Big East M5: 01.25.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 25th, 2013

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  1. In the words of the immortal Roseanne Roseannadanna, “it’s always something” with Syracuse basketball. This year’s something — or second something on the heels of Michael Carter-Williams Lord & Taylor mishap — is the current academic ineligibility of James Southerland. Details and rumors have been leaking out around the Internet, as they are wont to do in circumstances like this, and new information from Jim Boeheim seems to give credence to one of them“He’s a senior, he has worked hard to be in school, to stay in school – he has worked hard on and off the court. He had a great semester last fall academically. I am hoping that through the process you have to go through that he will be able to come back.” There has been speculation that Southerland’s issues may stem from a fraudulent term paper which is being investigated by the NCAA. While there is always the chance that the NCAA discovers that the NCAA wrote Southerland’s paper and that the NCAA will now impose sanctions on the NCAA, most Syracuse fans aren’t too optimistic about the situation.
  2. Louisville‘s been in this spot before. After running through a huge chunk of its schedule with one blemish against their record, the Cardinals have dropped two straight, the latter being a heart-breaker at the hands of Villanova in Philadelphia. The 2010-11 Cardinals lost to a much stronger Villanova team at the time, but the feelings are the same as they were a few seasons ago – something must change. That team found its leadership in Preston Knowles, who rallied the team following the loss to ‘Nova and led them to the NCAA Tournament. This squad does not have a Knowles to lean on, but it does have a number of experienced veterans who have plenty of wins under their belt. If any team is equipped to handle a down spell, it is probably Louisville. I don’t think this year’s squad will be falling to any #13 seeds in March either.
  3. Many have complained about the Big East scheduling this season and it is justified criticism, but UConn and Shabazz Napier are currently the benefactor of some serious time off. Napier had been playing with an injured shoulder and was not able to provide what UConn needs from its star, and as a result the Huskies dropped two games. After a week of rest, UConn takes on Rutgers at the XL Center Sunday, and Napier should be in much better shape than he has been over the last few weeks.
  4. Speaking of Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights are in a bit of a quandary when it comes to Eli Carter. He is one of the team’s only reliable scorers and the offense suffers without him on the floor, but Carter has gone absolutely ice cold and shot the Knights out of the game on multiple occasions this season. Scorers will go through droughts, and staying aggressive is one way to get through them, but having multiple one-field goal games is unacceptable. The Star-Ledger‘s Brendon Prunty believes that Carter should come off the bench as a spark plug for Rutgers if he cannot be the consistent scorer in the starting lineup that he was expected to be.
  5. Despite recent success, Cincinnati is a long way from selling out Fifth Third Arena on a regular basis, but an increase in student turnout has helped create a spike in attendance from last season. Cincy moved from an assigned seat to a general admission student model that many schools use, set up a loyalty rewards program, and has implemented some creative marketing to help drive student turnout. However, the biggest factor is the team’s success, according to athletic director Whit Babcock: “We’re not satisfied until every game is sold out, but I like the steps that we’ve taken. Mick and the team should get the bulk of the credit.”
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RTC Summer Updates: Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on July 11th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.

Readers’ Take

Summer Storylines

  • Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.

Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)

  • The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
  • Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
  • Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.

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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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2011-12 RTC (Way Too Early) Top 25

Posted by KDoyle on April 5th, 2011

The 2010-11 season just concluded — we are just as sad as you guys are — but rather than get all nostalgic, teary-eyed, and lament the next  seven months without college basketball, let’s look towards the future. That’s right, folks, hot off the presses: the first 2011-12 Top 25. Our assumptions on who is staying/leaving are within the team breakdowns.

  1. North Carolina—The Heels have a whole lot coming back and lose next to nothing. Harrison Barnes looked like the stud he was advertised in the preseason as he developed into Carolina’s top player down the stretch, and Kendall Marshall flourished at the point guard position once he was given the keys to the car. It sure doesn’t hurt that a couple McDonald’s All-Americans will be joining the program next year, either. Look for Roy Williams to be significantly happier next season than he was for much of this season.

