Monday, March 11, 2013

Previewing the Last Big East Tournament as We Know It

The Big East Tournament will kick off tomorrow and you can probably find hundreds of articles written in the past few days exclaiming that this will be the final Big East Tournament as we know it. And they will all be right. The conference is set to undergo a drastic makeover next year and there won’t be a Big East Tournament that goes by in the future without at least one reference to the power house this conference once was – even if the newly constructed conference becomes just as great one day.

While Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse were the founding members in 1979 that have stuck it out this long, it took multiple instances of additions and subtractions to build it up to where it is today. The most recent influx of teams took place in 2005 when Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida joined to make it the beast that it became. The Big East was always regarded as one of the better basketball conferences in the nation throughout the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, but it really became regarded as an all-time great in 2011 when the Big East sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament – with UConn capping the year off with a national championship. 

Conference realignment has always been a part of collegiate athletics and it will never go away. Who knows, these 15 teams could end up together in a super conference someday down the road.

But instead of crying over the past or worrying about the future, let’s just enjoy the 2013 Big East Tournament over the next five days like we’ve done each and every time over the years.

Here is a preview on what is to come and my predicted bracket…

The Favorites:

Louisville – The Cardinals haven’t lost in over a month as they are in the midst of a 7-game winning streak and don’t have a bad loss on their resume all season. They were the unanimous pick to win the conference and ended up in a three-way share of it, but given the pieces on this team and the run these same guys made last year, I’m going to label them as the favorite.

Georgetown – The Hoyas made a statement on Saturday by destroying Syracuse in the two schools final regular season meeting as conference rivals, to signal to the rest of the Big East that they are for real. A winner of their last 12 of 13 games, and with a player as hot as Otto Porter, this team clearly knows how to emerge victorious.

Under the Radar Team:

Pittsburgh – I know the Panthers earned a double-bye, but this team has gotten very little publicity all season. The advanced metrics are big believers in Pitt, but they have a tendency to go through prolonged scoring droughts. But given that they will likely see Syracuse followed by Georgetown (two teams also known for troubles on the offensive end) before reaching the finals, you have to like their chances. At least I do, anyway.

Dark Horse Teams:

None - I know the Big East has become known for teams making a run to the championship without the luxury of a double-bye, but I don’t think that will be the case this year. I know the obvious candidate here would be Syracuse, but the Orange’s offense has been so consistently awful over the past month that it seems impossible to fix in such short notice. Notre Dame hasn’t impressed me at all on the road, and unfortunately the winner of the St. John’s vs. Villanova game on Wednesday has to see a well rest Louisville the next day.  Marquette, who shared the Big East regular season crown with Louisville and Georgetown and who also earned a double-bye, is another team that I find difficult to get excited about away from their home court.  And the four teams that play on Tuesday night – Rutgers, Seton Hall, South Florida and DePaul – are all atrocious and have absolutely no shot.

Players to Watch:

Otto Porter – He is going to be the unanimous selection for Big East Player of the Year, and rightfully so -  he can take over a game and put the entire team on his back en route to a victory.  He may be the best stretch four in the country and look for him to impose his will on opponents as needed.

Peyton Siva – While his season was rather disappointing given that he was selected as the pre-season player of the year, he is still the floor general of the Cardinals. Look for the senior point guard to pick up his play as it matters most and reemerge as one of the better distributing point guards in the country.  He just needs to be sure to not get into foul trouble – an area he struggled with throughout the season.

Steven Adams – The freshman big might be the only player in the Big East that can match up with Gorgui Dieng and not be outmatched from a physical standpoint. However, Adams isn’t as skilled or experienced, but if he can stay on the floor his presence alone could be effective enough for the Panthers to make a run at it.

Jack Cooley – If you could somehow quantify hardest working player in the conference, Cooley is probably it. There is no question that he is one of if not the best rebounder in the Big East, but he will need to step it up defensively if the Irish are to have a chance.  Offense isn’t the problem for the Irish, it’s their defense.  Look for Cooley to turn it up a notch and own the paint. 

My Bracket Prediction:

Let me know who you guys think will win and why.


Twitter:  @ShaneInBigEast

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Final Stretch of the Big East Season

The 18-game Big East season comes to a conclusion this Saturday, and who is to be league champion is a three horse race heading into the finish line.  Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette are the contenders, and this could be a race that isn’t decided until the last day of the season.

Georgetown Hoyas (13-3 / 0 games back)

Picked to finish 5th in the 2012-12 Coaches Poll

The Hoyas are the team in the driver’s seat.  They control their own destiny because they only need to win one of their two games left and the league title is theirs.  But that’s easier said than done, because of the five games remaining amongst the three teams in contention they easily have the two most difficult games.

                - At Villanova on Wednesday
                - Hosting Syracuse on Saturday

Georgetown will be getting a very desperate Wildcats team on Wednesday night who just blew a game at Pittsburgh over the weekend that would have almost assured them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  And Nova has been known to take down some giants (Louisville and Syracuse) on their home floor this year.  Then their home clash with the Syracuse Orange, the very last time these two will face off as Big East foes in the regular season, will obviously be a heavyweight fight.  Expect a lot of emotion and physical play in this game for a lot of reasons, but a Syracuse revenge game factor being the most prominent. 

However, as already stated above - all that the Hoyas need to do is win one of these games and they are crowned Big East champions.  They currently have a half game lead over the Louisville Cardinals, but they own the tiebreaker against them as they beat them in the two teams only meeting. 

