Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Battle of Cincinnati - All Basketball, No Punches

Almost exactly a year removed from the infamous brawl between Cincinnati and Xavier, there was less than a 0% chance of anything close to that situation happening again in the yearly rivalry game between the teams separated by ~3 miles. Instead, we got what we expected - a hard fought game filled with passion and emotion accompanied by a raucous crowd.

After last year’s mess they decided to move the game to a neutral location (after alternating campuses for the last 25 years), splitting the tickets 50-50 amongst the schools and renaming the game from ‘Crosstown Shootout’ to ‘Crosstown Classic’ (to curtail the violence obviously).

The Bearcats eventually ran away with a 15 point win, but it likely would have been much closer if it wasn’t for two key injuries to the Musketeers. Their best player, freshman point guard Semaj Christon, missed almost all of the second half with a leg injury, and their only other significant contributor, sophomore guard Dee Davis, was constantly checking in and out as he dealt with cramps for most of the half.

Without Christon and Davis in the lineup, Xavier struggled mightily with Cincinnati’s full court pressure defense, turning the ball over a total of 15 times, most of them in the second half. There’s no telling how this game would have turned out had these injuries not happened, but Xavier was up by two at half, mostly due to their guard play.

Cincy on the other hand had a rough first half. Not only did it seem there was a lid on the basket, but they were unnecessarily settling for long-range shots. Coach Cronin described his team’s first half performance as a ‘complete debacle’ as they scored only 22 points.

The second half was better. They ran their offense and attacked the basket with authority. Mainly, it was Sean Kilpatrick having his was with his opponent. And it helped that Xavier couldn’t hit a free throw, finishing 2-13 from the line.

Some may discredit this win for the Bearcats using the continued argument that they’ve yet to beat a good team. But the fact of the matter is – this was a rivalry game (never easy no matter how up or down either team is for a given year), on a neutral court, and on national television. Cincy is the best rebounding team in the country, averaging 46.2 per game (whenever there is an offensive rebound opportunity, I always assume JaQuon Parker is going to come up with it), who plays excellent defense from end to end, and has an exceptional back court. They may not end up being in the top two or three of the Big East come the end of conference play, but they will come darn close to that - as they are 11-0 today for a reason.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Providence Getting Healthy And Potentially Dangerous

Providence, who has been playing with just six scholarship players for all but a few minutes of the year, is on the verge of getting some much needed depth, and some talented reinforcements at that.

Kris Dunn, the top point guard in the 2012 class, is getting set to make his debut tonight after being out since June with a shoulder injury. With their star player and point guard, Vincent Council, out with a hamstring injury, the Friars have been forced to play Bryce Cotton at the point and run a very short rotation. Cotton, who is more of a two guard, has stuck to his scoring ways by leading the conference in scoring with 20.8 points per game. And while he does average just over two turnovers per contest, he is dishing out twice the amount of assists (4.8). Not terrible and not great, but it's been getting the job done in the interim.

However, with Dunn ready to make his debut tonight against Colgate, Cotton will be able to slide back over to shooting guard, granted that Dunn can step in right away and take control. Dunn is a gifted play-maker who should bring an added dimension to the team.

Also, Arizona transfer and former top-100 recruit, Sidiki Johnson, is slated to make his Friar debut tonight. Johnson, a 6-foot-10 forward, is a bit of a question mark as he played just seven minutes for Arizona before being suspended by the team and eventually electing to leave the school. Since he's barely even played, it wouldn't be fair to call him a bust, but there is no way of knowing how good he will actually be. At the very least he will provide much needed size and depth to the rotation, with top-100 upside to go along with it.

While the Friars are 7-2, it is nearly impossible to gauge how good this team is given the weak schedule they have played to date. According to KenPom they are ranked 71st, but their average opponent is ranked 194, with Massachusetts being the highest ranked team at 107; a game Providence lost on a neutral court by two.

Getting Dunn and Johnson on the court will be extremely beneficial, but Friar fans are also desperately awaiting the return of their star, Vincent Council. Council strained his hamstring minutes into the team's first game of the year, and initial diagnosis speculated that he would sidelined around five weeks (which was about five weeks ago). There's no telling when he will be back (whispers are any day now, maybe even tonight), but when and if he does, the Friars should have one of the most exciting back courts in the country with Council, Cotton and Dunn.

The Friars aren't expected to immediately become one of the best teams in the conference, but excitement is on the way. With conference play quickly approaching (only three more games before they start Big East play) the reinforcements are more than needed. And finishing in the top half of the Big East is not out of the question.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Monday, December 17, 2012

Coach Boeheim Grabs Win #900

Coach Boeheim became the third coach in men’s basketball history to top 900 wins tonight, joining Mike Kryzewski and Bobby Knight in the exclusive club.  However, Boeheim is the only coach of the three to obtain all 900 wins with a single school. 

Boeheim is currently in his 37th season after taking over the head coaching role in 1976.  But even before that, he was a player from 1962-66 and an assistant coach from 1969-75.  In total, he has had his hand in well over 1,000 wins with the Syracuse program. 

And there’s no sign of him walking away anytime soon. 

He’s won over 30 games five times in his tenure, while finishing with less than 20 wins only twice.  He has led the Orange to the NCAA Tournament 29 times with two Final Fours and one National Championship. 

