“Reinvented” Notre Dame Is Not Done Yet

Posted by WCarey on January 5th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report following Saturday afternoon’s game in South Bend between Duke and Notre Dame.

In the preseason, expectations were fairly high for Notre Dame as it began its first campaign as a member of the ACC. While there were questions about the team’s frontcourt depth, the Irish returned three key starters in the backcourt in seniors Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and junior Pat Connaughton. Unfortunately, the Irish quickly showed that they have some glaring weaknesses by suffering four losses in the first two months of the season. The first setback came on November 17 when Mike Brey experienced his first November defeat at the Joyce Center versus Indiana State. While Notre Dame then notched easy wins over Santa Clara, Army, and Cornell, its defensive shortcomings became more evident during its subsequent trip to Iowa City where Iowa handed them a 98-93 defeat. A week later, the Irish were stunned again on their home court in a game that North Dakota State controlled from start to finish. After regrouping to score an impressive victory over Indiana in the Crossroads Classic on December 14, the Irish then went to Madison Square Garden and choked away an eight-point lead with 51 seconds remaining in a defeat by Ohio State.

Notre Dame's First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

Notre Dame’s First ACC Game Went Swimmingly in South Bend (USAT)

The four setbacks on the court were not the only losses Notre Dame suffered in the 2013 portion of the season. A day after the Ohio State loss, news broke that Grant – the team’s leading scorer – would not be enrolled at the university for the remainder of the season due to an academic matter. The team also lost sophomore Cameron Biedscheid – who was already redshirting this season – a few days after Christmas when he announced his intention to transfer.

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Season in Review: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Will Tucker on May 2nd, 2013

The Fighting Irish had an auspicious start to a season that was expected to represent a major step forward for Mike Brey’s program. But a slow start and sputtering finish to conference play, coupled with frustrations experienced against the Big East’s top teams, prevented the Irish from matching last year’s top three finish. Despite fielding one of the league’s most talented starting fives, a lack of depth hampered the Irish late in the season and contributed to yet another early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Preseason Expectations

We ranked Notre Dame third heading into 2012-13, as did the coaches at Big East media day. Mike Brey’s roster returned its top five scorers from 2011-12 and was loaded with talented upperclassmen, namely preseason all-Big East center Jack Cooley, versatile super-senior Scott Martin and the backcourt scoring tandem of juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant.

Jack Cooley,Mike Brey

Mike Brey must adjust to a life without Cooley in 2013-14 (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)

The Good

The Irish raced out to a blistering start, winning 12 in a row for the first time since 2006-07. By early January, they’d blown out #8 Kentucky at home, edged #21 Cincinnati on the road, won their first two Big East games and earned a #16 Coaches Poll ranking alongside their 14-1 record. Cooley (13.1 PPG, 10.1 RPG) lived up to his first team all-Big East billing as he shot 58% from the field and led the Big East in literally every rebounding category. Deep reserve big men Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman filled the void left by Scott Martin’s absence, and keyed huge victories over the likes of Louisville, Marquette and Villanova. The highlight of the season was, unquestionably, enduring five overtimes against the eventual National Champions after Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the last 45 seconds of regulation. Brey’s program claimed its sixth NCAA Tournament bid in seven years, and has averaged almost 13 Big East wins in each of the last three regular seasons –– a figure surpassed only by Syracuse.

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Big East M5: 03.06.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on March 6th, 2013

