20 Questions: Where Does Gonzaga Go After Last Season’s Highs and Lows?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 22nd, 2013

seasonpreview-11

Throughout the preseason, RTC national columnists will answer the 20 most compelling questions heading into the 2013-14 season. Previous columns in this year’s series are located here.  

At certain moments last season, Gonzaga looked like a team that could make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It had all the necessary pieces: a great backcourt (Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell), a talented frontcourt (Elias Harris, Sam Dower, and Kelly Olynyk), a gritty defensive specialist (Mike Hart), and enough role players, it seemed, to bang with the sort of deep and athletic teams that had occasionally overwhelmed Mark Few’s teams of years past. The Bulldogs also had an impressive stack of non-conference wins to stick on their resume, victories over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Davidson, Kansas State and Baylor (no, Baylor didn’t make the NCAAs, but that win sure looked good at the time!). It felt like this was the Gonzaga team that would, for the first time since Few replaced Dan Monson as head coach in 1999, roll on past the Sweet Sixteen. The 2012-13 Bulldogs, which had earned an NCAA #1 seed after obliterating the West Coast Conference competition – the Zags finished 16-0 in WCC play – seemed well-positioned to take the next step. Some believed Gonzaga had National Championship potential. Others were less optimistic. The consensus, though, was that this Gonzaga team was, for lack of a more descriptive word, good. Not just good like most of Few’s Gonzaga teams, but good enough to hang with the very best teams in the country.

One of the nation’s best backcourts is is led by Pangos, a two-time All-WCC honoree.

The subset of college hoops fans that believed Gonzaga was undeserving of its No. 1 seed were validated just two games into the NCAA Tournament when the Bulldogs fell to No. 9 seed and eventual Final Four participant Wichita State. In fact, charges that Gonzaga was overrated surfaced even before it lost to Wichita State; the Bulldogs’ narrow six-point win over Southern in the round of 64 was proof enough, for some, that Few’s team wasn’t a real national championship contender. Whenever you happened to jump off the bandwagon – if you jumped off it in the first place – there’s no denying that part of the reason Gonzaga lost to Wichita State had less to do with its own capabilities than it did an insanely well-timed shooting hot streak from the Shockers, who scored 23 points in nine possessions during a ridiculous second-half run. Maybe Gonzaga could have played better defense, and maybe a team like Louisville, whose swarming traps last season (0.83 points per possession) was some of the finest work on that end of the floor that any team has produced in the past decade, would have short-circuited the Shockers’ run. But when a team gets as hot as Wichita State did in that pivotal stretch, and three-point shots start dropping like free throws, you basically have no choice but to tip your cap and go home. In the moment, of course, the same old Gonzagian critiques flooded the national conversation: Just like I predicted! Gonzaga can’t play with the big boys! I knew it! Which, OK. Gonzaga was knocked out earlier than it should have been, but if we’re going to label last year’s Gonzaga team like the others that came before it – like the ones that stacked up easy regular season wins but weren’t prepared to handle the heat of the NCAA Tournament – can we at least acknowledge the circumstances surrounding the Bulldogs’ early NCAA Tournament exit? Is it really fair to paint Gonzaga with such broad strokes, if the team that bounced it from the NCAAs was, 1) a couple possessions away from beating eventual National Champion Louisville in the Final Four; and, 2) the beneficiary of a crazy run of long-range shooting? Introducing some nuance would be nice.

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Lost and Found Again: Unearthing Providence Guard Bryce Cotton

Posted by mlemaire on November 13th, 2012

On the heels of transfer announcements from Gerard Coleman and Bilal Dixon, the rumors started swirling at Providence in early April that yet another guard — then-sophomore Bryce Cotton — asked for his release and was set to leave the program. The thought was that with Vincent Council returning for his senior year and at least two superstar guard recruits entering the program, Cotton saw the writing on the wall and was headed for a place that offered more playing time.

The Friars Have A New Star Of The Show, But The Team Should Be Happy It Has Him At All

Friars’ fans did not take the news well  but the discussion was never about losing a starting guard, it was about losing “depth” and a solid player who could back up Council and uber-freshmen Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. Never mind that the then-sophomore was coming off a season in which he had averaged 38.6 minutes and 14.3 points per game, the message was already clear. Cotton was a nice player, but he wasn’t Council, or Dunn, or Ledo.

