Rough Offseason Has UConn Reeling, But Team Remains Hopeful in 2012-13

Posted by EJacoby on June 21st, 2012

Breaking news surfaced on Wednesday when the NCAA released its Academic Progress Report (APR) for all Division I athletic programs, and a whopping 10 men’s basketball teams are now banned from the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament after failing to reach the required APR average score of 900 over the last four years. The biggest name on the list, and the only power conference school to ever receive a postseason APR ban, is Connecticut, which recorded a four-year score of 889. But none of this was news to the Huskies, a school which had already lost an appeal this offseason for inclusion. The postseason ban is just one of many pieces of bad news that UConn has received this offseason, which has put the future of UConn basketball in serious doubt. Your 2011 National Champions have struggled on and off the court since that wild run two springs ago sparked by Kemba Walker and company. Transfers, violations, firings, underperformance, and bans have dominated the news cycle around Storrs and 70-year-old future Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun remains on the fence about coaching his team for much longer. Where does UConn go from here, and what can we expect from the Huskies on the court next season?

Jim Calhoun’s future remains in doubt, but the Hall of Fame coach doesn’t want to leave the program in chaos (AP Photo)

Connecticut basketball has been nothing short of a disaster since hauling the National Championship trophy two seasons ago. While that year’s historic run of 11 straight postseason wins is forever engrained in Storrs lore and perhaps fans can accept a few years’ grace period after winning a title, it’s still hard to believe how quickly things have fallen. UConn entered 2011-12 as the Big East preseason favorites but struggled to a 20-14 finish, playing through multiple suspensions and the extended absence of Calhoun due to rules violations and health reasons. The team lost its first round NCAA Tournament game to Iowa State in convincing fashion, and things have only gotten worse since that game in March. Top talents Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond both declared for the NBA Draft, and forwards Roscoe Smith, Michael Bradley, and Alex Oriakhi all transferred out of the program, leaving major holes in the roster. The team is ineligible for both the 2013 Big East and NCAA Tournaments after poor academic performances in the past four years. Recruiting has been understandably difficult, as the school remains a questionable short term destination for prospects. There’s a brand new athletic director (Warde Manuel) on campus who has yet to implement his long-term strategy. And perhaps most importantly, Calhoun remains uncommitted to his future on campus. The 70-year-old has two more years left on his contract and certainly does not want to leave the program in chaos, but the future Hall of Famer will probably not stick around much longer no matter what situation the team is in.

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Big East Morning Five: 02.07.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 7th, 2012