Louisville Cardinals (13-4 / .5 game back)

Unanimous selection to finish 1st in the 2012-13 Coaches Poll

It’s very difficult to say that anyone is playing better than Georgetown currently considering they have rattled off 11 straight victories, but boy are the Louisville Cardinals playing good ball these days.  If the Hoyas and Cardinals were to square off on a neutral court today (or hopefully next week for real), I’d like the Cardinals.  But that’s not the topic at hand here, and Louisville already had their shot against Georgetown earlier in the season and failed (however, the game was away). 

                - Hosting Notre Dame on Saturday

I don’t expect the Cardinals to have much trouble with the Irish this weekend, but they will need assistance from Villanova and Syracuse if they are to accomplish what all the coaches expected of them in the preseason.  

Marquette Golden Eagles (12-4 / 1 game back)

Picked to finish 7th in the 2012-13 Coaches Poll

It’s amazing the job Buzz Williams does year after year.  Marquette didn’t play much of a non-conference schedule, but when they got smoked by Florida and lost to Wisconsin Green Bay, it looked as if a 7th place finish or even worse in the Big East was likely.  Now the Golden Eagles are sitting with four losses in the conference with two games to go.

                - At Rutgers on Tuesday
                - At St. John’s on Saturday

Marquette will be favored to win both of these games, but it won’t be easy.  Of their seven losses on the season, all seven have come on the road.  So this will be a good test for this team before heading into tournament season.  The Golden Eagles are a long shot to win the league as they need Georgetown and Louisville to lose their remaining games, but they can’t be complaining too much considered where they were picked to finish in the league and how their season began.  

Changed my Twitter handle - it is now @ShaneInBigEast

Monday, March 4, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 2/25 - 3/3]

The best of the best as these two have become familiar faces in this segment...

Player of the Week:
Otto Porter
The Georgetown Hoyas got more of the same from Otto Porter this past week – he was the team’s leading scorer in both of their victories, which included a game winning shot in double overtime on the road. He finished with 22 points and 5 rebounds in the aforementioned double overtime victory at UConn and 28 points and 8 rebounds in their home victory against Rutgers. I wrote last week that Porter was a lock for Big East Player of the Year, and his performances last week just added to his cushion. National Player of the Year is within grasp, but that would likely require further success for the Hoyas (given that they have only gained significant recognition as of late and haven’t been a national darling like some others over a longer time horizon). And given how he and the Hoyas have played as of late, that is certainly not out of the question. If the Hoyas victory at Syracuse was the official Otto Porter coming out party, then the Big East Tournament could be a full-fledged Otto Porter production.
Rookie of the Week:
JaKarr Sampson
Just as Otto Porter is a lock to be the conference’s Player of the Year, JaKarr Sampson is a lock to be Rookie of the Year. This is the seventh time this season he has earned Rookie of the Week honors. And while the Johnnies lost both of their games last week, it wasn’t due to the lack of production from Sampson. And with D’Angelo Harrison now suspended for the remainder of the season, Sampson has become the team’s leader in points and rebounds per game (15.0 and 6.6 respectively). Last week Sampson accumulated 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals against Pittsburgh and 22 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks at Providence.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Friday, March 1, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 8

We have already arrived at the final week of the regular season.  It's not cool how fast it has flown by, but can't complain too much because it's March - a glorious month.  Hopefully this doesn't fly by that quickly. And there is still a lot to be decided in the Big East in this final week.  Enjoy.

Now to the Power Rankings...

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Has Otto Porter Run Away with Big East Player of the Year?

Last year’s Big East Player of the Year race was hard-fought by three players: Kevin Jones of West Virginia and Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom of Marquette. While Jones had the best statistical season of the three, it was Crowder’s well-rounded play and Marquette’s success that earned him the prize in the end.

This year, the Preseason Player of the Year Award went to Peyton Siva. And at the halfway mark of the season, or the transition from non-conference to conference play, it looked as if the player of the year recognition was going to be someone from the group of: Russ Smith, Michael Carter-Williams, Jack Cooley or Sean Kilpatrick.

But now, with a week and a half left in the regular season, it looks as if Otto Porter has already locked it up.

Russ Smith, Michael Carter-Williams and Sean Kilpatrick all had monster first halves, and while they all continue to play well and put up gaudy statistics from time to time, none have had the consistency or thrived in multiple big spots like Porter has. And Siva, whose presence on the court is invaluable, has underwhelmed when it comes to a statistical stand point.

And while you can still formulate an argument for the stated players above, the only player I would be okay with receiving the award over Porter is Jack Cooley. While Cooley’s rebounding prowess has cooled off a bit (he was the only player in the country pulling down more than 20% of both available offensive and defensive rebounds for a while, but his offensive rebounding has slipped to 18.6% - still second best in the nation), he still is the only player in the Big East averaging a double-double. And yet he still goes un-talked about and seen as underrated somehow.

But Cooley does not possess that one shining moment that Porter has. In Notre Dame’s biggest game of the year to date (their five overtime thriller vs. Louisville), Cooley fouled out with more than five minutes to go in regulation. The Irish almost played an entire game without him and still won. In Georgetown’s biggest game of the year to date, Porter dropped 33 points at Syracuse and singlehandedly willed the Hoyas to victory.

In the games leading up to the ‘Cuse showdown there were whispers beginning of Porter even creeping into the National Player of the Year race, and upon that performance he firmly cemented himself in that discussion. He further proved is worthy-ness last night when he converted the winning basket in double overtime at Connecticut – a strong but fluent drive to the rim that finished with a layup with 8 seconds remaining.