Fast forward to present day and you can bet that the Providence faithful is thanking its lucky stars that Cotton decided to stick around.   The backcourt logjam that was supposed to eat into Cotton’s minutes never materialized. In fact, the backcourt has gone from an area of strength to an area of weakness almost overnight. First Dunn had shoulder surgery, then Ledo was ruled ineligible, and then, early in the team’s season-opening win over the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Council injured his hamstring, leaving him sidelined for an undetermined amount of time.

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Big East Weekly Five: 06.14.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on June 14th, 2012

  1. It has been a while since we have checked in with some recent news from everybody’s favorite basketball conference that is slowly falling apart, and for that we apologize. We have real jobs (womp womp) and occasionally it can be difficult to find time to recap the week’s Big East news. That said, we recognize our recent shortcomings and will make amends starting now. Weekly Fives will come out on Tuesday morning, and barring some minor catastrophe, they will become a regular staple again. So rejoice, and enjoy some much belated news.
  2. Maybe Villanova isn’t going to lose center Markus Kennedy after all. The rising sophomore made the understandable announcement that he was transferring two weeks ago, presumably because there weren’t a lot of minutes to go around next season. Well now he appears to be reconsidering that decision, although it is still unknown whether coach Jay Wright would even take him back. Kennedy had an unremarkable freshman campaign, but did look like someone who could develop into a quality contributor down the road. The question now becomes whether he is good enough to continue to take up a scholarship Wright could give to a more talented recruit in the next year or two.
  3. The frontcourt that Rick Pitino has assembled at Louisville for next season will be very talented and very deep, but that didn’t stop the Cardinals from adding to the mix as they landed one of the last 2012 Top 100 recruits left unsigned in Montrezl Harrell. Harrell asked for his release from Virginia Tech when the Hokies fired Seth Greenberg, and now the undersized but rugged power forward — who also was recently named to the US Men’s U-18 national team — will be headed to the Bluegrass State. Considering the depth the Cardinals already boast in the paint, it will be tough for Harrell to crack the rotation and find consistent minutes as a freshman, and the addition also forces Louisville to play the always fun game of musical scholarships, but the late signing is still quite a coup.
  4. Like so many others who cover the conference, we were guilty of doubting Steve Lavin’s ability to recruit talent to St. John’s given the doubts about his long term future with the Red Storm. Well, consider us properly shamed, as not only has Lavin continued to make progress health-wise, but the program’s recruiting continues to flourish under the leadership of their charismatic coach. First, Lavin convinced Jakarr Sampson to recommit, and most recently, Top 100 big man Christopher Obekpa committed too, giving the Red Storm another talented class highlighted by big men. Given the well-publicized transfers, recruiting defeats, and early departures that marked the Red Storm’s season, this recruiting class is huge from a momentum standpoint. With Lavin’s health improving, he is set to return to the bench next season, and it looks like St. John’s has successfully avoided a catastrophe and continues to move in the right direction.
  5. Two Big East teams made news this week thanks to transfer decisions, although the teams made news for opposite reasons. First, former Providence combo guard Gerard Coleman is officially transferring to Gonzaga, where his ability to score and rebound will make a huge impact in Spokane once he sits out a year. It is never a good thing to lose a player of Coleman’s caliber, but the Friars’ backcourt is already so crowded, it at least gives coach Ed Cooley one less headache to worry about. The second transfer involves Huggy Bear and his West Virginia squad, who landed well-traveled forward Matt Humphrey. The 6-foot-5 forward has already made stops at Oregon and Boston College and will be eligible to play immediately because he earned his degree from BC last year. He will have one year of eligibility remaining and after an impact season in Chestnut Hill, Humphrey should give Huggins an experienced and multi-faceted swing player who can step out and knock down the three-pointer as well as defend multiple positions. At the very least it should help the Mountaineers recover from the loss of its Mr. Everything, Kevin Jones.
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Morning Five: 06.13.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 13th, 2012