The 900 Club looks like this:

Mike Kryzewski – 936 wins (1975 to present)
Bob Knight – 902 wins (1965 – 2008)
Jim Boeheim – 900 wins (1976 to present)

Considering that Coach K is still cranking out wins at Duke and also giving no hints of calling it quits anytime soon, it seems unlikely that Boeheim will catch him (unless Coach K retires before Boeheim obviously).  However, considering that Boeheim has averaged over 26 wins per season over the last ten seasons, reaching 1,000 wins seems possible.  And next year Syracuse is shifting to the ACC.  You can’t tell me Boeheim won’t want to grab a few conference titles after dominating the Big East for all these years before hanging it up.  

But for now Boeheim is coaching a very good [national championship good] Orange team that is currently ranked #3 in the AP Poll.  Boeheim has never been one to talk about himself, but has always given credit and focus first to his coaching staff and players.  His recipe has proven successful, and he knows there’s a lot more to be accomplished.  But it’s one game at a time, one possession at a time.  This could end up being another special season for Boeheim and his Orange, but for now – Congrats Coach Boeheim.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mike Rice Suspended for Throwing Balls at Players' Heads

Mike Rice with the rage in his eye

I mean, is there really anything else to be said beyond the headline?

Mike Rice, Rutgers third year head coach, has been suspended for three games and docked $50,000 for whipping balls at his own players’ heads during practice.  This incident happened during his first two years and not this year.  Well, not yet at least.

He will return to the sideline on January 2nd, in which he and his team won’t have balls thrown at their heads, but it sure may feel like it after Syracuse rolls them at the Carrier Dome for their first Big East game of the season.

Clearly this guy is intense and has anger issues.  And apparently the best way for him to deal with those issues is to use his laser rocket arm to pelt his players with basketballs to the dome.

All you have to do is watch a Scarlet Knights game and keep an eye on him roaming the sideline.  He really is terrifying, but extremely entertaining to monitor because you know a blow-up is only moments away.  You can call it fiery, but his demeanor is more over the top than that.  It’s borderline nuts.

My biggest question is how he went about throwing balls at the heads of his players.  Would he just catch them mid-drill or scrimmage with a ball to the noggin when they were focusing on the game and getting better?  Did he line them up firing squad style and really put the fear into them?   Or, did he go up in the rafters and drop bombs from above?  All seem to be probable scenarios.  If you have any other ideas please leave them in the comments below.

Nevertheless, how did these players continue to play for him?  Seems like he would not only lose respect of the players, but also lose the players as well.  His days at Rutgers could be numbered.

In the meantime, associate head coach, David Cox, will handle the ball throwing coaching duties until Rice returns. 

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 3

Weekly Big East Power Rankings

Beyond the Jimmy V Classic that took place on Tuesday night and Marquette’s victory over in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday, it was a fairly quiet week for Big East teams.  Unfortunately, as these student-athletes enter ‘finals week’, most coaches like to employ the ‘cupcake’ strategy or to not play at all to give the students enough free time to take care of business so they can do what’s important down the road, play basketball of course.  Given that, the slate is fairly weak over the next seven days besides for Louisville vs Memphis and Notre Dame vs Purdue.  However, we are only three weeks from the second half of the season, conference play.  Now to the rankings… 

    Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recapping the Jimmy V Classic

By:  Shane McCarthy

The Jimmy V Classic has been a yearly staple in New York City since 1995.  Each year it consists of two games played in a double header format, almost always consisting of four upper-echelon teams.  It’s great basketball for a great cause. 

Texas 41, Georgetown 64: The Hoyas were coming off one of the ugliest games in the history of the sport, a 37-36 victory over Tennessee on Friday night.  While the same stingy defense showed up again, thankfully their skunk of an offense didn’t.    Texas has displayed its struggles on the offensive end since the start of the season, and Georgetown ended up being an awful matchup for them (it took the Longhorns over four minutes to score their first points).  The Hoyas forced a whopping 21 turnovers, many of which led to uncontested easy baskets in transition. 

In the end Georgetown only surrendered an impressive 41 points, but it was the 64 they scored on the offensive end that was welcomed.  Three players finished in double figures, led by Otto Porter who had 14.  Porter hit many difficult shots, namely multiple turnaround fade-aways that were impossible to defend.  He’s clearly a great player, but it’s Georgetown’s disciplined nature on both ends of the floor that makes this team as good as they are.  I’d only expect this team to get better.

Connecticut 65, NC State 69:  The story for UConn all year is going to be their lack of size.  Their guard play is outstanding.  You can’t ask for much more in the back court than Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun.  Napier should probably shoot more, while Boatright needs to play a bit smarter, but this trio isn’t the problem.  The Huskies have no inside presence and will consistently get out-muscled down low against teams with formidable big men.   

That’s what NC State did on Tuesday night.  They pounded the ball down low from the very start of the game, and even though it was close throughout, it paid off at the end.  C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell finished with double doubles for the Wolfpack as they relentlessly got the ball into the paint for easy buckets or tip-ins.  While NC State never enjoyed a large lead, they maintained their slim advantage down the stretch while UConn went cold and got sloppy.  UConn lead 20-9 early making five three pointers during that run, but it proved unsustainable on this night.  The Huskies will win a fair share of games this year, but if they are going to beat high-level competition it will be because of lights-out shooting.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 2

By:  Shane McCarthy

Last week the Big East handled the SEC with ease in the SEC/Big East Challenge, finishing 9-3 over the three day span.  Some of the wins were impressive (Notre Dame over Kentucky), while others were ugly (no doubt I'm looking at you Georgetown and your 37 points scored but still found a way to beat Tennessee).  This week is headlined by the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday night, involving Georgetown and UConn.