Porter is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds in conference play and has Georgetown on a 10-game winning streak. The Hoyas, now 12-3 in the conference, who were picked to finish 5th in the preseason, now have a one game cushion with three to go. There are a bunch of factors that go into team success, and as a team Georgetown has become great defensively (currently second in the Big East behind Louisville), but if it weren’t for the play of Porter on the offensive end, this team would not be sitting at 22-4. And while the Syracuse game will likely be his defining moment, he has put the team on his back multiple times throughout the season and has been very successful doing so.

Otto Porter for Big East Player of the Year is a lock (but please vote to the left and leave a comment below for who you think it should/will be).

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Monday, February 25, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 2/18 - 2/24]

The Georgetown Hoyas swept the individual awards this week, and rightfully so.  Each player finished with a career high in points in an individual game; a feat that one player accomplished in one game while his teammate did it in another.  One was just a little bit more important than the other…

Player of the Week:

Otto Porter

Otto Porter finished with 33 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 steals in the Hoyas enormous win at Syracuse on Saturday afternoon.  Porter played all 40 minutes and pretty much singlehandedly willed Georgetown to a 57-46 victory in their last conference game at the Carrier Dome.  Otto had been slowly creeping his way into the National Player of the Year discussion, and his performance over the weekend put him smack dab in the middle of it.

Porter also accumulated 11 points and 3 rebounds in an easy win over DePaul earlier in the week at home.  He banged his knee and ended up only playing 20 minutes, as the fate of the game was pretty much determined fairly early into the second half.

Rookie of the Week:

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera tallied a career high 33 points in Georgetown’s win over DePaul in the middle of last week.  That was the best freshman scoring performance for Georgetown in 17 years. He finished 10 of 12 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.  He also made 8 of his 10 free throw attempts while chipping in with 3 rebounds in the 34 minutes of playing time he got.  Georgetown tends to struggle from the field for longer than desired stretches (including Satruday – everyone but Porter struggled), but if Smith-Rivera can become more consistent the Hoyas will become less prone to erratic offensive performances.  

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Friday, February 22, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 7

The Big East power rankings took a week off last week for no good reason at all, but they are back.  Enjoy

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Monday, February 18, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 2/11 - 2/17]

Player of the Week:

Otto Porter

Otto Porter has led the Georgetown Hoyas on a seven-game winning streak, including three wins over ranked opponents.  In two wins last week over Marquette and on the road at Cincinnati, Porter finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds and 16 points, 7 rebounds respectively.  Early in the season the verdict was out on the Hoyas and it looked as if they were going to be a middle of the pack Big East team this year, but led by Porter, Georgetown is tied for first in the conference with six games to go.

Rookie of the Week:

Omar Calhoun

Calhoun is the youngin’ in the talented trio of guards – with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright - that make the Huskies go.  It would have been easy for the talented freshman to withdraw from UConn before even playing a game given their postseason ineligibility, but he stuck to his word and is now the third leading scorer on the team (behind Napier and Boatright), averaging 11.5ppg. He has consistently gotten better as the season has progressed and he had his best week of the season yet last week, finishing with 15 and 16 points against Syracuse and Villanova respectively, including multiple big shots against their home upset victory over the Orange.  

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Monday, February 11, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 2/4 - 2/10]

Player of the Week:

Kadeem Batts

Providence only played one game last week, but they made the most of it by beating their first ranked opponent (#17 Cincinnati) of the season. It was a low scoring affair, 54-50, but that wasn’t due to any shortcomings from Kadeem Batts. The junior forward nearly finished with 50% of the Friars’ points, as he ended the game with 25. He also added 9 rebounds in the contest. PC has been playing better ball as of late, and much of that has to do with Batts.

Rookie of the Week:

JaKarr Sampson

JaKarr Sampson has done it again – he has now been the recipient of the Rookie of the Week award six times. I know there is still a month left in the season, but it is going to take some serious stat-sheet stuffing from one of these other rookies to surmount Sampson for Big East Rookie of the Year. This past week JaKarr led the Johnnies in scoring in both of their contests – an 18 point effort in a win over UConn and a 21 point outing in a loss at Syracuse. He also chipped in with 6 rebounds and 2 assists in each game. Is there anyone else you would vote Rookie of the Year for right now?

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Weekly Recap in the Big East

That’s a Good Win:

Notre Dame over Louisville in an overtime thriller

The Irish entered this game still in search of their first ‘good’ Big East win of the year. And while it was looking bleak with one minute left in the game, Jerian Grant put the team on his back. Five overtimes later, they prevailed.

Pittsburgh wins at Cincinnati

Pitt has been playing some strong basketball as of late and starting to gain some national recognition. So it was good to see them go on the road and get a win against a ranked opponent.

Providence topples Cincinnati at home

Watch out for Providence these days. The Friars haven’t played a bad game since a home loss to DePaul back on January 5th. Cincinnati is their best win of the season and this team is finally starting to click now that they are healthy.

Syracuse ends skid and tops Notre Dame at home

The Orange were coming off of back-to-back losses (both on the road), so it was reassuring to see them get back to their winning ways and doing that through the strength of their defense.

Villanova wins at DePaul

Beating DePaul shouldn’t be that noteworthy, but when your only win on the road in conference is South Florida, it is good to see. And given that the Wildcats were coming off back-to-back poor shooting performances (both losses to Notre Dame and Providence), it was reassuring to see them fill the bucket (scored 94 points). These are the type of games bubble teams need to win, and Villanova, seen now as a bubble team, got it done.

