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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where was Cooley Last Night?

We are about 20 hours removed from St. John’s beating #20 Notre Dame in Madison Square Garden, but I am still trying to figure out what happened to Cooley in that game. I am obviously not alone when I ask this questions because when I conducted my search for the reasoning behind his benching (at the end of the game specifically) I was met with similar blogs and articles asking the same question with no real answer.

The only thing that came out of the press conference that I heard was that Coach Brey said that Tom Knight (Cooley’s replacement) gave the Irish added energy on the court.

I watched the entire game last night, and I’d agree that Cooley wasn’t playing up to his regular standards. And I understand that he got into foul trouble in the first half by picking up two quick fouls which relegated him to the bench for the rest of the period. That’s standard protocol around the country when a player get two fouls in the first half. So nothing out of the ordinary there.

Cooley then committed this third foul with 15:26 remaining in the game. Being a big man and essentially the Irish’s best player I could see him being sent back to the bench for a while as he entered danger territory.

But Cooley, a Wooden Award finalist, Big East First Team candidate, the only player in the Big East to average a double-double, and the only player in the entire country to pull down more than 20% of available offensive and defensive rebounds, didn’t play a second in the final 11 minutes.

Foul trouble aside, he wasn’t dominating the game like he can, but he also wasn’t a significant detriment to his team. Yes St. John’s highly energized offense took advantage of him on defense a few times (maybe the fouls were on his mind making him less aggressive?) and he did miss a point blank lay in. And when Tom Knight did come in the game the Irish were able to eliminate a 12 point deficit and take the lead with roughly three minutes remaining. At that point I thought for sure Cooley was coming back in the game as there really wasn’t much to lose at that stage in the game.

But it never happened.

He continued to sit on the bench with an emotionless expression on his face. Maybe Brey was displeased with his energy and effort. Maybe he didn’t care for his undisciplined nature. And maybe because of that he wanted to teach him and the rest of the team a lesson.

If that’s the case it came at the expense of a conference loss in a conference that currently looks to be wide open after the top two spots.

The game was sealed up when shot blocking extraordinaire, Chris Obekpa, blocked a Pat Connaughton challenged layup. But the previous possession saw Tom Knight get blocked at the rim by 6-foot-3 guard D’Angelo Harrison. It’s difficult to imagine that happening to Cooley in that situation.

It’s obviously easy to be critical of the personnel on the court at the end of the game because of the result. But it could be that Coach Brey was trying to send a message to his players. This is only one game in mid-January, so there really is no reason to overreact. However, to look at this in a positive light, this could be the type of message/event that we look back on in two months and say it was a season changer.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 1/7 to 1/13]

This post should have been sent out yesterday, but better late than never.

Player of the Week:

C.J. Fair

The Syracuse Orange have looked rather unimpressive in their last couple of games, needing late surges in the second half to pull away from both Providence and Villanova. And while Michael Carter-Williams is probably the team’s most important player in terms of being successful, it is C.J. Fair that has been the team’s best player. He leads the team in rebounding; pulling down 7.1 boards per game, and is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.8 per contest. Like I wrote about Brandon Triche in this same section last week, Fair is far from flashy. From time-to-time you actually forget about him on the court. But the Junior forward has become more aggressive this year in terms of getting to the rim to throw down powerful dunks or draw contact to get to the line. His play down the stretch last week was instrumental in the Orange emerging victorious in both contests (he finished with 23 pts/11 rebs against PC and 22 pts/5 rebs against Nova), thus earning him Player of the Week honors.

Rookie of the Week:

Chris Obekpa

The Red Storm lost both of their games last week – a tough fought loss to Rutgers in which the Johnnies got the final look and a blowout loss to a volatile Georgetown team. However, history was made during the beat down from Georgetown as freshman shot-blocking sensation Chris Obekpa broke the single season record for blocks at St. John’s (he had six in that game). Obekpa already has 82 blocks, breaking the record of 76 that was set in the 1985-86 season by Walter Berry. And with only half the season in the books, he should set a lofty bar that will be difficult to touch any time in the near future. And he continues to hone in his craft as he has cut down on his fouls while increasing his minutes played as the season has progressed. Now he just needs to improve his offensive game. [If you would like to read more about the record and the pace he is on click here.]