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  1. Syracuse’s senior game tonight against DePaul features two members of the Orange making their definite final appearances at the Carrier Dome as players: Brandon Triche and James Southerland. However, few would bet that these are the only two scholarship players who will move on after this season. The best bet is that Michael Carter-Williams will join them despite his recent bouts of poor play. Some Syracuse fans argue that he could use more seasoning in college, and they’re not wrong, but many forget that despite being a true sophomore, MCW is already 21 years old now and will be 22 before next season. MCW would be the eighth Syracuse player in six seasons to leave school early, with four of those players — Donte Greene, Jonny Flynn, Wes Johnson, and Dion Waiters — picked in the first round of the NBA Draft.  Waiters, who played with Carter-Williams last season, weighed in: “Michael’s a 6’6″ point guard. You can’t teach height. If he comes here, he’ll get nothing but better.” In his Syracuse.com piece on the subject, Bud Poliquin also mentions C.J. Fair and Rakeem Christmas as possible early departures, but those seem like stretches from this observer.
  2. In the classy moves by coaches department, Rick Pitino announced that junior Gorgui Dieng will be allowed to participate in Senior Day festivities in anticipation that the center will make the jump to the NBA after this season. “He has given us more than we have asked for. It is in his best interest to come out, and I think he is ready… He has been great for us. I have enjoyed coaching him so much. It is going to be a very difficult Senior Night. I have had some difficult ones, but this may be the most difficult.” There is definitely an argument to be made for keeping senior days for those who finish out their four years of eligibility, but I have no issue with exceptions being made for people like Dieng who were both great players and, by all accounts, students in addition to players during their time in college.
  3. This is the point of the season where teams look to ramp it up and start playing their best ball as they head into postseason play. Pitt’s Talib Zanna had been in an extended slump, averaging just 5.5 points per game for an extended period after averaging 13+ PPG for the first two months of the year. Recently, however, it seems like Zanna has started to find his rhythm again, and that doesn’t bode well for teams at the Garden next week. In Pitt’s last home game against Villanova, Zanna went off for 14 points and 19 rebounds in an overtime victory. Pitt closes the season at DePaul on Saturday before preparing for their final Big East Tournament.
  4. Cincinnati basketball hasn’t been the most beautiful version of the game this season, and things have only been worse in that regard with the constant injury issues that have befallen Cashmere Wright. He popped his shoulder out of the joint for the sixth time in Monday’s loss to Louisville, according to Mick Cronin. In the last few games, it seemed like Wright had been getting closer to 100 percent, which he clearly hasn’t been since a mid-January injury against DePaul. If Wright can’t find his shot and the lion’s share of the Bearcats’ scoring falls on Sean Kilpatrick’s shoulders in the postseason, Cincinnati will continue to struggle to score in the season’s most important games.
  5. Scott Martin’s career has been plagued by injuries, so if the Notre Dame forward can’t maintain a long career overseas, he has a fallback plan in coaching. Mike Brey believes that Martin is well-suited for the sideline: “I think he’s going to be a hell of a coach.” In a Chicago Tribune article, Martin discusses how he’s begun to watch the game through an analytical lens and former Irish teammate Ben Hansbrough admitted that he and Martin discussed coaching after their careers had wrapped. Martin’s constant injuries may have derailed a promising career, but it is good to hear that he has a strong plan for after basketball…well, after playing basketball, anyway.
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Big East M5: 02.28.13 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 28th, 2013