Now that was a bad loss:

Cincinnati losing at Providence

I wrote above how this was a good win for Providence and that the Friars are a better team these days, but if Cincinnati wants to be recognized as a good team, which they were given their #17 rank at the time, they need to win road games against conference foes that are in the bottom half of the standings. It seems that the Bearcats have been figured out – shut down their guards (Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker) and you shut down the team. Pittsburgh did a great job of this on Saturday. Kilpatrick got his points, but the Panthers shut him down at the end of the game when they needed him most.

Way to take care of business:

Georgetown wins at Rutgers

I wrote in the section above that if teams want to be considered contenders that they need to win notable road games; Georgetown did what Cincinnati failed to do. It was a close game throughout, but Otto Porter willed the Hoyas to victory with 10 straight points over the final six minutes of the game.

Syracuse beats St. John’s at home

I acknowledge that this was a game that the Orange were expected to win with relative ease, but it was still encouraging to see this offense clicking better now that they got James Southerland back. They looked a little off in their previous six games, and I suspected that was due to the absence of Southerland. The Orange looked just fine on Sunday, making 10 of 22 3-point attempts, with Southerland making three of his seven attempts. I believe this team has Final Four potential once again.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Taking a Look at The Russdiculous End to the Notre Dame vs. Louisville Game

By now, if you didn’t watch the game last night, you’ve all seen the highlights of the epic five-overtime thriller between Notre Dame and Louisville.  We all know that Jerian Grant scored 12 points in the final 45 seconds, that Garrick Sherman scored 17 points without getting a minute of playing time in regulation, and that Louisville just couldn’t close.  But let’s take a look at the final moments of regulation and each of the overtimes, because Russ Smith may have broken a record for most game-winners missed in a single game.  Seriously.  If such a record existed, it was surely broken last night.

End of Regulation:
Peyton Siva dribbles to the top of the key, looks to have a wide open jumper if he wants to take it, but decides to dump it down to Gorgui Dieng in the low-post with three guys around him, and can’t handle it.  No shot is attempted.

End of 1st Overtime:
Russ Smith slowly dribbles the ball up the court, comes to a complete stop at half court with roughly five seconds remaining, and Russ, seemingly unaware that the clock is running, is forced to jack a 3 from about 10 feet beyond the 3-point line, and it clanks off the glass and rims out.

End of 2nd Overtime:
This time Russ Smith slowly dribbles past half court, but has enough time so that he can attempt a drive.  He opts to go left and his erratic, running extended layup from high off the glass doesn’t even hit the rim.  Chane Behanan gets a chance with the put back, but it was highly contested and rushed, and also didn’t get any rim.
End of 3rd Overtime:
Louisville is forced to go the length of the court after inbounding it from under their own basket in less than four seconds.  Obviously they inbound to Russ, he runs and dribbles as fast as he can, and he attempts a running jumper from approximately the 3-point line.  The attempt didn’t go and it wouldn’t have mattered because the ball was still in his hand when the buzzer sounded. 

End of 4th Overtime:
The Cardinals once again have to go the length of the court upon inbounding it from the opposite end, but this time they have just over six seconds to work with.  Again they inbound the ball to Smith, he scampers down the floor only to have it knocked away at the 3-point line, but he is able to regain control just in time to jack a fade-away five feet beyond the arc that ends up being an airball. 

End of 5th Overtime:
This time the circumstances are different.  Instead of the game being tied like the previous instances, Louisville is now down three with under 10 seconds to play.  But like the four previous overtime periods the ball was in Russ Smith’s hands last.  On this occasion he dribbles to the top left of the arc, sets himself right in front of Coach Pitino (hoping for him to will it in I presume), but the deep three clanks off the iron.  The Irish win.

The Louisville Cardinals had the final shot at the end of regulation and every overtime period, opted to not use an available timeout in every instance, didn’t get a shot off once, and Russ Smith had the ball in his hands for the final possession in all five overtimes and didn’t make a single shot.  I have a feeling that not only will the Cards use a timeout in these situations in the future, but they will be dedicating large portions of their practice sessions to these situations over the next month.  And maybe next time they will actually have some sort of set play to run rather than it just being a chaotic Russdiculous situation. 

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Friday, February 8, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 6

Power Rankings

We are more than halfway through the conference schedule and it looks pretty clear which teams are good, which teams are decent and which teams are awful. If James Southerland is reinstated for the Orange today I believe it is a two horse race between Cuse and Louisville to win the league. If his appeal is rejected I’d be surprised if the Ville didn’t take it. Pittsburgh, Marquette and Georgetown will remain in contention, but will fall short. However, any five of these teams could run the Big East Tournament. And the only conceivable game I can see either DePaul or South Florida winning is when they play each other in early March.

Now to the rankings…

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

James Southerland’s Fate Determined Tomorrow

James Southerland has been relegated to street clothes at the end of the ‘Cuse bench since their home game against Villanova on January 12th. He was deemed academically ineligible before tipoff that afternoon and it has since been released that an ongoing investigation was taking place centering on a term-paper that he wrote, or possibly didn’t write.

He will now sit down in front of a Syracuse University panel tomorrow (Thursday, February 7) to appeal the allegations and attempt to regain his eligibility. That’s right; he’s sitting down with SU officials, not NCAA officials. So this issue has strictly become a school matter and it is in the University’s hands to determine his - and essentially the team’s- fate for the remainder of the season.

Southerland played in a total of 16 games and is currently third on the team in points per game with 13.6 Not only was he the team’s best 3-point shooter, but his length was ideal for the 2-3 zone. Jerami Grant has filled in admirably and the freshman has improved immensely since the beginning of the season, but he doesn’t give the Orange the same threat offensively as Southerland did.

