Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

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

 

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

Power Rankings

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

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

 

A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

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

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville – but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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