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  1. Everyone remembers the last two days when I was saying that UConn was going to come to play Wednesday right? Okay so maybe I wasn’t going out on a very big limb with that prediction, but the Huskies sure made me look good last night when they took highly ranked Georgetown to double overtime before losing a game they probably should have won in agonizing fashion. Yes, Otto Porter deserves some big-time credit for his late-game heroics and his general excellence at the game of basketball, but the Huskies’ perimeter defense for most of the second half was atrocious and their offensive possessions down the stretch were not great either. UConn deserves credit for continuing to play inspired basketball without a postseason to look forward to, and Georgetown has the look of a No. 1 seed after taking a tough conference opponent’s best shot on the road and still coming out with a win. The Hoyas are hardly a finished product and if some team can figure out how to stop or even slow down Porter, John Thompson III‘s bunch will be in big trouble. But, in case you didn’t notice, Porter is pretty difficult to stop and when the backcourt duo of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks get going, opposing teams don’t have a lot of success. It is way too early to say Georgetown has the inside shot at a No. 1 seed because an early exit in the Big East Tournament can dash those hopes quickly, but they are definitely in the conversation as of right now.
  2. Notre Dame is still clinging to hope at winning the Big East regular season crown and one of the ways to improve their chances would be to get the services of senior forward Scott Martin back sometime soon. Martin has returned to practice after battling knee issues for much of the season but the Fighting Irish still have no idea when he will return to the court or if he will be able to return at all. Coach Mike Brey gave Martin’s comeback a 50-50 shot and it seems like the best the team and Martin can hope for is that the pain won’t be a major issue and Martin can play limited minutes. Even in limited minutes, Martin’s basketball IQ, floor-spacing ability, and improved long-range shooting would be a boon for a Fighting Irish team trying to find some consistency. And on a more personal note, it would be just awful for Martin if his sixth-year of eligibility and his last shot at the NCAA Tournament were wasted because of recurring knee problems. The quotes Martin gave to Jeff Goodman are, unfortunately, rather sad, and positive thinking alone won’t resurrect Martin’s career. My guess is that Brey and the team will find a way to get Martin on the court, even for a minute, on Senior Night next Tuesday but I wouldn’t expect him to make a large impact on the rest of team’s season.
  3. Until I got a chance to read this article, I had forgotten that Miami‘s star point guard Shane Larkin was at one point supposed to be playing for DePaul and coach Oliver Purnell. Even Purnell was willing to wonder what life might have been with a budding star like Larkin running the show, but alas, the Blue Demons don’t have Larkin, who has gone on to bigger and better things, while the Blue Demons have continued to slump. The story is a good one, especially because it is penned by a Virginian-Pilot reporter who was familiar with Purnell from the coach’s time at Old Dominion. The jist is that Purnell came to Chicago with the reputation of a program fixer, something DePaul was in desperate need of, and things have not gone according to plan. Aside from Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young, the team is devoid of true Big East-caliber talent and the Blue Demons’ offense is so putrid at times that watching them play can be difficult. We have used this space before to wonder whether Purnell will get the axe at the end of this season, but I think at this point, the school is willing to let him have one more year to show some serious improvement before they kick him to the curb. Of course that extra season might have just as much to do with the fact that DePaul still owes Purnell a lot of money and they would like to try and recoup something of value from that investment. It’s hard to root against Purnell, who seems like such a nice guy, but Purnell’s coaching track record is not spotless, and unless he can turn things around out of the gate next season, the school may not even wait a full season to dump him.
  4. Hard to disagree with Cincinnati head honcho Mick Cronin‘s decision to make practice after the team’s blowout loss to Notre Dame light and fun. Nothing has been fun about the last few weeks for Cincinnati as they have watched themselves go from conference title contenders to bubble watchers in just six games and so Cronin’s decision to give the guys an “emotional break” seems like exactly what the doctor ordered for the team as they get ready to play UConn on Saturday. Of course that emotional break won’t help the Bearcats learn how to score, something they have not done a lot of in recent weeks. The game against the Huskies will be at home, and UConn is coming off their emotionally draining loss last night to Georgetown, so maybe the stars have aligned for Cincinnati to get back on track, or maybe the gritty Huskies will find a way to get up for this game as well and they will sink Cincinnati even lower. Maybe now, after their break, the team can relax, take some of the pressure off of themselves, and just play hard-nosed basketball. They better, because although they are safely in the tournament for now, the way they have played in the last six games, anything can happen before Selection Sunday.
  5. It is somewhat hard to follow Bud Poliquin‘s meandering, comma-filled article about Jim Boeheim‘s testy press conference after the team’s loss to Marquette but I think what the veteran columnist is trying to say is that people shouldn’t make a big deal of the fact that Boeheim got a bit snippy in a press conference because it happens all the time. Poliquin has a point. There are plenty of us who haven’t even been on Earth long enough to remember Boeheim’s first years at Syracuse and even we know that the legend likes to get combative and short when he doesn’t like the questions being asked. All of that said, Boeheim has been making plenty of news with his off-the-court remarks this season, and scolding a student reporter, or any reporter for that much, for asking pertinent questions about X’s and O’s and coaching decisions is a bit ridiculous. The questions that Boeheim didn’t like weren’t meant to question his coaching ability, they were questions that were being asked so they could get answers from the guy in the room with all of the coaching experience and ability. A question about why Boeheim didn’t use DaJuan Coleman against the Golden Eagles isn’t meant to criticize Boeheim’s decision-making, it is to learn more about his decision-making process. So yeah, let’s not make a big deal of the fact that Jim Boeheim got snarky in front of a microphone again, but only if Boeheim will agree to stop making innocent questions about a game such a big deal as well.
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Big East M5: 02.21.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 21st, 2013