I believe it is imperative that Syracuse gets Southerland back if they want to even be in the discussion for a national title. With him on the floor the Orange are able to stretch and open up defenses with his sharp-shooting ability from long range. With that, cutting and passing lanes open up for the talented Michael Carter-Williams to take advantage of. The Orange have struggled recently because MCW has struggled. This seems to be because defenses are sitting back, taking away slashing lanes, and daring the Orange to shoot from the outside. Beyond Brandon Triche, there isn’t much on this roster to scare defenses.

Carter-Williams is the team’s best player, but teams have been able to scheme against him better because of the pieces around him. With Southerland in the lineup, the floor opens up. If the Orange are able to get some good news on Thursday and see him back in uniform soon, they will once again be considered title contenders.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Notre Dame has One Glaring Defensive Issue, Again

When it comes to running an efficient offense Notre Dame is not only one of the best, but one of the most consistent teams in the nation year after year.

Going as far back as KenPom’s tempo-free history has data for – which is 2003 – the Irish have only once had their offense ranked outside the top-50, which was 51st in 2005. They have finished in the top-10 in five seasons over that span and are currently 11th this year. Their offensive prowess is predicated on excellent 3-point shooting (finishing in the top 30 in 3-point percentage in eight of 11 seasons) along with being one of the best teams in the country at protecting the ball. Their turnover percentage has never been worse than 29th.

But for how good Notre Dame is at protecting the ball, they are equally and oppositely terrible at taking it away from their opponents.

Now the Irish aren’t a terrible defensive team. Their average rank over the past 11 seasons is 90th, but that isn’t good enough in the Big East as they are usually at or near the bottom in the conference.

And the finger can be pointed directly at their ability - or lack thereof - to force turnovers.  The Irish are absolutely atrocious at turning their opponent over. Take a look at the chart below. They have consistently ranked outside the top-300 in the country at forcing turnovers. And only once have they cracked the top-200, which is a complete anomaly because all 10 other seasons have been over 300.

The Irish do compensate for this by not fouling often (at least fouls that result in their opponent going to the free throw line, anyway) and they are a respectable rebounding team year after year. But when you run that slow ‘burn’ offense without generating turnovers to create extra possessions, you are consistently playing with fire and will likely be in many more close games than you would like, especially against upper echelon opponents or in hostile environments. Just take a look at what the Irish have done in the NCAA Tournament over the past 10 seasons…

2012: Lost their first game as a 7 seed
2011: Won one game as a 2 seed
2010: Lost their first game as a 6 seed
2008: Won one game as a 5 seed
2007: Lost their first game as a 6 seed
2003: Won two games as a 5 seed

Notre Dame has made the tournament as an at-large bid in six of the last 10 seasons and has never been worse than a seven seed. But only once – 10 years ago – have they made it out of the first weekend, while succumbing to one-and-done on three occasions.

One would think that given the fact that Notre Dame is more or less consistently ranked in the top-25 throughout the season that they would have better fortunes in the tournament every now and then. But given that the Irish are a mediocre defensive team – especially when compared to the rest of the NCAA Tournament field – I don’t think it’s any surprise that they have struggled when it has mattered most.

And this year’s statistics suggest more of the same.

I know I’m not the only one who enjoys the likes of Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant, Jack Cooley, Pat Connaughton, and Cam Biedscheid on offense, but if this group doesn’t improve on defense, an early exit in March seems to be in the works once again.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Is Ricky Ledo Off to the NBA before ever Suiting Up for the Friars?

There was some considerable hype surrounding the Providence Friars last summer when they landed the #6 recruiting class for 2012 according to ESPN, which was highlighted by the #5 ranked recruit Kris Dunn and the #21 ranked recruit Ricky Ledo. Since landing the two prized recruits, the hype has diminished significantly.

It was determined that a shoulder injury that Dunn suffered in the spring time would require surgery and keep him out until late December. While there were concerns that the Friars may just red shirt the injured freshman, he was able to make a full recovery and make his debut in December a few games ahead of conference play.

However, Ledo’s time as a Friar hasn’t gone as well. The NCAA made public that it was investigating Ledo’s academic situation back in the summer, and there was obviously speculation that Ledo could be ruled ineligible. But on September 5, 2012 he was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, allowing him to practice but not play in the upcoming season.

The fear at the time was that if he wasn’t at least ruled a partial qualifier, he wouldn’t even show up to campus. It was thought that he may go overseas or just do his own thing for a year before entering the NBA draft. But now that he could be with the team and practice for a year, he had his sights set on that - definitely good news for PC.

"I am happy to be a student at Providence College," Ledo said in a statement following the announcement. "It has always been a dream of mine to represent PC and I am looking forward to my days as a student-athlete." Well this sounded encouraging at the time as it came off as if he was willing to put in the effort with the team this year in practice and at minimum play the following year when he gained full eligibility. Now that’s what it sounded like, it’s not necessarily what he meant or what he had in mind. And he could have just been saying that or been told to say that to appease the school in the interim without ruffling any more feathers.

This is what Ledo said this past weekend…

"My status is unclear," Ledo said, as reported by the Providence Journal. "College is a great preparation for life and college has already taught me a lot. I’m looking at every option, both staying in school and looking at the draft."

Well that doesn’t sound very encouraging.

So after being at school for little more than a semester and practicing with a team that is .500 overall and in the bottom third of the Big East, he has garnered great preparation for life and has been taught a lot. What do I know? Maybe he has. Maybe he is a quick learner and develops at a more advanced rate compared to others.