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Monday, January 14, 2013

Obekpa Blocks His Way to History

Obekpa with a rejection

The St. John's record for blocks in a season was set during the 1985-86 campaign by Walter Berry; recording 76 swats in 36 games (an average of 2.1 per).  Berry went on to win the Big East Player of the Year and the John Wooden Awards that season as he also averaged 23 points and 11.1 rebounds per game en route to leading the Johnnies to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That record lasted 27 seasons, as it has now been broken a mere 16 games into the 2012-13 season by shot-blocking sensation Chris Obekpa. 

Obekpa (6 foot 9) has already accumulated 82 blocks in the young season, averaging 5.1 per game. 

What does that suggest?  Well that St. John’s has never even had a whiff of a true shot blocker, and that Obekpa is really good at the art of rejection. 

 Plenty of schools lined up to land the rim protector, but the 78th ranked recruit and 16th ranked center in the 2012 class by ESPN was snagged by Coach Lavin.

“He is as gifted as anybody I have ever seen in terms of blocking shots,” Lavin said.  “With his timing, he is a game-changer.  As a coach, you have to think about what you’re going to do against a specialist like that.”  These statements were made by Lavin during the summer.   He has got to be pleased to see his expectations come to fruition.

A freshman, Obekpa has played in all 16 games and has recorded multiple blocks in every game except one, a one block performance against Charleston in the second game of the season. 

While his offensive fundamentals are a bit raw, they continue to improve.  However, that was no surprise entering the season.   The book on the incoming freshman was that while he is a bit challenged offensively, he is a high-energy, long, versatile and athletic big man, with incredible instincts. 

This is exactly what has played out in the stat book thus far, as Obekpa has more games with double digit blocks than double digit points; 1 to 0.  He put on a spectacle December 8th, blocking a whopping 11 shots versus Fordham.   

He not only leads the Big East in total blocks and blocks per game, but he tops both lists in the country.

The Big East record for blocks in a season is currently held by Alonzo Mourning.  Mourning finished with 169 blocks in 34 games during his 1988-89 season at Georgetown.

St. John’s currently has 14 regular season games remaining plus at least one Big East Tournament game.  With what we know and given Obekpa’s averages so far he is on pace to finish with 158 blocks in 31 games.

That currently comes up short of Mourning’s mark, but Alonzo compiled that total with three more games played.  The Johnnies have the potential to win one or more Big East Tournament games and they could very well earn a berth into a post-season tournament. 

Given that - Mourning’s record could be next in line to be swatted by ‘Oblockpa ‘.

[David Robinson has the all-time record for blocks in a season with 207.  He accomplished that in 35 games played and averaged 5.91 per contest.]

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Friday, January 11, 2013

Wooden Award Finalists from the Big East

The 25 Wooden Award finalists were announced on Thursday night, and the Big East has five representatives.  Of the five candidates, none are a real surprise.  If there was a surprise it's the absence of Louisville point guard, Peyton Siva (the Big East pre-season Player of the Year).  Siva continues to improve as this is his fourth year on the team, and he has developed into an upper-echelon point guard, but he has been out-done statistically by his teammate Russ Smith.  However, this list is not set in stone as players can be added and removed as the season progresses.   

The Wooden Award is given annually to the nation's most outstanding player.  Below are the five current finalists (in alphabetical order) from the Big East and what they have done to date and what needs to be done to win the award.

Michael Carter-Williams

12.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 9.6 APG and 3.2 SPG

MCW is one of the most dynamic point guards in the country as he leads the nation in assists, but it is his defense that is equally impressive, but doesn’t get talked about (he’s fourth in the nation in steals per game).  However, when he struggles so to have the Orange.  If he can become more consistent, especially in shooting, he could lead Syracuse to a Big East season title, conference tournament championship and a deep run in March, all en route to a Wooden Award for himself.

Jack Cooley

15.2 PPG and 11.2 RPG

Jack Cooley is the only player in the Big East averaging a double double.  Actually, he is the only player in the Big East average double digit rebounds, which is more than two full rebounds over the next (Eugene Teague at 8.6 RPG).  Moreover, Cooley is the only player in the nation to pull down more than 20% each of available offensive and defensive rebounds.  Don’t expect this pace to cool down any time soon, but it will likely take some monster games in the Big East tournament for Cooley to get some serious looks at the Wooden Award.

Sean Kilpatrick

17.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.0 APG and shooting 34% from 3

Kilpatrick has struggled a bit recently, but when he gets hot, he’s as hot as they get.  While he did have an 8-12 game from 3 earlier in the season, it is imperative for him to think ‘get to the basket’ first for Cincinnati to have success.  In the three games that the Bearcats have lost Kilpatrick got to the line a total of three times.  He will have to turn up his points per game (which means becoming more of a slasher!) and hit a couple game winning shots if he is to win the Wooden Award.

Otto Porter

12.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 2.8 APG

Porter’s numbers don’t blow you away, but when you watch the Hoyas play (which can be painful at times) you see how important he is to the team’s success.  First and foremost, Porter needs to get Georgetown back on the right track, but if he’s going to be considered a serious contender for the Wooden Award he will have to start taking over games, which he is more than capable of, and score more.

Russ Smith

19.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.0 APG and 2.6 SPG

Oh has Russ Smith been playing extra Russdiculous this year.  He may be the most fun player in the country to watch for combined pure entertainment value and actual basketball skill.  And this year he has cut down on the amount of negative ridiculousness that he has pulled in the past.  But in all seriousness – he is one of the favorites in the nation to win the Wooden Award and he just has to keep doing what he is doing.   

Players who could make their way into the discussion:

Peyton Siva – great point guard who is likely the most important piece on one of the best teams in the country.

Gorgui Dieng – if he hadn’t missed a month due to a broken wrist, he would have made the finalist list, guaranteed.

C.J. Fair – the more aggressive he gets, the better chance he has to become one of the best wing players in the nation.

Tray Woodall – the Pitt Panthers aren’t really being talked about right now, but when they do gain some recognition the conversation will start with Woodall.

Shabazz Napier – Uconn isn’t eligible for any post season play, but that hasn’t stopped Shabazz from being one of the most electrifying scorers in the college basketball.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chane Behanan to Miss 7-10 Days with High Ankle Sprain

Louisville forward, Chane Behanan, is expected to be sidelined for 7-10 days after spraining his ankle in practice on Monday.

The 7-10 day timetable is important because in 11 days (Saturday, January 19th) the Louisville Cardinals host the #7 Syracuse Orange at the Yum! Center.

The Cardinals play three games in between now and then – at Seton Hall tomorrow night (which he has already been ruled out for), home for South Florida on Saturday, and at Connecticut next Monday.

All of those games fall short of the expected timeframe, but even so – there is no way he is touching the court with the monster match-up with the Orange looming.  Ankle injuries can be tricky, but the Cards staff will be doing everything in their power to get Behanan as close to 100% as possible for the highly anticipated match-up; a game (while early in the season) that could decide the Big East regular season title.

Behanan has been a significant contributor for Louisville - averaging 26.4 minutes, 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Monday, January 7, 2013

Cincinnati on a Slide

Both Cincinnati and Notre Dame made nine 3-pointers, but the Irish did it by taking five less.  Notre Dame got off to a slow start, only scoring 11 points in the first 13 minutes of the game, but they closed the first half hot – scoring 21 in the final seven minutes.  They did this by cycling the ball beautifully, and converting six consecutive wide-open 3s.  All while Cincinnati had yet another dismal first half trying to get the ball to go through the net.  This was their seventh straight game that they failed to eclipse 30 points before the break.

Once Notre Dame got the Bearcats to spread-out and discontinue their help defense after hitting that barrage of 3s,   they attacked them with pick n rolls and slashes for the entirety of the second half.

Cincinnati went down by as much as 11 in the early going of the second half, but they quickly went on a run to take a two point, 47-45 lead with over 12 minutes remaining in the game.  

The Bearcats actually out-rebounded the Irish by eight (27 to 19), but obviously that didn’t make a difference in the game.  The difference in this game, as it has been for a few games now for Cincy, is that they lack scorers on the floor.  The ESPN crew pointed this out during the game – Cincinnati does not have more than three players on the court at a given time that are legitimate scoring threats.  The Irish were then able to focus on those three players, force them to take tough contested shots, or watch the other players chuck bricks off the rim.  While on the other end of the court Notre Dame had five scoring threats on the floor at all times, allowing them to work the ball (and burn clock) and find good looks all night. 

Cincinnati started the season 12-0, but they were barely tested.  New Mexico came to their place and squeaked out a close one, but the Bearcats bounced back nicely by winning their Big East opener on the road at Pittsburgh (never an easy place to play).  However, they have since dropped back-to-back games at home, and three of their last four.  They now go on the road to Rutgers and DePaul before getting Marquette at home, then back on the road to Syracuse.  Winning on the road in the Big East is never an easy task and five of their next seven are away from home. Also, their schedule is back-loaded, meaning every single game they 'should' win, now needs to be must wins.  This was a team that was coasting along through late December, now they can ill-afford to drop too many more, if any, if they want to compete for the conference title.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Player and Rookie of the Week (week of 12/31 - 1/6)

Player of the Week:

Brandon Triche

Triche led the Orange to three victories last week, which included a win over conference foe Rutgers to move Coach Boeheim into second place on the all time wins list. In that game Triche had his highest scoring output of the season, 25 points, as he went five of seven from beyond the arc to lead the Orange in scoring on the night. He also finished with 20 against South Florida and 13 against Central Connecticut State. Triche, who is never flashy, often goes unnoticed when on the floor with Michael Carter-Williams and C.J. Fair, but he actually leads the Orange in scoring this year at an even clip of 15 points per game and is second on the team in assists per game (albeit that is a whopping 6+ behind MCW). His calm, steady, senior-laden demeanor should bode well for the Orange come March.

Rookie of the Week:

Ryan Arcidiacono

The Villanova Wildcats only played one game last week, but it was a 98-86 overtime victory at home over St. John’s. Arcidiacono led the way with 32 points in a performance that included seven three-pointers. The Johnnies left Arcidiacono wide open time and time again and he made them pay over and over as he only missed four of his attempts. Previously, Arcidiacono only eclipsed the 20 point threshold once in 13 games, and this was the first time he surpassed the 30 point barrier. Arcidiacono is currently second on the team in points scored per game (13.0), but leads the team in assists with 3.4 per. Arcidiacono has displayed flashes of brilliance in the point guard role, but he has also been just as inconsistent (just like my inconsistence in spelling his name even though I am really trying to type it as much as possible in this post). The Wildcats have reeled off six straight victories, but they get Pittsburgh, Louisville and Syracuse twice in the next three weeks. We’ll know more about the ‘Cats and Arcidiacono after this upcoming stretch.

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Predictions for the Final Season of the Big East as we Know It

Who Will Win the League?

We will likely find out on January 19th when Syracuse travels to Louisville for a heavy weight showdown.  The Cardinals and the Orange are the clear cut two best teams in the Big East.  These two thankfully see each other twice, and obviously one will have to lose, however I don’t believe either will finish undefeated in the Big East.  Both will lose two or three games as there are too many quality teams in the conference, and winning on the road is never easy.

Prediction:  Syracuse.  Truly a gut call here as you could flip a coin between Cuse and Louisville.  Defensively, these teams are one and two in the country, both have excellent point guard play and both teams can go fairly deep on their bench. The two regular season games between the two should be great.    

Who are the Player of the Year Candidates?

Right now this seems to be a two horse race between Michael Carter-Williams and Russ Smith.  MCW leads the nation in assists per game at a clip of 10.1.  But he also snatches three steals and makes the Orange extra-long at the top of the 2-3 zone.  However, Russ Smith has been playing as Russdiculous as ever.  There’s not a player in the country that takes as many crazy shots as him, and makes them.  He is currently averaging an even 20 points per game, while being the engine to the Cards up-tempo play.  Jack Cooley and Otto Porter are two others that will deserve consideration at the end of the season.

Prediction:  Michael Carter-Williams.  Given that I believe Syracuse will win the league, I’ll go with Carter-Williams to win POY.  I know that he is not a good shooter, but his slashing and distribution capabilities make the Orange a difficult team to match up with. 

Who are the Rookie of the Year Candidates?

There hasn’t been a Big East rookie stick out yet like Moe Harkless did last year at St. John’s.  But while there doesn’t seem to be a favorite at this time, there are a pool of candidates.  Steven Adams was the Preseason Rookie of the Year, but it is another freshman on Pittsburgh that has excelled, James Robinson.  Robinson has handled the majority of the point guard duties for the Panthers while allowing Tray Woodall to play more freely in the two position.  Adams is still a candidate, but he looks awkward and unsure far too often, and hasn’t been as dominant as many were hoping.  Ryan Arcidiacono of Villanova is a shifty point guard who has a knack for scoring, but needs to become more consistent.  Jakarr Sampson of St. John’s and Cameron Biedscheid of Notre Dame are excellent scorers while Kris Dunn of Providence is an excellent ball handler, who recently made his debut after recovering for an injury,  who are all worthy candidates in the early going.

Prediction:  James Robinson.  He certainly is not the best scorer of the candidates (that belongs to Sampson), but he plays a large role on a team that should finish near the top of the conference.  However, Arcidiacono and Sampson are the likely favorites today.

How Many Teams will Make the NCAA Tournament?

Prediction:  Seven.  Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Marquette. 

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac 

Time to Get Back to Action

The busy holiday season has forced me to go over two weeks without blogging.  I’m not happy about that.  But in between traveling, eating, drinking, shopping, spending hours to wrap a handful of presents, more traveling, eating and drinking, I’ve found little time to sit down and write.  But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching Big East basketball; because I made sure to get my fill.  Well, in fairness, I watched the games that didn’t involve Alcorn St.

With the non-conference portion of the schedule over with (finally), and with every team getting at least one conference game in the books, it’s time for me to step it up.  With that, let’s go over what happened in the past two-plus weeks during my writing absence.  

Kevin Ollie Received a Contract Extension

It was 12 games into his one-year trial that Kevin Ollie deservingly received a five-year contract extension from the University of Connecticut.  The deal is supposedly worth ~$7 million, but more importantly brings stability to the program.  Recruiting and retaining players should be much easier now that they know who they are playing for.  Ollie has done an excellent job coaching a team that essentially has nothing to play for at the end of the season.  This team could have easily rolled over with no conference tournament or NCAAs in their future, but they have gotten out to a 10-3 start, led by their superb guard play.  Congrats to Ollie and kudos to the Huskies for standing strong.

Boeheim Passes Knight

In Syracuse’s Big East conference opener at home on January 2, the Orange beat Rutgers 78-53 to propel Coach Boeheim to number 2 on the all-time wins list.  Most impressive about the accomplishment is that he achieved every single victory at Syracuse - a feat that we will likely never see again.  He now trails Coach Krzyzewski by 37 wins.  But with Coach K still coaching and thriving at Duke, it will be difficult for Boeheim to cut into the deficit any time soon.  

Dieng Returns and the Cards Beat Kentucky

The Louisville Cardinals had been playing without their center, Gorgui Dieng, since Thanksgiving, when he broke his wrist at the Battle 4 Atlantis.  However, he returned on December 29th, the day of their much anticipated game with interstate rival Kentucky.  Dieng came off the bench and only played 20 minutes, but he made his presence felt on the defensive end by snatching seven boards and recording two blocks.  KenPom ranks Louisville as the second best defensive team in the country and Dieng will be a key reason why that will continue.  

Syracuse Loses in Their Second Home

Temple had just come off a home loss to Canisius (Go Griffs!); while Syracuse was cruising through their non-conference portion of the schedule looking to enter Big East play undefeated.  But on Saturday, December 22nd in Madison Square Garden, the Owls had different plans.  Khalif Wyatt went off for 33 points, seemingly hitting everything in the second half, while the Orange missed 15 free throws.  Temple attempted two more free throws than Syracuse did (36 vs 34), but they only missed seven.  This proved to be the difference as the Orange fell uncharacteristically in the Garden to a non-conference opponent 83-79.

Todd Mayo Returns for Marquette

Prior to the season kicking off, Todd Mayo was ruled academically ineligible, and it sounded as if his time at Marquette had come to an end.  However, out of nowhere seemingly, he was reinstated as soon as the first semester was complete.  Some find this suspicious as the Golden Eagles were coming off an embarrassing loss at the hands of Green Bay, and feel they were desperate to improve the team, even if that did mean not honoring team discipline practices.  Who knows if that was the case?  Mayo may have propelled himself to becoming Marquette’s most upstanding student in the entire university for all I know.  However, what I do know is that Marquette is 4-0 since his return, including two close but impressive wins at home over UConn and Georgetown to start 2-0 in conference play. 

No Un-Beatens Entered Big East Play

Louisville fell way back in November to Duke (albeit without Dieng on the court), but it looked as if one or two teams would reach Big East play without a blemish on their resume.  As already mentioned, Syracuse fell to Temple on a ‘neutral’ court, but it looked as if Cincinnati might pull it off.  However, the Bearcats lost to New Mexico at home 55-54 in their last non-conference game before Big East play started.  

Twitter:  @shane_t_mac