Monday, February 27, 2012

Power Rankings / A Look Back & Ahead 2-27-12

Dion Waiters and Cuse out-dueled UConn on Saturday

Gearing up for the conference tournament

By Shane McCarthy on February 27, 2012

1.     #2 Syracuse Orange (29-1 / 16-1)
Last week:  WON 56-48 vs South Florida, WON 71-69 @ Connecticut
This week:  Sat, March 3 vs Louisville
The only semi-negative thing you can say about the Orange is that they have trouble putting together 40 minutes of the good basketball that they are capable of playing, but this team is 29-1, #2 in the country, have not lost with Fab Melo in the lineup, and always find a way to win.  Being so deep and talented, there are only a handful of teams that can matchup with them barring an off-shooting night.

2.     #7 Marquette Golden Eagles (24-5 / 13-3)
Last week:  WON 82-65 vs Rutgers, WON 61-60 @ West Virginia
This week:  Wed, Feb 29 @ Cincinnati; Sat, March 3 vs Georgetown
Part of me wants to power rank Marquette #1, but that's difficult to warrant without an Orange loss.  They are playing at a very high level right now, as was on display Friday night when the Golden Eagles beat West Virginia without DJO, Blue and Cadougan playing the first half.  I would like to see this team get another shot at Syracuse in the Big East Tournament.        

3.     #12 Georgetown Hoyas (21-6 / 11-5)
Last week:  LOSS 73-55 @ Seton Hall, WON 67-46 vs Villanova
This week:  Mon, Feb 27 vs Notre Dame, Sat, March 3 @ Marquette
The Hoyas slipped up at a desperate Seton Hall team in the middle of the week, but they recovered nicely with a decisive win at home over Villanova on Saturday.  They aren’t the most talented team offensively, but they wreak havoc on the defensive end.   They will be a tough team to prep for on short notice.

4.     #18 Louisville Cardinals (22-7 / 10-6)
Last week:  LOSS 60-56 @ Cincinnati, WON 57-54 vs Pittsburgh
This week:  Wed, Feb 29 vs South Florida; Sat, March 3 @ Syracuse
The Cardinals haven’t been playing their best basketball as of late, but they are still a talented team that can stay on the floor with anyone.  They get a desperate South Florida team and another shot at Syracuse this week to garner some momentum heading into the Big East Tournament.

5.     #19 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (20-9 / 12-4)
Last week:  WON 71-44 vs West Virginia, LOSS 61-58 @ St. John’s
This week:  Mon, Feb 27 @ Georgetown; Fri, March 2 vs Providence
After reeling off nine straight victories, the Irish faltered at St. John’s over the weekend.  As poorly as they shot the ball and as little involved that Jack Cooley was, it was encouraging that they only lost by three.  They are in for a tough game at Georgetown on Monday night, but they are more than capable of winning.

6.     Connecticut Huskies (17-11 / 7-9)
Last week:  WON 73-70 OT @ Villanova, LOSS 71-69 vs Syracuse
This week:  Tue, Feb 28 @ Providence; Sat, March 3 vs Pittsburgh
Tough loss at home to Syracuse, but it was encouraging to see them come back from 17 down in the second half.  They could be the most talented team in the conference if they could display more cohesiveness and showed some controlled urgency on the court.   I do not think anyone would be surprised if the Huskies won the Big East Tournament in two weeks.  Maybe the return of Coach Calhoun will bring the spark they need.

7.     Cincinnati Bearcats (20-9 / 10-6)
Last week:  WON 60-56 vs Louisville, LOSS 46-45 @ South Florida
This week:  Wed, Feb 29 vs Marquette; Sat, March 3 @ Villanova
After Sunday’s loss at South Florida, the Bearcats are probably back on the bubble.  Cincinnati is a tough team to figure out as they have been incredibly inconsistent all year long.  They have a tough matchup in Marquette this week, but a win will put them firmly back in the tournament.

8.     West Virginia Mountaineers (17-12 / 7-9)
Last week:  LOSS 71-44 @ Notre Dame, LOSS 61-60 vs Marquette
This week:  Tue, Feb 28 vs DePaul; Sat, March 3 @ South Florida
Very tough loss at home on Friday night to a short-staked Marquette team.  Coach Huggins should probably put a limit on the number of shots Truck Bryant is allowed to take per game.  Once he sees a few go through the bucket, he’ll shoot a trillion times if he could.  They have two favorable matchups this week to get back on the right track, but they have work to do.