  1. Last night the NBA Finals between Miami and OKC began in Oklahoma City, and aside from the fact that Thunder fans have the look and feel of college fans (that tends to happen when you’re the only professional franchise in a traditional college sports state), we found the former collegiate talent on the floor just as compelling. Many NBA fans are not college basketball fans and vice versa, but we’d encourage any of our college-only readers to spend some time this week and next getting a look at how well former collegiate stars such as Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, James Harden, and even Nick Collison have acquitted themselves as pros. This piece we published yesterday takes a look back at some of the accomplishments of these and several other players during their amateur days, with the general sentiment that folks like us will especially this year’s version of June Madness.
  2. While on the subject of basketball in the great state of Oklahoma, there’s more coming that way. Conference USA has decided to move its 2013 conference tournament to Tulsa in light of Memphis’ decision to join the Big East beginning in the 2013-14 season. Although we certainly understand the incentive of the league to punish Memphis for its disloyalty, it feels a bit like cutting off the nose here to spite the face. The last time the C-USA Tournament was held in Tulsa in 2010, the attendance numbers were somewhat disappointing and the Golden Hurricane had a solid squad that year. Whether new head coach Danny Manning will be able to fire up the locals enough to make this decision a success next March is an open question.
  3. It’s never too early to start thinking about next season, and Jeff Goodman is the type of guy who has already played out 2013 in his head before most of us see it on the horizon. In this post he outlines the 55 best non-conference games that are already on the schedule for next season. The top game on his list is a rematch of the first half of the 2012 Final Four, but we’re actually more interested in a certain Champions Classic game that involves a couple of schools that do not play each other regularly. In case you’re wondering — and we know you are — Kentucky vs. Indiana is still nowhere to be found on this list.
  4. Providence appears to be on the way up the standings of the Big East with a top recruiting class coming in for Ed Cooley next season, featuring Ricardo Ledo in the backcourt. For that reason, Friar guard Gerard Coleman began looking elsewhere despite averaging 13/5 last year as a sophomore, and he has decided to resurface 3,000 miles across the country at Gonzaga. Mark Few is getting an athletic scorer who tailed off considerably last year as the losses piled up in Providence, but one who will no doubt benefit from a year watching the game from the bench to better learn about good shot selection (42.4% FG; 23.8% 3FG).
  5. The men’s basketball NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is one of the most scrutinized bodies in all of American sports. Each year the group of dignitaries is shuttered away in an Indianapolis hotel and expected to produce a perfectly balanced and justified bracket to satisfy millions of college basketball fans around the country. The task is a herculean one, fraught with time-sensitive pressure and an overwhelming fear of mistakes. Now that the BCS has decided to move to a four-team playoff in college football, the topic of a similarly situated selection committee is on the table. But, as ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich writes, there is no consensus among college presidents and other NCAA insiders as to how the four lucky teams should be selected. The one thing we can rest assured of is this: future Selection Committee members should just go ahead and change their addresses, because there is an enormous difference between being the first school left out of a 68-team field and a four-team one.
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Providence: 2011-12 Post-Mortem

Posted by mlemaire on April 19th, 2012

Our apologies for plagiarizing borrowing the ideas of our colleagues over at the Pac-12 microsite, but we liked their post-mortem team breakdowns so much that we decided to replicate them with our conference. So over the course of the next two weeks, we will break down each team’s season, starting from the bottom of the conference standings. Next up is Providence.

What Went Wrong

If you were one of the few dreamers who thought Providence could make a run to the NCAA Tournament this season, then you probably thought a lot went wrong. But if you were realistic about new coach Ed Cooley‘s first season in charge of the Friars, then you probably weren’t too disappointed in the way the season went. Basically the Friars cruised through a relatively easy out-of-conference schedule before being exposed by the better teams in the Big East.

It didn’t help that Kadeem Batts was suspended for the first semester of the season and there were grumblings about discontent in the locker room which led to a number of key transfers. On the court, the defense was the primary issue as the team finished 212th in defensive efficiency and 13th in the conference in scoring defense. Offensively the team had plenty of weapons, but they didn’t shoot it very much from behind the three-point arc and they were much too inconsistent, especially against better defensive teams.