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  1. Well, just when everyone had become enchanted with the idea of Providence giving Syracuse a stiff challenge, the Orange came out and showed everyone why they hadn’t lost at home in 37 games. Boeheim’s defensive length sparked a 31-5 run to close the first half, and the Friars were run out of the gym, 84-59. CJ Fair logged his second consecutive double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and the Orange shot almost 57% on a Providence defense that had held Notre Dame to 39% last week. Most encouraging for Syracuse fans was the impeccable performance Michael Carter-Williams turned in after his tapering assist numbers had raised eyebrows. The sophomore ended with 12 assists and an absurd 6:1 assist to turnover ratio to go along with 15 points and five rebounds. Any doubts about Syracuse’s trajectory were erased as they moved back into a tie for first place in league play.
  2. In another Wednesday night blowout, Georgetown freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera played a career game as the Hoyas pounded DePaul, 90-66, to extend their winning streak to eight. Coming off the bench, the stocky Thompsonian guard racked up 33 points on 10-of-12 (83%) shooting, hit 5-of-6 threes and 8-of-10 free throws. It was the most points scored by a Georgetown freshman since Victor Page put up 34 in the 1996 Big East Tournament. It also warrants some further research to determine the last time anyone accumulated as many points shooting 80% or higher from both the field, three-point and free throw lines. We’ll look into it.
  3. Jamie Dixon’s emphasis on rebounding is well documented, but it’s even more important this season without a reliable scorer. Despite entering last weekend’s game tied for the best rebounding margin in the Big East, Pitt emerged bloodied from its Notre Dame embarrassment with a -22 margin between two straight losses. In fact, Pitt’s lost six of the last eight games in which it hasn’t earned an advantage on the glass. Dixon stresses the need for “rebounding from every position,” but Lamar Patterson had questioned the effort from his big men after last weekend’s Marquette loss: “We’ve got big guys, too. Steve [Adams] and Talib [Zanna] are big guys. It came down to who wanted it more.” The two performed even worse on the boards against the Irish, collecting four and two rebounds, respectively. Maybe it’s not the kind of criticism you’d pose publicly, but it appears to have some merit.
  4. Notre Dame forward Scott Martin is poised to return to full participation in practice this weekend after missing eight games with chronic knee issues. Despite the leadership and production Martin brings to the table, the Irish are 6-2 in his absence, as Tom Knight has ascended from obscurity to become a reliable starter. It’s not an unfamiliar situation for Mike Brey: “Luke Harangody came back to us at time we were rolling along with a different nucleus. Scott will have to work himself in and he and I talked about that. His attitude is great… I would love to have that body available down the stretch.” Brey also revealed he’s also contemplating inserting Martin at the three spot, which would alleviate the problematic numbers game in Notre Dame’s frontcourt. It’s hard to imagine a hobbled Martin having the lateral quickness to guard many Big East threes, though.
  5. Eric Crawford at the Louisville Courier-Journal juxtaposes the patchwork understanding of basketball Gorgui Dieng brought to Louisville with the astute mind for the game he’s developed in three seasons. He’s gone from not grasping that offensive and defensive fouls count toward one’s foul total, to becoming one of the team’s best passer, whom Rick Pitino compares to former point-center David Padgett for his passing ability and intellect. “He’s our coach on the floor,” says Pitino. While Dieng demurred when asked about his coach’s comments that he may encourage the 23-year-old junior to test the draft after this season, Crawford picks up on subtleties in Dieng’s speech that suggest he might be preparing for an exit. Responding to concerns about fatigue, Dieng said, “I will do whatever to help this team. I’m not worried if I play a lot of minutes or less minutes. I don’t know if I’m going to have this chance again, ever.”
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Big East M5: 01.28.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 28th, 2013

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  1. After we’d learned last week that an injury-plagued Scott Martin was on an indefinite hiatus from Notre Dame’s rotation, Mike Brey insisted that he was holding open auditions to fill the starting job. Senior Tom Knight apparently earned the spot in practice, and responded in a big way in the Fighting Irish’ 73-65 win over South Florida on Saturday. In 32 minutes, the 6’10″ forward grabbed seven rebounds and scored a career-high 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He’d only scored 24 points on the season prior to the USF game. The performance underscored the value that experience plays in Brey’s program: “[Knight’s] been around us for a while, so it’s nice. You lose a six-year senior and we put in another senior who’s been in our program.”
  2. Many (myself included) dismissed Villanova’s upset victory over #5 Louisville last week as more symptomatic of a poor effort from the Cardinals than a turning point for the Wildcats. Then on Saturday, Jay Wright’s squad turned around and upset #3 Syracuse in overtime, 75-71, in a cumulative effort from “a long list of standouts.” Ryan Arcidiacono’s three sent it to overtime and Mouphtaou Yarou’s 13-point, 16-rebound double-double put his point guard in a position to tie it up. But the biggest key to Villanova sustaining its momentum may be the efficient scoring of 6’6″ sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard. After averaging 21.4% from the field and shooting 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in his first three Big East games, Hilliard is suddenly lighting up elite defenses, shooting 55.8% from the field and hitting 9-of-17 threes (53%) in these last four league games.
  3. Rick Pitino is calling tonight’s Pittsburgh game a must-win. Panthers’ blog Cardiac Hill concedes that a fourth straight loss coupled with a lack of quality wins could understandably trigger panic, but also argues that a loss to Pitt wouldn’t spell doom for the Cardinals. Pitino likely agrees, but a dose of exaggerated urgency could fit the bill for a team that might have been too flippant about losing after falling to Syracuse.
  4. Shabazz Napier willed UConn to a crucial win over Rutgers in Hartford over the weekend that moved the Huskies to .500 in conference play. Coach Kevin Ollie says the junior guard is healthy and “making the definite choice to be a leader.” Napier put forth the kind of efficiently prolific performance he had in the Huskies’ win over Notre Dame, scoring a team-high 19 points (6-of-13 shooting) to go with six assists and five steals. Most impressive was the fact that UConn finished +4 in rebounding margin, after being abused on the glass in their two previous games.
  5. Marquette is quietly sitting alone at a half-game out of first place in the Big East after subduing Providence 81-71 in Milwaukee’s Bradley Center. The game wasn’t particularly close after Marquette opened it up with an early 13-2 run, and the only real source of basketball-related excitement came from a huge Vander Blue dunk over LaDontae Henton. Thankfully, an absurd spectacle sparked by a rogue bat with a preternatural affinity for the brightest space in the building made the game well worth the price of admission. Ed Cooley was not amused. At least we have this .gif for posterity.
(From @bubbaprog)