9.     South Florida Bulls (18-11 / 11-5)
Last week:  LOSS 56-48 @ Syracuse, WON 46-45 vs Cincinnati
This week:  Wed, Feb 29 @ Louisville; Sat, March 3 vs West Virginia
Well, for the first half of the first half it looked as if South Florida was going to take down Syracuse, but come to find out, winning the first 10 minutes of a basketball game is worthless unless you win all 40.  Their bounce-back win [and their first notable win at that], over Cincinnati had the feel of a tournament game as both teams knew the importance of it.  More work is probably needed by the Bulls and they will get that chance at Louisville this week. 
10.  Seton Hall Pirates (19-10 / 8-9)
Last week:  WON 73-55 vs Georgetown, LOSS 77-72 OT vs Rutgers
This week:  Sat, March 3 @ DePaul
All that Seton Hall needed to do after getting that noteworthy win over Georgetown, was not take a bad loss; which meant not losing at home to Rutgers.  Of course, however, that is exactly what they did.  DePaul is an absolute must win this week and a win in the Big East Tournament may be a necessity at this point.    

11.  Pittsburgh Panthers (15-14 / 4-12)
Last week:  LOSS 57-54 @ Louisville
This week:  Wed, Feb 29 vs St. John’s; Sat, March 3 @ Connecticut
The disaster season for Pitt continues as they have now lost five in a row.  I’m not sure what they were thinking when they were down three at L’ville with 13 seconds left going for a two, fouling, and ultimately giving themselves less time to tie the game with a three point desperation heave.  Nonetheless, this team is still putting up a fight and possesses talent.  It’s highly unlikely, but I suppose they could somehow pull it together in time for the Big East Tournament.

12.  St. John’s Red Storm (13-16 / 6-10)
Last week:  WON 79-72 vs DePaul, WON 61-58 vs Notre Dame
This week:  Wed, Feb 29 @ Pittsburgh; Sat, Feb 3 @ Rutgers
St. John’s is a fun team to watch right now as they have been playing better basketball as of late, taking down UCLA and Notre Dame in the past two weeks.  Moe Harkless has to be the frontrunner for Big East Rookie of the Year and he has his team poised for an upset in the Big East Tournament. 

13.  Rutgers Scarlet Knights (13-16 / 5-11)
Last week:  LOSS 82-65 @ Marquette, WON 77-72 OT @ Seton Hall
This week:  Thu, March 1 vs Villanova; Sat, March 3 vs St. John’s
Rutgers played spoiler role at Seton Hall over the weekend and their season finale matchup with St. John’s this week should be a fun one.  Both teams are talented, just raw, but it makes for entertaining basketball.

14.  Villanova Wildcats (11-17 / 4-12)
Last week:  LOSS 73-70 OT vs Connecticut, LOSS 67-46 vs Georgetown
This week:  Thu, March 1 @ Rutgers; Sat, March 3 vs Cincinnati
You know you are having a rough season when one of your starters, JayVaughn Pinkston, comes down on a ball after dunking in warm-ups and turns his ankle.  It’s almost over Villanova, two more weeks.

15.   Providence Friars (14-15 / 3-13)
Last week:  WON 73-71 @ DePaul
This week:  Tue, Feb 28 vs Connecticut; Fri, March 2 @ Notre Dame
Providence handled DePaul to get out of the Big East basement on Saturday.  For a team that is 3-13 - you have to appreciate the little things. 

16.   DePaul Blue Demons (11-17 / 2-14)
Last week:  LOSS 79-72 @ St. John’s, LOSS 73-71 vs Providence
This week:  Tue, Feb 28 @ West Virginia; Sat, March 3 vs Seton Hall
The Blue Demons have lost 13 of their last 14.  Not really much else to say besides that they have been competitive in their last three games.  


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Notre Dame, A Bunch of Over-Achievers?

Led by Jack Cooley, the Fighting Irish are 9-1 in their last 10 games
The Irish went from disaster to dominanting

By Shane McCarthy on February 26, 2012

Entering the 2011-2012 season, the Irish were a team without a lot of experience, very little depth, and when Tim Abromaitis was lost for the year six games in due to injury, a team that lacked a star quality player to lean on. 

When Notre Dame finished their non-conference portion of their season, they were 8-5, and they didn’t have one notable win in the eight they possessed.  They got blown out by Missouri and Gonzaga and also lost to Georgia, Maryland and Indiana.  Unfortunately, wins against Sam Houston State and Maine did not prove that this team was any good. 

The Irish started Big East Conference play with more of the same.  At 3-3, they managed to beat Pittsburgh and Louisville, but it was still widely expected that the Fighting Irish were bound to finish as a bottom dweller in the Big East and receive a NIT bid. 

Now in late February, it’s amazing to see how this team turned it around.  At 12-4 in conference and 20-9 overall, could they be the biggest surprise of the year or have they just been over-achieving?

After a difficult loss at Rutgers on January 16, Notre Dame went on to win nine straight conference games, the most in school history.  The streak started when they caught a then #1 Syracuse team flat and directionless as they were playing their first of three games without Fab Melo.  There is no telling if Notre Dame can pull off that win with Melo in the lineup, but that was not their problem as they took advantage of the situation. 