  1. Adam Zagoria came out with his Big East All-Rookie Team for this year and while some may say it seems a bit early to be locking in what are traditionally postseason honors, how can one not want to talk about the “Diaper Dandies” of this league?  Depth of talent has long been a trademark of the Big East and it is difficult to recall a season in which so many newcomers have played such integral roles on their teams.  This is due in some part to the fact that the conference underwent a youth movement coming into the year with many teams restocking with big freshman classes.  Handicapping the Big East coming into the year proved particularly difficult given the youth factor presented by many teams in the league.  This is also why it is not surprising that some of the more experienced teams, particularly teams with multiple key junior and senior leaders such as Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette, are finding higher ground in the standings while the youngest teams such as St. John’s, Rutgers and Providence have displayed predictable inconsistency.  However, as illustrated by Zagoria’s list, squads up and down the conference have fantastic building blocks for the future getting valuable experience on the court this year.
  2. Big East weekly honors time again and it is difficult to find a more deserving Player of the Week than Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall.  The fact that Woodall went off last week to the tune of 26.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game would be enough to merit consideration, but the numbers are vastly overwhelmed by Woodall’s overall contribution to winning basketball. The Panthers have won four straight games since his return and have thereby pulled their season out of the dumpster.  In the spirit of the Big East’s depth of youth, it is fitting that the conference named Co-Rookies of the Week for the first time since 2005-06 in Louisville’s Chane Behanan and Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton.  Both players hit for 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in single games last week. Honor Roll recipients were: Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins who had 18 points, five assists and four rebounds in a big win over Marquette; West Virginia’s Darryl Bryant who averaged 23.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists including a 32-point torching of Providence in an overtime victory; Providence’s Gerard Coleman who averaged 22.5 points and six rebounds for the week including a career-high 30 in the loss to West Virginia; St. John’s D’Angelo Harrison who filled it up with two-game averages of 26.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists; and Georgetown big man Henry Sims who averaged 13.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists in a 2-0 week for the Hoyas.
  3. The latest installment of the Top 25 came out yesterday and there was not much movement at the top as numbers one through six remained unchanged, including Big East leader No. 2 Syracuse (23-1).  Georgetown (18-4) hopped up two spots to No. 12 after earning two victories last week.  Marquette (20-5) went 1-1 last week but slid three notches to No. 18, while Louisville (19-5), winners of five in a row on the heels of last night’s drubbing of Connecticut, suddenly find themselves surging as well as back in the rankings at No. 24. That rounds out the Big East’s representation in the poll, but perhaps not for long as Notre Dame stands next in line at 26th with the 83 votes they received.
  4. While Notre Dame is certainly savoring every minute of their shorthanded success this season, steps were taken yesterday to try to lock in some experienced depth for next year as the Irish applied for rare sixth years of eligibility for injured players Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin. As the Chicago Tribune’s Brian Hamilton points out, when evaluating for a sixth year the NCAA normally focuses on players who have missed two full years due to injury.  That is not the case for either Abromaitis, who was suspended for four games and played in two games this year before tearing his ACL, or Martin, who sat out a year due to transfer (from Purdue) in addition to missing this season with a torn ACL of his own. However there are mitigating factors in both cases that Notre Dame hopes will tip the scales in its favor. As Hamilton also points out, should the Irish secure both players for next year it will take them over the NCAA’s 13-scholarship limit, so other roster changes in the form of players paying their own way or leaving would need to be made to ensure compliance.
  5. You have to love how coaches are always coaching, motivating, and working the psyches of their players and perhaps always paranoid, invariably looking at chicken salad but seeing chicken you-know-what instead.  Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim (a.k.a Jimmy Brackets) provided some tournament analysis saying there is too much parity to define any clear cut deep-run favorites.  As for his own team, the 23-1 squad that is ranked second in the country, the one that is arguably the deepest team in the country, and the one that has a #1 seed in its sights, Boeheim says he is concerned about three-point shooting based on the Orange’s recent poor performances beyond the arc.  Hey, in true head coaching form, Boeheim has to find something to pick on, right?  The fact of the matter is if there is any team built both for the long haul of the regular season and the do-or-die tournament format, it is Syracuse.  They have experience at every position and can exploit matchup issues with their surplus of depth.  Furthermore, the Orange are a team that can impose their will defensively with a zone that coaches who play against it every year have trouble preparing for, much less those who might be faced with a day to figure it out during tournament play.
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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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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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Big East Checkpoint: Buy, Sell, Hold

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 14th, 2011

Midway through December and it has already been an eventful college basketball season.  Teams have logged a fair sampling of games as they head into final exams and finish up the non-conference portion of their schedules, so we thought it would be a good time to assess the state of the Big East by comparing each team to… itself.  Below is the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll by projected order of finish.  We are going a little Jim Cramer on you (BooYah Skee-Daddy!), placing a Buy, Sell or Hold rating based on the team’s play to date versus preseason expectations.

1 (tie). Connecticut (8-1): I am no stock market expert but when I see a team as loaded as UConn sitting at No. 9 in the most recent poll, buying stock in the Huskies is a no-brainer. Jim Calhoun has feuded with center Alex Oriakhi and questioned his team’s drive early in the season, but this team is too deep and too talented to be ranked that low in national polls. And when you consider how much freshmen Ryan Boatright and Andre Drummond will improve over the next few months, I am already starting to look for a new luxury sedan to buy with the money from my winning. Rating: BUY

Boatright Has Given the Huskies a Lift (John Wolke, Hartford Courant)