Ed Cooley: not stopping in bat country (From @bubbaprog)

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Big East M5: 01.24.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on January 24th, 2013

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  1. Just days removed from being the top ranked team in the nation, Louisville has fallen on tough times.  Back to back losses to Syracuse and Villanova has Rick Pitino noticeably upset about his team’s play.  After the Villanova loss, his venom was directed towards the Cardinals’ free throw shooting, at the expense of a pair of basketball stars:  “It was really a simple answer to why we lost.  Basically we were Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal. We came down we had a six-point lead and it could have been eight. Could have kept coming down and extending it but our free throws were a turnover. Very simple answer for why we lost. Our foul shooting was despicable.” Despite the two losses, Louisville can still be considered the class of the conference, and we know that Pitino is coaching his team with March in mind.  That being said, with both Chane Behanan and Montrezl Harris shooting ~50% from the line, the Cardinals may have a tough time closing out savvy teams.
  2. Moving forward, the game may say more about Villanova than it does Louisville.  The Wildcats have struggled to notch conference wins to this point, but they’ve been knocking on the door.  Against the Cardinals, they just decided to kick it down.  Where in previous games against Pitt and Providence, Villanova was unable to put away its opponent, against Louisville the Wildcats applied the pressure while playing from behind, and with an assist from the Cardinals’ poor free throw shooting, Nova finally stole one.  The Wildcats have a chance to make another big statement against Syracuse on Saturday morning.  Another strong performance would go a long way towards getting Villanova back into NCAA Tournament talks.
  3. I wouldn’t have guessed Buzz Williams as the Big East coach to utilize long-running extended metaphors to describe his team from season to season, but here we are.  Marquette‘s a hard team to pin down.  They haven’t looked awfully impressive in any game this season.  It took overtime to beat Pittsburgh and UConn, they snuck by Georgetown in a classic Hoya 49-48 game, and they only topped Seton Hall by seven.  However, they only have one loss in league play, in overtime against Cincinnati, and the Golden Eagles find themselves in second place, 1.5 games behind Syracuse.  Some teams have played below expectations, others have surpassed them.  Marquette seems to be right where it should be, it just hasn’t been an easy path taken.
  4. Scott Martin‘s six year Notre Dame career may be coming to a close.  The oft-banged up Irish captain has struggled to regain form after offseason ACL and meniscus repair, and has been shut down for the time being.  Mike Brey says that it’s all hands on deck to try to find a replacement for Martin: ”But I think I’m going into it thinking, we’re looking at everybody in a gold (practice) shirt – Zach (Auguste), Austin (Burgett), (Garrick Sherman), Tom Knight. We’re going to do it today, we’re going to do it tomorrow, and we’re probably going to do it the first half Saturday to see, what do we have?”  Martin’s scoring has dipped a bit this season, but he’s a solid player who is especially dangerous with his .463 mark from three-point range.  More than anything, the Irish will miss Martin’s consistency, and the team needs it more now than ever.  Hopefully Martin is able to come back from this most recent issue.
  5. UConn freshman Omar Calhoun was not only lucky enough to be blessed with tremendous skill on the court, but he also has two parents who have a unique perspective on what it takes to succeed off of it.  Calhoun’s father, Omar Sr., played at St. Francis College before leaving the game when Omar Jr. was born.  His mother, Semara Breland, was a star in high school on track to receive multiple scholarship offers before she left the game as a Junior.  Both stayed in school and received their college degrees while raising Omar and his sister Sierra, a good player in her own right, and that experience has been invaluable in guiding their kids to making good, informed choices with their basketball careers.
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Knee Issues, Slump Jeopardize Scott Martin’s Starting Job at Notre Dame