That victory over the Orange may have been the spark that ignited the run, but it was also the fact that the Irish became the anti-Connecticut team.  While UConn possesses boatloads of talent with no team chemistry, Notre Dame makes up for their lack of talent with great chemistry and smart play. 

Jack Cooley, a role player last year, kept his big body, but fine-tuned it from goofy to talented, and is now winning Big East Player of the Week awards.  Combine his skills with great guard play from Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, two white guys that can shoot and play tough defense in Pat Connaughton and Alex Dragicevich, and you have a solid team that is well-rounded. 

Now the Big East has not played as tough this year as in years past, but it is still a deep conference with no sure-things.  The argument can be made however, that Notre Dame was able to take advantage of a soft patch in their schedule.  With or without Fab Melo, Syracuse is a high quality win given their depth and talent, but they were also able to catch imploding UConn and West Virginia teams.   Their decisive win against Marquette was impressive, but they were also able to get Seton Hall, Rutgers, DePaul and Villanova in that stretch.   Nothing spectacular, but in the end - wins are wins.  

So what changed?  In short, nothing that shows up in the box score changed much.  They increased their assists per game from 14.3 in their first 19 games to 15.4 in the last 10, but their turnovers went up from 9.9 to 10.2.  Their FG%, 3PT% and rebounds per game all have also remained fairly constant.  They did however stiffen up their defense and reduced their opponents FG% from 42% to 38%. 

Notre Dame does rely on the three point shot often and if they don’t shoot well, they don’t have enough inside presence to win games.   This was on display yesterday at St. Johns as the Red Storm did an admirable job of reducing Cooley’s touches and forced the Irish to take a lot of long shots.  The Irish didn’t shoot well, 4 of 31 from three, and ended up losing the game by three points.

Some may say that they were fortunate to even be in the game with St. Johns at the end, but I see that as a positive.  They shot the ball terribly, Cooley never got going, and they still had an open look at the buzzer to send it to overtime.  Most teams would have lost by 15+.

So, what did change then?  The Irish have turned their early season struggles into success by changing their attitude.  Lead by the reigning National Coach of the Year, Mike Brey, this team believes they should be having this type of success.   They are definitely not the most athletic or talented team, but as long as they keep working hard and do not become relaxed, there is no reason why this team can’t continue to enjoy success. 

So, have they over-achieved?  Maybe, but this team earned it through hard work and buying into each other.  The Fighting Irish went from a NIT bid at best six weeks ago to possibly a five or six seed in the NCAA Tournament.  My guess is they get one win before going out in the round of 32, but it is hard to bet against a team that believes they should be winning.    


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Marquette is Rolling

Buzz has his team playing some good basketball
The Golden Eagles are ready for March

By Shane McCarthy on February 25, 2012

Sports are supposed to be fun, but really the only way a team and their fans can have fun is with victories.  That’s why when Mr. Sunshine on my god damn shoulders, John Denver, started playing over the loud speakers, Coach Buzz Williams was simply enjoying the moment when he decided to two-step around the court after Marquette’s 61-60 win at West Virginia on Friday night.    

Buzz was not only dancing because of his team’s hard fought victory, in which three starters (Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue, and Junior Cadougan) were all suspended for the first half; he was also dancing because his team is really really good. 

The Golden Eagles have won 12 of their last 13 games, with their lone loss coming at Notre Dame; a game in which they struggled defensively as they were still trying to adjust to the loss of Davante Gardner and the Fighting Irish poured in 11 three-pointers. 

Game in and game out, Marquette’s style is to ‘step up and bring it’.  They drive the speed of the game as they are comfortable with an up-tempo pace, constantly keeping pressure on their opponents.  Being that they are aggressive by nature, it is important that they are able to complement that style with lock-down, aggressive defense.  This allows them to make comebacks when they are trailing on the scoreboard.

As fast and aggressive that Marquette is, they are still able to be controlled and comfortable in their offensive sets.  Their offense is filled with a lot of movement and energy, high screens, low screens, ball reversals, making it very difficult on the defenders. For the most part, almost everyone touches the ball before a shot is taken, unless something really good presents itself early in the possession.  This is the exact opposite of how Truck Bryant orchestrates the West Virginia offense; as he will jack the first open look het gets once he crosses half-court. 

Marquette is certainly not the biggest team in the Big East, and obviously the country, but they are extremely talented at playing small and clever.  No one on the court is better at playing like this than Jae Crowder. 

Not only does Crowder have great knowledge of the game, but he has the ‘will’ to get it done at all times.  He plays bigger than he is, defends all positions extremely well, and knows how to play in and out very well – both defensively and offensively.  It doesn’t matter how tired he is or how much his dreads weigh him down, he is always the hardest working player on the court and he complements the effort with great instincts. 

