20 Questions: How Will Syracuse Handle Depth at the Point Guard Position?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 15th, 2013

As usual, there will be no shortage of talent at Syracuse this season, but that’s not to say Jim Boeheim won’t be facing challenges with his newest collection of talent. A dearth of capable ball-handlers looms as the biggest hole in this Orange roster, meaning freshman Tyler Ennis better be ready to handle point guard duties from the get-go.  Still, even if Ennis is prepared to carry the load – and his prep resume would indicate that he is – the absence of a natural backup to the freshman is both puzzling and potentially problematic. One would think that finding a backup in the mold of a Spike Albrecht – a role player capable of playing five to 10 minutes a game at the point (dazzling title game shooting displays, optional) — wouldn’t be especially difficult for a program with as much reach as the Orange, and yet here we are in mid-October, with Duke transfer and natural wing Michael Gbinije resting second on the point guard depth chart. Mike Waters – a man quite familiar with the happenings around the Syracuse program – posited a few theories for why Boeheim is okay with that situation last week, but I’m not quite as eager to let Boeheim off the hook on this one.

Coach Jim Boeheim And The Rest Of The Orange Will Lean Heavily On Tyler Ennis This Season

Coach Jim Boeheim And The Rest Of The Orange Will Lean Heavily On Tyler Ennis This Season

Waters notes that Syracuse isn’t in the habit of recruiting backups, but in this era of the one-and-done superstar, we are seeing more elite programs stockpile talent throughout their rotations. Kentucky is the best example of this phenomenon, but top recruits across the country appear increasingly willing to bet on the stars starting above them to leave early for the NBA. So no, I don’t think tasking one of the best recruiters in the game with bringing in a well-regarded backup is an impossible challenge.

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Big East M5: 12.14.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on December 14th, 2012

bigeast_morning5(2)

  1. It’s become overwhelmingly clear that the seven Big East Catholic basketball schools will publicly articulate their plan to split off from the league, although it appears outright dissolution is off the table; “a more likely scenario will be that they simply break away and start anew.” As one of the departing ADs told Kevin McNamara at the Providence Journal, “the train has left the station. Get on board or get run over.” The basketball schools will likely shun the wandering eyes of UConn and Cincinnati in favor of raiding the A-10 of programs like Butler and Xavier, who will view a centralized Catholic basketball league as a destination rather than a stepping stone affiliation. There remain a tremendous number of loose ends to tie up before either of the splintering Big East factions can move forward developmentally. Branding rights (the “Big East” title––however toxic––carries AQ status); a tournament venue in Madison Square Garden; exit fees; NCAA Tournament units, which are much more lucrative than television revenue, and will provide a rolling annuity for another five or six years –– we’re entering uncharted territory, and these issues will be painstakingly hammered out in court for months or years to come. Pete Thamel’s piece (linked above) does the best job of depicting the tedium of what has quickly become the most convoluted episode in the realignment saga to date. As one AD told Thamel, “If anyone tells you they know what’s going to happen with the legal issues, the brand, the name, Madison Square Garden and all those issues, I don’t think they’re being honest.”
  2. Michael Carter-Williams describes the exasperation he experienced in his freshman year, as the former McDonalds All-American resigned to riding the pine behind a veteran backcourt. Yahoo!’s Jeff Eisenberg presents a vignette from the Syracuse locker room after a win at Providence in January: The freshman sat by himself after his teammates left, dreading the disapproval of his local friends and family who had traveled to see him play only to watch the Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters show for all but four minutes. The notion of a blue-chip recruit waiting his turn is an old-school ethic that’s becoming harder and harder for coaches to sell, and Carter-Williams demonstrated a patience that would have eluded many 18-year-olds accustomed to the superstar treatment. “Michael had to pay his dues like when I went through high school and college,” said MCW’s high school coach, Mike Hart. “He got very frustrated at times. But we all knew his time would come and I’m glad everyone was patient.” Syracuse fans probably share that sentiment.
  3. Two weeks after undergoing surgery to install an orthopedic screw in his fractured left hand, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng is out of his cast and could return to the court in about a week. Pitino was initially hoping his center could return by the Cards’ Big East opener against Providence on Junary 2, and my pessimistic outlook for Dieng-less Louisville had been predicated on that timetable (the joke is on me for credulously accepting one of Pitino’s infamously conservative injury prognoses). On his Wednesday night radio show, the UofL coach said he was eying the December 22 Western Kentucky game as a good opportunity to ease Dieng back into the lineup. The coach said he’d “love to get 15-18 minutes out of him” against WKU to prepare for the Battle for the Bluegrass five days later. Though Kentucky will presumably enter the Yum! Center with a “3” in its loss column rather than beside its initials, Pitino won’t trivialize any Calipari-coached UK team after losing four straight against the Cats. Barring a medical relapse, you can bank on Gorgui Dieng playing 20-plus minutes in that game.
  4. Rutgers AD Tom Pernetti has suspended Mike Rice for three games without pay and fined him $50,000 for inappropriate behavior in practices. Rice has caught flak in the past for sideline misanthropy, and was cautioned by his AD after being ejected for the first time in his career in a loss at Louisville last season. So it wasn’t much of a shocker when Brendan Prunty at the Newark Star-Ledger reported that the suspension was triggered by an internal investigation that revealed “abusive, profane language” he used towards his team and an episode in his first two seasons “in which Rice threw basketballs at some players’ heads during practice.” The timing couldn’t be any worse for the RU coach, whose team will play decent UAB and Rider squads without him before tripping to Syracuse to play the role of sacrificial lamb in Cuse’s Big East opener. Rutgers is off to a 6-2 start –– its best since 2010-11. In that season, Rice’s inaugural campaign ended in a 6-15 nosedive. This is the kind of distraction that could trigger a similar collapse.
  5. With the imminent addition of Vincent Council, Kris Dunn and Sidiki Johnson to Ed Cooley’s arsenal, Friarblog declares “the gang’s all here.” Not only will the Providence coach have a bevy of skilled bodies at his disposal after struggling to field the most spartan rotation all year, but that depth will grant Cooley wider latitude in exploiting mismatches on offense and not forcing players to play roles outside of their comfort zones. For example, he can slide LaDontae Henton primarily to the three-spot, and stop plugging an uncomfortable Josh Fortune in at point guard due to attrition at the position. It will be a relief to see Providence finally catch a break and watch what they can do with a promising roster at full strength.
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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #2 Syracuse

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 11th, 2012

In our St. John’s preview, we stated that the Johnnies went through about as much adversity as one team could in a single season. If that’s the case, Syracuse was a close second. The Bernie Fine scandal would have been enough to derail most teams, but it seemed to put a chip on the shoulder of the Orange, who spent a portion of the year ranked first in the nation after Kentucky lost at Indiana. The Fab Melo saga was harder to overcome, and came to a head in Syracuse’s Elite Eight loss to Ohio State. Syracuse lost four of its main rotation players from last season – guards Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters, forward Kris Joseph, and center Fab Melo – but look to plug in a couple of impressive underclassmen and make another run at a final Big East championship and perhaps a Final Four.