1 (tie). Syracuse (10-0): There is no way we can buy right now and that is good news for Syracuse fans, because the ‘Cuse is on top and can rise no higher at the moment. If this were a quick trade we’d sell and look to buy back after their first loss because it is hard to envision the #1 ranked team in the country staying there all year, but we are in this for the long haul and so are the Orange. Rating: HOLD

3. Louisville (9-0): It’s impossible not to be impressed with the job Rick Pitino has done at Louisville this season given the team’s rash of injuries and lack of top-flight scorers, but I am still selling the Cardinals. For starters, their early season schedule has been very soft and their only difficult opponent was Vanderbilt, whom they needed overtime to outlast. There is no doubt that their defense and depth makes them a top-10 team, but it’s hard to put them ahead of teams like UConn and North Carolina because  they just don’t have the scoring punch or the go-to player in crunch-time.  If you are determined to hold Louisville stock, you probably won’t lose much, but now is the time to sell high. Rating: SELL

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Big East Morning Five: 12.13.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 13th, 2011

  1. Cincinnati held a press conference to discuss the suspensions it issued to four players following the ugly brawl that occurred in the waning seconds of an almost equally hideous 76-53 loss to cross-city rival Xavier on Saturday. The precedings included remarks from head coach Mick Cronin, who noted the suspended players will have to earn their way back if they want to play once their suspensions end. Each of the four suspended players (Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, and Octavius Ellis received six games while Ge’Lawn Guyn will sit out one) were present to give their public apologies. Gates, who had one of the most active and high profile roles in the fracas throwing several punches, one of which bloodied Xavier’s Kenny Frease, appeared genuinely apologetic and regretful, ultimately breaking down in tears while taking questions. Particularly when noting references to his being a “thug” and a “gangster”. “I want to apologize really to the whole city of Cincinnati for my actions,” Gates said, “The actions that I displayed are not what I’m about. This is not what the University of Cincinnati is about. It’s not what my family’s about.” Gates, a senior, also said he feared his actions may have led to the end of his collegiate career.  Should all players earn their way back after six games, they would be available to play on January 4 at home versus Notre Dame, after missing just one Big East contest on New Year’s Day at #15 Pittsburgh.  The Bearcats’ first short-handed test takes place Wednesday at Wright State (4-6).
  2. A few people involved in Saturday’s Cincinnati – Xavier fight-marred game learned on Monday that they escaped further diciplinary action. That would be the game’s referees. Reggie Greenwood, the Atlantic 10 conference’s coordinator of officials confirmed that the game’s officiating crew–Mike Roberts, Tony Crisp, and Jeff Anderson–would not face punishment in connection to Saturday’s events. The trio was subject to criticism for their handling of the game, including strong commentary from Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin. “They were sent into an ambush,” Cronin said. “They had no idea they were walking into it.” Cronin indicated in a press conference on Monday that typically with heated rivalry games between Big East and Atlantic 10 teams (Cincinnati-Xavier, Providence-Rhode Island, Villanova-St. Joseph’s) at least one member of the officiating crew has experience with such games, but that was not the case on Saturday. He also said that there was conversation with the referees throughout the game about handing out technical fouls to minimize some of the outbursts and trash talking that had started prior to tip-off. Cronin indicated a referee told him to do so would include some of his players receiving techicals and that he urged the official to give technicals to anyone on his team that deserved one in order to prevent things from escalating.
  3. This week’s Big East awards are out and West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant has earned Player of the Week honors. Bryant scored a career-high 27 points, including five threes, in a win over Miami on Saturday. He averaged 25.5 points and four rebounds in a 2-0 week for the Mountaineers. For the second consecutive time Providence forward LaDontae Henton took home Rookie of the Week accolades. Henton averaged 17.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in three Friar victories, including a career-high 21 points versus Boston College and a double-double (13 points and 12 rebounds) to go with five blocked shots against Bryant University. Leading the Honor Roll recipients this week is Seton Hall’s Herb Pope who is playing as well as anyone in the conference right now, averaged a double-double for the week (25.5 PPG, 10.0 RPG) in two Pirate wins. Rounding out the Honor Roll were DePaul’s Cleveland Melvin (21.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) who had a career-high 30 poins to go with eight boards in a win over Chicago State, Louisville center Gorgui Dieng (16.0 PPG, 12.0 RPG) also scored a career-high this past week, netting 18 in a win over IUPUI, Marquette forward Jae Crowder (16.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG) who buried a game winning three-pointer in the Golden Eagles’ 79-77 victory over Washington, and Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley who stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 22.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks in two badly needed Fighting Irish wins.
  4. The latest rankings are out and your Syracuse Orange (10-0) are the nation’s #1 team on the heels of Kentucky’s thrilling loss to Indiana on Saturday. This has to be especially sweet for Jim Boeheim and company given all of the non-basketball related news that has swirled around the program with the sexual misconduct against former assistant coach Bernie Fine story. Louisville (9-0) moved up one spot yet again this week to crack the top four.  Connecticut (8-1) knocked Harvard out of the polls with their victory over the Crimson last Thursday but it was not enough to improve their own raking, as they remain at #9. Marquette (9-0) and Pittsburgh (9-1) also stood pat at #11 and #15 respectively while Georgetown (8-1) jumped up two spots to #16 by virtue of taking down Howard on Saturday.  
  5. As for the latest in the Bernie Fine case, Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick participated in an online chat facilitated by a Syracuse newspaper, The Post-Standard.  Our personal favorite exchange in this chat had nothing to do with the case. A participant named “John” asked “Why are you doing this today? Isn’t enough, enough already?” To which Fitzpatrick cordially responded, “Don’t read it.” In terms of relevant content, Fitzpatrick revealed that he has not had any contact with the Fine family saying, “No, I have not attempted to interview the Fines out of respect for the federal investigation.” Fitzpatrick also clarified neither ESPN nor The Post-Standard would face charges for failing to turn over the now infamous recording of a 2002 phone call between one of the accusers, Bobby Davis, and Fine’s wife, Laurie. However, he reiterated a previous point that he would have liked to have seen Bobby Davis turn the tape over to authorities instead of any media outlet. Fitzpatrick went on to note that the length of the federal investigation should not be used to handicap the case as to whether or not they have collected or will collect enough evidence to arrest Fine.
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The Week That Was: Jan. 25-Jan. 31