Crowder’s production and presence on the court allows Darius Johnson-Odom, arguably their best player, to play more freely as he knows that he does not have to do it all on his own.  Complement these two with Vander Blue, Jamil Wilson, Junior Cadougan, and Todd Mayo and you got yourself a team that can stay on the floor with anyone.  And once Gardner makes it back, they will have a big guy to matchup with other talented bigs in the NCAA Tournament. 

Marquette is 13-3 in conference play and 24-5 overall, with their only bad loss coming back in December when they lost at LSU.  After the game Crowder said “We're going to handle it like men, go back, look at the things we did wrong and fix it. Hopefully guys step up to the plate and fix the problem."  The Golden Eagles continue to improve and they have numerous guys that can step up, including Crowder and DJO who can single handedly take over games.  A Final Four appearance should not be out of the question for this team. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just What Seton Hall Needed

Jordan Theodore has led Seton Hall all year long

The Pirates Tournament resume has been boosted

By Shane McCarthy on February 21, 2012

Needing a signature win to help get themselves off of bubble territory, Seton Hall beat #8 Georgetown 73-55 at home on Tuesday night.  Entering the game at 7-8 in the Big East Conference and 18-8 overall, Seton Hall didn’t have a single victory over a conference opponent with a record above .500.  They did however have one victory against a ranked team, that being UConn, but that doesn’t look too great today.  They no longer have to worry about that as they took care of business in essentially a ‘win and in’ type game tonight. 

Not only did the Pirates play like the desperate team they needed to be, but they also played very sharp all night long.  Georgetown’s lockdown defense never showed up as Seton Hall was clicking from the opening tip.  Over the Hoyas’ past five games entering tonight they allowed 53.4 points per game and held opponents to 32.5% from the floor.  Tonight, Seton Hall dropped 73 on them and shot 61%.

Aside from the ball bouncing the Pirates’ way all night long, this statement win was led by their senior point guard, Jordan Theodore.  Not only did Theodore control the tempo all night long, but he picked a pretty opportune time to post a career high in points, 29.  After pretty much single handedly stopping Seton Hall’s seven game skid at Rutgers two weeks ago, it is obvious that this team will go as far as he leads them.

Seton Hall hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2006, so it will be up to their two senior leaders, Theodore and Herb Pope, along with sophomore Fuquan Edwin, to keep this team focused.  Until they can start thinking about that though, they need to finish their season strong versus Rutgers and at DePaul before heading to the Big East Tournament.  It is exciting times for the Pirates right now, but it would be ideal for them to finish the season strong to carry some momentum into the big dance, or else it could be a quick party.  


Monday, February 20, 2012

Quick Recap of Connecticut at Villanova

Shabazz's 3 gave UConn the victory
Shabazz Napier backs up his talk  

By Shane McCarthy on February 20, 2012

After calling out his team for lacking heart and giving up after UConn’s loss to Marquette over the weekend, it was only right for Shabazz Napier to back-up that talk the next time the Huskies took the floor.  And back-up that talk is exactly what Napier did by hitting the game winning shot, an on-the-run deep three pointer, with one second left in overtime.

Before the game started at Villanova on Monday night, Alex Oriakhi used holy water to bless his teammates to hopefully bring better fortune to their on-court performance.  It didn’t look like it had any effect as Villanova ran out to an 18 point lead halfway through the first half.  But then UConn started to play much better defensively, led by the on-ball pressure from Ryan Boatright, which translated into more confidence on offense.    The Huskies were able to storm all the way back to make it a tie game at halftime.

UConn was never able to go on a run in the second half to gain separation from Villanova, but Jeremy Lamb single handedly hit shot after shot to keep the momentum rolling.  His ability to move without the ball, use screens and make his own shots led to a career high 32 points and the only Huskie in double figures.  

There is no doubt that UConn has many talented players, but they have showed consistently over the course of the conference season that talent alone is not enough to win games.  When this group plays hard together as a team and displays the emotion and determination that they showed tonight, they will be tough for anyone to beat. 

Over the past few weeks it looked as if UConn was playing their way out of the NCAA Tournament, instead of in it.  Maybe this win, and the huge shot from Napier, was just the spark they needed to gain momentum and start rolling in the right direction.  Syracuse better be ready on Saturday.

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The Big East This Week

Jae Crowder has Marquette playing at a high level right now
It was a week in which the top teams beat up on the bottom dwellers

By Shane McCarthy on February 20, 2012 

Notable games this week:
Syracuse @ UConn on Saturday – UConn will need this win as they haven’t done much in the Big East.
Marquette @ West Virginia on Saturday – West Virginia is looking for another notable victory.
Georgetown @ Seton Hall on Tuesday – Seton Hall is floating on the bubble.
Providence @ Depaul on Saturday – Neither team wants to finish at the bottom of the conference.