This week's Power Rankings are below, with a notable shake-up near the top.  Syracuse remains at the top, but Cincinnati slides into the #2 spot (pushing Louisville down to #3) with a quality win over Alabama on Saturday afternoon.  The Bearcats may not be the second best team in the conference come the end of the season, but 7-0 is 7-0, so they deserve it as of now.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Previewing the Big East/SEC Challenge

By:  Shane McCarthy

Last year was the first season that the Big East/SEC Challenge went to the 12 per conference team format.  Previously it was four teams from each, and it was played as doubleheaders on back-to-back days on a neutral court.  The new format spans over three days (this Thursday to Saturday) and each game is played on the  home court of one of the two competing teams.

The Big East won the challenge 8-4 last year.   

This year's challenge will be headlined by #8 Kentucky at Notre Dame on Thursday night, because, well it's Kentucky.  This game features a senior-laden team playing at home in front of a raucous crowd versus a prominently all freshman squad on the road that has struggled a bit in the early going.  The Irish looked very good on Monday night home against Chicago St., which may not mean much, but if they can continue their hot shooting (especially from 3) and play with that same intensity on Thursday night, a victory seems more than possible.  The Wildcats have the edge in the front court, but the Irish have the edge in the back court.  Combine that with their experience, depth and home court, and it should be a good one.

Also on Thursday night, Marquette will head down to Florida to take on the #7 Gators.  This is a rematch of a Sweet 16 game from a year ago in which Florida got the best of the Golden Eagles.  Like that game, expect the floor to be spread and shots raining down from all over.  Like most years it seems, Marquette is flying under the radar early, but that is do to their lack of chemistry, and nothing to do with their athleticism.  This team will only get better, and Buzz Williams would like it to start against the Gators on Thursday.

On Friday both #6 Syracuse vs Arkansas and Tennessee vs #20 Georgetown are intriguing games.  The Hoyas have shown early on that they can hang with the best, but they can't get too casual with Tennessee, who is likely a borderline tournament team.  And anytime the Orange leave Central New York before Christmas it makes headlines.  Syracuse is a force and very difficult to match-up with, especially for a team that never sees them.  Good luck Razorbacks.  You're going to need it. 

And if Kentucky vs. Notre Dame does not end up being the best game of the slate, Alabama vs #17 Cincinnati on Saturday very well could be.  The Bearcats have looked very good in the early going, scoring in droves and pounding the glass.  But they've yet to really be tested (no disrespect to Oregon, but let's see a few more games first).  And the Crimson Tide are a fringe Top-25 team, who, like Cincinnati, is undefeated.  Expect this one to come down to the wire and even to OT.

The rest of the schedule is below.

And I like the Big East to emerge victorious (whatever that means - respect I guess? bragging rights?) by taking one more than half and going 7-5.

Louisville, Pittsburgh and UConn are the Big East teams that are not participating in the challenge.

Thursday, November 29
#8 Kentucky @ Notre Dame
South Carolina @ St. John's
Marquette @ #7 Florida
Seton Hall @ LSU

Friday, November 30
Tennessee @ #20 Georgetown
Georgia @ South Florida
#6 Syracuse @ Arkansas
DePaul @ Auburn

Saturday, December 1
Alabama @ #17 Cincinnati
Villanova @ Vanderbilt
Mississippi State @ Providence
Rutgers @ Mississippi

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Monday, November 26, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Vol.1

By:  Shane McCarthy

The most current and official Big East Men’s Basketball POWER RANKINGS

But first, a brief explanation about the title: ‘Soup to Nuts’. 

Per Wikipedia - “Soup to nuts” is an American English idiom conveying the meaning of “from beginning to end”.  It is derived from the description of a full course dinner, in which courses progress from soup to a dessert of nuts.  But most of all I just really enjoy the phrase and didn’t want to slap the bland old title of ‘power rankings’ on my, well, power rankings.  And it just so happens to kind of make logical sense, considering I am ranking the teams from 1 (the beginning) to 15 (the end). 

But enough of that.  We are about four weeks into the season and I have seen enough from each team to issue the inaugural installment of Soup to Nuts.  Feel free to leave a comment, shoot me an email or hit me up on twitter (@shane_t_mac) if you so please.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Dieng Goes Down with a Broken Wrist

By:  Shane McCarthy

In the Cardinals second round matchup with Missouri in the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday night, Gorgui Dieng absorbed a charge and took a spill to the floor. Instinctively and naturally, he braced his fall by putting his arms down to soften the blow with the hardwood. He ended up leaving the game for a brief period, but returned with his left wrist taped up. The next night, in the championship game against #5 Duke, the injury was deemed severe enough that Dieng had to sit on the bench in street clothes as his team fell in a closely contested battle with the Blue Devils.

Upon returning to Louisville on Sunday, it was determined that Dieng had actually broken his left wrist - the scaphoid bone to be exact. And as of this writing, there is no timetable for his return.

First and foremost you have to feel bad for Dieng. Last year he improved his game to the point that he became nationally recognized. But this was supposed to be his break out year. He has risen to become one of the most formidable centers in the country, causing the opposition to think twice about how they attacked and guarded the paint. Standing at 6 foot 11, he was finally understanding how to play the game and was becoming much more athletic, averaging a full two blocks per game. But now the Cards must move on without him, for a period of time anyway.