Posted by jstevrtc on February 1st, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor 

Introduction:

It’s Feb. 1. That means there’s only 40 days left until Selection Sunday, or 40 days left for teams to build up their resume so their bubble doesn’t pop. We’re sure there are going to be a lot of heated discussions about teams hovering within that last four in-last four out zone over the next six weeks. Heck, here at TWTW, we’ll probably change our opinion on certain squads three  or four times until the end of the regular season. It should be a crazy six weeks, but we know it’s going to be fun.  

What We learned

After a weekend that saw 13 ranked teams lose (and the entire top 25 go 22-20 for the week, as Seth Davis pointed out on SI.com) the chic thing to do is talk about the gigantic bulging central part of the bell curve that symbolizes this college basketball season. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of who’s good and who’s bad on a weekly basis, as a team is liable to have a monumental win one night and then lose to a lesser school a few days later. Let’s use Georgetown as an example. Just over two weeks ago the Hoyas were a mess at 1-4 in the Big East and losers of four of their previous five games. Now, they’ve won five in a row, including recent triumphs at Villanova and at home against Louisville. Georgetown isn’t the only school that enjoys playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Check out this paragraph from Davis’ Monday column

“Texas can lose at USC and then win at Kansas. Tennessee, which should be this movie’s poster child, can win at Villanova and Pitt (at the Consol Energy Center) and lose to College of Charleston and Charlotte. Louisville loses at home to Drexel but beats UConn on the road. Providence loses to LaSalle but beats Louisville and Villanova. Auburn loses to Samford, Campbell and Presbyterian, but it beats Florida State, which later beats Duke. What, you didn’t know Presbyterian was better than Duke? And on Sunday, St. John’s (which lost to Fordham) blew out Duke.” 