    Roy Williams should be in a good mood next season

  2. SyracuseJim Boeheim’s squad returns virtually all the pieces to the puzzle — a puzzle that certainly went unfinished this year — and the Orange look like they may be the top dog in the Big East next season. Scoop Jardine has the ability to be one of the top guards in the BE and Kris Joseph is a very explosive scorer, who should continue to develop in the offseason. The development of Fab Melo is an absolute must in the offseason, though, if this team wants to reach its potential.
  3. Kentucky—With the instability of the NBA next year, the Wildcats may be fortunate enough to hang onto their young stars for at least another season. Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones are all NBA talents and all three of them could enter the NBA Draft, but if even one of them returns, this team will be very dangerous, particularly with the class that John Calipari is bringing in, which might be one of the best assembled in the past ten years. If two of those three return to play with that class, this team immediately becomes the favorite to cut down the nets next April.
  4. Ohio State—Will he stay or will he go? Obviously, we are referring to Jared Sullinger’s decision to remain a Buckeye for another year. While graduation will claim Jon Diebler and David Lighty, there is still ample talent returning to help the Buckeyes take care of some unfinished business. William Buford could be the X-factor that determines just how good the Buckeyes will be.
  5. Louisville—The coaching prowess of Rick Pitino and his most important assistant Ralph Willard was a thing of beauty this year. Not much was expected out of the Cardinals, but the ‘Ville had an exceptional season up until their Tournament collapse to Morehead State. Loftier goals will be set for Louisville next year with Preston Knowles the only player departing. The Cardinals might not have quite as publicized a recruiting class as their in-state rivals, but still have one of the top incoming classes in America. Read the rest of this entry »
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Morehead State Pulls Off The First Upset Of The Tournament

Posted by nvr1983 on March 17th, 2011

When the Louisville-Morehead State match-up was announced it was panned online as more of an inside joke about Rick Pitino‘s extracurricular activities by the Selection Committee. Instead it provided us with our first upset of the NCAA Tournament. Led by Terrence Hill‘s 23 points and 8 rebounds and Kenneth Faried‘s 12 points and 17 rebounds the Eagles knocked off the Cardinals 62-61. The Eagles made a statement early jumping out to a 15-2 lead in the first 8 minutes before the Cardinals clawed their way back into the game taking the lead briefly before Hill ended the half with a 3 to tie it at 33 heading into the intermission.

The Cardinals, who got minimal contributions from Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles, appeared to take command in the second half opening up an 8-point lead before Morehead State made a run of its own to grab the lead. After that the teams traded mini-runs before Morehead State called timeout as they were down 61-59 with 24 seconds left. The Eagles set up an isolation play for Demonte Harper who made the first “ONIONS!!!” shot of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

On the following play Louisville rushed down the court and Mike Marra appeared to have a chance at a good look at a game-winning 3, but Faried blocked his shot on what appeared to be a lot of contact. We are sure that there will be plenty of discussion in Louisville about whether or not it was a foul, but it appeared to us on the replay that Marra initiated the contact by jumping into Faried.

Faried and the Eagles await the winner of Vanderbilt-Richmond

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Set Your Tivo: 03.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

When we’re this late into Championship Week, every game is dynamite and a must-see event. There are too many games to preview in their entirety so here are a handful you absolutely have to watch today. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

ACC Semifinals (at Greensboro, NC): #5 Duke vs. Virginia Tech – 3:30 pm on ESPN (****)