It looks as if Coach Pitino is going to go with the combination of Zach Price (6 foot 10 sophomore) and Stephan Van Treese (6 foot 9 junior) to fill in for Dieng. And freshman Montrezl Harrell (6 foot 8) has shown that he can hold his own in the paint at forward. On Saturday night against Duke the two (Price and Van Treese) combined for 12 points, 11 rebounds and one block. Very respectable. And even though the final outcome was a 76-71 loss, the game was encouraging. They went toe-to-toe with the #5 team in the country on a neutral court, without arguably their best defender, without a single practice to adjust, and almost came away with a victory.

Louisville is clearly a different team without Dieng on the court. But the combination of Price, Van Treese and Harrell to go along with Chane Behanan (who leads the team in rebounding with 8.5 per game) is still a strong front court. And that’s without mentioning the excellent back court and engine of this team in Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock and Russ Smith who is playing ‘russdiculous’ right now. They may not be looked at as the #2 team in the country today, but they will continue to roll out a tough lineup night after night and play stingy defense. But their odds of getting back to the Final Four will be greater if Dieng has a speedy recovery. For his sake and the team’s, Card fans will be hoping for the best, but they know Dieng’s injury won’t result in a lost season. There is too much talent on this roster to think that.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Big East Teams in Feast Week Tournaments

By:  Shane McCarthy

Over the next four days there are a number of college basketball tournaments to take place.  Even though most of the country will be on a long weekend, it is difficult to fit college hoops in between eating, family gatherings, football, shopping, eating, more football and even more eating. 

But if you get a chance to fit some hoops in, there are some real good tournaments going down.  Here are the Big East teams that will be taking part:

Pittsburgh - NIT Season Tip-Off (Wednesday and Friday)
Tonights game is the marquee game:  Pittsburgh vs. #4 Michigan at the Garden.

Louisville - Battle 4 Atlantis (Thursday thru Saturday)
This is an eight team field with four top-25 teams.  The potential for high-caliber match-ups is probable.  A Louisville vs. Duke championship would draw a few eyes.

Cincinnati - Global Sports Classic (Friday and Saturday)
This is a four team tournament taking place in Vegas.  Cincinnati has yet to be tested, but a potential matchup with UNLV (a home game for the Rebels) would give them a feel for where they stand. 

There are plenty of other games spread throughout the weekend (including Marquette and DePaul playing in consolation games tonight), but these are all the tournament games to be played out. 

I'll be back on Monday with the first installment of the Big East power rankings, and will likely send a tweet here and there in the meantime. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Georgetown goes toe-to-toe with #1, but falls in OT

By:  Shane McCarthy

There is no question that Georgetown is a very good team. They proved that the last two nights. The Hoyas obviously deserve to be ranked, and will be labeled with a number next Monday. And now that they rose to the occasion on two nationally televised games against two marquee opponents, everyone will be on the Hoyas bandwagon.

Georgetown was clearly better than #11 UCLA on Monday night. You could see that on both ends of the floor. Their patience combined with aggressiveness on the offensive-end kept UCLA frustrated, while their length and discipline on the defensive-end ultimately won them the game.

But on Tuesday night you could tell that Indiana was the better team on the court. Georgetown didn’t play any different than Monday night and they certainly didn’t play poorly, but you could tell why Indiana is the #1 ranked team. The Hoosiers were very sound defensively, locking down the interior and jamming up cutting lanes, forcing the Hoyas to take 26 3-point attempts. They took 14 the night before. Indiana was also crisp on the offensive-end. Georgetown’s defensive prowess was on display, but whenever the Hoosiers became desperate for a bucket, they cycled the ball to perfection to find a backdoor cut or a wide-open three.

Even though Georgetown hung around all game and held the lead for various parts of the contest, you could just tell that it wasn’t going to last. But it actually almost did, and that’s a compliment. Because this team is young and is quickly learning to play top-notch basketball. "This team can grow up; we can grow up a lot," coach John Thompson III said. "We had a lot of guys out there in situations that they've never been in before. We can get a lot better. A lot better."

Otto Porter gives the Hoyas an identity. In the previous two games he missed against Duquesne and Liberty, Georgetown looked very average. And let’s be honest, with the looming games they had coming up, it’s hard to focus what’s on the plate in front of you. But with Porter on the court, this team has an edge to them. An edge that makes everyone have a bounce in their step and that makes them a contender.

And in the end, the Hoyas took the #1 team to overtime on a neutral court on November 20th. We are four months away from March. The Big East and the nation have been warned.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Monday, November 19, 2012

Georgetown Spoils Shabazz Muhammad's Debut

By:  Shane McCarthy

Leading up to the contest between UCLA and Georgetown, it was all about the debut of Shabazz Muhammad for UCLA.  After being suspended for the first three games, the Bruins were finally going to get him on the court with the rest of their talented freshmen class.  There was very little talk about the game, not that it was a foregone conclusion that UCLA was going to win, but it certainly felt that way since their prized recruit was finally going to don a uniform.

Georgetown was in control of the game from the very start, getting off to a quick 10-2 lead.  Markel Starks was spectacular all night long.  He finished with a career high 23 points, but it was how he did it that made the Hoyas so effective.  He played with great energy, had a bounce in his step every possession, controlled the perimeter and most of all – played with confidence and made sound decisions. 

UCLA also had no answer for the combination of Otto Porter and Greg Whittington.  The two combined for 31 points and 16 rebounds.  The versatile combo will provide fits for defenses all year long.   Banging bodies down low and stepping out and dropping 3s, the all-around play-making ability of the two is impressive. 