Posted by Will Tucker on January 23rd, 2013

After a surprise 14-1 start that drew on steady veteran leadership, Notre Dame suddenly finds itself losers of three of the last four games and at 3-3 in the Big East, coming off an historic home loss to Georgetown. Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the team’s 10-day collapse is that Scott Martin, one of its most dependable veterans, has become a big part of the problem. Mired in a slump and showing signs of the knee injury that has plagued his six year-career, Martin will likely be the first casualty to an imminent shake-up in Mike Brey’s starting lineup. Martin has averaged 1.8 PPG on 2-of-11 shooting over the agonizing four-game stretch. He logged a season-low 18 minutes against the Hoyas before his aggravated knee and poor performance sidelined him for the remainder of the game. Prior to his recent skid, Martin had been enjoying the most productive season of his career, averaging 9.7 PPG and hitting at 50% from behind the line. But his dramatic slump has reduced his scoring and minutes to the lowest averages of his career.

(Credit Elsa/Getty Images)

Mike Brey says Martin’s knee pain affects every phase of his game (Credit Elsa/Getty Images)

Mike Brey attributes the forward’s struggles to the knee that was visibly nagging him against Georgetown: “I feel for him. He’s trying to give us stuff but the knee has been an issue. I think it’s affecting all of his phases.” In fact, it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that we learned Martin underwent a second surgery on the left knee that had previously forced Martin to redshirt in 2009-10. The operation took place over this past summer and was evidently kept under wraps, but the toll taken on the 24-year-old big man is clearly noticeable. “I don’t know how much he’s going to be able to practice the rest of the year,” Brey said; “It’s nothing major, it’s just a lot of wear and tear on a knee that’s had two surgeries.” Don’t be surprised to see 6’10″ freshman Zach Auguste (3.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG in 6.2 MPG) enter the rotation in Martin’s stead. The former four-star recruit is brimming with talent, but has only logged a total of four minutes of Big East experience. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds to a sudden expanded role.

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The Freshman 10: The Best and Worst of Big East Newcomers

Posted by mlemaire on December 6th, 2012

The season is only a month and some change old but it is never too early to check in on the progress of some of the conference’s most heralded and surprising freshmen. While young bloods like Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State and Nik Stauskas of Michigan have made an instant splash on the college scene, the Big East’s crop of rookies have made a more muted impact.  There was no methodology when it came to selecting which freshmen to analyze, so we just chose 10 of the most interesting freshmen to follow. Of course, conference play hasn’t even begun yet, so evaluating their body of work is somewhat of a trivial venture. But don’t you worry, we will be back later in the year to check in on some of these players again.

DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse)

The Learning Curve For Prized Freshman DaJuan Coleman Has Been Steeper Than Some Expected

It is still far too early to make a judgment call on what type of player DaJuan Coleman can become this season. But those who expected the highly touted forward to come in and immediately start anchoring the paint for the Orange probably need to adjust their expectations. To his credit, he seems to be getting better each game. But in six games against subpar competition, Coleman hasn’t seen much playing time and has shown only promise and inconsistency when he does play.

Anyone with eyes can see the wide-bodied forward is going to be an excellent rebounder and considering he is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in just 16.3 minutes of playing time, he is already on his way to validating that obvious observation. But he isn’t a shot-blocker which is fine so long as he is an efficient scorer in the post and an elite rebounder. He has an impressive skill set and nimble feet for a man his size, but the ball rarely makes it back out to the perimeter if it goes to Coleman in the post, and he will need to take better care of it and make smarter decisions if he wants to continue to receive looks in the paint. His downfall offensively may be his sketchy free-throw shooting (55 FT%) as he is the type of strong interior player destined to draw a lot of fouls, and if he can even make his free throws at a 66 percent clip, he will be a much more productive scorer.

Jakarr Sampson (St. John’s)

It should come as no surprise that Sampson has adjusted to college basketball quickly because the Akron native was supposed to be suiting up for the Red Storm last season before lackluster academics forced him to return to prep school. But now that he is on the roster, he has wasted little time making his mark on both ends of the floor and is the clear front-runner for conference rookie of the year honors. The lanky 6’8″ forward already had a well-deserved reputation as a sensational dunker, but his game is more nuanced than that. Sampson has thus far started all nine of the team’s games, averaging 30.8 minutes per game, and he ranks second on the team in scoring (13.8 PPG), first in rebounding (6.6 RPG), and second in blocks (1.6 BPG).

