Otskey’s Observations: Wednesday at the Big East Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

While the makeup of the Big East has changed, much was the same on day one of the 2014 edition of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The crowd at the Garden was certainly not sold out but it exceeded expectations for what seemed, on paper at least, like a lackluster doubleheader featuring Seton Hall, Butler, Georgetown and DePaul. In fact, attendance was similar, if not better, than the Tuesday and Wednesday rounds in Big East tournaments past. The opening rounds have never drawn well so a decent crowd on hand Wednesday night has to be a positive sign going forward for the re-configured conference. The real test will come during Thursday’s quarterfinals with four games involving the league’s better teams.

Butler's Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

Butler’s Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

In game one, Seton Hall survived Butler in a match-up of two hard-luck teams. The Pirates had lost seven games either by one point or in overtime this year but finally put a one point game in the win column, holding by the count of 51-50. Butler had lost five games by either two points or in overtime entering tonight. Seton Hall looked to be in command as it built a 13-point lead with under ten minutes to play but the Bulldogs whittled the deficit to one with only 47 seconds to play but neither team scored again, resulting in the final margin. Seton Hall did a great job taking Kellen Dunham out of the game, especially when you consider Dunham went off for 29 points when these teams met in Indianapolis just four days ago. Dunham and Alex Barlow combined to shoot 3-of-21 from the floor but senior Khyle Marshall picked up the slack, pouring in a highly efficient 22 points. The Pirates came out strong on the defensive end and it carried them to victory. The Hall isn’t a bad team when it plays hard, but getting this team to bring it every night has seemed to be head coach Kevin Willard’s major problem in his four years with the program. With nothing to lose, Seton Hall may be a tougher than expected challenge for top-seeded Villanova tomorrow afternoon, although the Wildcats should end up prevailing.

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Losing Cleveland Melvin Could be a Long Term Positive for DePaul

Posted by George Hershey on February 15th, 2014

Last week DePaul announced that senior forward Cleveland Melvin was no longer enrolled in school. Melvin had not played in two weeks because of a suspension and it appears that whatever he was supposed to do to become reinstated didn’t get done. He was undoubtedly the Blue Demons’ best player, leading the squad in scoring (16.7 PPG) and rebounds (6.4 PPG) this season. After starting off with a 2-3 Big East record, DePaul has struggled mightily since Melvin’s suspension, losing seven in a row. At this point, there are six more games to play and wins will be tough to find. Still, although the loss of Melvin hurts their chances of winning games this season, it is actually a huge positive for the team going forward.

Oliver Purnell will get a great look at his young players for the remainder of the year. (Getty)

Oliver Purnell will get a great look at his young players for the remainder of the year. (Getty)

Head coach Oliver Purnell needs to be focused on the future of his program for the remainder of the season. In the next six games, it would be smart to play the underclassmen who will gain valuable experience against some of the Big East’s best teams. Freshmen Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton have played major roles this year, both averaging more than 25 minutes per game. They need to continue getting major minutes as they will be the face of the program going forward. There is another group of players who need to see extended time over the next few weeks as well. R.J. Curington leads that list, as the freshman has gone from the end of the bench to a solid scorer and contributor in the past five games. He has plenty of confidence and can shoot the ball well, but needs more real game experience to become comfortable and a smarter player. He is sometimes overconfident in his abilities and sets his mind on scoring, even if the opportunities aren’t there.

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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on February 4th, 2014

There was plenty of action this past week in the Big East. Here is a look at three of the biggest improvements and three of the biggest regressions from the past week.

Three Up

Oliver Purnell might've found a gem in A. (Chicago Tribune)

Oliver Purnell might’ve found a gem in RJ Curington (Chicago Tribune)

  1. The rise of R.J. Curington – You might be wondering who this is, but Curington is a name that will become well-known around the league over the next three years. The DePaul freshman guard had played 24 total minutes in the entire season, with 12 games where he did not see any time at all. Yet with DePaul’s lineup decimated by suspensions and injuries to its key contributors, head coach Oliver Purnell has turned to Curington to play more minutes. In the last two games he has shown his promise, playing 23 and 30 minutes, respectively, in losses to Seton Hall and Providence. Against Seton Hall he helped keep the game respectable with 15 points and five rebounds, but on Saturday he blossomed, scoring 22 points to lead DePaul on a comeback that came up just short. The freshman was confident and did not back away from the pressure, taking 15 shots and going 3-of-8 from three with a clutch jumper to tie the game late. He also attacked the basket forcefully, getting to the line six times. Curington was not a big-time recruit and he barely played earlier this season, but he appears to be a very good offensive player who will complement fellow freshman Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV going forward.
  2. St. John’s getting on a roll – It was only three weeks ago when St. John’s was the laughingstock of the Big East, starting 0-5 including a loss to DePaul. Since then the Red Storm have gone 4-1, with the only loss coming on the road to Creighton, which needed a deep Doug McDermott three to win. The defense has hunkered down and they displayed it with a dominant performance over Marquette at Madison Square Garden over the weekend. Marquette could not get any good looks and the Golden Eagles’ frustration was evident all night. Steve Lavin’s offense has also played much better, showing a chemistry and cohesion that was not there before. Earlier in the season, the team was settling for too many contested jump shots, but they have begun to move the ball around better. D’Angelo Harrison hit six threes Saturday, and most of those were wide open because of better spacing and ball movement. This team’s talent has been well-publicized and criticized for its play thus far, but they have finally begun to fulfill the potential and just a few more wins will get them onto the bubble. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Up, Three Down in the Big East

Posted by George Hershey on January 27th, 2014

Every Big East team played on Saturday. Some had impressive outing, while others fell flat and disappointed. Here we highlight some of the positives and negatives from the weekend’s action with Three Up, Three Down.