#2 Syracuse Orange (14-1 / 27-1)
Last week:  WON 52-51 @ #18 Louisville, WON 74-64 @ Rutgers
This week:  Wed, Feb 22 vs South Florida; Sat, Feb 25 @ Connecticut
It has been a while since Syracuse has blown an opponent out, but they continue to win both at home and on the road.  The Orange also ended their seven game skid to the Louisville Cardinals.  The goal now is to fine-tune some aspects of their game and maintain a #1 seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

#10 Marquette Golden Eagles (11-3 / 22-5)
Last week:  WON 79-64 @ Connecticut  
This week:  Wed, Feb 22 vs Rutgers; Fri, Feb 24 @ West Virginia
Marquette has shown time and time again that they are one of the hardest working teams in the country and they showed that again at Connecticut this past week.  They’ll get another decent test this week on the road at a desperate West Virginia team. 

#18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-3 / 19-8)
Last week:  WON 71-53 vs Rutgers, WON 74-70 OT @ Villanova
This week:  Wed, Feb 22 vs West Virginia; Sat, Feb 27 @ St. John’s
The Fighting Irish have not lost since they knocked off the then #1 Orange on January 21st – reeling off eight straight wins.  For a team that struggled in non-conference play, they couldn’t have picked a better time to get hot.

#8 Georgetown Hoyas (10-4 / 20-5)
Last week:  WON 63-53 @ Providence,  
This week:  Tue, Feb 21 @ Seton Hall; Sat, Feb 25 vs Villanova
It seems like Georgetown has not gotten that much publicity this year, but they keep chugging along.  They’ll be traveling to a desperate Seton Hall team on Tuesday who is seriously flirting with the bubble. 

South Florida Bulls (10-4 / 17-10)
Last week:  WON 65-51 vs Villanova, WON 56-47 @ Pittsburgh
This week:  Wed, Feb 22 @ Syracuse; Sun, Feb 26 vs Cincinnati
A win at Syracuse on Wednesday could almost but cement South Florida in the NCAA Tournament.  Otherwise they will probably need a notable win or two in the Big East Tournament. 

#17 Louisville Cardinals (9-5 / 21-6)
Last week:  LOSS 52-51 vs Syracuse, WON 90-82 OT @ DePaul
This week:  Thu, Feb 23 @ Cincinnati; Sun Feb 26 vs Pittsburgh
Louisville didn’t play to the best of their ability against Syracuse this past week and still should have won the game.  Nonetheless, this team can hang with the top dogs and will benefit getting out of conference play for the NCAA’s. 

Cincinnati Bearcats (9-5 / 19-8)
Last week:  WON 81-66 vs Providence, WON 62-57 vs Seton Hall
This week:  Thu, Feb 23 vs Louisville; Sun, Feb 26 @ South Florida
When flirting with the bubble it is important that you beat other bubble teams when the opportunity arises and that is just what Cincinnati did this past week against Seton Hall.  The Bearcats probably need to do a bit more work, and they will get that chance this week versus Louisville.

West Virginia Mountaineers (7-7 / 17-10)
Last week:  WON 66-48 @ Pittsburgh
This week:  Wed, Feb 22 @ Notre Dame; Fri, Feb 24 vs Marquette
Kevin Jones could potentially be the Big East Player of the Year, but if he wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament he is going to need to lead his team to victory over either Notre Dame or Marquette this week, preferably both.

Seton Hall Pirates (7-8 / 18-9)
Last week:  WON 94-64 vs St. John’s, LOSS 62-57 @ Cincinnati
This week:  Tue, Feb 21 vs Georgetown; Sat, Feb 25 vs Rutgers
Tough loss at Cincinnati this past week, but the Pirates get two home games this week to make up for it and more importantly, remain in the at-large talk.

Connecticut Huskies (6-8 / 16-10)
Last week:  WON 80-54 vs DePaul, LOSS 79-64 vs Marquette
This week:  Mon, Feb 20 @ Villanova; Sat, Feb 25 vs Syracuse
It looked like UConn was just about to turn the corner and start moving in the right direction when Ryan Boatright took that unnecessary technical foul.  The Huskies are still loaded with talent, and if they can start bringing some heart to the arena like Shabazz Napier has requested, they can pull this thing together. 

Pittsburgh Panthers (4-10 / 15-12)
Last week:  LOSS 66-48 vs West Virginia, LOSS 56-47 vs South Florida  
This week:  Sun, Feb 26 @ Louisville
It was just a few weeks ago when many thought that the Panthers would finish the season strong, make a push in the Big East Tournament, and get into the NCAA Tournament.  That all but came to an end last night with South Florida putting a fork in them.  It will now take a deep run in the Big East Tournament and more likely winning it to get an automatic bid. 