What Went Right

LaDontae Henton Was A Revelation For The Friars This Season (credit: Providence Journal)

Although perception and opinion can change quickly in college basketball, Cooley’s hiring brought a lot of energy and optimism for a program lacking both after the Keno Davis era. Snagging big man LaDontae Henton after arriving at Providence proved to be an excellent move as the freshman was a consistent double-double threat and should only get better next season. Point guard Vincent Council missed one game for undisclosed reasons but for most of the season he was one of if not the best point guard in the Big East, and the development of sophomore wings Bryce Cotton and Gerard Coleman should give the Friar faithful plenty to look forward to, especially considering how loaded the backcourt will be next season. Batts was only okay after his return from suspension, but he and rising sophomore Brice Kofane give the team some interior depth heading into next season as well.

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Big East Morning Five: 03.30.12 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 30th, 2012

  1. When it rains it pours for a Connecticut program that remains in flux, primarily due to the impending NCAA tournament ban faced by the Huskies next year due to a sub-standard Academic Progress Rate (APR) score.  Well, Jim Calhoun and company may be facing the death nail now that the Big East has ruled it will follow suit and keep Connecticut out of next year’s Big East Tournament should the NCAA ban hold up under appeal.  Big East spokesman John Paquette, while in New Orleans for the Final Four, said that Big East Presidents met on March 7 to discuss the matter and came to a “conceptual agreement”.  Prior that declaration the Big East had no official position on a team’s conference tournament status should it be banned from NCAA tournament play.  In fact, the new rule goes against past precedent as Syracuse was allowed to play in the 1993 Big East tournament despite not being allowed to plan in the NCAA Tournament.  There is no official time table with regard to a ruling on Connecticut’s APR ban appeal, but it could come as late as July because of the NCAA Committee on Academic Performance’s (CAP) meeting schedule.
  2. We noted here yesterday that CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman tweeted that three Providence players: sophomores Gerard Coleman and Ron Giplaye along with red shirt junior Bilal Dixon were looking to transfer, noting that Giplaye and Dixon were “definitely” gone, while Coleman “could” be.  In response to Goodman’s claim, a post out of Providence quoted head coach Ed Cooley as saying, “the report out there is not true as far as I’m concerned.”  Cooley did confirm that Dixon, who is in his fourth year and graduating, will not be with the Friars next year.  As for Coleman and Giplaye, Cooley said he met with each of his players on Tuesday and there was no mention from Coleman, Giplaye or anyone else about transferring.  Despite Cooley’s comments, rumors remain strong that both players will, in fact, be leaving.  Not all of this is new information. Dixon’s status was leaked about midway through the season and it was sealed when Providence conducted senior night festivities in his honor at their last home game.  After the game Dixon addressed the crowd, saying that he will miss Providence.  As part of that mid-season buzz, both Dixon and Giplaye were said to be transferring to Towson where former Providence assistant, Pat Skerry, is the head coach. Wagner has also been mentioned as a destination for Dixon, who is a New Jersey native.
  3. There were no reported fights between Louisville and Kentucky fans yesterday in dialysis centers, beauty parlors, hardware stores  or any of the usual venues of conflict so we are going to stretch this Providence transfer story into a buy none, get two free special this morning.  As noted in the GoLocalProv.com report referenced and linked above, Gerard Coleman and Ron Giplaye were teammates with AAU powerhouse BABC.  BABC, of course was also the home of some guy named Nerlens Noel who you may have heard of.  Noel was recently the subject of a controversial New York Times piece that, in part, focused on his relationship with Chris Driscoll.  Driscoll was a Providence assistant under former head coach Keno Davis who rose to that level more than in part due to his involvement and connections with BABC.  Driscoll, who is believed to still have an advisory relationship with Noel, was depicted in the article as using less than honorable tactics to secure players and climb the ladder.  It is not known if Driscoll continues to have a relationship with Giplaye or Coleman but the GoLocalProv.com piece speculated that he could be the source.  Interestingly, should Giplaye and Coleman transfer that would run the total to three BABC alums looking to leave Big East schools, as they would join former Connecticut big man Alex Oriakhi in looking for new homes.
  4. It appears Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will have to put his Hall of Fame dream on hold for at least another year.  Pitino was a finalist for induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame but, according to an ESPN.com report, was informed yesterday that he was not selected.  Pitino, who was reportedly and understandably disappointed about the news, is preparing for his sixth Final Four with a record three different schools (Providence and Kentucky were the others). While we are sure Pitino would have loved to get the nod this year, it is just a matter of time before he gains induction.
  5. We have kept you posted on the recruitment of Chris Obekpa, a 6’9” center in the class of 2012 that is highly coveted among Big East schools. Oregon has emerged as a late contender in the sweepstakes and Obekpa will take an official visit to Eugene before making his decision.  Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, and St. John’s appear to be the finalists along with Oregon, but other schools remain in the mix.   Obekpa has officially visited Cincinnati, DePaul and St. John’s, while paying unofficials to Connecticut and Providence on the same day.  His teammate at New York’s Our Savior New American (OSNA), Felix Balamou, recently gave a verbal commitment to Steve Lavin and St. John’s which prompted talk of a package deal but OSNA assistant coach Eric Jaklitsch remains steadfast that Obekpa and Balamou’s decisions are mutually exclusive of one another. Obekpa will be playing in the All-American Championship, an all-star showcase event, on Sunday in New Orleans.
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Big East Evening Five: 03.28.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 28th, 2012