But none of this would have mattered if Georgetown didn’t show up on the defensive end.  The 2-3 zone they sat in all night made UCLA uncomfortable.  Georgetown’s regular rotation featured players that measured in at 6-9, 6-8, 6-8, 6-8 and 6-2.  Too much length and athleticism for a young UCLA team to handle who has yet to play together.    

The 78-70 victory was the first time that Georgetown has ever beaten UCLA.  Now the Hoyas get a crack at the #1 team in the land tomorrow, Indiana, for the Legends Classic championship (to the dismay of many who wanted an Indiana vs. UCLA match-up).  Indiana struggles on the defensive end, but it will take an effort as good as if not better than tonight’s, to topple the Hoosiers.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

UConn Cracks the AP Top-25 - Overreaction?

By:  Shane McCarthy

UConn did not receive a single vote for the preseason AP Top-25. They lost two players that ended up being lottery picks, three others transferred out of the program and their hall of fame head coach retired a month before the season. Now they play one game, beat a top-25 team and become the 23rd best team in the nation?

I’ll be rooting for the Huskies all season and pulling for Kevin Ollie to get a long-term extension. Both would be great stories. But as of right now, cracking the AP Top-25 seems to be a bit of an overreaction. Here’s why:
  • The game was played on a different continent in a different time zone. While both teams had to make the same trip and play under the same circumstances, who knows how travel and fatigue affected each.
  • Michigan St. went through long spurts of not playing defense whatsoever. UConn was getting both easy buckets in transition and wide-open looks at will.

  • When Michigan St. did get their act together on the defensive end, they shut down UConn with ease and quickly gained momentum. They seemingly closed a 20 point deficit at the end of the first half in about five minutes.

  • And it was UConn’s lack of size that made it easy to shut them down. No question they have some of the most talented guards in the country, but their lack of size is going to be a serious hindrance gong forward. You are not going to emerge victorious on most nights when getting out-rebounded 38-25.

  • And finally, this was the first game of the season for each team. Just as we shouldn’t overreact about UConn’s win, we shouldn’t overreact about Michigan St.’s loss. It’s a long season, let’s let them play a few games.
UConn is playing this season for themselves and their pride, as there is no post-season this year. But that’s the mentality all teams should have. One game at a time, all about the team. You can tell this team was fired up for their first game and wanted to get Coach Ollie his first win - which was great, and much deserved. And I don’t want to take anything away from them because Napier, Boatright and Calhoun looked great, but I’m just saying – let’s see a few games first.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Monday, November 12, 2012

Were the Aircraft Carrier Games a Disappointment After all?

By:  Shane McCarthy

With the start of the college basketball season finally here, there was no doubt a lot of hype surrounding the three scheduled games to be played on aircraft carriers for the opening day of college basketball, especially given the overwhelming success of last year’s lone game.  Unfortunately, only 1 ½ of the games were played, as Mother Nature reminded everyone she is forever unpredictable and will always be undefeated. 

While fans of college basketball were unquestionably disappointed, this was not a lost cause by any means.  The point of these games is to honor our veterans and do something special for our active troops.  Even though the games weren’t able to be played, the players from each team were there for days leading up to the event to not only acclimate themselves to the foreign playing conditions, but to visit with the troops and volunteer in the community.  From the numerous live interviews conducted and other stories from similar events, you quickly understand how much these events mean to the service men and women. 

And even if these games were played, they’d be entertaining as they filled our craving for hoops, but they are no way to accurately determine the skill of each team.  There’s a reason why these games were scheduled to be played after dark - as looking into the sun doesn’t make for the most ideal playing conditions (as we saw in the Syracuse vs. San Diego St. game).  My guess is that playing conditions in Southern California would have been fine after the sun went down (the Cuse game was postponed due to rain), but on the east coast that meant a drop in the temperature and along with it, condensation on the floor.

Now given that two of the games were cancelled and the other was played under less than ideal conditions, there has been a strong call to do away with these games in the future.  But I don’t think that should be the case.  These games aren’t about the basketball being played; they are about honoring our service men and women and providing them with entertainment and somewhat of a distraction from their day-to-day duties.  A 'morale booster' of sorts is what was being used throughout the weekend.  And their commitment to honoring our country is why we get to live in freedom and have simple pleasures like college basketball.  The least we can do is give back in ways such as these events.  So maybe there should only be one game, and that one game should be played after dark in southern California, but I don’t think they should go away entirely.  They have their place, and those that serve our country will tell you that they should go on.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Throw-Down of the Year Alert: Rakeem Christmas

By:  Shane McCarthy

Wasn’t it nice to finally get one of these aircraft carrier games played this weekend?  Well, Deshawn Stephens of San Diego St. didn’t think so, because he got absolutely thrown-down on by Rakeem Christmas. 

Aboard the USS Midway, Syracuse showed how deadly they can be in transition.  About halfway through the first half, Michael Carter-Williams was handed the ball after a rebound and immediately found C.J. Fair stretching the floor.  Fair took one dribble and proceeded to toss up a perfect alley-oop to Rakeem Christmas.  Christmas converted with a powerful two-handed throw-down over Stephens.  Would saying that he ‘Rak’d the boat’ be trying too hard?  Probably, since it is an aircraft carrier and all.  But it was a big dunk.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Throw-Down of the Year Contest

By:  Shane McCarthy

Throughout the season, this blog is going to keep track of the biggest throw-downs by Big East players.  There are no rules to enter and there will definitely be no prizes awarded.  As long as I see the dunk and deem it eligible based on its quality, it gets entered in.   And since I can’t watch every minute of every game and if I somehow miss SportCenter’s Top 10 for that day (which is all dunks for the next seven months), feel free to make me aware of what you think is a throw-down nomination.