Given all this uncertainty, can anyone honestly say with any assurance that there’s a clear-cut elite set of teams? Ohio State might be undefeated, but the Buckeyes have had their fair share of nail biters over ho-hum teams (Michigan, Penn State, and most recently, Northwestern). TWTW would like to put its eggs into Texas’ basket. The Longhorns are this week’s Team du Jour, having torched four ranked teams in the last 13 days, but you wouldn’t be shocked if Texas didn’t have a hiccup or two to an unranked team before the season’s end, would you?

This Tristan Thompson-Nathan Walkup Encounter Accurately Summarizes Texas' Throttling of the Aggies Last Night (B. Sullivan/Dallas Morning News)

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Set Your Tivo: New Year’s Weekend Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 1st, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

A lot of the college basketball world was in action on Friday and we have just 27 games tipping off on New Year’s Day. However, a handful involve some pretty good teams. A number of games are on Sunday but not many happen to be compelling matchups.  All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

West Virginia @ Marquette – 11 am Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

An important game for both clubs, this one tips at a strange time (10 am local) on New Year’s Day. West Virginia suffered a surprising loss to St. John’s at home earlier this week and doesn’t look like a vintage Bob Huggins team. The Mountaineers have struggled a bit with defense and rebounding, two staples of Huggins’ coaching career. They rank just #278 in defensive rebounding percentage and aren’t as strong inside as they have been. West Virginia fouls a lot, leading to foul problems and many free throws for the opposition. Marquette will look to take advantage of that with their free throw rate against, ninth in the nation. Look for the Golden Eagles to have a significant edge at the line as a result. A big part of WVU’s struggles has been the reluctance of Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli to explode and become big time players. Jones is still a good player but he hasn’t improved to the point where most expected him to. One player who has is Casey Mitchell, averaging 17 PPG which leads the team. The Mountaineer offense is very efficient (#9 in the country) due to effective point guard play from Darryl Bryant. “Truck” sets the tone for a very good half court unit. West Virginia does rebound well on their end, resulting in a lot of second chance points, but their defense and rebounding on the other end of the floor has let them down. St. John’s put up 81 points against them, a stunning number for a team that isn’t considered an offensive powerhouse by any stretch. Marquette will look to push the ball and work it inside in order to get easier looks and be fouled. Buzz Williams has an undersized team but they do a great job of using their athleticism by getting in the paint and creating good looks. MU gets 62% of their points inside the arc and is #11 in the country in two point percentage. They have a good turnover margin as well and will look to get points in the paint through lots of transition opportunities.  Jae Crowder has added another dimension to the Marquette attack, giving them a good scorer inside and out as well as a solid rebounder. He and Jimmy Butler will be key players for the home folks today. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Williams is the play of Darius Johnson-Odom over the last two games. His struggles from three have been well documented this season but he’s hit seven of his last eleven trifectas. Keeping that hot shooting going will be tough against West Virginia’s #4 rated three point defense but you have to think DJO has some good vibes now. Marquette’s three point defense isn’t very good but they must try to contain Mitchell on the wing. This should be a fairly close game but we like the Golden Eagles to win at home. Nobody knows how the players will react to such an early start but Marquette is playing better right now and should take this one.

#16 Notre Dame @ #4 Syracuse – 3:30 pm Saturday on ESPNU (****)

This matchup has turned into a really good one with the surprising success of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish picked Georgetown apart (no small feat) earlier this week and will look to grab a big time road win on Saturday afternoon. The keys here are Notre Dame’s rebounding and three point shooting. The Irish run a great offense at a relatively slow pace and will have to get comfortable in the half court against the Syracuse zone. If the three’s are not falling, this will be a long game for Mike Brey. However, we think they will and Notre Dame has an excellent chance to go into Syracuse and grab a win. Notre Dame is an experienced squad and knows what they need to do here. Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough will look to shoot over the 2-3 zone while Tyrone Nash will play a big role inside against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Nash is the best player in the country at drawing fouls, an important statistic against Jackson and Kris Joseph (52 points in his last two games) inside. If the Syracuse bigs are in foul trouble, Notre Dame has a tremendous chance to win. As a team, the Irish are one of the best at getting to the line and keeping their opponent off it. Their free throw rates are very good on both ends so Syracuse will have to get it done shooting the ball from the floor. That’ll be tough against a Notre Dame team coming off a tremendous defensive performance against the Hoyas. Each team takes good care of the ball so turnovers don’t figure to be a huge factor in this game. The rebounding battle may decide the outcome. Both teams do a nice job on the glass but Jim Boeheim has the best rebounder on the floor with Jackson in the middle. He averages 12 RPG and can single handedly carry the Orange to victory. Getting the ball to Jackson on offense falls to Scoop Jardine, a very good point guard averaging six assists per outing. This is a great matchup between two teams that should contend for a double-bye at the Big East Tournament in March. Syracuse will be favored and obviously has a good chance to win but we’re going to go out on a limb here and take the Irish in an upset on the road.