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-10 / 12-15)
Last week:  LOSS 71-53 @ Notre Dame, LOSS 74-64 vs Syracuse
This week:  Wed, Feb 22 @ Marquette; Sat, Feb 25 @ Seton Hall
The Scarlet Knights have been a tough out at home all season, as they displayed again yesterday against ‘Cuse. 

Villanova Wildcats (4-10 / 11-15)
Last week:  LOSS 65-51 @ South Florida, LOSS 74-70 OT vs Notre Dame
This week:  Mon, Feb 20 vs Connecticut; Sat, Feb 25 @ Georgetown
The tough season for the Wildcats continues after losing in overtime to Notre Dame on Saturday night at home.  They will be looking to finish off an erratic UConn team on Monday night. 

St. John’s Red Storm (4-10 / 11-16)
Last week:  LOSS 94-64 @ Seton Hall, WON 66-63 vs UCLA
This week:  Mon, Feb 20 vs DePaul; Sat, Feb 25 vs Notre Dame
St. John’s got a nice win on national television at home versus UCLA on Saturday afternoon.  They are a young team and will be looking to feed off that to finish the season strong.

DePaul Blue Demons (2-12 / 11-15)
Last week:  LOSS 80-54 @ Connecticut, LOSS 90-82 OT vs Louisville
This week:  Mon, Feb 20 @ St. John’s; Sat, Feb 25 vs Providence
This team isn’t giving up just yet, as their fight was on display Saturday afternoon when they took Louisville to overtime.

Providence Friars (2-13 / 13-15)
Last week:  LOSS 81-66 @ Cincinnati, LOSS 63-53 vs Georgetown  
This week:  Sat, Feb 25 @ DePaul
Losing nine of their last 10, the Friars will be looking to finish their season on any sort of positive.  

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Evaluating the Louisville Cardinals

Good news – there is more good than bad

Peyton Siva opens up the offense with his slashing abilities
By Shane McCarthy on February 17, 2012

The 18th ranked Louisville Cardinals are currently flaunting a 20-6 overall record and are 8-5 in the Big East Conference. The Big East may not be what it has been in recent years, but their record is still respectable. With only five games remaining in the regular season and the Big East Conference Tournament quickly approaching, it is wide open to what type of seed Louisville will receive in the NCAA Tournament. Whatever it ends up being, the memory of them going down in the 1st round last year as a 4 seed to the 13-seeded Morehead St. Eagles will loom large. Let us take a look at the positives and negatives of this year’s team.

We’ll get the negatives out of the way first.
  • Shooting – Scoring is a pretty important aspect of the game of basketball, and Louisville certainly doesn’t excel at it. Shooting just 43.5% from the field, they are ranked 174th in the nation.

  • Foul shooting – Louisville currently ranks 210th out of 344 Division 1 teams in FT%, shooting 68.1% from the charity stripe. They are also only converting 57% of the front-end of the 1 and 1s. If they are not going to shoot well from the field, they have to make it a priority to stand out from the free throw line.

  • The team goes as Peyton Siva goes – Louisville was humming on all cylinders this past Tuesday night against Syracuse, at least for the first 10 minutes anyway, at which point Siva was yanked from the game after picking up his third foul. The offense seemed to lose its confidence and direction when he went out of the game. This team needs its junior point guard on the floor as often as possible as he drives the bus.
  • The positives…
    • Coach Pitino – Even though they have gone out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament each of the last two years, it is an enormous positive to have a legendary coach that has a NCAA Championship on his resume.

    • Hungry team – the core of this team (Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith and Peyton Siva) have experienced quick exits the last two years, and with Kuric and Smith seniors, they are looking for a deep run.

    • Get away from conference play – Louisville is 12-1 in non-conference play this year, with that lone loss being a 7 point defeat at Kentucky, by no means a bad loss. The Big East teams know each other so well that it is very difficult to run the table. Seeing different jerseys on the court with them will be a relief, and should give them an advantage.

    • Potential unexpected difference maker – This could easily come from the top recruit, freshman Wayne Blackshear. He just returned from injury a few games ago, but look for him to get more comfortable in the next three weeks and begin to play at a high level.

    • Size and point guard – I listed Peyton Siva as a negative, but that is only when he’s not able to be on the floor. When he is on the floor, this team plays with confidence and high energy. They also have big athletic bodies down low to control the paint (Dieng and Behanan).

    • Defense – I saved the best for last. With opponents shooting a mere 37.2% against, Louisville is the 4th best team in the country in yielding opponent field goals. This alone keeps them in games. Their full-court press will make for an unwelcoming experience for opponents that have not seen them yet this year.
    • If Louisville can improve their shooting and maintain their defensive prowess, this team has the potential to make a deep run in the Tournament. The NCAA Tournament brings out each team’s best fight, which means that Louisville could be in for some close ugly games, but they have the upper classmen leadership and experienced coach to will them on to victory. After flaming out each of the last two years, they are due to make it to at least the second weekend.