With that out of the way, it didn’t take long at all to get our first nomination of the year.  On Friday night on Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the Armed Forces Classic, UConn Sophomore DeAndre Daniels scooted along the baseline and finished with a big throw-down over two Michigan St. players.  Sorry Adreian Payne (#5) and Derrick Nix (#25), you just got thrown-down on.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Friday, November 9, 2012

Big East 2012-13 Predictions

By:  Shane McCarthy

April seems forever ago, but the wait is finally over and the season starts tonight.  But before we get to actual games, let’s make a few more predictions to add to the excitement.

Big East Regular Season Title:  Louisville
Too much depth and experience.

Big East Tournament Title:  Syracuse
After watching UConn and Louisville streak through the tournament the last two years, it will be Cuse’s turn this year.

NCAA Tournament bids:  7
Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Georgetown
And given the seemingly wide-open nature of college basketball this year, I predict two Big East teams will make the Final Four. 

Player of the Year:  Michael Carter-Williams
I think Syracuse is going to be really good this year [again], and the reason being is going to be MCW.  He will mold into an excellent point guard who not only scores and plays excellent defense, but makes everyone on the floor better.

Rookie of the Year:  Steven Adams
There is a little bit of hype surrounding the freshmen center at Pittsburgh.  The 7 foot, 240 pound New Zealander will give opposing teams fits on both ends of the floor.

Defensive Player of the Year:  Gorgui Dieng
Every year Dieng has improved little by little.  And it looked like he was improving every game last year to the point where he became one of the best centers in the country.  He will be even better this year and will be one of the best shot blockers in the country.

Coach of the Year:  Buzz Williams
Buzz is an excellent coach who tends to get more out of his players than anyone ever expects.  I’m high on Marquette this year, while others are lukewarm, and by exceeding expectations he will earn coach of the year honors. 

All-Big East First Team
G:  Michael Carter-Williams
G:  Peyton Siva
G:  Vincent Council
F:  Gorgui Dieng
F:  Otto Porter
F:  Jack Cooley 

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rankings Recap

By:  Shane McCarthy

I've spent the last three weeks previewing all 15 teams in the conference. And I dispensed each blog post in reverse order of how I believe they stack up against each other from #15 to #1. When I started on the second post, I realized this may not be the most effective way to look at these teams. But I started with that style and was determined to stick with it.

Anyway, it is probably best to look at these teams in groupings (or tiers). To the right you can see a more appropriate way of how I view these teams. Each tier represents teams that I believe are similar to each other. And even though I ranked them a certain way, I think you could re-order these teams within each tier in any way, and I wouldn't argue with the result.

And if I had label or describe each tier, this is what I would say:

First tier – These are the teams that will compete for the regular season championship.

Second tier – These teams are talented, but not good enough to win the Big East regular season. However, they are all good enough to catch fire and win the Big East Tournament.

Third tier – A compilation of teams that will win some big games, but will likely have just as many head-scratchers.

Fourth tier – Well, this is the basement.

At the end of the day, this is just my opinion and prediction. Four months from now I will check back and likely find that I was way off. And that’s OK, because its fun watching the season play out and constantly being surprised. Enjoy the ride.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Big East Preview: #1 Louisville Cardinals

Previewing all 15 teams from #15 to #1

By:  Shane McCarthy

After a seemingly improbable run to the Final Four, how will the Cardinals fare when a repeat trip is expected?  This team should be even better than last year’s, but the Big East and NCAA Tournament is a bear.  So before they start booking their tickets for Atlanta, they must take the season one game at a time.

Who’s Back:

Gorgui Dieng –C– Junior – 32.8 Min, 9.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.1 apg
Peyton Siva –G– Senior – 31.7 Min, 9.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.6 apg
Chane Behanan –F– Soph – 26.0 Min, 9.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 0.8 apg
Russ Smith –G– Junior – 21.5 Min, 11.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.9 apg
Wayne Blackshear –G/F– Soph – 7.0 Min, 2.5 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.1 apg
Kevin Ware –G– Soph – 5.3 Min, 1.0 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 0.5 apg
Angel Nunez –F– Soph – 4.6 Min, 2.0 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 0.2 apg

Incoming Recruits:

Montrezl Harrell – [Power Forward] – 6 foot 7, 225
ESPN’s 90th ranked player and 18th ranked Power Forward’s 82nd ranked player and 20th ranked Power Forward

Incoming Transfers:

Luke Hancock – [Guard/Forward] – 6 foot 5, 190
Luke, a transfer from George Mason who was forced to sit out the 2011-12 season, will now be an integral part of a title contender.  As a sophomore at George Mason, he averaged 10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 4.3 apg, and led the team to a 27-7 record and to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2010-11.  Coach Pitino has named him co-captain of this year’s squad (along with Peyton Siva) and is expecting big things from him.  “Luke Hancock has been great this year.”  Coach Pitino said.  “He’s our best basketball player.  He’s mentally the best player on the team and physically the best player on the team.  He’s a true basketball player in every sense of the word.”  So expect Luke to be more than just a role player for the Cards this season.  

Who’s Out:  Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith, Rakeem Buckles, Jared Swopshire 


When you bring back this much talent from a team that went to the Final Four the previous year – expectations are naturally going to run high, and rightfully so.  If they could do it last year, they should be able to do it again.  Consistency is huge in college basketball, and that is why the Cards are the #2 ranked team in both preseason polls.

