even know who [Pope] is. I’m not trying to be disrespectful. They said the name to me in practice and I was like `Wait, who’s Herb Pope?’” In Drummond’s defense, he is a freshman and this is his first time facing the Pope and the Pirates. However, while Seton Hall may not have the exposure or pedigree of Connecticut, Pope certainly requires no introduction. He is a Big East Player of the Year candidate. Pope is averaging 18.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and is the Big East’s active career double-double leader with 27. Further, on the day before a game one would think Drummond would have been exposed to enough scouting and game prep to know the name of the person he would be matched up against. It will be an interesting introduction tonight at the Prudential Center.
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