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 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

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 3rd, 2012

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

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 12th, 2011

When Providence hired Keno Davis as head coach in April 2008 its president, Reverend Brian Shanley, called him a “Godsend.” As they say, God works in mysterious ways. While mysterious is not the word most Friar fans would use to describe Davis’ tenure, that is just what happened. Shanley turned out to be right. Just not quite as intended. Davis was a Godsend because his hire and tenure represented the mistake Shanley, along with Athletic Director Bob Driscoll and the other decision makers at Providence College, learned from. It was a painful and public lesson, but one that led to Ed Cooley.

The Friars, albeit against a soft non-conference schedule,  at 9-2 are off to an encouraging start under Cooley. Providence was predicted to finish near the bottom of the Big East, and while wins and losses always matter, the overall record may not carry its customary weight this season. It is about progress. Player development is important but the cultivation of young men is paramount. It is about discipline. It is about defense. It is about bringing relevance and respect back to Providence College basketball and Ed Cooley is the face of the resurrection. Cooley’s compelling story will be recounted during virtually every Providence broadcast this season.  He grew up in a tough section of Providence, seemingly raised by the neighborhood. As an All-State performer for Central High School, he won a state championship in the building where the Friars still play their home games. He was a Friar fan, aspired to wear the black and white as a player, and calls the Providence head coaching position his “dream job.”

Cooley Has the Friars Headed in the Right Direction (Credit: Friarblog.com)

Although he may not have known the full extent of it, Cooley knew he was inheriting a program in shambles. In his first season, Keno Davis took a veteran team comprised of Tim Welsh recruits to an expectation-meeting 19-14 campaign that included a win over #1 Pittsburgh and was capped off by a loss to Miami in the first round of the NIT. It was the next two years that exposed Davis’ shortcomings as a coach, and more importantly. as a leader. On the court the Friars put up back-to-back 4-14 Big East records and became a defensive laughingstock, giving up 75.3 and 82.2 points per game over the last two years. They put up similarly swollen numbers on offense (75.8 and 82.4 PPG) but there often appeared to be no structure or flow on offense other than to get shots up early and often.

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Big East Morning Five: 12.06.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on December 6th, 2011