It’s fair to expect a Final Four run, and it’s also fair to expect improvements from last season.  They no doubt struggled in the middle of the season and there seemed to be a point where getting into the NCAAs was in jeopardy.  They ended up finishing 11th in the Big East in scoring and 155th in the country.   Much of the struggles can be attributed to sloppy play, but injuries also played a role.

Injuries cannot be predicted, but for what it’s worth – the Cards are entering the 2012-13 season healthy.   Last year they played much of the regular season without Wayne Blackshear, a highly touted recruit who was rehabbing a shoulder injury.  When he finally got on the court towards the end of conference play, he struggled.  But on the big stage against Kentucky in the Final Four he showed his potential by going for nine points and four rebounds in just 14 minutes of playing time. 

And the sloppy play from a year ago should be minimized as Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng continue to improve and the young guys have a year of experience.  I already mentioned Blackshear, but Chane Behanan is another player who improved as the season went along and who could be in line for a massive year. 

However, the erratic, sloppy and unpredictable play of Russ Smith does return.  He’s had some ridiculous (aka russdiculous) moments in his career, but his work ethic and burst he brings off the bench is uncanny.  Expect some great moments with an equal amount of head-slapping moments. 

As for the newcomers, Luke Hancock will likely have the biggest impact.  He is a transfer from George Mason who is expected to claim the starting spot that was filled by Kyle Kuric last year.  I tried to find a bad thing said about Hancock, and I failed.  Pitino and all of his former coaches have nothing but great things to say about him.  He’s intelligent, trustworthy, and athletic, has great awareness and can make the big shots.  He sounds like the ideal basketball player.   Montrezl Harrell is a highly recruited incoming freshman who will provide front court depth.

Not only does Louisville have essentially the same roster that went to the Final Four a year ago who is expected to get back there again this year, but Coach Pitino knows a little something about getting to back-to-back Final Fours.  He did it in the 90s at Kentucky.  And he knows it’s no easy task.  There are definitely those who worry that this team was too erratic and untrustworthy last year to be making such bold predictions before the season even starts.  But there are those (including myself) who believe this team never achieved their full potential last year.  They waited until the Big East Tournament to really show off their defensive prowess with their full court press, which suffocated opponents.  They do not need to play that way every game, but when they need to, they are a different team.  Expect this team to be improved offensively (especially Behanan, Blackshear and Dieng with the addition of Hancock), to go along with their stout defense, to be one of the best teams in the country and one that is a serious contender to become national champions.      

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Big East Preview: #2 Syracuse Orange

Previewing all 15 teams from #15 to #1

By:  Shane McCarthy

Even after losing four significant contributors from last year’s squad, the Orange enter the 2012-13 campaign in the preseason top 10.  Needless to say, there is a bit of optimism surrounding this year’s team.  And rightfully so - they have veteran starters, skilled [young] role players from last year primed to step up, and another talented recruiting class.  The hype is warranted for their last year in the Big East, now it’s about delivering.

Who’s Back:

C.J. Fair –F– Junior – 26.4 Min, 8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.9 apg
Brandon Triche –G– Junior – 22.5 Min, 9.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.6 apg
James Southerland –F– Senior – 16 Min, 6.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.4 apg
Baye Keita –F– Junior – 12.3 Min, 2.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.1 apg
Rakeem Christmas –F– Soph – 11.5 Min, 2.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.2 apg
Michael Carter-Williams –G– Soph – 10.3 Min, 2.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.1 apg
Trevor Cooney –G– Redshirt Freshman 

Incoming Recruits:

DaJuan Coleman - [Center] – 6 foot 9, 275
ESPN’s 14th ranked player and 6th ranked Center’s 26th ranked player and 5th ranked Center
McDonald’s All-American

Jerami Grant – [Power Forward] – 6 foot 7, 190
ESPN’s 37th ranked player and 11th ranked Power Forward’s 64th ranked player and 15th ranked Power Forward

Who’s Out:  Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo


I’m still disappointed that we didn’t get a Kentucky vs. Syracuse national championship last year.  Granted it would have only been a good game if Fab Melo was playing, but he is also the reason they didn’t get that far.  Damn you Fab.  That would have been a treat, as the Orange were probably the only team in the country that could actually match up with the Wildcats.

This year’s team is deep, a nine man rotation deep - very similar to last year.  That gives Boeheim the flexibility to tinker with combinations to exploit opponents and keep his guys fresh.

Brandon Triche, who has remarkably started every game of his Syracuse career, returns for his senior year.  Triche will continue to be the steady and solid player that he has been throughout his career.

C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Baye Keita also return to provide upperclassmen experience.  Fair will start and get the most playing time of the three as he has molded into a solid forward/wing player.  He isn’t the most dominating low-post player, but he picks his spots and is an excellent shooter.  Southerland is primarily a three point threat while Keita will provide front court depth.

Joining Fair in the front court will be Rakeem Christmas and freshman DaJuan Coleman.  Neither are the true center that Fab Melo was nor will they be the defensive force that he morphed into last year (earning him Big East Defensive Player of the Year recognition), but both are better all-around players than he was.  The combination of Christmas, Coleman and Fair will wear down opposing front courts and keep penetrators at bay.

Most of the buzz entering this year is over Michael Carter-Williams, and rightfully so.  MCW didn’t find the court much as a freshman, but will now take over the driver’s seat and assume the starting point guard role.  There isn’t a thing I can say about him that hasn’t been discussed all summer long: he’s long and fits into the 2-3 zone perfectly, has incredible handles, great vision, deep range, lightning quick slashing ability and can throw it down.  Pretty much – he will be the most exciting player on the court no matter who the Orange are playing.  And it seems plausible that the Orange will go as far as he takes them.

