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