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Ten Opening Night Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 13th, 2010

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

It would be foolish to draw too many sweeping conclusions after one rust-filled outing against inferior competition, but there are certain elements within a game that can provide a glimpse into what to expect during the season ahead.  After watching a handful of games last night and tracking each and every box score this morning, these ten things caught my eye:

Tinsley is now the full time point guard at Vandy

1. As is often the case in the SEC, Vanderbilt flew under the radar in the preseason. Kentucky’s ballyhooed freshmen class received the buzz, Florida was crowned the prohibitive favorite due to the return of five starters, Bruce Pearl’s recruiting indiscretions vaulted Tennessee into the spotlight for the wrong reasons and Mississippi State could certainly be dangerous when Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney return nine games into the campaign. The Commodores, coming off a 24-9 season and a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, didn’t receive the same publicity as their SEC brethren. But that’s just how Kevin Stallings, one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the business, prefers it. The loss of senior point guard Jermaine Beal (and the premature departure of A.J. Ogilvy inside) was a big reason why many pegged Vanderbilt to take a step back from a season ago, even with returnees John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor oozing with talent and potential. The question was how junior point guard Brad Tinsley would step in for the grizzled veteran Beal and run the Commodores offense with the same aplomb, finding Jenkins off curls and screens for open threes or big man Festus Ezeli in scoring position on the block. Tinsley showed he’s up for the task in a 41-point romp of Presbyterian at Memorial Gymnasium on Friday, notching Vandy’s first triple-double in school history with 11 points and a career high 10 assists and 10 rebounds (not too shabby for a 6’3 guard). Tinsley also collected three steals and only turned the ball over twice. If Tinsley provides playmaking and stability at the point, Taylor lives up to his future lottery pick billing as an impact wing, Jenkins continues his proficiency from deep and Ezeli gives Vandy a presence inside, the Commodores will win 24 games again.

2. Two wins on Friday night may fly under the radar a bit, but are absolutely worth highlighting. The first is Minnesota’s convincing home victory over Wofford. I expected the Terriers to give Tubby Smith’s squad all kinds of trouble and possibly even win this game straight up. Wofford returns four starters, including potential SoCon POY Noah Dahlman, from a stout defensive team that gave Wisconsin a scare in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Heck, I even pegged them as my Cinderella last week. Throw in yet another Minnesota suspension on Thursday (this time off-guard Devoe Joseph) and this had all the makings of a super competitive test for the Gophers. Instead, Minnesota controlled the game throughout, leading by ten at half and winning 69-55 behind 20/13 from Ralph Sampson and 14/10 in Trevor Mbakwe’s debut in maroon and gold. The Gopher bigs also contained Dahlman to 15 points and the Wofford guards couldn’t find their stroke from deep. Don’t be surprised if this is an RPI top-100 win for Minnesota by season’s end. A second win that stood out is West Virginia’s romp of Oakland, another squad favored to win their conference behind potential first round pick Keith Benson. Benson did his thing with 22/15 but received no help as the Mountaineers utilized a balanced attack- Joe Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper, John Flowers, Deniz Kilicli, Casey Mitchell and Darryl Bryant all scored in double figures- to romp the Golden Grizzlies 95-71. Without an all-Big East perimeter threat like Da’Sean Butler at their disposal, this type of team effort is imperative if the Mountaineers want to vault themselves into the upper echelon of the Big East this season.