The rotation will be rounded out by Trevor Cooney, a redshirt freshman, and Jerami Grant, an incoming freshman. Cooney has been labeled as a sharpshooter, but Boeheim insists he is more than that.  While Grant is a tall, lanky forward who will factor in the front court/wing rotation.  Both these guys will likely be counted on to be more than role players, and will see extended minutes each game.

For their last year in the Big East, Boeheim has once again reloaded this team to compete for a championship.  On paper, this team looks to be very talented, Final Four worthy talented.  But of course there will be questions as this team will have a very different look from last year and will be counting on a number of young guys to contribute.  They likely won’t repeat their 17-1 conference mark from last season, but another big year looks to be on the horizon for the Orange.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Big East Preview: #3 Marquette Golden Eagles

Previewing all 15 teams from #15 to #1

By:  Shane McCarthy

It is easy to predict a down year for Marquette.  They lost the Big East Player of the Year and one of the most dynamic scoring duos in the nation that combined to score 48% of the team’s points last year.  If you are of the view that Marquette is due for a regression this year – you are mistaken.  Buzz Williams should never be doubted, and he is poised to surprise again. 

Who’s Back:

Junior Cadougan –G– Senior – 28.6 Min, 6.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 5.4 apg
Vander Blue –G– Junior – 25.7 Min, 8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.6 apg
Jamil Wilson –F– Junior – 24.1 Min, 7.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 apg
Davante Gardner –F– Junior – 19.1 Min, 9.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 0.7 apg
Derrick Wilson –G– Soph – 8.8 Min, 0.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.7 apg
Juan Anderson –F– Soph – 4.5 Min, 0.7 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.2 apg
Chris Otule –C– Senior – 17.8 Min, 5.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.1 apg (returning from an ACL tear after only playing in eight games last season) 

Incoming Recruits:

Jamal Ferguson – [Small Forward/Guard] – 6 foot 4, 180
ESPN’s 61st ranked Small Forward’s 134th ranked player and 31st ranked Shooting Guard

Steve Taylor – [Small Forward] – 6 foot 7, 200
ESPN’s 84th ranked player and 22nd ranked Small Forward’s 109th ranked player and 24th ranked Power Forward

Incoming Transfers:

Trent Lockett – [Guard] – 6 foot 5, 210
Trent, a senior transfer from Arizona State who will be eligible immediately, is an attacking guard who can potentially fill the void left by Darius Johnson-Odom.  He averaged 13.0 ppg and 5.8 rpg for the Sun Devil last season, earning him All-Pac-10 Second Team honors. 

Jake Thomas – [Guard] – 6 foot 3, 200
Jake played for St. Catherine’s, winning two WIAA Division 3 championships, before becoming a two-year starter at the University of South Dakota.  He averaged 13.4 ppg with the South Dakota Coyotes and is known for his shooting capabilities, but his ball-handling and all-around athletic ability will be on display as well.   

Who’s Out:  Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom, Todd Mayo, Jamail Jones


It is not groundbreaking analysis to state that the loss of Crowder and DJO is a significant negative for the Golden Eagles.  They both developed into extremely talented players who scored half of Marquette’s points last year.  That’s insane.  But with their eligibility now expired, the Eagles are forced to move on without them.

The big question being asked heading into the 2012-13 season is: Who will replace that production?

That doesn’t seem to be a fair question.  Just because there weren’t other significant scorers on the team last year, doesn’t mean those same players returning can’t be the answer.  With Crowder and DJO dropping over 35 a game last year, it was the law of attrition that prevented others from filling up the stat sheet on a consistent basis.

While there is talent on this roster, there is no reason to believe or expect that two guys will step up and average ~18 ppg.  While that would be ideal, it’s not needed.  Marquette has enough skill spread throughout to keep them competitive.

It starts in the front court where Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule are all above average players.  And if more than one of them can stay healthy for the entire season, they have the potential to be a terrorizing force. Both Gardner and Otule showed t glimpses, but neither was on the court for the full year.  Both are healthy heading into the season and need to keep it that way.

Like the front court, the back court is just as talented.  Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Derrick Wilson may not be household names (much like the front court), but they are a lethal bunch.  And if I were to pick one returning player to have a significant jump in production, it would be Blue.  He was ESPN’s 31st ranked player in the class of 2010 who has yet to live up to full potential.

However, it could be senior transfer from Arizona State Trent Lockett, who eventually has the biggest impact.  Earning All-Pac 10 Second Team honors is not the most glorified recognition in the country, but his size and style of play make him a good fit to assume the DJO role.  He was a great grab for Buzz Williams, and could be this team’s X-factor.

Unfortunately, Todd Mayo has been ruled academically ineligible for the year and it is suspected that he will likely leave the program.  Mayo’s brief career was a rocky one, but he was the team’s best three point threat.  With his absence, incoming recruits Jamal Ferguson and Steve Taylor will provide needed depth in the back and front court respectively.

It’s no doubt going to take some getting used to watching Marquette play without Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.  Those are big pieces to replace, and that means everyone needs to step up and contribute.  The Golden Eagles have the roster to do that and then some.  Year after year it seems that Marquette is consistently underrated (at least until mid-February when they gain respect and become everyone’s sexy Final Four pick), and this year is no different.  I believe they surprise once again, but this year they do it with more of a collective effort. 

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac