Big East Summer Capsules: Cincinnati Bearcats

Posted by mlemaire on August 14th, 2012

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

1. Can the Bearcats make the leap?

Mick Cronin Has Cincinnati Headed In The Right Direction, But Can He Keep It That Way?

The program is about to enter its seventh season with coach Mick Cronin at the helm, and there is no doubt that the Cincinnati native has the program turned around and is now headed in the right direction. From losing records to a winning record to the NIT to the Round of 32 to finally the Sweet Sixteen last season, Cronin’s teams have improved their finish almost every season to the point where Bearcats’ fans are beginning to believe like they used to believe when Bob Huggins ran the ship. Now the question is whether Cronin can continue to build on the momentum and success and establish the Bearcats as a long-term contender for the conference crown. Despite the loss of two of their best scorers in Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, the Bearcats still return a veteran — albeit not very deep — team that should be well-prepared for the rigors of conference play. But can they make it back to the Sweet Sixteen? The team’s run last season was unexpected, but given the talent that returns, it’s not unrealistic to imagine the Bearcats making it back to the NCAA’s second weekend of action. The Bearcats’ fans haven’t been exposed to this level of expectations since Kenyon Martin was still patrolling the paint, but whether they can live up to those lofty goals will be the true barometer of whether Cronin can establish this program among the Big East elite.

2. You can’t teach size and you can never have enough of it.

Already set to boast a frontcourt that features 6-foot-10 Cheikh Mbodj, 6-foot-10 Kelvin Gaines, and 6-foot-8 Justin Jackson, Cronin went out this month and added more size and depth up front anyway in the form of 7-foot-1 center David Nyarsuk. The Sudan native originally signed with West Virginia but never qualified and enrolled at NAIA Mountain State University instead. Nyarsuk averaged 9.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.91 blocks per game against inferior competition last season, but don’t expect him to be quite such a dominant force in the Big East. He will likely make his presence felt immediately on the defensive end of the floor, though, and if he can stay out of foul trouble and hold his own on the blocks, he should receive plenty of playing time because of his shot-altering prowess. He made 55 percent from the field last season but I would guess his offensive game is still a work in progress. He may be good for a few putbacks and an easy dunk or two, but don’t expect the Bearcats to run their offense through him next year. Bearcats’ fans should certainly temper their expectations, but they should also be pleased that their team’s frontcourt now features one more live, athletic body for Cronin and his staff to work with.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.29.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012

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

It’s another big Wednesday night in college hoops. Three bubble teams have home games against top 15 opponents, so we will see who really wants to earn their way into an at-large bid. Let’s jump into the breakdowns:

#8 Marquette at Cincinnati – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Cincinnati Will be Fired Up at Home Against #8 Marquette (AP Photo/A. Behrman)

  • Buzz Williams’ team continues to impress. Even a suspension of four of its best players for at least one half couldn’t stop Marquette from winning at West Virginia last Friday. Now the Golden Eagles will look to add another quality road win to an already sparkling resume. Jae Crowder’s campaign for Big East Player of the Year is gaining steam as he ranks in the top 10 in the conference in points per game (17.6), rebounds per game (7.7), steals per game (2.9), field-goal percentage (52.4%), and offensive rating (123.9). He and Darius Johnson-Odom are the most potent and consistent one-two punch in the league, and they both have versatile games that should thrive against the Cincinnati zone defense. Marquette leads the conference in scoring but must adapt to the Bearcat attack that plays at a slow pace and limits turnovers.
  • The last time the Bearcats were on national television, they had another ranked Big East foe at home in what Rick Pitino called the best home court advantage his team had faced all season. Cincinnati will look to mimic that environment in this game, facing the high-flying Golden Eagles. To slow down Marquette, Cincinnati needs a big game from its veteran guards who can control pace and hit shots. As a team, the Bearcats commit just 9.6 turnovers per game, best in the conference, and they score 31.5% of their points from the three-point line. Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Sean Kilpatrick will win or lose this game for Cincy. It will be up to Yancy Gates to keep the Marquette defense honest inside as well as trying to shut down Crowder in the paint.
  • This game is a pick’em in Vegas, which feels accurate. Cincinnati will be fired up on Senior Night and a win over a top 10 opponent will guarantee its entrance into the Big Dance, but Marquette has been simply fantastic in Big East play, winning 12 of its last 13 games in a variety of fashions. As a believer in this Bearcats team, I think they pull this one out and lock up a postseason bid.
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Big East Morning Five: 02.21.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on February 21st, 2012

  1. The ugly brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier that forced a premature stoppage to their annual meeting last December led to plenty of speculation about the future of the rivalry.  Now that the cooling off period has spanned a couple of months it appears the ‘Crosstown Shootout’ will resume next season without pause.  While nothing has been finalized, there was indication from both schools yesterday that the game will happen.  Cincinnati president Greg Williams said, “Every indication is that we are going to play next year. We’re looking at it. [Xavier University president] Father Graham and I have talked about it a number of times.”  Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski shared a similar sentiment, “Absolutely, we would like to see the game continue for the good of both institutions, college basketball, the city, all of the above. We all agree we’ve got work to do to put a different feel and flavor to the thing, but it’s worth doing so. Those conversations are yet to come.”  As far as the reference to ‘a different feel’ there has been talk about having the game played at a neutral site but neither school appears to be in favor of the suggestion.  A starting point might be a media gag order on the players threatening suspension if they discuss anything about the game or their opponent.  Tensions piqued a bit higher leading up to this season’s contest when Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick provided some bulletin board material in a radio interview by saying Xavier’s star guard Tu Holloway would not start for the Bearcats.
  2. Connecticut continues to hold out hope that the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) will make changes to Academic Performance Rating (APR) standard that could restore their eligibility to compete in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. However they will now have to wait until at least April to find out their fate as the CAP met on Monday to discuss possible alterations to the regulations and did not reach any conclusions.  As things stand right now, the Huskies are not eligible for next year’s Big Dance for failing to meet the necessary APR.  Based on rule changes instituted last year, a two-year average APR of 930 is needed to retain NCAA tournament eligibility based on APRs for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 academic years.  Connecticut has no chance of meeting the current standard based on their 2009-10 score of 826, and has argued the starting point for the average should be the 2010-11 year so that score could be thrown out.  The school has already lost an appeal on the matter and has since taken its case to the CAP, who does not meet again until April.  Regardless of what comes out of that April meeting, the timing remains damaging to Connecticut on the recruiting front.  The spring (letter of intent) signing period for prospective high school class of 2012 prospects begins in mid-April so it stands to reason potential recruits who are discouraged by the prospect of not being able to play in next year’s tournament will not stand by and await a final ruling while spots on other desirable teams get filled.
  3. They say first impressions mean everything.  Well, I have been fortunate enough to experience a Marquette head coach Buzz Williams postgame press conference firsthand and when he was through all I could remember thinking was what a charismatic, consummate professional, and class act Williams was. A great piece by Howie Magner for Inside Milwaukee Magazine shows the many facets, and struggles, of Buzz Williams the coach, husband, father, patient, friend, mentor, protégé and benefactor.  Quite honestly any attempt here to encapsulate Mr. Williams or Magner’s article would not do either any justice.  Please do yourself a favor and read it.
  4. “I think that there’s too much sugar in the world and not enough salt. Kids want to be challenged. Humans want to aspire to something. You don’t win in life and you don’t win in athletics with softness or selfishness.”  -Buzz Williams on His Approach With Players