  1. This week’s Big East accolades are out and Georgetown forward Hollis Thompson has earned Player of the Week Honors after averaging 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in a 3-0 week for the Hoyas.  Thompson’s week was highlighted by his game-winning three to give his team a win over then #12 Alabama in the Big East/SEC Challenge.  Providence freshman forward LaDontae Henton took home Rookie of the Week honors, scoring 17.5 points and grabbing 8.5 rebounds per game in two Friar victories.  Henton backed the honor up on Monday with a career high 19 points versus Brown.  Other Honor Roll recipients include Henton’s teammate, sophomore guard Gerard Coleman, Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs, West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Seton Hall’s Herb Pope.
  2. The latest installment of Top 25 rankings are out and the Big East welcomed a new guest to the party as Georgetown (7-1), fresh off a 3-0 week including the above mentioned road victory over Alabama (the Hoyas’ second victory over a ranked foe this year (Memphis)), debuts at #18.  On the strength of a good effort in the Big East/SEC Challenge, all of the conference’s previously ranked squads not only remained so, but four of five moved up.  Connecticut (7-1), despite not losing, slid a spot to #9 and looks forward to an intriguing matchup with #24 Harvard on Thursday.  Syracuse (8-0) hopped up a spot to #3 after taking down #12 Florida and faces a test tonight against 5-1 Marshall.   Louisville (7-0) continued its steady climb, again moving up one position to #5 after beating Vanderbilt and knocking the Commodores out of the rankings. Marquette (7-0) shot up five notches to #11, beating Wisconsin and sending them back seven spots to #14.  Lastly, Pittsburgh elevated two steps to #15 with wins over Duquesne and Tennessee.  No other Big East team received votes in this week’s Associated Press poll.
  3. Providence freshman point guard Kiwi Gardner has been ruled academically ineligible to play this season due to an issue with a core course taken at Westwind Prep (AZ), where Gardner studied last year.  Gardner had been ruled ineligible prior to the start of the season but Providence appealed the matter with the NCAA and had been optimistic about a positive outcome.  The news was announced by Providence head coach Ed Cooley in his postgame press conference following the Friars’ 80-49 victory over Brown on Monday night, adding, “my heart goes out to him.”  Gardner was recruited by Cooley and his staff last year while at Fairfield, as well as by former Providence head coach Keno Davis. Shortly after the news broke, Gardner indicated via Twitter that he would remain at Providence despite not being able to suit up this season.  The Friars have been playing with just eight scholarship players, as sophomore forward Kadeem Batts has also been serving a suspension for a violation of team rules.  As noted here yesterday, it was reported over the weekend that Batts will return for Providence’s December 20 game versus New Hampshire.
  4. Villanova will be without 6’11” junior Maurice Sutton for a month with a dislocated thumb.  Sutton, who injured the thumb in practice,  did not play in Saturday’s win over Penn but appeared in all six of Villanova’s previous games, averaging 9.2 minutes, 1.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per contest for the 5-2 Wildcats.  Head coach Jay Wright commented on the injury, “our staff and team is disappointed for Mo. He’s been making a contribution to our team on a daily basis and we’ll miss his presence, especially defensively. But the positive in this is that Mo can still maintain his conditioning while the thumb heals and we look forward to getting him back out there, possibly in time to start the Big East season.”  Sutton can only observe as his team takes on #10 Missouri tonight as part of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
  5. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated came out with his annual column highlighting sophomores to watch, and there was a significant Big East presence.  The premise of Davis’ analysis is to highlight sophomore breakout candidates. Davis provides sound analysis in that the freshman year often involves a maturation process where prep stars are learning to adjust to many differences both on and off the court.  Not to mention the fact that many rookies simply do not play much as freshmen while they wait their turn, and inevitably see an increase in production based on a more significant role in year two.  The headliner of the list was Syracuse’s 7’0” center Fab Melo.  Melo was the target of significant orange-tinted venom a year ago, which Davis argues was unjustified, as the much-hyped big guy struggled both on the floor in limited duty (2.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.8 BPG, 9.9 MPG) and with his weight.  Melo came in this year much lighter and seemingly more focused, and this has paid dividends for the as-yet-unbeaten Orange.  His playing time has increased (22 MPG) as has his productivity (6.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.4 BPG). Other Big East’ers on the list include:

Marquette guard Vander Blue, who struggled with his shot last year but has put up solid numbers there so far this year (51.2% FG, 37.5% 3FG) for the surging Golden Eagles.

Villanova guard James Bell, who clearly is one of those guys who had to wait his turn.  His playing time has tripled to 27 minutes per game, and although a bit inconsistent at times, he has responded with 9.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game overall.

Connecticut forward Tyler Olander has earned minutes in the face of some pretty stiff competition.  As Davis notes, Olander came back stronger this year and perhaps has benefited some from the inconsistency and grousing of Alex Oriakhi.

Finally, Georgetown guard Markel Starks, who took a year to develop behind the now departed Chris Wright and is averaging 8.7 points in 25.1 minutes per game.

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