Jim Boeheim has been knocking on the door of his fourth Final Four over the last few years.  Will this young Syracuse squad be the one to break through? (AP)

Schedule

Syracuse doesn’t have too many marquee games on the non-conference slate. Their most intriguing match-up is their first game against San Diego State, which will be played on the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego on Sunday afternoon. SU also travels to Arkansas for the SEC-Big East challenge, and will take on one of the teams filling the void they are leaving in the Big East – Temple – at Madison Square Garden. In the Big East schedule, Syracuse shares home-and-homes with Villanova, Providence, Louisville, and Georgetown. The Hoyas host the Orange in their last ever Big East game, which should be one for the ages.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Elite Eight Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 24th, 2012

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Florida – West Regional Final (at Phoenix, AZ) – 4:30 PM ET on CBS

RTC Region correspondents Andrew Murawa (West) and Brian Otskey (East) contributed to this preview.

Pitino & Donovan Have a Great Amount of Respect For Each Other (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

It’s master versus pupil in a battle for the Final Four. Billy Donovan and Rick Pitino first gained national attention at roughly the same time as Donovan was the star player on Pitino’s 1987 Providence College team that made an improbable run to the Final Four, but their relationship didn’t stop there. Dovovan’s single year in the NBA was spent with Pitino as his head coach, and when he gave up his job on Wall Street to get back into basketball, it was to Pitino’s staff at Kentucky that he went. Since then, Donovan has had plenty of success, including back-to-back national championships, giving him one more for his career than his mentor, but in head-to-head matchups, Donovan’s teams have never won in six meetings. As for this meeting, we’ve got a couple of really interesting clashes here. First and foremost, we get to watch a Florida offense that is the third most efficient offense in the country competing against a Louisville team who has, on the strength of Thursday night’s absolute destruction of a good Michigan State offense, taken over the number one spot in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals did a lot of things right defensively in that game (grabbing over 80% of defensive rebound opportunities and limiting their opponent to just a 33.7% eFG night among them), but perhaps the key to the game was their ability to force turnovers on 25% of the Spartans’ possessions. That type of thing could be very hard to come by against a guard-heavy Gator team that generally does not turn the ball over with great regularity. Furthermore, when the Cards’ opponents do get into the halfcourt against them, their goal is often to force the other team into making tough shots over them, something that Florida can do very well. Not only are guards Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Bradley Beal all very capable shot-makers from both beyond and inside the three-point line, but stretch-four Erik Murphy is capable of pulling a defender like Chane Behanan away from the basket and further opening things up in the lane. On the other side of the court, it is no secret that Louisville has trouble scoring; they’ve only scored 0.98 points per possession over the course of their current seven-game postseason winning streak (which goes to show how good their defense has been – 0.86 PPP against good competition). And Florida’s defense is definitely on the uptick, as they’ve allowed just 0.78 PPP in the NCAA Tournament, including just 0.87 against a very good Marquette offense. Further, if the Cards are unable to force turnovers with regularity, they’re not going to be able to get out in the open court and get easy baskets, meaning they’ll need to find some type of consistent offense in the halfcourt game. If that’s the case, they’ll need the good Russ Smith to show up, they’ll need Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric knocking down threes, and, most of all, they’ll need an aggressive Peyton Siva getting penetration and finding offense for himself and for his teammates. All of those things can happen, but sooner or later, the lack of offensive coherency is going to come back to cost the Cards, and the Gators look to be the perfect team to take advantage of it.

The RTC Certified Pick: Florida

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ATB: Sweet Sixteen Set – #1 Seeds Roll, Cinderellas Emerge, and It’s Good to be From Ohio

Posted by EJacoby on March 19th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. After one of the craziest nights in recent Big Dance history on Friday, perhaps we all needed a bit of a break from the chaos this weekend. Fortunately, that didn’t exactly happen. Most of the higher seeds advanced in the round of 32, but the Midwest Region led the way with some crazy results. Almost every season, we see a double-digit seed reach the Sweet Sixteen; this year, we have three, and it easily could have been five. Of the 16 teams remaining, four come from the Big East, four are of the Big Ten, and four represent the state of Ohio, including both of the guilty parties from the Crosstown Shootout Brawl back in December. It’s the first time ever that one single state sends four teams to the Sweet Sixteen. Let’s go over the great moments from the weekend…

Your Watercooler Moment. #13 Ohio University is This Year’s Cinderella Story

D.J. Cooper Hasn't Allowed #13 Ohio to Lose (AP Photo/B. Rucker)

What would the NCAA Tournament be without a mid-major, double-digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen? This year it’s Ohio, the #13 seed of the Midwest Region that had a fairly favorable draw in terms of matchups but still had to defeat two power conference teams on the way. A victory over #12 seed South Florida on Sunday sent the Bobcats to the second weekend of the Big Dance, pretty amazing considering they finished third in the MAC conference this season. But Ohio is no joke, as D.J. Cooper continues to prove himself as one of the best lead guards in the entire tourney. Cooper outplayed USF’s Anthony Collins in the round of 32 and tallied 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists with several big shots late in the game to help his team advance. The other recognizable name from this squad is Nick Kellogg, the sophomore guard who is the son of CBS analyst and former collegiate star Clark Kellogg. Clark’s son is a terrific shooter at 41.8% from three and 89.2% from the foul line, giving the Bobcats a nice one-two punch from the perimeter. Interestingly enough, Ohio now draws #1 North Carolina in the Regional Semifinal in what most would expect to be a blowout, but the Tar Heels just lost their indispensible point guard to a wrist injury, which will make things interesting next weekend. Could Ohio’s perimeter attack lead to a truly incredible Cinderella story with a win over UNC? Stay tuned.