Three Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

The Providence Role Players, Including Denton, Are Stepping Up

  1. Providence’s Supporting Cast. Coming into the season the emphasis was placed on senior scoring machine Bryce Cotton. In the non-conference slate, the team fared well but started with a poor 0-2 mark in conference play with a bad home loss to Seton Hall and a blowout defeat to Villanova. In those early losses, players like LaDontae Henton, Kadeem Batts, Tyler Harris and Josh Fortune had rough performances. They turned the ball over too much — 15 from the starters vs. Villanova — played poor defense, and failed to make the key plays that win games. More recently, Providence has been on a roll and these players are the primary reason for the difference. In the Friars’ win on Saturday against Xavier, four starters had at least 10 points with Henton dropping 23, Harris and Batts scoring 12 each, and Fortune hitting a key three as he was fouled to stymie a Xavier run. Carson Desrosiers was also very impressive on the defensive end, with six blocks against the Musketeers. Providence has now won five in a row to move to 5-2 in league play, good for third place in the conference standings. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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DePaul Suffers Alexander Heartbreak But Shouldn’t Lose Faith

Posted by George Hershey on November 16th, 2013

Yesterday DePaul’s basketball program and its fans watched closely as consensus top five class of 2014 recruit Cliff Alexander decided to attend Kansas, turning down his hometown Blue Demons and home state Fighting Illini. The Blue Demons had been in contention as long as anybody in his final grouping and were an appealing team for Alexander because of the proximity to his family. Rumors swirling around in the days leading up to the announcement suggested that he would be deciding between Illinois, Kansas and DePaul, but with top recruits Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones reportedly set to pick Duke over Kansas, there was still plenty of room for Alexander on Bill Self’s team.

Cliff Alexander disappointed a lot of basketball fans in the state of Illinois (The News Gazette)

Cliff Alexander disappointed a lot of basketball fans in the state of Illinois (The News Gazette)

The addition of Alexander would have been the biggest win for DePaul in decades. A player of his caliber is a program-changer for a school like DePaul. The impact goes beyond what he would have brought to the court for his one season, maybe two, in college. The excitement and publicity around the program would have brought spectators and the media out in droves to see him. It also would have helped future recruiting and increased head coach Oliver Purnell’s credibility and stature on the recruiting trail.

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Big East M5: 10.23.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 23rd, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. Just weeks before the start of the 2013-14 season, Marquette forward Jameel McKay has decided to leave the Golden Eagles to pursue his college basketball career elsewhere. Marquette Tribune writer Patrick Leary was especially taken aback by the announcement, based on a conversation he had with McKay just days earlier, when he “raved about how excited he was to play for Buzz and the Golden Eagles.” McKay, a junior college transfer who did not log any time for Marquette last season, was expected to be behind forwards Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, and Jamil Wilson at the forward spots. Leary speculates that playing time may have been a concern for the junior, although time would have opened up next season when all three of those players will have graduated. There do not seem to be any hard feelings between McKay and the program, at least based on his Twitter feed where he stated: ““I appreciate the coaching staff and fans no hard feeling at all GoodLuck to them this year!” shortly after announcing the transfer.
  2. Another day,another transfer player is being held up in the vortex that is the office where the NCAA clears up these matters. Today, Georgetown awaits the fate of UCLA transfer Josh Smith. Coach John Thompson III acknowledges that waiting is, in fact, the hardest part: “It’s the nature of the beast. It’s the nature of the system. Would I prefer it not be this way? Probably. But at the same time, I understand it takes time.” Smith would be a big addition to a Hoyas frontcourt that is already without forward Greg Whittington, who tore his ACL this spring after missing most of last season with academic concerns. Like Smith, Thompson doesn’t have a substantive update on Whittington’s status: “Only God knows when Greg’s going to be able to play. I have no idea when he will be able to get back on the court.”
  3.  Even within a largely new conference, DePaul‘s status remains the same. The Blue Demons have once again been voted to finish last in the league, but the players are excited for what the future holds in the Windy City. The team returns two stalwart seniors who have averaged double figure points in each of their first three years in forward Cleveland Melvin and guard Brandon Young, and adds an exciting freshman class highlighted by guard Billy Garrett Jr. To his credit, Garrett looks forward to playing on the big stage: ”Playing with expectations is something I’ve gotten used to. It’s something I don’t pay that much attention to because you have to go out there and perform.” While many bemoan the loss of former conference rivals to the AAC and ACC, DePaul and other members of the Big East who struggled against the UConns and Syracuses of the world may welcome the change simply because it makes things a bit more manageable. The new league, combined with a roster that features both stars of years past and new players who are not used to all the losing years that DePaul has experienced, could make for a fresh start for a once proud program.
  4. A new league means a new court for Providence, who is set to unveil Dave Gavitt Court this season. The Friars’ new hardwood moves away from the old design, which heavily featured black, with a cleaner silver and gray look around the perimeter, and is adorned by former Providence coach, athletic director, and first Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt’s name at center court.  With so many other programs installing crazy court designs in recent years, this sleek, streamlined design is much appreciated. Now if they can just do something about the total nightmare-fuel giant inflated Friar near the tunnel at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center…
  5. As a Syracuse fan, it was hard to get excited about Hilby the German Juggle Boy as the main source of extracurricular entertainment at this year’s Midnight Madness in the Carrier Dome. Take note, Syracuse, as Seton Hall has this Midnight Madness entertainment thing figured out. During this Friday night’s event in South Orange, head men’s coach Kevin Willard and women’s coach Tony Bozzella will participate in a hot dog eating contest against the infamous Kobayashi.  If you’re a Seton Hall fan, you too can compete by entering an Instagram contest describing why you should be given a shot against Willard, Bozzella, and Kobayashi. So good luck to you, intrepid Pirates fans. I am incredibly jealous that Jim Boeheim is not participating in this one.
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Big East Recruiting Superlatives