  5. Marquette’s Jae Crowder is seemingly everywhere on the court.  However, one place the jack of all trades/master of many has never been until now is atop the Big East Player of the Week list.  Crowder dropped a career-high 29 points to go along with 12 rebounds in the Golden Eagles’ 79-64 win over Connecticut on Saturday in Marquette’s only game last week.  South Florida’s Anthony Collins scored Big East Rookie of the Week honors as the freshman guard averaged 16.0 points, 6.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game for the Bulls in victories over Pittsburgh and Villanova.  Leading the Big East Honor Roll once again is last week’s Player of the Week, Jack Cooley of Notre Dame.  Cooley, who graces the Honor Roll for the fourth time this season, averaged 20.0 points and 15.5 rebounds in two Fighting Irish wins.  Joining Cooley on the Honor Roll are: Cincinnati’s Dion Dixon who littered the stat sheet to the tune of 13.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in two important Bearcats’ wins; Syracuse’s C.J. Fair who scored a season high 21 points to go with eight rebounds in a win over Rutgers and averaged 17.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in two games on the week; West Virginia’s Kevin Jones who went for 16 points and 13 rebounds in the Mountaineers’ victory over Pittsburgh which was good for Jones’ incredible 18th double-double of the year; and, Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson who also hit for a double-double in his only game of the week, scoring 13 points and pulling down 10 boards in a win at Providence.
  6. It the spirit of this weekend’s upcoming Daytona 500 it is time to talk about ‘poll’ positions among Big East teams.  Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) has proved slow and steady win the race as the Orange continue to meet all challenges and remain at No. 2 nationally.  The Big East now boasts three top 10 teams with Georgetown (20-5, 10-4) chugging ahead one spot to No. 9 and Marquette (22.5, 11-3), fueled by 10 wins in its last eleven games, motored up two places to No. 10.  The Hoyas and Golden Eagles will trade paint on March 3 in Milwaukee. Louisville (21-6, 9-5) can relate more to the ponies than the cars but the Cardinals have hit a new gear as well, winning seven of their last eight and taking an inside position at No. 17.  Speaking of burning rubber, who’s hotter than Notre Dame (19-8, 11-3)?  The improbable Fighting Irish have won eight straight, tying a school record, and surged ahead three spots to No. 20.
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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Bubble Teams Hanging On: Four Big East squads reside in the purgatory known as Bubbleville, but all are still hanging on to their projected NCAA bids. Cincinnati, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and Connecticut are all projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field as of this writing according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but it’s the Pirates who are really skating on thin ice. The Hall is one of the “last four in” and has a huge opportunity this week against Georgetown. Cincinnati has a similar opportunity against Louisville while West Virginia has two excellent chances to seal the deal this week. As for Connecticut, the Huskies appear to be imploding. How UConn responds against Villanova on Monday night and Syracuse this coming Saturday will determine its fate.
  • South Florida Guaranteed a Winning Record: With its win at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, South Florida won its tenth Big East game for the first time ever and is now guaranteed at least a 10-8 Big East finish. However, the Bulls have their sights set higher. Thanks in part to a backloaded schedule, USF’s best win to this point is over bubble team Seton Hall, but upcoming games against Cincinnati and West Virginia could push the Bulls towards the field if they can win. South Florida needs to finish at least 12-6 in order to have a chance at a bid. Even with that, the Bulls will likely need to do a lot of work in New York City. A 12-6 league record is usually automatic, but not when your best non-conference win is Cleveland State. How much does Stan Heath want the close losses to Southern Miss (two points) and Connecticut (three points) back now?

Darius Johnson-Odom And The Golden Eagles Embarrassed The Huskies On Saturday.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) – I can hardly remember a year with zero change at the top of the league rankings. Syracuse is simply a cut above every other team in this league although Marquette and Georgetown have closed the gap a little bit over the last few weeks. Syracuse flirted with losses twice last week, but won gutty road games at Louisville and Rutgers. The Orange held Louisville without a point over the final 3:30 and won by a point despite shooting 1-15 from deep and Scoop Jardine going 0-8. Syracuse shot 34% for the game, but limited Louisville to 35%. Against Rutgers, Syracuse shot 50% and Jardine played much better (17 points, 7 assists). C.J. Fair had a stellar game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Kris Joseph added 14 for the victors as they moved their overall record to 27-1. Rebounding remains a concern (31-26 Rutgers on the glass), but the Orange continue to roll along. Syracuse will battle Kentucky for the top overall seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. This week: 2/22 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Cincinnati Can Make Serious Postseason Noise… If They Qualify

Posted by EJacoby on February 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a correspondent and regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. He filed this report after Cincinnati’s win over St. John’s on Wednesday. 