Also Worth Chatting About. Kendall Marshall Suffers Broken Wrist for #1 Seed North Carolina

The single biggest storyline from the past weekend was not anything that happened in the box score or even in between the lines on the court. But when North Carolina’s star point guard and the nation’s leader in assists, Kendall Marshall, got fouled and pushed on a layup and landed on his right wrist in the out-of-bounds baseline, the entire dynamic of this NCAA Tournament changed. Marshall suffered a fractured wrist on this play with 10:55 remaining in the second half of Carolina’s game against #8 seed Creighton. Marshall continued to play in this game for a few minutes and wasn’t immediately in so much pain that he had to leave. It’s also an injury to his non-shooting hand, so it could have been worse. In addition, the sophomore is set for surgery on Monday which will leave him in a position to play shortly thereafter if he is able to tolerate the pain. Unfortunately, it’s a huge long shot to think that Marshall will be back and effective going forward. The injury he suffered usually requires three-plus weeks of a cast and rest, and even bracing the hand and tolerating pain to play will make for a huge liability on the floor. Already a weak defender, Marshall would be even less effective on that end and he would surely be forced to his right hand on offense by opposing teams. There’s just as strong of a chance that he’d be a detriment to UNC by being on the court than he would be a benefit, depending on the true impact of the injury. As things stand, Carolina needs to start preparing for a Championship run without its point guard, leaving that position to be filled by either unused backup Stilman White (4.2 minutes per game) or by a player like P.J. Hairston or Harrison Barnes in some sort of point-forward role. One of the most irreplaceable players in the country, Marshall’s injury leaves a giant question mark surrounding the Tar Heels’ title hopes.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Third Round – Saturday

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2012

RTC Region correspondents Brian Otskey (East), Kevin Doyle (South), and Andrew Murawa (West) contributed to this preview.

#1 Syracuse vs. #8 Kansas State – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 12:15 PM ET on CBS

Jim Boeheim's Team Appears Vulnerable: Will They Find Steady Footing?

You can make a case that Syracuse shouldn’t even be here after the officiating disaster at the end of its first game. However, the Orange survived and now are being questioned by many fans and commentators. A word of caution: Thursday’s game against UNC-Asheville may have been what Syracuse needed to get over the jitters of playing without Fab Melo. While that’s not likely to be a popular opinion, it may be enough to move Syracuse to at least the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange are not going to have an easy time with Kansas State’s physical defense but the big question mark is if the Wildcats can score enough to keep pace. Kansas State is actually somewhat vulnerable on the defensive glass and Syracuse did a nice job of offensive rebounding against Asheville. Obviously the Wildcats have a significant edge on their end of the floor when it comes to offensive rebounding but we actually like the matchups for Syracuse. The Orange have a lot more talent, are deeper and can pressure a Kansas State team that averages 14 turnovers per game. Syracuse won’t get out on the break often but all it needs is a couple stretches of turnovers and fast break points in order to create a cushion. Experience also matters and the Orange feature two seniors in Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph while Kansas State has freshman Angel Rodriguez running its offense. Syracuse isn’t nearly as good without Melo but we think the Orange are good enough to advance past the Wildcats in this game.

The RTC Certified Pick: Syracuse.

#2 Ohio State vs. #7 Gonzaga – East Region Third Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) – 2:45 pm ET on CBS

There are a ton of fascinating matchups in this game. From Gonzaga’s front court guarding Jared Sullinger to the nation’s most efficient defensive team going up against a Gonzaga team that can certainly put up points. Aaron Craft is widely considered to be one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the nation. Thad Matta will count on his sophomore point guard to shut down Gonzaga freshman Kevin Pangos, an absolute sniper from the arc. Gonzaga shoots the ball very well as a team but Pangos is the guy who really provides the spark for this team. The Bulldogs demolished West Virginia on Thursday but facing Ohio State is going to be a totally different animal. Gonzaga does have the front court depth needed to double Sullinger and make it difficult for the big fella to score inside. The key to beating Ohio State is to make them take jumpers while frustrating Sullinger and Gonzaga can do that with its strong front line. However, foul trouble could become a major concern for the Zags if they’re not careful. A matchup on the wing between Elias Harris and Deshaun Thomas are also intriguing, as is Gonzaga’s ability to get to the foul line against a defense that is physical but doesn’t foul a lot. If the Bulldogs can’t get to the stripe that means Sullinger isn’t in foul trouble and they’re going to be forced to make shots against a really tough Buckeye defense. This is going to be a really fun game to watch between two very talented teams. In fact, it may be the best Saturday matchup on a day in which there will be many.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State.

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Big East Wrap-Up And Postseason Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 6th, 2012

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

Conference Tournament Preview

  • Can Anyone Beat Syracuse? – Yes, but only a handful of teams are capable. Notre Dame has proven they can do it and I feel Marquette has a solid chance. Georgetown took the Orange to overtime by slowing the pace and exposing Syracuse’s rebounding issues. In my opinion, those are the only three teams who can knock off the Orange. Given the Madison Square Garden crowd is going to be highly in favor of Syracuse, this is a tall order for any team to pull off.
  • Bubble Teams With Work To Do – South Florida, Seton Hall, Connecticut and West Virginia, the pressure is officially on. I think USF and SH have the most work to do. The Bulls and Pirates won’t feel safe unless they win two games at the Garden and even that may not be enough depending what happens in other conference tournaments. Seton Hall absolutely has to beat Providence and Louisville back to back and then put up a solid showing against Marquette in a quarterfinal game. South Florida has a bye but must knock off Rutgers/Villanova before beating Notre Dame the next night. Connecticut has plenty of top 50 wins and strong computer numbers so I feel they’re safe provided they get by DePaul on Tuesday. As for West Virginia, the win at South Florida on Saturday was critical. The Mountaineers earned a first-round bye and will likely play Connecticut at noon on Wednesday. I think WVU is going to be in regardless, but beating the Huskies should lock up a bid for sure.
  • Is There A Sleeper Team? – I doubt it, but South Florida, Connecticut and even St. John’s would be my candidates. The Bulls can win an ugly game against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, but UConn may actually have the best draw. The Huskies open up with DePaul, coincidentally the same exact matchup as last season. They’ll face a West Virginia team they’ve beat already in the second round. Should they advance to the quarters, Connecticut will go up against Syracuse. The Huskies have played fairly well against the Orange twice this season and would have a reasonable chance to pull the upset. St. John’s is a team that’s playing better basketball and drew a favorable bracket. It wouldn’t shock me if St. John’s lost its opening round game but, playing on its home floor, the Johnnies could surprise.

Regular Season Recap

You could say this was easily a down year in the Big East, but the conference does have ten teams in contention for the NCAA Tournament as the season winds down, only one fewer than last season. However, the league is clearly not as strong from top to bottom. Syracuse was dominant, but no team came close to challenging the Orange for conference supremacy all year. The Orange were projected to win the league in my preseason conference primer, but it was my second and third place teams who completely flopped. Pittsburgh and Connecticut had highly disappointing seasons, even though the Huskies are still in the NCAA picture. The Panthers finished 16-15 (5-13), good enough for 13th place. Jamie Dixon’s squad was hurt by injuries and a notable defection, but on the court, this team did not defend at a high level. Pitt finished the regular season ranked 161st nationally in defensive efficiency, a far cry from their average of #27 over Dixon’s previous eight seasons on the sidelines at the Petersen Events Center. Ashton Gibbs had a disappointing senior season and the team was never able to put it together at any point.

As for the teams that surprised, you can start with South Florida. The Bulls were nothing more than an afterthought as late as January, but a commitment to defense and the play of freshman point guard Anthony Collins has vaulted the Bulls to the brink of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1992. Although USF has just one top 50 win, this season has been a rousing success for the men from Tampa, who played all of their home games away from the Sun Dome due to renovations. Stan Heath may have saved his job in the process.

Marquette, Notre Dame and Georgetown were also surprises. Those teams were projected to finish sixth, ninth and tenth, respectively, in our conference preview. Marquette looks like a threat to go very deep in the NCAA Tournament while Notre Dame’s style of play and Georgetown’s defense will keep them in pretty much any game they play. The Golden Eagles have two of the best player in the conference and an unquenchable will to win.

As for the teams that projected out according to form, Cincinnati went 12-6 in the league as predicted, Rutgers went 6-12 and Providence went 3-15. In addition to those three, West Virginia, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul finished about where they were expected to. The Mountaineers and Pirates have a chance for the NCAA’s while St. John’s showed some late-season progress and could be a tough out on their home court at Madison Square Garden this week. Louisville finished 22-9 (10-8), three games worse than where I had projected it. The Cardinals started the year hot, but went just 10-9 after sprinting out to a 12-0 record through December 23.

Villanova was another team that disappointed. The Wildcats weren’t expected to be great, but many thought they could find their way to the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Villanova struggled all year as players who were expected to improve did not before injuries took a huge toll on the Wildcats late in the season. Villanova’s future is relatively bright, but this was definitely a lost season on the Main Line. VU’s streak of seven consecutive NCAA appearances will come to an end unless there is some divine intervention in the form of five wins in five days in New York.

Jim Boeheim And The Orange Have Locked Up A One-Seed, But Will Reports Of Unpunished Failed Drug Tests Knock Them Off Their Path? (Mark Konezny/US Presswire)

Coach of the Year

Jim Boeheim, Syracuse – This was a really tough choice. Do you go with the coach of the best team by far or pick someone like Stan Heath or Mike Brey who led teams projected in the bottom half to finishes closer to the top of the league? Guys like Buzz Williams and John Thompson III also deserve consideration. In the end I chose Boeheim because this year’s Syracuse team was historic. Sure, I picked them to win the league from the start, but in no way did I think this team would go 30-1 (17-1). The Orange are the first team in Big East history to get through the entire regular season with only a single loss. Boeheim has assembled a rotation that can go ten deep and kept the team focused through some off-court distractions. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason and was the best coach in the league this season.

Player of the Year

Jae Crowder, Marquette – This may be a controversial choice to some, but here’s why I picked Crowder over Kevin Jones. Yes, Jones had better statistics throughout the year, but Crowder has out-played Jones over the last month and plays for a team considerably better than West Virginia. Plus, what fun would it be if we just looked at the statistics and ignored intangibles? Crowder averaged 24.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game over his last six and won the head-to-head matchup with Jones in convincing fashion on February 24. Crowder put up very similar numbers using 21.9% of his team’s possessions compared to 23.3% for Jones. Not a huge difference, but I feel it matters when one team is 25-6 (14-4) while the other is 19-12 (9-9) and has lost seven of its last 11 games heading into the postseason. Crowder, along with Darius Johnson-Odom, has put Marquette on his back and carried it to heights not seen since Dwayne Wade played at the Bradley Center. He’s played his best ball at the right time while Jones has not led his team in nearly the same manner down the stretch. Crowder is also a better defender (2.4 steals per game) and a more efficient shooter from inside as well as the perimeter. I felt that also helped to push him over the top. I don’t have a problem with either player winning the award, but I usually go for the player on the better team when it’s a close call like this is.

All-Conference First Team

  • Jae Crowder, Marquette (17.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 51.2% FG) – Crowder was the do-it-all player for the Golden Eagles, leading them to their best regular season record since a 23-4 mark in 2002-03.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia (20.0 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 51.5% FG) – Without Jones, the Mountaineers would be in the bottom third of the league. The senior had the best season of his career, leading the conference in scoring and rebounding pretty much from start to finish.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette (18.3 PPG, 40.1% 3FG) – Crowder and DJO form perhaps the most potent one-two punch in college basketball on a team that could be a Final Four sleeper.
  • Kris Joseph, Syracuse (14.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG) – The amazing thing about Syracuse is not one player on a 30-1 (17-1) team is in the top 18 in scoring. Joseph ranks 19th, but came up big when it mattered most, averaging 17 points for the Orange in their six games decided by five points or less.
  • Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut (17.6 PPG, 47.5% FG, 82.6% FT) – Connecticut underachieved, but the best returning player from last year’s national championship squad posted double figures in all but three games for a team that struggled to find its way on the offensive end. A career-high 32 points in a late season win at Villanova just might have saved his team’s season (at least for now).

A Late-Season Push Propelled Jae Crowder Past Kevin Jones For Player Of The Year Honors.

All-Conference Second Team

  • Vincent Council, Providence (16.2 PPG, 7.5 APG) – A lot of people may not know about Council, but that’s about to change next season when Providence welcomes in more talent to be on the receiving end of passes from the best assist man in the Big East.
  • Scoop Jardine, Syracuse (8.6 PPG, 4.9 APG, 47.7% FG) – The statistics aren’t eye-popping,  but Jardine was the point guard for a team that lost once in 31 games. He took much better care of the basketball this season and improved his shooting efficiency despite a drop in scoring from last year. On a team with ten legitimate players, he doesn’t need to score in double figures.
  • Jordan Theodore, Seton Hall (16.0 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.9 SPG) – Not surprisingly, Seton Hall’s season went as Theodore’s did. When he was on, he looked like the best point guard in the conference (29 points, 5 assists against Georgetown). When he wasn’t (10 points, 5 turnovers against DePaul), Seton Hall looked awful. Despite the inconsistency from the senior, Theodore deserves the bulk of the credit for getting the Pirates in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
  • Jason Clark, Georgetown (14.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 47.8% FG) – Underappreciated for four seasons in Washington, Clark led his team in scoring and vaulted the Hoyas well into the top 25 after they were projected to be a bubble team in the preseason. Clark was a model of consistency and a great glue guy on a strong defensive team.
  • Jack Cooley, Notre Dame (12.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 62.1% FG) – Cooley came out of nowhere to become the anchor in the paint for a Notre Dame team that took the conference by storm. He recorded a double-double in six of his last eight games and would be my pick for most-improved player.

Honorable Mention

  • Dion Waiters, Syracuse (11.9 PPG, 1.9 SPG, 47.1% FG) – Perhaps the best sixth man in the nation, Waiters sees starter’s minutes on one of the elite teams in the nation. A spark on both ends of the floor with his dynamic transition game, Waiters’ improvement is a big factor in Syracuse’s success.
  • Henry Sims, Georgetown (11.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.4 BPG) – It’s not often you see a 6’10” player lead his team in assists, but that’s exactly what Sims did (and by a wide margin). A candidate for most improved player, Sims was a major reason why Georgetown exceeded preseason expectations.
  • Cleveland Melvin, DePaul (17.4 PPG, 7.3 RPG) – Melvin has been a solid player for two years now. It’s too bad he plays on a bad team.
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall (15.3 PPG, 10.3 RPG) – A very early frontrunner for conference POY honors, Pope’s production really tailed off in conference play.  Still, his presence in the middle and strong rebounding is vital to the Hall’s success.
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova (17.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 89.3% FT) – Wayns will never be confused with efficiency, but he’s a guard who can create contact and get to the line with the best of them. One of the better free throw shooters in the nation knows how to play to his strengths.

All-Freshmen Team

  • Moe Harkless, St. John’s (15.0 PPG, 8.6 RPG) – Harkless put up some dominant numbers right away because he was able to see plenty of minutes on a thin team, but he’s a terrific piece to build around as the Johnnies move forward. A special talent.
  • Anthony Collins, South Florida (8.0 PPG, 5.3 APG, 49.3% FG) – Almost singlehandedly, Collins has willed the Bulls to the brink of the NCAA Tournament. After missing five games with an injury, Collins took over the point guard duties and led South Florida to a 12-6 conference record.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence (14.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 40.2% 3FG) – Henton was a surprise on a Friars team that remained competitive despite a poor record. Henton was thrown into the fire right away, playing 37.1 minutes per game on a very thin team. He responded well and didn’t hit a wall late in the season as most freshmen do.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s (17.0 PPG) – Harkless’ sidekick actually led St. John’s in scoring and played his best basketball in February.
  • Otto Porter, Georgetown (9.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 51.0% FG) – A player with a great motor who has a ton of upside, Porter has a high basketball IQ and the toughness needed to excel in Georgetown’s system. He’s as good of a rebounder as I’ve seen for a freshman.

Defensive Player of the Year

Fab Melo, Syracuse (3.1 BPG) – Melo led the conference by a wide margin in blocks in conference games (3.73), but finished behind Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng in the block totals for all games. Melo’s presence anchoring Syracuse’s zone changed so many shots and made it easier for Syracuse to defend opponents on the perimeter. When he didn’t play against Notre Dame, the Irish went wild from deep because the Orange didn’t have their big man on the back line to defend drives. A case can be made for Dieng, but Melo was a dominant force defensively for the nation’s #2 team.

Game of the Year

January 21 – Notre Dame 67, Syracuse 58: There is no clear-cut winner for this award, but I’m going to go with Syracuse’s only loss of the season. Notre Dame handed the Orange, playing without Fab Melo, their first and only loss of the season. The Fighting Irish shot 50% for the game and won by a score of 67-58, Notre Dame’s first win against a top-ranked opponent in 25 years. However, it was ND’s eighth win all time against a #1 team and seventh in South Bend. It was a magical night for the Irish and the first win in what would become a nine-game winning streak, a decisive run that pushed Notre Dame solidly into the NCAA Tournament field.

Other nominees: Marquette 61, West Virginia 60 (February 24). Syracuse 64, Georgetown 61 (OT, February 8). Notre Dame 67, Louisville 65 (2OT, January 7). Georgetown 73, Marquette 70 (January 4).

An Outstanding Point Guard In Anthony Collins Has USF In The Running For A Tournament Bid.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (30-1, 17-1) – The Orange are playing with house money in New York as they are a lock for a #1 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament. Syracuse has a tough draw with West Virginia or UConn waiting in the quarters before going up against possibly Cincinnati or Georgetown in the semifinals on Friday night. The only question could be if the Orange play the Big East Tournament on cruise control, knowing their NCAA situation is secure.
  2. Marquette (25-6, 14-4) – Marquette is playing the best basketball of any team outside of central New York. The Golden Eagles won 13 of their last 15 games and can absolutely win this tournament. A BET win could give Buzz Williams’ team a #2 seed in the big dance.
  3. Georgetown (22-7, 12-6) – This team has been solid all year, but its normally stout defense was exposed in late season losses to Seton Hall and Marquette. The Hoyas gave Syracuse all it could handle on February 8 at the Carrier Dome and another meeting at MSG isn’t out of the question. Georgetown will get a nice seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Hoyas have to bring it defensively in order to avoid another early exit.
  4. Cincinnati (22-9, 12-6) – Despite a horrid non-conference schedule, the Bearcats have plenty of top 50 wins on their resume. I believe this team should be and will be in the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens in New York. Still, beating Georgetown/St. John’s/Pitt in the quarterfinals wouldn’t hurt. Cincinnati won five of its last six games, making a strong case to the NCAA Committee in the process.
  5. Notre Dame (21-10, 13-5) – The Irish lost two of their last three games, but it was a remarkable season for Mike Brey’s squad. Considered to be done after losing Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame re-invented itself and locked up a tournament bid with a one month long nine-game winning streak. The Fighting Irish are a threat in the bottom part of this week’s bracket.
  6. South Florida (19-12, 12-6) – It was encouraging to see the Bulls go into Louisville and win the game they had to have. It was a wildly successful season for USF. The team completely changed its trajectory when Anthony Collins returned from injury and played at an extremely high level. The Bulls have plenty of work to do this week but pass the eye test to some. It seems crazy, but USF won 12 Big East games and has just one RPI top 50 win. That says a lot about the strength of this year’s Big East.
  7. Louisville (22-9, 10-8) – A few weeks ago, most folks were praising Louisville for getting back on track. Since February 13, it has been a different story. The Cardinals have lost four of their last six games heading into the conference tournamen,t but will still be headed to the NCAA Tournament next week. Louisville’s two wins during this stretch? Overtime at DePaul and a home squeaker over a bad Pitt team. Barring a huge effort to refocus this week, Louisville is ripe for the picking by Seton Hall or Providence in its second round game.
  8. West Virginia (19-12, 9-9) – It wasn’t pretty, but the Mountaineers took care of business at South Florida to get back to .500 in the league. West Virginia is right about where most had them at the beginning of the season despite losing seven of 11 games down the stretch. Kevin Jones had an outstanding year and this team remains a threat in New York and in the NCAA Tournament, assuming it gets there. WVU could win a game or two in the big dance.
  9. Connecticut (18-12, 8-10) – It was a rough year for the Huskies, but they have a chance to start over and turn it around this week at MSG. Connecticut will start exactly where it started a year ago when it beat DePaul, the first of 11 straight victories en route to a national championship. This team won’t do that again, but I could realistically see it winning two or three games this week. I believe the Huskies should be in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to DePaul would significantly complicate matters.
  10. Seton Hall (19-11, 8-10) – When you have a chance to get to your first NCAA Tournament in six years, it’s not good to shoot yourself in the foot. That’s exactly what Seton Hall did with consecutive late season losses to Rutgers and DePaul. The Pirates were blown out of Chicago in absolutely embarrassing fashion and now probably have to win at least two games to keep their NCAA chances alive. The Hall has quality wins over Georgetown, Connecticut, West Virginia and VCU as well as victories over bubble squads Dayton and St. Joe’s, but those two bad losses will sting. You can put the Pirates to bed if they lose to Providence on Tuesday night, a game that won’t be easy for Seton Hall.
  11. Rutgers (14-17, 6-12) – You can’t win big in the Big East with young players and that’s the issue Rutgers faced this year. Mike Rice is building the program in solid fashion, but Rutgers still has a ways to go. Next year could be the year Rutgers starts to turn the corner and gets into contention for some kind of postseason bid. The Scarlet Knights won’t be an easy out at MSG.
  12. St. John’s (13-18, 6-12) – Mike Dunlap did an admirable job filling in for Steve Lavin this season as the Red Storm saw player defections and persevered with one of the thinnest and youngest rosters you will ever see. St. John’s was competitive and seemed to play better basketball as the season progressed. The Johnnies won three straight games late in the season but enter this week’s tournament on a two game losing streak. Still, I wouldn’t want to play SJU at the Garden.
  13. Pittsburgh (16-15, 5-13) – The departure of Khem Birch and injury to Tray Woodall derailed any hope this team had of turning the season around after early losses to Long Beach State and Wagner. The Panthers floundered in conference play, losing their first seven games. Pitt provided us with some hope when it won four straight from January 25 to February 5 but then proceeded to lose six of its final seven after that. With West Virginia going to the Big 12 next season, will Pittsburgh and Syracuse try to follow suit and settle with the Big East to get out earlier than expected?
  14. Villanova (12-18, 5-13) – What a miserable season for Jay Wright. The Wildcats have been to seven consecutive NCAA Tournaments, but didn’t come close to extending that streak this year. Villanova stumbled right out of the gate, losing four games before mid-December. The future is brighter with everyone coming back next year, but Wright has a lot of work to do in order to get this team on the same page over the summer.
  15. Providence (15-16, 4-14) – Despite losing 14 conference games, the Friars were competitive. Ed Cooley is going to get it going rather quickly in Friartown, especially with a ballyhooed recruiting class coming in next season. LaDontae Henton surprised many observers as a freshman and should be a big piece going forward along with superb point guard Vincent Council, who will lead the team as a senior in 2012-13.
  16. DePaul (12-18, 3-15) – The Blue Demons won only three times in league play but saved their best for last, blowing out Seton Hall this past Saturday in Chicago. Oliver Purnell has clearly established his style of play, now it’s up to him to get better players in the mix. Cleveland Melvin is underappreciated because he plays on this team, but he’s a nice piece to build around. You have to believe Purnell will eventually get DePaul back to respectability, but the process will be a long one.
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Set Your TiVo: 03.02.12 – 03.04.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 2nd, 2012

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

We are going to mix it up a bit for the final three days of the season. There are so many good games on the schedule that it wouldn’t do them justice to leave them unmentioned, not to mention the games with an impact for bubble teams. Here are some quick hitters on all the games you need to be following.

Top games:

West Virginia @ South Florida – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)

The Bulls notched a huge win over Louisville earlier this week, but many feel they still have to win this game to ensure their spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers are hanging on by a thread but could really enhance their chances with a nice road victory in Tampa. This game has Big East Tournament implications as well, but both teams need it more for their NCAA chances. As a member of the Big East, South Florida has beaten 14 of the 15 other teams in the league. West Virginia is the only team they have yet to knock off. This would be one heck of a time to grab that win in West Virginia’s last regular season game as a member of the Big East. Pretty much everything is on the line in this game.

Can West Virginia Win A Big One On The Road?

#11 Georgetown @ #8 Marquette – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)

Both teams are obviously in the NCAA Tournament so this game is about seeding more than anything. A win over the Golden Eagles would be Georgetown’s ninth against the RPI top 50 and fifth against the top 25. Marquette has just one RPI top 25 win (Wisconsin) so adding another could really help Marquette’s seeding when the NCAA committee debates next Sunday in Indianapolis. The winner of this game will grab the #2 seed in next week’s Big East Tournament. The contrast of styles in this game will be fascinating as Marquette looks to run at home against a disciplined Georgetown defensive unit.

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Big East Morning Five: 03.01.12 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on March 1st, 2012

  1. Hey JaQuon Parker, where did that come from? The junior has scored more than 20 points just once this season, and then all of a sudden, he caught fire last night against No. 8 Marquette and dropped a career-high 28 points on the Golden Eagles with ease. Basically, Cincinnati came to play on Senior Night, and Marquette lost yet another game on the road. The Bearcats repeatedly blew by their defenders for layups and also knew they needed to keep Marquette from scoring fast break points in cruising to the 72-61 win. The win probably takes Cincinnati — who has now won six of their last eight — off the bubble and puts them squarely in the field of 68. For Marquette, they played with fire too many times and they finally couldn’t make another second half comeback.
  2. It is also probably time to stop doubting whether Stan Heath has a legitimately good team this season. It is true that most of their conference success has been against the bottom half of the conference, but after going into Louisville and leaving with a gutsy 58-51 win, it will be very hard to keep the Bulls out of the NCAA Tournament. Even Cardinals freshman Chane Behanan admitted it, South Florida needed the win more than Louisville, and “they came out hungrier.” The Cardinals didn’t play their best game, but Heath’s club is an underrated defensive club and they deserve most of the credit for holding Louisville to just 34% shooting from the field. At this point, the Big East Tournament is completely wide open, and the Bulls are coming in playing really well (winners of five of their last six) and they could surprise some people with a run.
  3. Checking in with the best team in the conference, here is a look at the evolution of the aptly described “most polarizing Syracuse player in the last decade,” Scoop Jardine. The Orange senior point guard has become a much better player over his career, and is enjoying a solid final season as he chases a National Championship. Jardine has drawn plenty of ire from ‘Cuse fans for his penchant for turnovers and questionable shot selection at times. But he has settled into the role of distributor on this year’s team and has become a leader for one of the country’s most talented rosters. He has become very efficient, especially in a slightly diminished role, and despite the team’s depth, the Orange would definitely not be the same team without him.
  4. In news that is maybe only interesting to a former Beltway local like me, legendary former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson signed off of his radio show for the last time yesterday afternoon. It started as an assignment to talk about the 1999 NCAA Tournament and spawned into one of the most interesting radio shows in the area, lasting 13 years. From a personal standpoint, I used to listen to him all the time. He spoke in the smoothest baritone and he was often refreshingly blunt in his criticism, unafraid to speak his mind. In Washington, D.C., Thompson is a larger than life figure and city lifer. I doubt he will step away from the media entirely, but it sure is bittersweet to hear that the 70-year-old wants to spend more time with his family. He will be missed.
  5. There is no such thing as too much piling on Connecticut, so I will use the final item today to talk about the fact that many pundits still have the Huskies in the Field of 68 with the regular season nearly over. Jerry Palm points out that the team’s nine losses in its last 12 games is erroneous, because Selection Committee look at a team’s overall body of work rather than late season trends. So fine, let’s look at their overall body of work. I am well aware of where all of the analysts rank UConn, and I respect folks like Palm, Lunardi, and KenPom so I don’t question the math. But the Huskies haven’t beaten a single team in the RPI Top 25 and their best wins (over Florida State and maybe Harvard) came quite early in the season. They might be in for now but they can’t be far from the wrong side of the bubble. Let’s just say that they should probably beat Pittsburgh at home on Saturday.
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Tracking The Four: Hitting the Home Stretch

Posted by EJacoby on February 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

The final week of the regular season is upon us. One of our teams, Murray State, even begins its postseason as the Ohio Valley Conference tournament begins later in the week. This is a crucial time for teams to build confidence and polish their resumes heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at how all of our teams are playing right now as they head into the home stretch.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Anthony Marshall and UNLV Are Locked In Again (Las Vegas Sun/S. Morris)

  • Trending UP Because… – After dropping two in a row, the Rebels recovered nicely with back-to-back double digit wins in the past seven days. More importantly, their top conference competitor lost both its games, setting up for a crazy finish to this season. UNLV (24-6, 8-4 MW) is tied with New Mexico and San Diego State atop the Mountain West with just two games to play. The Runnin’ Rebs have still lost three straight road games and will look to end that streak when they head to Colorado State on Wednesday.
  • This Week’s Key CogChace Stanback. The swingman led the team in scoring in both wins last week, averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. The senior shot a fantastic 9-13 from three-point range in the victories.
  • Play of the Week – After a turnover, Anthony Marshall misses the layup but Mike Moser finishes strong with a putback jam against Boise State on Wednesday.
  • Talking Point – Coach Dave Rice on getting the win over Air Force on Saturday: “It was very important to us to get our swagger back. Our swagger is our defensive intensity.”
  • Handicapping the Race - Who’s going to win the Mountain West? The Rebels have a tough draw down the stretch with bubble team Colorado State on the road, followed by Wyoming at home in the season finale, a team they lost to earlier this season. New Mexico, meanwhile, gets two home games against the bottom feeders of the conference.
  • Stats Central – UNLV’s average scoring margin of +19.4 points in home games this year ranks 11th in the country. But its road margin is just +2.0, hence the 6-6 record in true road games this season.
  • What’s Next? – As mentioned, the Rebels take a trip to Colorado State on Wednesday (10:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) before drawing Wyoming at home on Saturday (10:00 PM ET, The Mountain) to finish their regular season.