    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    UConn Huskies - What's the Deal?

    Their struggles in conference play leave questions

    By Shane McCarthy on February 12, 2012

    The 2010-2011 regular season conference play of the Connecticut Huskies was not exactly the start of a dream season for the team that eventually went on to win the national championship.  They were flawless in non-conference play, but went 9-9 in the Big East, forcing them to play on day one of the conference tournament.  We all know what happened next, they won five games in five days en route to a three seed in the NCAA Tournament, which they ran through on their way to a national title.

    Entering the 2011-2012 season the UConn Huskies were returning four starters from the team that played in the title game (Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Tyler Olander with Shabazz Napier getting significant playing time as well), and they brought in the number #2 overall recruit in the 2011 class and #1 rated center in Andre Drummond, and the #74 overall recruit in point guard Ryan Boatright.  Given the talent level, experience, and their legendary coach, Coach Calhoun, they earned a #4 preseason ranking and tagged with a legitimate chance to repeat as national champions.  They were just missing one piece from last year - their engine, their fight, and their leader - Kemba Walker.

    It may not seem like this year's team has had someone step into the Kemba role, but when you watch this team you'll notice that Alex Oriakhi has stepped up.  It was a bit easier for Kemba to do it last year because the offense ran through him.  He was the facilitator, play-maker and scorer of the team, especially in each of tournaments.  And he became oh so clutch in crunch-time.  Oriakhi is a big-man who willingly does the dirty work down low and depends on his teammates to distribute him the ball.  Not quite as easy for him to take the ball up the court and drain a pull up three.

    As this year's team has struggled it has become very easy to see the frustration in the body language of all the players but Oriakhi.  During timeouts the players tend to disperse into different directions, but you always see Oriakhi calling the team together.  And he's open to adjusting his role for the better of the team as he was willing to come off the bench for a few games.  During the Louisville game this past Tuesday when UConn was down more than 20 most of the second half, Oriakhi was the only player on the team that showed energy and fight.

    This team is currently 5-7 in conference and 15-9 overall with six games remaining, four home and two away.  Their only bad loss on the season was to the University of Central Florida.  Some of their other losses including at Seton Hall, Rutgers and Tennessee don't really look that bad as all of those teams are respectable, especially on the road.  And most of their losses are low scoring affairs in which they lost by single digits (with the exception of the Louisville massacre) due to poor shooting (which has plagued them throughout the season).  Even the Syracuse loss wasn't a bad loss as it was a two point game with five minutes to go before Scoop Jardine made an announcement to the UConn bus driver to warm it up.

    The way I see it, they should win their two remaining road games (Villanova and Providence) and split their remaining home games (DePaul, Marquette, Syracuse and Pittsburgh) to get to 9-9 in conference play, same as last year.  And if they beat Syracuse, which is very possible - they'll get into the dance with little debate.

    This team hasn't even come close to playing to its potential as they haven't been able to get into a rhythm all season.  This team is bound to start shooting better, Jeremy Lamb is bound to start showing up as he is too talented to continue to get lost on the court, and Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond are bound to play like the dual big-men dominant force they are capable of being.  Even though they lost at Syracuse it was encouraging that they showed a lot of resolve after practically quitting at Louisville, and Drummond was finally finishing inside, dunking on people and getting position like he is capable of doing.  He rolled his ankle in the second half and wasn't the same explosive player when he came back in.  But the fact that he came back in leads me to believe that it isn't a long-term injury.

    We can't forget that this is the same loaded team that we all had high expectations for entering this season.  They have taken some tough close losses, they've battled some off the court issues and they've lacked confidence far too often.  But that leads me to believe that they are due to get hot shooting the ball and get their confidence back.  And what better time than right now, late February turning to March, the same thing these guys went through last year.  Oriakhi is all about winning, and if he can get this team to start clicking - watch out.  I don't think there is a team in the country that would want to face the Huskies when they are hitting their stride.

    Four weeks till Selection Sunday!


    Wednesday, February 8, 2012

    Recapping Georgetown at Syracuse

    It took overtime to settle this one

    By Shane McCarthy on February 8, 2012

    When a team is on the road at their rival, out rebounds them by almost 20, is never down my more than six and holds that opponent scoreless in the remaining 4:37 of regulation, you would hope they would win the game.  But Georgetown was only able to force overtime and was never able to contain Kris Joseph.

    Kris Joseph was the only player in uniform on either team that played every minute of the game along with being the leading scorer of the game, 29, including five of the Orange's nine points in OT.  This is the kind of game that Syracuse has been waiting for out of Joseph and it took their biggest rival to do it.  But what better time than tonight, a game that was dominated defensively on both ends of the floor not allowing either team to ever go on a run to gain separation.