My opinion, along with most others I assume, is that a year of college play would be greatly beneficial to him and would make him further prepared for the challenges in the next step of his life. But the fact that he is even speaking about contemplating entering the draft this season suggests to me that it is all but a foregone conclusion at this point.

To add insult to injury, it has also been reported that Sidiki Johnson is ‘off the team’. I have no clue what that means, but I do know that he hasn’t played in the Friars last two games and the school is reporting that it is for personal reasons. A transfer from Arizona, who just became eligible to play at the conclusion of the first semester in December, was hoped to give the Friars a significant interior presence, but he has failed to live up to those expectations. Not only do the Friars lose a big man, but they lose valuable depth. For how long? No clue. It’s just been reported that he’s off the team, which could mean for good given his precarious history.

So much for all that hype surrounding the Friars in the near future.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Monday, February 4, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 1/28 - 2/3]

Player of the Week:

Shabazz Napier

While the Huskies were out-rebounded by 28 against Providence on Thursday night, they shot just well enough from the floor to force overtime and eventually emerge victorious. Napier finished the game with 18 points, but it was his 10 in overtime the propelled the Huskies to the road victory. Shabazz then followed up that overtime performance with another stellar overtime performance Sunday afternoon home against South Florida. He had 11 points in the extra frame, and finished with a game high 24 as UConn was able to hold off the Bulls for a 69-64 win. The Huskies have one of the most talented back courts in the country (Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun) that possesses blazing speed, smooth handles, slick passing and shooters that can get red hot at a flip of the switch, which is put it on display night after night with Napier leading the way.

Rookie of the Week:

Cameron Biedscheid

Biedscheid came off the bench and dropped a career high 18 points against Villanova on Wednesday night. But it was the second half in which he did all his damage. He scored 15 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes, which included four 3-pointers (he had five total in the game). His four 3s came in a flurry with Jerian Grant to put the Irish ahead, a lead they never surrendered. The Irish ran their signature ‘burn offense’ in which they cycled the ball to perfection and displayed excellent patience to wait for an open shot, with Biedscheid being the beneficiary on multiple occasions. Biedscheid also contributed seven points off the bench to help Notre Dame stave off an embarrassing loss at DePaul on Saturday afternoon.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Friday, February 1, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 5

The Big East weekly power rankings are in

The top and bottom has stayed the same, while Villanova and St. John's have been making some noise.  There are some big games on the docket this weekend as the top four teams play eachother (Syracuse at Pittsburgh and Marquette at Louisville).  Enjoy.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Villanova's Magical Two Game Giant Killer Winning Streak Comes to an End

The Villanova Wildcats were unable to stretch their winning streak to three after coming off their improbable week of knocking off #5 Louisville and #3 Syracuse.  

If you would have asked any college basketball fan back on November 25th what they thought of Villanova they would have likely been confused as to why you were even mentioning Villanova.  At the time they were coming off losses to Columbia and La Salle.  Villanova was supposed to struggle this year, but not have a hard time with Ivy League schools type of struggles.  So it goes without saying that if you were to tell that same person that this team would beat the #5 and #3 team in the same week in mid-January that they would have assumed that the end of the Mayan calendar and whatever repercussions were to come with that came to fruition.  

I considered writing a blog post earlier in the week discussing how far they have come from that mid-November fiasco, but I wanted to watch one more game -- this time a road game; which also happened to be against a good opponent. 

Notre Dame is no Louisville or Syracuse, but they are a good team and especially good at home.  And while the game did come down to the final moments to be decided, I still came away not knowing how I felt about Nova.   

On one hand I was encouraged.  Villanova led for a large portion of the game, and when they did get down they continued to battle back just as it looked the Irish were going to go on a big run to put it out of reach.  It took a barrage of three pointers from Jerian Grant and Cameron Biedscheid in the second half to grab and maintain a small lead.  Their resolve was good to see.  I was also surprised with how well Mouphtaou Yarou and Daniel Ochefu played in the low post with Jack Cooley and Tom Knight all over them.  That’s what kept the Wildcats in the game because…

I was discouraged with how difficult it was for Villanova to get open shots. Part of this has to do with the play of Ryan Arcidiacono.  He had a rough game.  He took many forced and awkward shots and was nonexistent running the point often.  His play aside, there still wasn’t much happening along and just inside the perimeter from the rest.  JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard hit their shots here and there, but nothing came easy for them.  Notre Dame is one of the worst defensive teams in the conference, so this should not have been the case.  

Jay Wright made comments and hints in the preseason that this year’s team was young and was bound to struggle.  Youth and inexperience doesn’t tend to prevail in the Big East, especially when it loses to an Ivy League school in its first few games.  However, Wright made a few comments recently stating that his team is beginning to click and has become much improved.  Clearly that’s easy to say when you beat the likes of Louisville and Syracuse in the same week.  But Villanova does look better – you could see it in the last few minutes of the Syracuse game when they were playing with swagger and confidence.  But there is a lot more improvement to undergo, as Wednesday night’s game showed. 

Their next three games are winnable, and for a team that just crept into the bubble discussion they are ‘must win’ games – vs. Providence, at DePaul and vs. South Florida.  Villanova has improved seemingly every game since November, and they must not become complacent with their recent success.  I still feel that the jury is still out on the Wildcats, but we’ll find out soon enough if their big wins were a fluke or a sign of better days. 

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Taking a Look at Pittsburgh - Polls or Advanced Indexes?