Murray State Racers

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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 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

  • Temple In Big East Talks: The Big East may have a new all-sport member as early as this fall if the reports are true that the Temple Owls are in discussions about joining the conference.  Adding Temple to the mix would be terrific for Big East basketball. While Syracuse is irreplaceable, you could make an argument that Temple and Memphis offset the departures of West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The enhanced stature of these two programs in the Big East will help fuel recruiting and could easily make them equal to what WVU and Pitt are right now. Temple will make its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance next month, its 30th in a storied history. The Owls have made two Final Fours and five Elite Eights, better than both Pittsburgh and West Virginia (WVU has two Final Fours, Pitt has one). Memphis has been to more Final Fours and Elite Eights as well, although two were vacated (1985 and 2008). All in all, I’d argue that the Big East hit a grand slam with Temple and Memphis, should this all go through. The league simply couldn’t have done better given the constraints it faced.
  • Punching Your Ticket And Voiding It In The Same Week: One could argue that Seton Hall and Cincinnati punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with wins over Georgetown and Louisville, respectively, last week. However, both squads lost over the weekend (to Rutgers and South Florida), wiping out the good vibes from huge home wins earlier in the week. As of right now, the Pirates and Bearcats are likely still in the Tournament, but in much more precarious positions than before. In late-season college basketball, nothing is ever a sure thing until all the games are played. A team’s status can change at a moment’s notice.  

Syracuse Senior Scoop Jardine Helped Lead The Orange To A Title-Clinching Win Over Connecticut. (Jessica Hill/AP Photo)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) – The men in orange just keep moving right along, picking up two more wins this past week. Finding a way to win is so cliché, but it has been the theme with this group over the last few weeks. Syracuse has moved its record to 29-1 with seven of their nine wins since the loss to Notre Dame coming by ten points or less. In the win over South Florida, Syracuse overcame 35% shooting and a 20-7 Bulls run to start the game by going on a massive 26-0 run that started about midway through the first half and bled deep into the second. Kris Joseph struggled shooting, but Scoop Jardine picked him up by scoring 15 points. Joseph rebounded in a big way with 21 points at Connecticut while Fab Melo added 11 points and nine rebounds. This team has more weapons than any in the nation, allowing the Orange to overcome off nights by some of their key players. More importantly, Syracuse out-rebounded UConn, 39-35. That’s significant because of what the Huskies bring to the table in their front court and Syracuse’s awful rebounding numbers that have persisted throughout the season. With the win at UConn, Syracuse officially clinched the Big East regular season title, something everyone knew was going to happen as early as when the calendar flipped to January. This week: 3/3 vs. #23 Louisville.
  2. Marquette (24-5, 13-3) – There are teams more talented than Marquette out there, but you will not find one with a greater will to win than this bunch of Golden Eagles. You might as well call them their old nickname, the Warriors, because that’s exactly what they are. Jae Crowder made his case for Big East Player of the Year last week in grand fashion, totaling 53 points in two wins over Rutgers and West Virginia. Crowder dominated West Virginia’s Kevin Jones in their head-to-head matchup and may have moved in front of Jones in the POY race in the process. Crowder certainly plays for a better team and that has to enhance his case even more. Despite Buzz Williams suspending Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan for the first half against West Virginia and Todd Mayo for the second half, Marquette rallied yet again to pull out a victory. I don’t understand the half-suspensions. Sit them down for the whole game if you want to make a statement, but that’s beyond the point. The Golden Eagles shot 50% for the game and forced 19 WVU turnovers, helping to offset 16 Mountaineer offensive rebounds. In the win over Rutgers, Marquette forced 21 turnovers and Johnson-Odom added 21 points alongside Crowder’s 27 as the Golden Eagles shot 54% overall. MU can close out the Big East regular season in grand style and finish with a 15-3 record if it takes care of two tough games in the coming week. This team has a legitimate chance to win the Big East Tournament and go deep in the NCAA’s. This week: 2/29 @ Cincinnati, 3/3 vs. #9 Georgetown. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tracking The Four: Rebels Starting to Slip

Posted by EJacoby on February 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

After cruising along with a top 10-15 ranking for much of the season, UNLV is facing its first patch of serious adversity now, having lost three of its last four games (all on the road). Last week, the Rebels took a loss against a mediocre TCU team and followed that up with a blowout at the hands of New Mexico. UNLV all of a sudden finds itself a distant second in the Mountain West conference standings. Meanwhile, Indiana suffered another slip-up on the road, but Syracuse escaped in their task away from home. Murray State had the best week of all with a massive victory over St. Mary’s in the BracketBuster game, so let’s start things off with the positive trending Racers this week:

Murray State Racers

Murray State is Soaring Right Now After Taking its Only Loss (AP Photo/J. Wright)

  • Trending UP Because… – They’ve recovered well after dropping their only game of the season. Since falling to Tennessee State at home on February 9, the Racers (26-1, 13-1 OVC) have played their best ball and capped it off with a dominant win against St. Mary’s in the primetime ESPN BracketBuster matchup on Saturday. They still have two road games remaining against the best the OVC has to offer, but Murray State is undoubtedly headed to the NCAA Tournament now, and they certainly passed the national-audience eye test as a team with some weapons that can do damage offensively.
  • This Week’s Key CogDonte Poole. He led the team in scoring with an 18.0 PPG average in the past week, to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals as well. The senior guard carried the Racers with 25 points in their Wednesday win at Southeast Missouri State.
  • Play of the Week – This ESPN announcer has now idea how to pronounce Isaiah Canaan’s name (it’s CAN-non, like the weapon), but watch this sweet alley-oop from the star guard to Brandon Garrett for a big-time dunk.
  • Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm talked about how the win over St. Mary’s could help his team’s postseason seed: “If we can finish the season strong, it gives us a chance to get a good seed. But, regardless of where you’re seeded – five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 – you’re going to play somebody good.”
  • Can’t Win For Losing? - It’s starting to look like taking a loss was the best thing that could have happened to this team. By losing at home, Murray State removed the pressure off its back to run the table, and the Racers have played much better since the public doubted their legitimacy as a Tournament team. The win against St. Mary’s was their toughest opponent in over two months and the least amount of points they’ve allowed in over six weeks.
  • Stats Central – For the season the Racers are now shooting 41.3% from three and allowing opponents to shoot just 29.2% in that area. A massive gap, Murray ranks in the top 20 nationally in both statistics.
  • What’s Next? – Murray State finishes the regular season this week with two challenging road games. First is a rematch at Tennessee State on Thursday (8:00 PM ET, ESPNU) against the only team it has lost to this season. Then the Racers travel to Tennessee Tech on Saturday (8:30 PM ET) against the team ranked fourth in the OVC. Both are losable games, but Murray should win if it can play at the level it has over the past week and a half.

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – The Orange avoided a bad loss by escaping Rutgers with a 10-point win on Sunday. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1 Big East) remains a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as long as it doesn’t suffer a losing streak down the stretch.
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