    When it comes to defensive efficiency Syracuse and Georgetown are ranked 15th and 6th respectively, according to  That was on display tonight with both teams utilizing effective zones limiting each other to contested shots all night.  While both teams almost shot identically from the field (Cuse 34.9% and G'town 33.3%), Syracuse was the team that was able to get better looks.  They were the more willing team to pump fake to dribble drive and either kick it out to the wings or dump it down low for more efficient shots.  Georgetown, especially in the first half, was settling for long contested shots because they were content on just swinging it around the perimeter until they got a 'decent' look.

    When looking at the box score it seems like a no-brainer that Georgetown should have won this game.  Georgetown out-rebounded Syracuse by 18!  Syracuse is especially poor (and the word 'poor' is an understatement) at letting up offensive rebounds where they rank 338 out of 339 in the nation.  There is actually still room for them to get worse.  They let up 20 offensive rebounds in this game alone.  But somehow both teams took the exact same amount of shots from the field, 63.  And both teams even went to the line the same amount of times, 16; with Georgetown making 14 compared to Syracuse's 12.  One would think that Syracuse made up for this by forcing turnovers, but they only forced five more turnovers than the Hoyas.

    Georgetown's struggles came in the form of foul trouble.  Jason Clark and Henry Sims both missed a considerable amount of the second half as both picked up their third foul within the first minute of the half.  If Henry Sims and Otto Porter (who had a great game and who is really becoming a force) are able to be on the floor together for more of the game, Georgetown probably wins.  But that wasn't the case, and though this game showed that Georgetown is for real, they didn't do enough to get what's most important, a victory.

    As for the team that ended up victorious, the Syracuse Orange, they can't be too thrilled with this win.  All wins are good, but when you get that dominated on the boards - you must be concerned.  For a team that hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since 2003, this could have the makings of another early exit to an inferior opponent in March.  But the good news for Syracuse is that it's only February 8th and they are flaunting a 24-1 record, they have one of the best coaches of all time, and they have a deep and experienced team.  For a team that is 24-2 and is ranked #2 in the country, I think it is pretty scary that they have so much room to improve, and I expect them to do just that over the course of the next month.

    This may have been the last time (and by last time I mean at least until the conferences are re-aligned again a decade from now to make even more money) that Syracuse and Georgetown faced-off in conference play.  Both teams nearly matched each other shot for shot as neither team could go on a run, and these are two teams that depend on quick runs.  But defensively, it was a well-played game and it was fitting that it took overtime to decide it.  These are two of college basketball's best who have the makeup for a deep run in March.


    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Fab is Back

    With Fab Melo in the lineup - Syracuse is a complete team

    By Shane McCarthy on February 6, 2012

    The Orange played three games without Fab Melo in the lineup (academic reasons), went 2-1 and saw their 20 game win streak snapped, and even in their two wins they looked like a different team.  They looked like a team that was timid and lacking confidence.

    Now it's not that Melo lights it up on the stat sheet - he averages 7.5 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game.  Syracuse as a team averages 78.1 points per game and 36 rebounds per game, making Fab's contribution 9.5% and 15% respectively.

    Fab lights it up on the floor by just BEING on the floor.  The Orange are a totally different team when he is banging down in the low post and centering the swarming 2-3 zone.  When he was away for those three games all three opponents time and again attacked down low.  Luke Harangody, I mean Jack Cooley (you can't convince me they aren't somehow related), of Notre Dame went for 17 points and 16 boards!  He's a good player, but he doesn't do that with Fab in the game.

    When Fab is in the game opponents have trouble dumping it down low as he controls that zone.  He has vastly improved his footwork (will give most of that credit to Weight Watchers) which has allowed him to average 3.0 blocks per game - and the team averaging 7.8 blocks per game with him in uniform (3rd in NCAA).  This forces opponents to keep the ball on the outside and take long-range shots, which is exactly what this fast and athletic 2-3 zone wants.

    On the offensive end he allows the offense to run more smoothly.  Opponents may not have to commit a double team to him, but you definitely have to account for him at all times.  This allows the crafty guards  Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Dion Waiters to dribble drive and force extra defenders to commit to them.  Then kicking it out to a wide-open Kris Joseph, James Southerland or the other guards just mentioned for an open look or throw a lob up to Melo for an easy dunk.  It doesn't hurt that Melo has a solid stroke from the line as well.

    Melo has only been back for one game, and that was a blowout win over St. John's at Madison Square Garden which is more of a home game for Syracuse than it is for St. John's.  St. John's is undersized, inexperience and lacks depth, so this wasn't much of a test for the Orange.  But this team played with a different swagger and confidence compared to the previous three games.  Without Fab it seemed they lacked confidence which translated into poor shooting performances and a plethora of turnovers.  With him they are a different team, a team that is deep, talented and explosive.  Fab Melo completes the 2011-2012 Syracuse Orange.