Who Won The Week? Shabazz Napier, Memphis and Villanova…

Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 6th, 2013

Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill. 

WINNER: Shabazz Napier

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America's top player, and being Who Won The Week's top winner.

UConn guard Shabazz Napier can claim two things after a buzzer-beating winning shot against Florida: Being America’s top player, and being Who Won The Week’s top winner.

The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.

LOSER: Florida

Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.

To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.

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Big East Morning Five: 01.13.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 13th, 2012

  1. Dude, did you eat a bad pierogi at halftime or something? Pittsburgh is down and Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette is not about to let anyone forget it with his ‘piece’ yesterday. One that featured gems like, “Really. Practice some more. Or maybe less.” He also referenced one of Pitt’s players (yes, an amateur, college player) as being “awful.”  Yes, it was written fresh of an embarrassing 62-39 home loss to Rutgers.  Yes, it was the Panthers’ fifth straight defeat.  Yes, it was a game where Pittsburgh had just four baskets in the first half, a stat Collier pounced on. “Pitt made four field goals in the first half. Let me dive on the floor for some perspective on that. If you selected five Pitt students at random, subjected them to zero coaching, let them practice by themselves once a week, kicked each of them in the shins as they walked onto the court, they might get four baskets in 20 minutes.” OK, Gene we will take you up on that and do you one better. Grab four of your buddies, if you can find four, and roll over to The Pete. Try not to kick too many dogs along the way. The clock is set at 20:00.  Let’s see if you can get four buckets against the Panther team you are ripping. They’ll be waiting, as will Jamie Dixon and his 227-66 (.774) overall and 98-42 (.700) Big East record. I just hope I can be there to write about it.
  2. Many tout Syracuse as the deepest team in the country.  Well, Jim Boeheim added to his team in preparation to face a different bench as he has hired an attorney to defend him in the slander lawsuit brought by the alleged Bernie Fine sexual abuse victims.  C. James Zeszutek, a managing partner with Pittsburgh’s Dinsmore & Shohl law firm who holds three degrees from Syracuse (including his law degree), will represent Boeheim.  The plaintiffs, Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, brought the defamation suit against Boeheim in indicating that they had ulterior motives in their molestation accusations against Fine.  Zeszutek has expansive experience defending a number of college coaches, including the likes of Jim O’Brien and John Calipari when they were accused of NCAA violations at Ohio State and Memphis, respectively.
  3. Speaking of Syracuse’s depth, for how many teams would Dion Waiters start?  Um, most of them?  One of the few exceptions happens to be the team he’s currently on.  After something of an adjustment to a reserve role, the scoring, stealing, sophomore guard is excelling and feeling just fine about his role off the bench.  Waiters confessed, “It used to mess with me a little… I was one of the top 15 players in the country coming out of high school.  I expected to start as soon as I got here.”  Well, he did not, playing in 34 games as a freshman and starting none (6.6 PPG, 16.3 MPG).  Further, in his second year, he still does not.  Waiters has come off the bench in all of the undefeated Orange’s 18 victories to the tune of 22.3 minutes, 12.9 points and 2.9 assists per contest.  He is clearly comfortable with his role, as it has not deterred from his production.  His averages in points and assists are good for second on the team, while his 2.2 steals per game lead the way.
  4. We talk a lot about unheralded players here at RTC Big East, and it is finally Davante Gardner’s turn.  Before going further however, an apology is in order.  How could we have missed this guy?  He’s 6’8”, 280 pounds! In all seriousness, Gardner, in fact, has been on the radar.  We have touched upon the aspects of his assuming a bigger role in the absence of injured teammate Chris Otule.  Well, after after career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (15) in Wednesday’s win over St. John’s, Gardner now commands our full attention.  In some ways Gardner (9.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG) is a microcosm of his program and his coach.  Who gushes about #25 Marquette (13-4, 2-2) and Buzz Williams?  Yet, all they do is beat you time and time again. As Williams very appropriately stated on Gardner and his team, “His [Gardner’s] energy level on a daily basis and our team’s energy level on a daily basis determines a lot for us. Energy and attitude say a lot in life and say a lot in basketball.”  Gardner, who came off the bench in the Golden Eagles’ first eight games, has started seven of the last nine for the Golden Eagles, averaging 11.6 points and seven rebounds per game.
  5. It is Friday the 13th and, as luck would have it, a slow news day at time of writing so let’s have fun with numbers and take a look at ESPN’s latest power rankings from a Big East perspective.  Guess what?  Syracuse (18-0, 5-0) tops the list.  The Orange certainly sit head and shoulders above the rest of the Big East, and they seem to be inching away from the national pack as well.  Similar to the national polls, ESPN’s Top 10 consists of no other Big East teams.  Georgetown (13-3, 3-2) checks in next at #13. The Hoyas have been bitten of late, and are riding a two-game losing streak. Connecticut (13-3, 3-2) is sitting right behind Georgetown at #14.  The Huskies were rolling before back-to-back Garden State spoilings by Seton Hall and Rutgers before getting back on track with a victory over West Virginia.  At #24, Marquette (13-4, 2-2) rounds out the Big East power ranking presence.  The Golden Eagles, who are treading water with a 3-4 record over their last seven, have what could be perceived as a softer stretch coming up.  Their next five opponents consist of Pittsburgh, Louisville, at Providence, South Florida and at Villanova.
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Big East Morning Five: 01.10.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on January 10th, 2012