The Pittsburgh Panthers are currently unranked, sitting 9th in the Big East at 5-4, and are 17-5 overall. However, the advanced metrics and rankings indexes love the Pitt Panthers (6th on, 9th on LRMC, 12th on Sagarin ratings, and 14th on ESPN’s BPI).

Are they what their record says they are or are they closer to what the advanced analytics suggest?

They have one good win (blowing out Georgetown on the road), with only one real blemish on their resume (at Rutgers). They did play Michigan tough on a neutral court and their win at Villanova is looking better by the day. Other than those four games their non-conference schedule was weak - to put it lightly, while they have lost tough conference games to Cincinnati, Marquette in OT (while playing the entire game without a concussed Tray Woodall), and at Louisville.

The reason why the advanced rankings admire Pitt is due to a combination of their offensive and defensive efficiency, they do not turn the ball over often and they possess one of the best offensive rebounding rates in the country.

Let’s take a look.

Their efficiency numbers are solid:

Pitt is one of the slowest playing teams in the country (not in terms of speed because they play an up-tempo pace, but in terms of maximizing the shot clock and having lengthy possession) as they average 61.3 possessions per 40 minutes, placing them 339th in the country. However, they score 1.18 points per possession (4th best in the country) while only yielding 0.9 points per possession (29th).  And when you look at Big East only games (which is more appropriate given their cupcake non-conference schedule) they are scoring 1.07PPP while only yielding 0.95PPP on defense - for an efficiency margin of +.12 (tied for the conference lead with Louisville and Syracuse). 

They protect the ball, but take it away from opponents just as well:

The average team in the country turns the ball over on 20.5% of their possession. The Panthers are only turning the ball over on 17.3% of their possession, while taking it away from their opponents on 23.4% of their possession – creating four extra possessions a game. Given that they play slow it is imperative that they take extra care of the ball, but by generating extra possession by forcing turnovers is an added bonus.

The Panthers have a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds:

Pitt shoots a very respectable 48.9% from the field (12th in the country), which is not surprising given their exceptional points per possession rate.  But when they do miss they are pulling down a whopping 42.5% of all available offensive rebound opportunities.  That rate is second best in the country.  And they only allow their opponents to grab their available offensive rebounds 29.8% of the time.  This differential yields the Panthers another four possessions in their games. 

So to quickly recap:  Pitt not only takes care of and shoots the ball well, but they also generate an extra eight possessions a game over their opponents.  Sounds like a recipe for winning.

The problem?

Simply put:  foul shooting.  While the Panthers do get to the free throw line on an average amount per game, they just don’t make their foul shots when they get there.  They are shooting 66.1% from the line, which is good for 256th in the country.  And a majority of this issue can be directly attributed to big man Steven Adams, who is shooting a putrid 32.6% from the stripe.  And not only does Adams struggle at the line, but for a big man, he struggles just to get to the line.  He has only taken 43 foul shots on the year – fifth most on the team.  James Robinson, freshman point guard, has more free throw attempts than Adams.  

Also with Adams, he just needs to be on the court more.  He has played in 56.4% of available minutes this year for Pitt, or fifth most on the team as he seems to pick up an early foul (and often two) every game - forcing him to the bench for large portions of the first half.  Adams has shown his inexperience often this season, but the old adage goes:  you can’t teach seven foot.  Adams is a monster in the low post posing as a mismatch in almost every game.  While his touch around the rim and his knowledge of the game continue to improve, it is simply important for him to be on the court just for defensive purposes.  His ability to block and alter shots his outstanding.  

The verdict?

Pittsburgh is a good team, but they have struggled a bit against better competition throughout the year (not a surprise for any team) and they've yet to break through with a 'marquee' win.  However, this team does not necessarily need to get better; they just need Steven Adams to get better.  He is a game changer with his size and athleticism.  And when watching this team I can definitely say that this is a Sweet 16 caliber team.  So given that, the advanced rankings seem to be in the ballpark of how good this team is.  And I won't be surprised if they grab some attention this Saturday when they host Syracuse.      

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Monday, January 28, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 1/21-1/27]

Player of the Week:

Darrun Hilliard

Darrun Hilliard had not been the most significant contributor for Villanova to date, but he came up big in an upset win against #3 Syracuse on Saturday afternoon. After the opening tap the game started with Hilliard going on a 7-0 run by his lonesome, and he finished with a game high 25 points along with seven rebounds in the Wildcats’ 75-71 overtime victory over the Orange. Earlier in the week when Nova toppled then #5 Louisville Cardinals, Hilliard chipped in with 11 points to help get the monumental week get off to a court stormin’ start. The fact that Villanova knocked off the #3 and #5 teams in the same week meant that someone on the team was bound to be Player of the Week. And while it takes a team effort to pull off such a feat, it was Hilliard who had the biggest game of his teammates in the two contests.

Rookie of the Week:

JaKarr Sampson

JaKarr is becoming a regular in this segment as this is his second consecutive week and fifth overall (in 11 weeks) being named Rookie of the Week. Sampson is currently the second leading scorer on the Red Storm -- averaging 14.3ppg while also leading the team in rebounding at 6.5rpg. Last week he finished with 21 points and seven rebounds in a 72-60 win at Rutgers and 19 points and five rebounds in a 71-67 win against Seton Hall. The Johnnies are currently riding a four game winning streak and are sitting fourth in the Big East (5-3). While this team’s youth shows at times, they have been playing better as of late and will continue to make noise in the convoluted Big East.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Friday, January 25, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 4

The triumphant return of the Big East Power Rankings

I really do not have a good excuse for taking multiple weeks off from publishing Soup to Nuts.  And for that I apologize.  But I promise from here on out, every Friday, you the people will get the updated power rankings for the best conference in the land -- for this last year anyway. 