With the status of Nolan Smith uncertain after suffering a toe injury yesterday (bad toes have killed the Blue Devils this year, right?), Virginia Tech can lock up a bid for certain with another win over Duke this afternoon. After a scintillating conclusion to their game against Florida State, one tenth of a second may be enough to vault this Hokies team into the Big Dance regardless of what happens today. If Smith can’t go, Kyle Singler and Seth Curry become Duke’s go-to players. Singler played like the guy we saw last year against Maryland yesterday, posting 29/9 on 10-15 FG, while Curry did a nice job filling in at the point after Smith left. Virginia Tech slowed the pace down in their win over Duke last month but more importantly committed only five turnovers in that game. The Hokies also held the Blue Devils to 20% shooting from three and owned the paint with Jeff Allen and Victor Davila combining for 29/25 in the win. To beat Duke for the second time, Seth Greenberg needs a similar game plan. If Duke can get out in transition, Virginia Tech’s limited depth will become a major concern, as will their propensity to turn the ball over. The Hokies are at their best playing in the half court where they work the ball inside to Allen and crash the glass, not when Malcolm Delaney is jacking up ill-advised deep shots leading to long rebounds and fast break points for the opponent. If Smith can’t go and Curry doesn’t make his teammates better, look for Virginia Tech to use a lot of zone (they might anyway) to force Duke into deep jumpers, especially Singler. He shot the ball poorly in the first meeting and was a big part of why Duke lost that game. A game like he had against Maryland will lead Duke to a win but Virginia Tech knows what is at stake and can definitely win this game if they stick to the blueprint we just outlined.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.11.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 11th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

One auto bid and a host of major conference games are on tap today, two days out from Selection Sunday. The afternoon session features plenty of bubble teams making their closing arguments to the Selection Committee. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

SEC Quarterfinals (at Atlanta, GA): Georgia vs. Alabama – 1 pm on ESPN FullCourt (***)

We’ve heard all kinds of things about this game from an elimination game to a play-in game. Whatever it may be, one team will be looking better than the other by the time it’s over. Alabama beat Georgia in the regular season finale six days ago and now they meet again in another game with major NCAA implications. RTC’s resident bracketologist had Georgia in and Alabama the first team on the “out” list as of last night while Joe Lunardi over at ESPN has the Bulldogs as the last team in the field and the Crimson Tide in the same position as RTC. This game will be played almost exclusively in the paint as neither team shoots it well from deep. Both teams rank in the top 20 in interior defense but Georgia has to avoid turnovers to win. Alabama thrives on giveaways despite their slower tempo, ranked #28 in defensive turnover percentage. Georgia committed 16 turnovers in the loss to the Tide last week and lost the game despite out-shooting Alabama from the floor. Senario Hillman leads Alabama in steals and will look to harass the Georgia guards all game long. The battle in the paint between Trey Thompkins and JaMychal Green could determine the outcome of the game if the Bulldogs don’t turn it over often.

Big Ten Quarterfinals (at Indianapolis, IN): Michigan vs. Illinois – 2:30 pm on ESPN (***)

Illinois is generally considered to be in the field of 68 but Michigan could really use a win. The Wolverines are likely in as of now but a loss here and other results around the country could make it a very close call on Sunday. The Illini won the only meeting of the regular season, a two point win in Champaign on February 16. Michigan protects the ball very well but rebounding and defense did them in against Illinois in that game. John Beilein would love to play this game in the half court where his team can probe and dissect the Illinois defense, although the Illini rank tenth in three point defense and Michigan fires up almost 23 triples per game. With two dynamic playmakers in Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr, Michigan can break a team down off the dribble of spot up for a three. This is a game they definitely can win but a better effort on the glass is needed. Michigan ranks near the bottom of D1 in offensive rebounding percentage (that will happen when you shoot so many threes) and was out-rebounded in the loss to Illinois last month.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.10.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

The power conferences take center stage on Thursday with quarterfinal matchups from New York to Kansas City to Los Angeles on the schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #3 Pittsburgh vs. #18 Connecticut – 12 pm on ESPN (****)

Dixon Will Have To Knock Off a Hot UConn Squad To Avoid Last Year's Fate

The double-bye was not kind to Pittsburgh last year, as they fell victim to Notre Dame on Thursday of last season’s conference tournament. They’ll look to avoid a similar fate today against a hot Connecticut team coming off two convincing wins in the first two rounds. These teams played way back on December 27 in the first Big East game of the year, a contest won by Pittsburgh, 78-63.

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Around The Blogosphere: March 2, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on March 2nd, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Top 25 Games

  • #1 Ohio State 82, Penn State 61: “Jon Diebler might have missed his first and last triple tries but he connected on 10 straight in between, pouring in a career high 30 points as the Buckeyes clinched at least a share of the B1G regular season conference title by routing Penn State 82-61 tonight in Happy Valley.” (Eleven Warriors)
  • #6 Purdue 76, Illinois 67: “The game almost felt secondary tonight, as the Boiler faithful sent off 33 and 25 with many resounding Mackey cheers, as thanks for four years of dedication and hard work. Once again, the place was clearly deafening even through the TV broadcast. Let’s say that first, everyone: great work again, especially the Paint Crew who always brings it. As is always a concern on a night like this, the home team fell behind. However, it wasn’t really that Purdue was playing poorly — Illinois was just shooting the lights out and playing like the team we all thought they were capable of bring this season. Of course, that only lasted about ten minutes and then they reverted to the Illinois who resides on the bubble.” (Boiled Sports)
  • #16 Florida 78, Alabama 51: “With their 78-51 victory over Alabama Tuesday night, the Gators clinched a share of their first SEC championship since 2007. The Gators (23-6, 11-3) were led by Chandler Parsons’ 19 points and 11 rebounds, as the Gators dominated the second-half following an even first half. The Gators used several second half runs to put distance between them and the SEC West champions.” (Alligator Army)
  • #22 Kentucky 68, #19 Vanderbilt 66: “What a game. I have not been more nervous at any time this year. The Kentucky Wildcats and the Vanderbilt Commodores battled to the wire in Rupp Arena in a wild affair that went down to the last tick of the last second before Kentucky could claim their 15th and final home game for a perfect season in Rupp Arena. But it was by no means a perfect game.” (A Sea of Blue or Anchor of Gold)
  • Nebraska 69, #21 Missouri 58: “This was the second game this season in which I was truly and completely disappointed.  The other — Oklahoma State — could be blamed, at least a bit, on ridiculous travel trouble (anytime it takes you two days to get where you’re going, you probably aren’t going to be amazingly sharp).  Missouri is 30 games through the season now, and the fact that they were able to play their worst game of the season now is, in and of itself, cause for alarm.  In each of the past three seasons, they haven’t played their best in the final week before the conference tournament, but to me, at least, this was possibly a new level.  (Then again, I probably didn’t enjoy the 25-point whipping Kansas laid on Missouri two years ago either. That ended up alright.)” (Rock M Nation)

Other Games of Interest

  • Boston College 76, Virginia Tech 61: After a huge win over Duke that led some to predict that the Hokies were definitely a NCAA Tournament team they came out flat on Senior Night against the Eagles. (Tech Hoops)

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

A Look Back

Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: For the second consecutive week, Hardy is winning our Big East player of the week award. It’s well deserved; the senior guard is making an impressive push for the Big East player of the year. He had 28 points, six boards, and five steals in a win at Marquette, and followed that up with 19 points, including the game winning basket, in St. John’s Saturday upset of Pitt. On the season, Hardy is averaging 17.2 PPG, but over his last seven games — in which the Johnnies have gone 6-1 and thrust themselves right back into the race for a top four seed in the Big East tournament — Hardy has averaged 24.4 PPG.

Team of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers: The Mountaineers probably weren’t in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but they took a major step toward locking up a bid on Saturday with their win over Notre Dame. West Virginia is a tough team to peg right now, as their best players tend to be fairly inconsistent. You never know which Casey Mitchell or which Truck Bryant is going to show up, and Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed into the star that most thought he would turn into this year. Joe Mazzulla has never been a serious offensive threat. John Flowers gets himself into too much foul trouble. When they are playing well, this is a team that has the potential to make a run in March. They also are a team with the potential to get knocked off in the first round of both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (24-3, 12-2) (1)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida 67-55, 2/19 @ St. John’s 59-60
This Week: 2/24 vs. West Virginia, 2/27 @ Louisville

Pitt may have been dropped in the national rankings this week, but that doesn’t mean that barring a collapse, the Panthers won’t be in line for a one-seed come Selection Sunday. The question right now is whether or not this team is built for March. The answer is … maybe? This isn’t a team loaded with future lottery picks. They don’t have a superstar. They don’t have the same kind of ceiling as one of the other potential one-seeds. Pitt cannot power their way through any tournament draw based on talent alone. That said, this season there aren’t many teams that match up that well with them. Maybe someone like a San Diego State or a Wisconsin. Keep an eye on the game against Louisville. The Panthers struggle against pressure at times. Louisville loves to press.

2. Notre Dame (21-5, 10-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia 58-72
This Week: 2/23 @ Providence, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall

All five of Notre Dame’s losses have come on the road, and all five of them have been by double digits. They did beat Pitt on the road, but that is as much a fluke as anything, as Mike Brey has discovered the secret to beating the Panthers with the ‘Burn Offense’ (hence the Wisconsin mention above). I like this team. I like their offensive versatility. I love Ben Hansbrough. But their inability to perform on the road puts a major question mark on how well they are going to be able to do in the NCAA Tournament.

3. Georgetown (21-6, 10-5) (3)
Last Week: 2/16 @ UConn 70-78, 2/19 @ USF 61-55
This Week: 2/23 vs. Cincinnati, 2/26 vs. Syracuse

Winning on the road in Big East play is not an easy thing to do, which is why a close loss to UConn and a closer-than-expected win at South Florida shouldn’t be too disconcerting for Hoya fans. That said, with the spring swoons that John Thompson III‘s teams have been known to take, seeing this team struggle can only bring up bad memories. One thing that can be comforting for Hoya fans — this team is a lot deeper and more balanced than people think.

4. St. John’s (17-9, 9-5) (8)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Marquette 80-68, 2/19 vs. Pitt 60-59
This Week: 2/23 vs. DePaul, 2/26 @ Villanova

A short addendum to what I wrote above on Dwight Hardy — I am not completely sold on St. John’s yet. They are terrific in front of their home crowd, but I want to see a marquee win on the road. They can do that on Saturday at Villanova.

5. Louisville (20-7, 9-5) (5)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati 54-63, 2/18 vs. UConn 71-58
This Week: 2/22 @ Rutgers, 2/27 vs. Pitt

Louisville seems to have a different guy step up every game. Last week, it was Kyle Kuric and Terrence Jennings. Before that, it was Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles. This week? How about Gorgui Dieng. The Senegalese freshman that has been banged up all season long had 13 points and 12 boards (six offensive) in the Cardinals’ win over UConn.

6. Syracuse (23-6, 10-6) (6)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers 84-80 OT, 2/21 vs. Villanova 69-64
This Week: 2/26 @ Georgetown

Syracuse’s biggest issue right now is that they just don’t seem to be that intelligent of a team. They allow far too may open threes on the defensive end of the floor, take a lot of quick shots on the offensive end, and give away too any silly turnovers that lead to layups. The defensive issue is a team issue — communicating and locating shooters in a zone is not necessarily a singular responsibility. Offensively, Scoop Jardine is a honorable mention or third team all-Big East player that thinks he is a first team All-American while Kris Joseph has the talent to be an All-American but plays like he is a role player.

7. Connecticut (20-6, 9-6) (7)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown 78-70, 2/18 @ Louisville 58-71
This Week: 2/24 vs. Marquette, 2/27 @ Cincinnati

Kemba Walker was terrific against Georgetown, playing his best game in over a month and reigniting talk of him being the national player of the year. He was horrible against Louisville, reminding us why he has been surpassed in the national consensus. How about this stat — outside of Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (who has been sensational the last two weeks), UConn was 6-30 from the floor for 29 points against Louisville. That includes Kemba.