While it may not have even been the fourth or fifth biggest game across the country on Wednesday evening, Cincinnati taking on St. John’s in Madison Square Garden was a massive matchup for the road team. The Bearcats had lost three of four games, including two straight on the road, and needed this win away from home. That wasn’t a problem as Mick Cronin’s team shellacked the Red Storm for a 76-54 victory and made it look easy. Cincinnati played 12 players in the game, 11 of whom scored, and played incredibly crisp basketball on both ends of the floor. Three different guards scored in double figures alongside leading scorer Yancy Gates, and the team used a stifling 2-3 zone defense that caused problems all night for St. John’s. You would have never known that the Bearcats were a bubble team, a label that they look to shed in the coming weeks.

Mick Cronin's Bearcats Could Make Some Noise if they Make the NCAA Tournament (AP Photo/J. Fuqua)

In the process of the 22-point victory, Cincinnati looked like a Top 25 team, one that could pose some serious matchup problems for opponents in the postseason. Gates scored 14 points with nine rebounds in just 21 minutes, going 6-8 from the field and playing strong interior defense in the zone. He was joined by starters Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright, and Dion Dixon in double figures, as the guards found easy baskets by way of strong possessions against the St. John’s zone. Wright, Dixon, and Gates are upperclassmen who have been through the fire for this team and it shows. Kilpatrick is the sophomore but just happens to one of the more talented scorers in the Big East (15.4 PPG). A deep bench joins these leaders to combine for a great formula of talent, experience, and depth – and it was all on display on Wednesday.

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • A Bad Saturday for Big East Referees:  It started in Philadelphia in the noon game between Villanova and Marquette. The referees made themselves the story of that game, calling three technical fouls and 45 total foul in a 40-minute game. That game lasted well over two hours as the officials used their whistles to take all the rhythm out of what was a very good game. James Breeding doesn’t have the best reputation across the conference for the quality of his calls, but apparently he has a short fuse as well. Breeding called all three techs and embarrassed himself on national television in the process. I realize the Big East and NCAA want better sportsmanship, but nothing Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, or Maalik Wayns did warranted a technical foul. It’s never good when officials make themselves the story of the game, but that’s exactly what James Breeding did. The bad officiating continued in the Syracuse-West Virginia game as the crew of Karl Hess, Gene Steratore and, Brian O’Connell blew a goaltending call that was obvious to the 28,740 Syracuse fans in attendance at the Carrier Dome, the ESPNU commentators, and anyone who was watching the game. While the proper call would have only resulted in a tie game and actually given Syracuse a chance to win it in regulation, it denied West Virginia a chance to force overtime. Too often, we see officials swallow their whistles in the final minute to “not affect the outcome of the game.” Once again, a crew of officials decided to do just that and that decision negatively affected the outcome. While there’s no guarantee West Virginia would have won if the game went to the extra session, the Mountaineers were denied that chance by incompetent officiating. My beef is as follows:  I’m all for player safety, but this season it has been ridiculous how many times officials have gone to the television monitor to review elbows that may or may not have been thrown during the course of a game. If they can review every elbow that was ever thrown (not needed in my opinion) as well as end-of-half scoring plays, why can’t they review a call like that? Nobody likes slow games, but the officials should be permitted to review every call they aren’t 100% sure about. All in all, Saturday was a disgrace to the officiating profession.
  • Mike Brey, Coach of the Year?: At this point, it would be hard to argue against him. The Notre Dame head coach led his team to two road wins at Seton Hall and Connecticut last week, holding the home teams to a combined 90 points. Brey’s team executed the burn offense to perfection, protected the basketball and got timely rebounds. Notre Dame, considered an afterthought after Tim Abromaitis went down with a season-ending ACL tear, is now in the thick of the NCAA Tournament conversation. Brey seems to get the most out of his teams when expectations are low, and that reputation is holding true as we head into the crucial month of February. The Irish still have work to do in order to overcome a lackluster non-conference performance but Brey has his team well on its way towards a top half conference finish.
  • Pittsburgh Wins a Pair: After starting league play 0-7, Pittsburgh has won two straight. With Tray Woodall healthy and back in the lineup, the Panthers are a team nobody wants to face down the stretch. Jamie Dixon’s NCAA dreams are almost surely extinguished, but the Panthers have an opportunity to finish the season strong and end with a respectable record. Pittsburgh’s offensive efficiency improved in a big way with Woodall’s return, but its defense was outstanding in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. The Panthers posted an 86.5 defensive efficiency rating, by far their best against a quality opponent. Their season-best was 81.0 against St. Francis (PA) on December 20, their last win before beating Providence last week. With a softer schedule in February, Pittsburgh has the potential to make some noise over the season’s final nine games.