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Big East M5: 12.04.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 4th, 2012

  1. Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame has developed a reputation for early NCAA Tournament flame outs. The Irish have reached the Dance eight times, but have only advanced past the round of 32 once. One of the reasons that has been cited is the tendency for Notre Dame teams to be predicated on jump shooting and finesse play. Brey thinks that this Notre Dame squad may be the one to break that mold and achieve “it,” although he seems to be very wary of angering the basketball jinx gods by revealing what “it” is.  This season’s Fighting Irish are flying high after a win over Kentucky, and the group seems to have a different makeup than the teams before them. They have a legitimate post presence in Jack Cooley, guards who can break down the defense in Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, and the requisite shooters in Scott Martin and Cameron Biedscheid. This may not end up being the Notre Dame team that does “it,” but they certainly look the part at this early juncture.
  2. UConn’s season has been about as weird as one would expect so far. After what seemed to be a statement win in the opener against Michigan State in Germany, the Huskies dropped a game to New Mexico and have struggled recently against the likes of Stony Brook and New Hampshire. Kevin Ollie’s team is looking forward to the return of senior guard R.J. Evans, who is the normal sixth man in the team’s rotation. Evans, who missed the last two games with an injured sternoclavicular joint, may be ready to go in tonight’s match-up with a very talented NC State team. Evans’ presence and leadership off the bench should take some of the pressure off of starting guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Napier has stressed the impact that Evans brings to the flow of UConn’s offense: “Against New Hampshire we played a little selfish… We missed R.J.”
  3. In other UConn news, Jim Calhoun recently unveiled some interesting information about his health while on the YES Network’s Centerstage. On top of the February spinal surgery and the summer hip surgery that Calhoun underwent, he also had a “cancer-related” growth removed in May. Calhoun had previously received treatment for skin cancer in 2008, and doctors feared that the growth may be related to that incident. Calhoun also stated that he would ”never say never” with regards to a coaching comeback. This seems like incredibly strange timing for such a statement, given his abrupt retirement which allowed his chosen successor Kevin Ollie to take over the job at Connecticut.
  4. Rick Pitino has competed against almost every notable coach you can think of at the highest levels of basketball, so when he is seemingly awe-struck by a young coach, it is noteworthy. After his Louisville Cardinals escaped an upset at the hands of Illinois State with a 69-66 win on Saturday, Pitino couldn’t heap enough praise on the Redbirds’ first-year head man, 36 year old Dan Muller: “We’ve all seen Brad Stevens (of Butler) and Shaka (Smart of VCU) the past couple years. That’s one of the brightest first-year coaches I’ve witnessed in a long, long time… I’m happy for him. He’s been very patient waiting for a job. That’s one of the bright young stars in our game.”
  5. When one thinks of Jim Boeheim, basketball is likely one of the first things to come to mind, along with Syracuse, central New York, zone defense, and epic post-game rants. However, Boeheim is also an avid golfer, and at one time, the Syracuse golf coach, which makes a three-foot tall golf ball painted in his likeness a little less… peculiar. The ball was painted by local artist Phillip Burke and will be auctioned off in the spring, with proceeds going to the Jim & Juli Boeheim Foundation. The Boeheims host an annual “Basket Ball” gala every spring, which has raised over $4 million dollars in the last dozen years for cancer research.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by mlemaire on August 7th, 2012

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

1. You win some and you lose some… eligibility petition that is.

It was a tumultuous May for Notre Dame fans and head coach Mike Brey emotionally. The beginning of the month brought the somewhat expected  bad news in that that star forward Tim Abromaitis‘ petition for a sixth year of eligibility had been denied despite his sterling academic record and unfortunate injury history. It had always been a long shot but if Abromaitis had been able to return, the Fighting Irish could have been a contender for next season’s conference crown. A little more than a week later the news was better as forward Scott Martin‘s petition for a sixth year of eligibility was granted by the NCAA, giving the program’s fan base the shot in the arm they were looking for. Now, Martin is assuredly not the same player as Abromaitis, but he did post 9.5 PPG and 5.7 RPG last year while offering positional versatility, smart decision-making, and veteran leadership. It would have been wonderful for the program to get both players back, but they should be more than content to even get one guy back from what seemed like an unlikely possibility. Martin is a consummate glue guy and will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in Notre Dame’s success next season.