3. It’s painfully obvious that Georgetown is going to live and die with their backcourt this season. Their frontcourt pieces- Julian Vaughn, Nate Lubick, Jerelle Benimon and Henry Sims- are unspectacular, role players that can crash the boards, provide versatility and dish from the top of the key in the Georgetown halfcourt offense, but simply cannot be relied upon as consistent scoring threats. The Hoyas opener at reigning CAA champion and preseason favorite Old Dominion exposed this weakness inside. The Monarchs out-rebounded Georgetown by 11, blocked nine more shots and the Hoya forwards only scored eight of the team’s 62 points. Yet Georgetown eked out an enormous road victory on the heels of their experienced and savvy backcourt trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark. The threesome led Georgetown back from a second-half deficit with clutch threes and free throws down the stretch, including one from Wright on a crosscourt Hollis Thompson feed where the 6’1 senior wasn’t even able to even land as the shot clocked expired. Given the Monarchs defensive prowess and the return of four starters from a team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, this is in all likelihood a top-50 RPI win for Georgetown in the first week of the campaign. If more of those marquee wins are to come, Wright, Freeman and Clark will be the reasons.

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Set Your Tivo: 11.12.10

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 12th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Although the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer was granted an exception, tonight is the NCAA-mandated start of the college basketball season. Here are five games to keep an eye on this evening. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.

#18 Georgetown @ Old Dominion – 7 pm on Comcast-D.C. and WSKY Hampton Roads (VA) (****)

Georgetown & ODU Re-Convene a Solid Rivalry Tonight (WaPo/J. McDonnell)

 Perhaps the most anticipated game of the night features two teams starting a new era without their best players. Gone are Greg Monroe of Georgetown and Gerald Lee of Old Dominion, but each team returns its four other starters. Both teams are known for playing excellent defense and a slower tempo style, so tonight’s game figures to be in the 50s or low 60s as a consequence of that. Among the Georgetown returnees are Austin Freeman, the Big East preseason POY, and senior point guard Chris Wright. Freeman is a terrific all-around player and a major threat from the three-point line for the Hoyas. If you’re looking for a good indication of the final result during the game, look no further than the enigmatic Wright. In games where he scored ten points or less last year, Georgetown was just 3-7. When he had at least 11 points, the Hoyas were 20-3. In contrast to past Georgetown teams, this group of Hoyas will run their offense almost exclusively through their backcourt. Freeman, Wright and Jason Clark are arguably Georgetown’s best players and none of them happen to be taller than 6’3. That isn’t to say Georgetown has nobody up front. Julian Vaughn returns for his senior season after transferring from Florida State at the conclusion of his freshman year. Last year against Old Dominion, Vaughn had 13 points on 5-8 FG. Gerald Lee was saddled with foul trouble and thus a non-factor in the game (six points and only one rebound). With Lee now departed, Vaughn may have another good game in the paint for Georgetown. For the Monarchs of ODU, four starters return from a 27-win team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Their key players in this game will be Frank Hassell battling inside with Vaughn, point guard Kent Bazemore and Ben Finney who had 13/6/5 assts the last time these teams met. That last meeting was on campus at Georgetown, a game won by the Monarchs. In fact, the visiting team has won every game in this series since it started in the 2006-07 season. Bazemore is an interesting player. He’s a lefty point guard (there are actually two other lefties on the ODU roster) who shot the exact same percentage from the floor and the free throw line last year (48.6%). For Blaine Taylor’s team, free throw and three-point shooting could cause major problems in this game, especially against a defense as tight as Georgetown’s. Keyon Carter is Old Dominion’s best returning three-point shooter and he only shot 34.7% from behind the arc last season. This should be a hard fought, close game that may come down to the final possession. Georgetown was a difficult team to prepare for last year as they had the talent to beat both NCAA finalists Duke and Butler, but also lost games to the likes of Ohio, Rutgers and South Florida. Good guard play and a solid effort from Vaughn should allow Georgetown to grab a nice road win to start the season. For ODU, Hassell must contain Vaughn while Finney and Bazemore have to hold their own against Georgetown’s vaunted backcourt. If Taylor’s team can hold the Georgetown backcourt in check, look for the Monarchs to pull out a win. We hate to go cliché but that’s easier said than done.