Dante Taylor And The Panthers Are Still A Proud Bunch. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1) – After suffering its first defeat at Notre Dame, the Orange responded well in a win at Cincinnati two days later. Kris Joseph led the victors with 17 points on eight of 11 shooting. Still without Fab Melo, the Orange big men did an admirable job in his place. Rakeem Christmas had nine rebounds as Syracuse survived an early onslaught of Bearcat three-pointers. Syracuse then beat West Virginia on Saturday in a closer-than-expected game as the Mountaineers were able to score against the zone, mostly because of rebounding. Syracuse was out-rebounded 36-20, but committed only six turnovers as it survived the blown goaltending call in the final seconds. Brandon Triche had 18 points in the win. Rebounding has been a concern all season, but it’s obvious that Syracuse is not nearly as dominant with Melo out of the lineup. Free throw shooting came and went (33% at Cincinnati, 76.5% against West Virginia) but mental toughness is one of its biggest strengths. As we head into the teeth of the season, Syracuse is more prepared to absorb and respond to every team’s best shot. This week: 2/4 @ St. John’s.
  2. Marquette (18-4, 7-2) – I’m not overly impressed every time I watch this team, but it makes the winning plays when needed most. The Golden Eagles won a pair of games last week to push their winning streak to six games. Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and Davante Gardner combined for 47 points in a home win over South Florida on Tuesday, equaling the total points scored by the Bulls. Marquette ventured to Villanova on Saturday and was involved in one of the more bizarre games I have seen all season across college basketball. The game lasted two and a half hours and didn’t even go to overtime. 45 fouls (three technical) were called and 57 free throws were attempted in a game that wasn’t the finest moment for the officiating crew of James Breeding, Tim Clougherty, and Pat Driscoll. Breeding in particular had a short fuse, whistling Buzz Williams for a technical when the coach simply slipped and fell down. Memo to Breeding: Get over yourself, he wasn’t showing you up. Johnson-Odom had 26 points, Crowder added 20 points and 11 boards for Marquette and Jamil Wilson added 12 points off the bench. Marquette rallied from an 18-point deficit and forced 20 Villanova turnovers to key the comeback. This is a good basketball team, but one that has a ceiling. I’m not sure the Golden Eagles have the scoring depth to make a big run in March. This week: 1/31 vs. Seton Hall, 2/4 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2012

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

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

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

This Clash Between Big 12 Powers Offers a Contrast in Strengths

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

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

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

Posted by EJacoby on January 19th, 2012

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

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

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

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

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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

 

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 9th, 2012

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

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

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

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

    Will This Be The Game That Alex Oriakhi Reasserts Himself?