2. It certainly doesn’t seem like Mike Brey is going anywhere any time soon.

Mike Brey’s Coaching Prowess Paid Off To The Tune Of A New, 10-year Contract (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

With still three years left on his contract extension, Notre Dame didn’t bother waiting to show Brey exactly how much they appreciated his run at the helm of the program, giving him a new, 10-year contract that will run through June 2022. Brey has made a name for himself in the Big East by taking the program to eight NCAA Tournaments despite slightly lesser talent than some of his peers. Brey is a three-time conference coach of the year and he is best known for his methodical offensive approach that often allows Notre Dame to stay in close games even when they are athletically over-matched. There is no question that Brey deserves the contract and the Fighting Irish are doing the right thing by showing Brey they are committed to him as their basketball coach, because he is one of the best in the business and the university isn’t and never will be a basketball school. At the same time, a lot can happen between now and 2022.

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Morning Five: 05.14.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 14th, 2012

  1. The competition for the best team in the West just got a little more interesting as Anthony Bennett, the top remaining recruit in the class of 2012, committed to UNLV. Bennett, a top ten recruit by almost any recruiting service, will join Mike Moser, Khem Birch, and several other talented, but less heralded player to form what could be the most formidable frontcourt in the country. Add in a veteran backcourt and one more scholarship opening for next year and you have the makings of a potential top ten team and one that might be more dangerous in March than their more heralded counterparts in the Pac-12–UCLA and Arizona.
  2. Just when you thought that John Calipari and Kentucky might be one piece short they pull out a surprise on Sunday afternoon in the form of Julius Mays, who will transfer from Wright State to Kentucky and will be able to play next season after graduating from Wright State this spring. We will skip over our thoughts on the transfer rule that has led to an explosion in individuals who plan “to attend graduate school in an area not offered” at their previous school (later clarified after a discussion with John Infante) and instead focus on the impact that bringing in a senior combo guard who averaged 14.1 points per game last season while leading his team in scoring, assists, and steals. It obviously is a big move that helps shore up some of the team’s deficiencies and provides them with an outside threat who shot 42.4% from three-point range this season. Given the depth the Wildcats have Mays will probably come off the bench, but if the fans are worried about Mays adjusting to the level of play in the SEC they can be comforted by the fact that like fellow transfer Ryan Harrow Mays spent time in the ACC at North Carolina State although his route to Kentucky included a detour before winding up in Lexington.
  3. Former Kentucky guard Sean Woods, best known to basketball fans as the man who hit the shot before “The Shot”, will move on from Mississippi Valley State to take over as the next head coach at Morehead State. Woods, who led Missouri Valley State to the NCAA Tournament this past season, will be introduced at a press conference scheduled for 2 PM tomorrow and immediately becomes the second most popular basketball coach in the state with the force of Big Blue Nation behind him. The hiring also means that we should expect to see more frequent matchups between Woods’ new school and his alma mater. Of course it is probably more important to note that Woods will also have to deal with an Ohio Valley Conference that will be markedly improved with Belmont joining the OVC this season giving it two very strong programs–Belmont and Murray State–in addition to the Eagles.
  4. After losing its appeal for a sixth year of eligibility for Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame won an appeal for a sixth year for another player as Scott Martin was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. While some Irish fans and NCAA critics will blast the NCAA for its decision to grant Martin a sixth year after not doing so for Abromaitis in reality the situations were quite different. Martin lost a year due to a transfer to be near his father who was battling cancer then Martin was injured before ever getting a chance to play for the Irish to account for his two years while Abromaitis took a year as his personal (or team-directed) choice due to lack of playing time then was injured after playing part of a season. While Irish fans and many college basketball fans hoped to see Abromaitis return for another year, Martin’s return is a nice consolation prize as it means that the Irish will have their entire starting lineup from last year back when it overachieved in the eyes of many observers.
  5. Derrick Nix, who was arrested the day after the National Championship Game, was ordered to pay $853 in fines and court costs and serve 24 hours of community service as part of his plea deal for a misdemeanor charge of impaired driving. In addition, the Michigan State rising senior will have attend eight to 12 sessions regarding marijuana use as well as a discussion led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The penalties appear to be appropriate for what is usually handed out in these type of cases for first-time offenders without serious criminal histories. Of course, most people in these type of cases do not have Tom Izzo waiting on the other end to dish out additional punishment.
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