Northern Iowa @ #11 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

The last time Northern Iowa won a game, this happened. Times have changed as Ali Farokhmanesh, Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder have graduated. This is Kwadzo Ahelegbe’s team now. The senior averaged 10.6 PPG last season and now anchors a relatively young team. Against Syracuse’s strong 2-3 zone tonight, Northern Iowa must work the ball into the paint and free throw line area effectively. To do that, sophomore Jake Koch must start to become the impact player coach Ben Jacobson hopes he’ll be. Playing largely behind Eglseder last year, the Ashwaubenon, WI, native only played 13.6 minutes a game last year. He’ll be counted on for much more this time around, along with Johnny Moran and Lucas O’Rear. For UNI to win tonight the guards must be on fire shooting over the zone and Koch has to avoid foul trouble. The Panthers have nobody else on the roster 6’8 or taller who saw any significant action last season. Look for Syracuse to take advantage of that and eat Northern Iowa alive in the paint. The player most likely to do just that is freshman stud Fab Melo. At 7’0 and 265 lbs, Melo is a force inside for which UNI has no answer. You could see a really big freshman debut for Mr. Melo this evening. Syracuse just has too much up front for Northern Iowa to contend with. Rick Jackson, Melo and everybody’s favorite breakout candidate Kris Joseph should dominate at home for the Orange. The backcourt tandem of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine only adds to the ‘Cuse’s talent and depth (we haven’t even mentioned their bench). Both can play the point and shoot it well from the arc. All in all, Jim Boeheim’s club just has too much talent for Northern Iowa tonight. We’d be surprised if the final margin was less than ten points.

Oakland @ West Virginia – 9 pm on ESPN3.com (***)

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Saturday evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: West Virginia

Posted by zhayes9 on March 30th, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Yesterday’s Butler preview is here and tomorrow we’ll dissect Michigan State.

It's been a dream season for the senior Butler

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): The Mountaineers have experienced mostly smooth sailing thus far in the NCAA Tournament, facing three double-digit seeds and then maintaining a comfortable lead during the second half in their regional final bout with top seed Kentucky. It was a driving layup from offensively challenged Joe Mazzulla that extended the West Virginia lead to 11 and forced a John Calipari timeout midway through the second half when the Mountaineer diehards could see the Final Four in their sights. Mazzulla led the team in scoring with 17 points, extremely impressive for a kid that hadn’t scored more than eight points in a game all season.

Advantage Area: West Virginia is one of the most efficient teams in the nation when it comes to offense, defense and rebounding. The Mountaineers rank #12 in offensive efficiency, #10 in defensive efficiency and #2 in offensive rebounding percentage. Bob Huggins runs an offense that is largely dependent on running cuts to the rim and methodically wearing down an opponent for 40 minutes rather than dribble penetration, a reason why West Virginia often lets inferior teams hang around for 30 minutes before pulling away. They also boast the best late-game assassin in college basketball in Da’Sean Butler. Nobody in the Final Four will be trusted taking a crucial shot under a minute more than Butler. Duke, Michigan State and Butler also can’t come close to matching the height of West Virginia across the board.

Potential Downfall: West Virginia isn’t a particularly good jump shooting team. They don’t rank in the top-100 in two-point, three-point or free throw percentage on the season. Although they do have forwards such as Wellington Smith and Kevin Jones that can step out and drain a three, there’s no consistent long-range shooter on the roster to trust other than Butler. JC transfer Casey Mitchell was supposed to be that weapon but never truly emerged and Huggins doesn’t trust him for long stretches. Even after Mazzulla’s stunning performance in the regional final, I’d still label point guard a weakness for the Mountaineers. It was a weakness before Darryl Bryant injured his foot, and even though he may return, the sophomore point was mired in a terrible scoring slump. As long as defenders keep Mazzulla in front and don’t allow penetration to the rim, there’s no need to respect any sort of jump shot from him.

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