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

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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (17-0, 4-0) – Marquette put a second-half scare into the Orange at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, but Syracuse made the winning plays down the stretch to hang on. Syracuse remains a juggernaut and an easy (by Big East standards) road schedule awaits. Syracuse already went to DePaul and Providence and has trips to Villanova, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers on the schedule. Quite frankly, that sequence is a joke for a team everyone knew would be at or near the top of the league. I realize this team has a target on its back every night, but the only true road tests for the Orange could be at Louisville and Connecticut in February. Syracuse shot 61% for the game at Providence on Wednesday, placing six players in double figures. No Syracuse player took over eight shots, a testament to this team’s depth and balance. Scoop Jardine had 11 assists and only one turnover in the victory. Against Marquette, Syracuse jumped out to a huge lead but let the Golden Eagles climb back in it. Dion Waiters was the spark off the bench yet again, totaling 12 points and seven assists. The Orange shot only 39% at home against MU, but escaped with the win. This week: 1/11 @ Villanova, 1/14 vs. Providence.
  2. Georgetown (13-2, 3-1) – Let the controversy begin. Truth be told, ten different people could very well come up with ten different ways to rank the top seven teams in the Big East. Despite losing at West Virginia and struggling for the balance of the game against Marquette, I’m moving the Hoyas up to the second spot. Why? It has more to do with the performances of Louisville, Connecticut and Marquette rather than Georgetown itself. After all, the Hoyas did beat a good team (Marquette) this week, something none of the aforementioned three teams can say. The Hoyas overcame a 17-point deficit against Marquette, led by Jason Clark‘s 26 points. That 26 could have been 30+ if Clark made his free throws (6-13 from the stripe). Hollis Thompson also added 16 points on 6-7 shooting as Georgetown shot a sizzling 63% against the Golden Eagle defense. Against West Virginia, Georgetown allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 50% but the Hoyas couldn’t convert from deep (2-14 3FG). Thompson led the way with 20 points, but it wasn’t enough on the road. Regardless of what the rankings may have said coming into the game, I’m not going to hammer the Hoyas for losing at West Virginia, an extremely difficult place to play. Believe it or not, I don’t think Georgetown is as good as its resume. That may sound confusing but I’m not sure Georgetown is as good as its record. However, the Hoyas may not lose again until early February if they play to their potential. A relatively soft stretch begins this week. This week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati, 1/15 @ St. John’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.14.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 14th, 2011

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

Cincinnati plays its first game since the Xavier brawl as Dead Week continues around the country. You should also keep an eye on the Iona/Richmond game at 3 PM but that one won’t be found on television.

Cincinnati at Wright State – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (**)

  • Cincinnati will only have six key contributors available when it heads to Wright State tonight. The Bearcats will be without Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj, Ge’Lawn Guyn, and Octavius Ellis due to their suspensions stemming from the fight with Xavier on Saturday. Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon will have to step up in a big way for Cincinnati in order to win this game on the road. Wright State is not a good team, but the Bearcats have only one player taller than 6’5” available tonigt. For a team that can’t afford to speed up the game, that’s not a good combination for Cincinnati. Kilpatrick, Dixon, and point guard Cashmere Wright all can score, but the other Bearcats are all unproven. With Gates and company out, Cincinnati is missing a combined 22.2 PPG and 14.6 RPG in this game.
  • Wright State’s biggest advantages in this game are home court and height. Cincinnati’s players may be rattled playing a road game after the suspensions while the Raiders have three players 6’7” or taller, including 6’10” A.J. Pacher. He’s been plagued by foul trouble all season but if he manages to stay on the court for any extended period of time, Pacher will cause problems for Cincinnati in the paint. Billy Donlon’s top scorer is point guard Julius Mays, who is averaging 10.2 PPG. Wright State doesn’t score a lot of points due to its brutal offense but Mays does hit on 39.4% of his treys. Ordinarily, Wright State wouldn’t have much of a chance to beat Cincinnati. Given the Bearcats’ personnel issues, the Raiders have a solid chance this time.

Mick Cronin Will Need To Find A Way To Win Without His Best Players Tonight

  • Expect this game to be played at an incredibly slow pace. Both teams struggle to put the ball in the basket so this has the makings of a close game played in the 40s or 50s. For Wright State to win, it must assert itself inside from the start, limit Kilpatrick, and force some turnovers. The Raiders rank #35 in defensive turnover percentage, certainly a respectable number. Should this game come down to the wire, Cincinnati is actually a better free throw shooting team without the suspended players on the court. Kilpatrick, Wright and Dixon all shoot over 70% from the stripe. With all of the uncertainty around Cincinnati, we’re not sure how this game will play out. If forced to pick, we would give the slightest of edges to the home squad.

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