Posted by mlemaire on May 23rd, 2013

Sometimes it is OK to choose an arbitrary date in the college basketball recruiting process and take stock of things, using our Big East goggles of course. That said, this date really isn’t all that arbitrary. Most of the top basketball recruits in the Class of 2013 signed National Letters of Intent last week . Rather than break down and rank the Big East recruiting classes from top to bottom — which the guys at recruiting sites do much better than we would anyway — we figured to have some fun and bring you back to high school for some good old-fashioned superlatives. Again, we recognize the Big East is breaking up, but we are still looking back rather than forward.

He Didn't Have To Look Far, But Buzz Williams Reeled In Perhaps His Best Recruiting Class Ever (AP)

He Didn’t Have To Look Far, But Buzz Williams Reeled In Perhaps His Best Recruiting Class Ever (AP)

Most Likely To Earn Praise For His Recruiting Prowess: Buzz Williams, Marquette

In the always useless world of recruiting rankings, most experts have recruiting classes at Louisville and Syracuse ranked ahead of Marquette’s class, but that shouldn’t keep Williams from receiving the praise he is due. Williams hangs his hat on his program’s ability to develop talent, not in recruiting superstars, but this class could easily be his most ballyhooed yet. Of course it helps Williams look good when much of the talent is in the same city as the school, but he still had to beat out a number of high-major programs for those kids. Duane Wilson is a local point guard with size who may earn the first crack at replacing Junior Cadougan and fellow local product Deonte Burton is a physical and athletic wing who will rebound and defend. The third local product by way of junior college in Iowa is 6’8″ forward Jameel McKay who has everyone excited about his athleticism, rebounding, and motor. The real prize for the Golden Eagles is slashing guard JaJuan Johnson who Williams and his staff plucked out of Memphis’ backyard despite an offer from the Tigers. Everyone in the Southeast recruited the attacking guard who may be asked to step in immediately and replace some of Vander Blue’s now-missing production.

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Season In Review: DePaul Blue Demons

Posted by mlemaire on April 25th, 2013

DePaul coach Oliver Purnell came to the school with the reputation as a rebuilder of programs, the only problem is that in three years at the helm in Chicago, the Blue Demons haven’t gotten any better. DePaul ended up at the bottom of the conference barrel, finishing the season 11-21 overall and just 2-16 in the Big East, which gives Purnell six conferences wins in three seasons and fans not a whole lot of hope for the immediate future. The Blue Demons showed flashes at times and proved they had legitimate talent on their roster in Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, but their pedestrian offense, downright atrocious defense and lack of immediate depth were more than enough to torpedo any aspirations the team had about making a leap this season. Let’s go inside what exactly happened at DePaul this season:

After Just Two Conference Wins, Oliver Purnell Finds Himself On The Hot Seat.

After Just Two Conference Wins, Oliver Purnell Finds Himself On The Hot Seat.

The Good

In a program that has been full of turmoil and disappointment over the past five years, rising senior forward Cleveland Melvin continued to be a bright light in a dark place, improving his field-goal percentage, becoming a slightly more efficient offensive player, and racking up seven double-doubles en route to another successful all-conference season. Classmate Brandon Young led the team in scoring and proved himself to be a legitimate offensive star in the conference. I guess if we really wanted to stretch the definition of “good” we could count conference victories over Providence and Rutgers as part of the good and look on the bright side — at least the school hasn’t had to spend the early part of the offseason answering questions about why their coach, who isn’t winning, is verbally and physically abusing his players in practice. That is always a good thing, especially when your team stinks.

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