8. Villanova (21-6, 9-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall 60-57, 2/19 vs. DePaul 77-75 OT, 2/21 vs. Syracuse 64-69
This Week: 2/26 vs. St. John’s, 2/28 @ Notre Dame

The good news for the Wildcats is that they got Corey Stokes back from the turf toe injury that had kept him out for three games. The bad news is that they looked just as lost offensively with him as they did without him. Against Syracuse, Villanova just had so much trouble executing, especially down the stretch. It didn’t help matters that Maalik Wayns was out with back spasms, but when Villanova is at full strength, he doesn’t start anymore. Jay Wright has some serious kinks he needs to work out with this team.

9. West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) (10)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame 72-58
This Week: 2/24 @ Pitt, 2/27 @ Rutgers

See the “Team of the Week” mention above.

10. Marquette (16-11, 7-7) (9)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s 68-80, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall 73-64
This Week: 2/24 @ UConn, 2/27 vs. Providence

The February 24 game at UConn is the most important game of Marquette’s season. A road win against a top 25 team would be huge for their NCAA Tournament profile, which is as bubbly as it gets this season.

11. Cincinnati (21-6, 8-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville 63-54, 2/19 @ Providence 93-81 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ Georgetown, 2/27 vs. UConn

Cincinnati’s last four games come against Georgetown (twice), Marquette, and UConn. The win over Louisville was very important for their tournament hopes, but if they are going to be dancing, they are going to have to play their way into the tournament. Given how week the Bearcats’ non-conference resume is, I would strongly suggest winning at least two of those games.

12. Rutgers (14-13, 4-10) (13)
Last Week: 2/19 @ Syracuse 80-84 OT
This Week: 2/22 vs. Louisville, 2/27 vs. West Virginia

The Scarlet Knights are not a team you want to play right now if you are a Big East team fighting for one of those top four spots in the Big East Tournament. They are scrappy, they play hard, they are brimming with confidence, and they are just talented enough to spring some upsets. I love this group.

13. Seton Hall (11-16, 5-10) (12)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova 67-70, 2/19 @ Marquette 64-73
This Week: 2/26 @ Notre Dame

Seton Hall just doesn’t have the horses to close out close games. It’s a shame. On paper, it looks like they do.

14. Providence (14-13, 3-11) (14)
Last Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul 76-79, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati 81-93 OT
This Week: 2/23 vs. Notre Dame, 2/27 @ Marquette

Providence looked like they had given up on the season after losing to DePaul and getting down by 16 to Cincy at home. Then they forced overtime in that game. Its a shame that Marshon Brooks can’t play on a better team.

15. South Florida (8-20, 2-13) (15)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Pitt 55-67, 2/19 vs. Georgetown 55-61
This Week: 2/26 @ DePaul

The Stan Heath‘s credit, he at least has this group competing. Jawanza Poland is going to be a serious player down the road.

16. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) (16)
Last Week: 2/17 @ Providence 79-76, 2/19 vs. Villanova 75-77 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ St. John’s, 2/26 vs. South Florida

Kudos must be given to the Blue Demons. Oliver Purnell has these kids playing hard despite having absolutely nothing but pride to play for. They also snapped a 24-game losing streak in Big East play.

A Look Ahead

There are a lot of very important games in the Big East this week. Marquette has a huge one at UConn. Cincy heads to Georgetown and then hosts UConn. Pitt plays Louisville and West Virginia. Syracuse heads to Georgetown in the league’s best rivalry. There is a lot to look forward to for the east coasters.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.09.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 9th, 2011

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

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Rivalry week kicks into high gear tonight with a clash of Big East titans and the greatest rivalry of them all on Tobacco Road. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#13 Georgetown @ #12 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

JT3 Has the Hoyas Back On Track and Peaking At the Right Time

Syracuse has stabilized itself after losing four straight but will run into a streaking Georgetown club tonight at the Carrier Dome. The Hoyas have won six straight games and look to be back in the thick of things with a chance for a double-bye at the Big East Tournament. Syracuse leads this classic Big East rivalry 46-38 and will have to keep up their defensive effort if they want to win for the 47th time against the Hoyas.

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