  1. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch told Alex Kline of TheRecruitScoop.com he will transfer to UNLV.  Birch visited UNLV, Florida and New Mexico State last week before making his choice. “I really like UNLV,“ he told Kline. “It was a very tough decision but UNLV is a good fit for me because of the coaches, players and facilities… I can develop under a great, young coach in Dave Rice.  He and the entire staff made me feel very comfortable in Las Vegas.”  As a transfer, Birch will have to sit out two semesters.  The timing of the decision was critical as he will be able to enroll in school for the spring semester with the intent of becoming eligible in January 2013.  UNLV has two remaining scholarships that could be used to build upon what is already a monster class of newcomers: DaQuan Cook, Katin Reinhardt, Demetris Morant as well as Bryce Jones, who is a transfer from the Southern California, are all headed to Vegas next year.   The buzz surrounding the two open spots involves three more heavyweights in forwards Anthony Bennett (ranked seventh in the class of 2012 by both Rivals.com and ESPN.com), Shabazz Muhammad (the consensus number one rated class of 2012 recruit) and St. John’s decommit Norvel Pelle.
  2. St John’s was involved in the other piece of transfer news yesterday.  Fortunately, this time they found out they were getting one rather than losing one.  Guard Jamal Branch, who left Texas A&M after one semester there, announced he will be suiting up for the Red Storm once he sits out a year under NCAA transfer rules.   Arizona, Marquette and Maryland were also reportedly in the mix.  Branch, a top 100 recruit coming out of Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas, was playing significant minutes (18.6 MPG) for the Aggies as the backup point guard, averaging 4.2 points and 2.5 assists per game.  He cited his relationship with current St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison as contributing to his decision. “The players there are pretty cool and with me knowing D’Angelo helped me make my decision,” Branch said. “That’s like my little brother and we always wanted to play with each other. Me and him click well and are looking forward to doing big things here at St. John’s.”
  3. It will be a banner evening in Providence tonight when Rick Pitino and his Louisville club come to town to take on the Friars.  This year marks the 25th anniversary of Providence’s Final Four run under Pitino and the milestone will be celebrated during a halftime ceremony.  With a band of pressing, three-point shooting unknowns such as current Florida head coach Billy Donovan, Delray Brooks and Ernie “Pop” Lewis, the 1986-87 Friars captivated a region and vaulted Pitino to coaching stardom.  “I have always coached every time out, no matter how much time is left in the game, feeling we could come back, no matter what the level was, or the score was, all because of that Providence College basketball team. Because they set the standard, not only for comebacks, but they set the standard for just making me believe that anything is possible,” Pitino said.  The Friars defeated Georgetown, ironically in Louisville, in the regional final before bowing to another Big East foe, Syracuse, in the national semifinals.  Current Providence head coach Ed Cooley will personally enjoy the moment as well.  A Rhode Islander who group up a fan of the Friars, Cooley was star player at Rhode Island’s Central High School at the time. A number of team members are expected to be in attendance, including Brooks and Lewis.
  4. The Big East’s weekly superlatives have been dished out and West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant scooped up his second Player of the Week honor.  Bryant averaged 27 points per game in Mountaineer wins over Rutgers and Georgetown.  Rookie of the Week went to St. John’s guard D’Angelo Harrison who averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games, highlighted by an 18-point, seven-rebound effort in an upset road win over Cincinnati.  Big East Honor Roll recipients this week were: DePaul guard Brandon Young, who averaged 24 points per game including 26 in a win over Pittsburgh; Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley who is starting to become a regular around here;  Rutgers guard Eli Carter, who followed up his Rookie of the Week honor with more strong play; Seton Hall guard Jordan Theodore, who averaged a double-double for the week (16.5 PPG, 10.0 APG) and Syracuse guard Brandon Triche who filled up the stat sheet (16.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.5 APG) to help keep the Orange unbeaten.
  5. Say what you want about the overall quality of the Big East this year as compared to recent seasons but one thing is for sure, nobody can ever rest on their laurels, lest they find themselves on the short end of an upset loss.  It was another turbulent week in the conference as evidenced by the latest Top 25 poll.  The only constant of course has been Syracuse (17-0), who was pushed at times on the road by Providence and back home against Marquette, but held firm to their undefeated record and #1 ranking.  The Orange have really separated from the back as they now represent the Big East’s only resident of the Top 10.  Connecticut (12-3), behind losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers, plummeted nine spots to #17.  Georgetown (13-2) lost at West Virginia and slipped two notches to #11 as a result.  Louisville’s (13-3) double overtime loss to Notre Dame cost them three spots as the Cardinals slid to #14.  Marquette (12-4) took two losses last week, and therefore did not hold their ranking, falling five spots to #25.  OK, enough of talking about teams that are struggling.  How ‘bout those Pirates!  Yes, Seton Hall (14-2) coming of a 2-0 week that featured wins over then #8 Connecticut and on the road against Providence, broke in at #24 and is ranked for the first time since 2001.
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