And we're off...

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Dominance and Effectiveness of Jack Cooley

If you are simply a casual fan of college basketball you have probably heard of Jack Cooley and have likely seen him play, and then came to the conclusion that he was a slightly above average big white guy with a high motor and good work ethic.  However, while the more than casual fan would agree with that assessment, they would also be aware that in conjunction with that high motor, being tall and being white, he also has some real talent and effectiveness on the floor.

For starters, he is the only player in the Big East averaging a double-double this season; averaging 14.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.  Now the Big East is set to implode, but that’s not until next year, so it still holds the label as one of the best conferences in the country.  And in this conference there are still a lot of really talented players.  So to be the only player to average double digit points and rebounds on a nightly basis is impressive (Cooley has 12 double-doubles in 19 games played).

But his dominance extends beyond the Big East. 

Cooley is the ONLY player in the country pulling down more than 20% of available offensive AND defensive rebounds.  

                Offensive Rebounding Percentage:  21.0% (1st in the country and Big East)
                Defensive Rebounding Percentage:  23.5% (67th in the country and 2nd in the Big East)

And if that wasn’t enough, Cooley also leads the Big East in field goal percentage – making 59.4% of his attempts.

Russ Smith and Michael Carter-Williams may be getting all the looks for Big East Player of the Year today, but if Notre Dame can right the ship (they have currently lost three of their last four) and finish near the top of the standings – Cooley will deserve to be in the discussion.

In terms of usage, he is the Irish’s biggest contributor when on the floor, but he averages less than 30 minutes per game (28.7).  Given his bigger frame and high motor, this is to be expected.  But if Notre Dame is going to make a deep run into March they will need one of the most effective players in the country on the floor as much as possible.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Friday, January 18, 2013

What the Orange Lose while James Southerland is Investigated by the NCAA

Southerland in street clothes awaiting his verdict

As we all know, Syracuse senior, James Southerland, was ruled ineligible prior to their home game versus Villanova this past Saturday. The Orange went on to win that game 72-61 and extend their home winning streak to 34 (the longest current streak in college basketball), but that was after another mediocre first half – which is something of a common theme for the Orange this year.

Coach Boeheim has said that Southerland’s situation is "troubling", but that it is something that "could be resolved." That doesn’t sound very encouraging.

And the most recent rumors regarding the specifics behind his situation are that he got help from a tutor on a term paper or that the tutor actually wrote a term paper for him.  This is apparently what the NCAA is investigating, and given their track record of being anything but prompt with these situations, it could be a while before a ruling is made.

The loss of Southerland from the lineup, for however long this lasts (which could be season ending), is no doubt a negative for the Orange.  

This may not sound logical, but while the Orange are one of the best scoring teams in the nation (79.0 PPG which is 16th best in the country) they aren’t really a great scoring team. They force turnovers on 25.6% of their opponent’s possessions (10th best in the country) which leads to a plethora of easy points in transition. However, as a team they only shoot 45.6% from the floor (74th in the country) and 31.9% from three (238th in the country).

Southerland, who hasn’t started a game all season but is the first man off the bench usually around the first media timeout mark, averages 26.3 minutes per game (fourth most on the team) and has played 61.8% of all available minutes this season. When in the game he is essentially noted as the team’s most lethal shooter, shooting 49.4% from the field and 37.5% from three, averaging 13.6 points per game, while taking 25.6% of the team’s shots when on the floor.

And standing at 6-foot-8, he is incredibly difficult to guard on the outside for most teams and he is absolutely deadly taking drop passes for Michael Carter-Williams in transition and burying threes.

But standing that tall also makes him an ideal fit in the 2-3 zone as he locks down the wings and corners.

The Orange are now pressed with the task to replace both his offensive production and defensive presence. Since obviously those usage minutes, shots and points won’t just go away, there will have to be a player or two that steps up.

It is clear that the beneficiaries of Southerland’s situation will be Jerami Grant and Trevor Cooney. Grant a freshman and Cooney a red-shirt freshman average 12.2 and 13.6 minutes, and 4.4 and 4.9 points per game respectively.

Ideally, Syracuse would want to mold these two into one player, which was exactly what Southerland was – being a sharpshooter from the outside which is all that Cooney is really supposed to be good at, in conjunction with being tall and instinctive enough to play down low a little bit along with fitting ideally into the zone like Grant does.

When Southerland was on the floor, Syracuse had an average plus/minus of +13.8 per game. That is fifth best on the team and 12th best in the Big East Conference.

You don’t need me to tell you that the Orange are clearly losing significant production with Southerland out of the lineup. However, Syracuse is a very good team with a deep bench. Unfortunately for the first 15 games Southerland was far and away the best player off the bench which was indicative of why he was essentially getting starter minutes night in and night out. Now they will need one or two guys to step up in his place. This will be good enough on most nights, but I don’t believe a road game at Louisville that looms tomorrow is going to be a welcoming experience for them.

Last year’s loss of Fab Melo right before the NCAA Tournament was essentially a season-ending blow to the team.  They made it to the Elite 8, but that team was much better than that with Fab in the lineup.  The loss of Southerland isn’t on the same level, but it is a blow to the team’s talent level and depth.  Syracuse faithful and college basketball fans alike are just hoping that this issue is resolved at some point this season, but unfortunately for Orange fans - losing a key player in some shape or form on a good team is not uncommon in recent history.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac