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