Tag:Big East
Posted on: March 9, 2012 12:49 am

Thursday night Big East recap

Yes, this is what it was like for more than two hours. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK —  Thanks to South Florida and Notre Dame torturing us with free basketball, 2012 matches 1998 and 2011 for the most overtime games in a Big East tournament (three). Let’s get to the night session, with reaction from coaches mixed in from both games.

Notre Dame 57, South Florida 53.

After barfing all over itself on the way to a 56-47 win Wednesday night, South Florida was involved in an armless fist fight with Notre Dame, ultimately falling short due in large part to a missed breakaway layup by Jawanza Poland with 32 seconds left in regulation when South Florida had a 45-44 lead.

And now we have a 20-13 South Florida team with a resume that isn’t terrible. It waits in limbo with other teams until Selection Sunday, only South Florida isn’t the underachiever that Mississippi State, Northwestern and Washington are. And we want to keep it out? The urge is there because the basketball looks so ugly, but teams aren’t initiated into the field based on how pretty or hideously they win their games.

“I’m real proud of my guys,” Heath said.

Heath was really composed at the presser. He didn’t politick. He didn’t get loud or start to campaign by tossing out a list of teams beaten (that list lacks impressiveness, to be fair).

Here’s more of Heath. I compiled a few responses from questions and molded it into one big quote. Take from it what you will. I’d say this is a man whose truly proud of his team and content with its accomplishments.

 “Any time you have a team that’s giving that kind of effort on the defensive end. Coaches in our league, they really appreciate when you  have teams that sacrifice themselves on the defensive end. And that’s why I think most coaches really like the way we play. People on the outside, the casual observer that don’t really know how difficult that is, I don’t think they understand that. Teams like us not only get in the tournament, win and advance. You see Butler over the years, the way they guard and how hard they play. Tonight, I think you saw a more complete team. Yesterday, we had some guys who were a little bit tight. We played a much better all-around game of basketball tonight. Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. I love the way we play. It’s almost like I have to come up here and apologize for the way we play. I don’t understand that at all. It baffles me.”

Again, the perspective of a coach and the reality of a team’s cosmetic appeal are irrelevant to selection, though. The loss doesn’t look bad because USF wasn’t competitive; the Bulls just looked like a team incapable of playing its best basketball when the Selection Committee is looking for the newest evidence to attach to the numbers they’re lurching over in a Westin Hotel room in Indianapolis.

Now the wait comes for Heath. He’s anxious. The Bulls haven’t been in the NCAAs since 1992 and only have two Dance trips in program history. All things considered, this is one of the most critical decisions — for stature of the program, for perception, for recruiting benefits — of any the Selection Committee will make in less than 72 hours.

“I won’t sleep,” Heath said. “You want to hear your name called Sunday at six. I think we’ve done a great job. I think our team is worthy.”

Louisville 84, Marquette 71.

“I’m not sure they’ve had a better meal all year long than what we served them tonight,” Buzz Williams said of his team’s uncompetitive loss to Louisville Thursday.

Louisville scores 84 after not cracking 62 in its past five games? An oddity, considering the opponent, which is No. 19 in the nation in defensive efficiency and lets up .91 points per possession. The Cardinals also forced 26 turnovers, which was a season-high for MU, the highest giveaway total in Buzz Williams’ tenure and one shy of the Big East tournament record.

“I did a really bad job. If your team has 26 turnovers, and allows 26 offensive rebounds, which is the most since I’ve been here, it’s on the head coach,” Williams said. “Every player that played more than three minutes had a turnover.”

And yet, the game didn’t mean that much for the Golden Eagles. Marquette was waxed last season against Louisville in the quarters. It followed that up with a Sweet 16 appearance. How teams finish in the conference tournaments — last year notwithstanding — don’t have a correlation to NCAA tournament performance. Syracuse has run the table before and lost in its first game. Others have bowed out in their first game and made Final Fours. Williams’ team will be a three or a four seed on Selection Sunday, and they’ll win at least a game, no problem, next week. The coach isn’t fretting. This was a bad game, but it’s not indicative of the team’s season, and really, what was the urgency for Marquette here?

“I don’t think we’ll make any adjustments. It’s groundhog day every day from what we do,” Williams said of his team’s preparation. “We’re fortunate that our body of work lets us play another game. … If you study our 31 games prior to now, we’re probably just as good playing against teams that are like us. This is an aberration to how we play.”

Absolutely. No matter how far they go, the Golden Eagles won’t have another game with more than 25 turnovers and 25 offensive rebounds relented.

As for Louisville — great win. The Cardinals played themselves into at least a six seed, maybe even a five, and offered up a game unlike any other they’d played this season. The Cardinals pressed, and pressed again, winning games the way Rick Pitino loves to: with speed, aggressiveness and out-huffing the other guy.

“I think we had an idea that they were going to pressure us; I didn’t think it was going to be a that a high level like that,” Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom said.

The Cardinals had 20 from Kyle Kuric (that’s a really good sign), but the 19 turnovers are still a concern. Starting point guard Peyton Siva had more than 25 percent of those turnovers. Against Notre Dame Friday night, the pace will be much slower. Pitino admitted as much in the postgame; he knows his team is helpless to get more than 65 possessions a game against this team — and so the turnovers won’t be as much of an issue.

Let's hope the Cardinals' pace and Irish's normally reliable ball-handling give us something worth cheering about. Or at least something that isn't stomach-churning.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 8, 2012 6:13 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 6:15 pm

Gates plays to potential and Cincy looks sharp

Henry Sims, left, and Yancy Gates went toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow Thursday afternoon. (US Presswire)
By Matt Norlander

After two days of yawn-inducing basketball -- some of it even eye-gouging -- the afternoon session of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden Thursday delivered the goods.

First it was Syracuse coming back to beat UConn 58-55 to advance to the semis, and then Cincinnati and Georgetown needed 50 minutes to decide who gets the Orange Friday night. It's Cincinnati by way of a 72-70 double-overtime victory. The Bearcats: holding seed, winning again and getting production from all over the floor. They're starting to look like they did in January, when the team was rolling, beating good teams on the road and looking like a top-two or -three team in the Big East.

“To go 2 for 21 from 3 and win the game against Georgetown is unthinkable, it’s just unthinkable,” Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin said.

The Bearcats outscored Georgetown 13-4 in the last 6:02 of regulation, and then the Hoyas had a span of nearly seven minutes when they only put up five points, three of which came off of free-throws. It came to bea game of runs. Had Otto Porter and Henry Sims not hit game-tying shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime, Cincinnati wins -- maybe a little too easily.

One win in a game on a neutral floor doesn't complete the return to form, but it's a really good sign. Cincy trailed for most of the game, but it stayed in it thanks to Yancy Gates' play. And how often have we been able to say that in the past? Gates has been improved ever since the brawl (I hate to mention it, but it is the only frame of reference for his turnaround in this case) and become a guy who isn't a black hole when he's on the floor.

“It’s like a proud parent,” Cronin said. “We’ve been working on this guy a long time. Yancy, and Dion Dixon, they’re traditional guys. They’re young seniors. … His best basketball is still way ahead of him. He’s been called upon to do a lot — too much — to rebuild our program. … For me, two things, I’m happy for him, but also as a coach, it’s great when you know you have a horse, and you get him the ball and he’s delivering. It gives you options.”

Used to be in past seasons, and even in this one, that Cincy wasn't functional when Gates was in the game. He took the wrong shots at the wrong times. Made dumb fouls. Killed on-court chemistry. But that's not the case anymore. Gates had a skilled big man go at him all day -- and the Cincy senior responded beautifully. The final tally:

Gates: 23 points and eight rebounds, three steals on 10-of-19 shooting. Turnovers: none.

Sims: 22 points and 15 boards.

Both played 46 minutes. It was awesome. The Big East is almost assuredly never going to be the conference of big men that it was for 15 years, but this was a fine fight to see. Gates spoke about not wanting to just be one-and-done in the Big East in his final season. He wanted to see Friday night -- badly.

“Henry Sims, he’s a great player, so I was trying to guard him as tough as I can, and we try to call upon us. It was a good battle between two big men, two seniors, too,” Gates said.

The maturity in Gates is easy to see. His head just seems clearer. The taunts still exist, but he lifts up his teammates now. After a lot of made baskets and big rebounds Thursday afternoon, Gates was talking with teammates. Encouraging. Reaffirming communication on what went right on the previous play, or where he was going to be on the defensive one upcoming. It's a great thing to see, this big man playing like a big man and a most valuable one at that.

As a team, we don't know if Cincinnati is reliable. As a man, with less than 10 games remaining in his career, it seems Gates is.

Posted on: March 8, 2012 4:24 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2012 10:37 am

Boeheim may be right: Players just don't care

Despite the off-court distractions, Brandon Triche and Syracuse continue to win. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK -- We've been waiting for Syracuse to slip-up throughout the season, free-fall and spiral downward with all the off-court turmoil that has surrounded the program. 

The Bernie Fine allegations, Fab Melo's suspension and the latest an NCAA investigation into the alleged cover-up of failed drug tests. 

"These kids care about two things," Boeheim said after his team pulled out a 58-55 win over UConn to advance to the Big East semifinals. "How they play and where their girlfriend's are." 

Maybe he's right. 

This Syracuse team improved to 31-1 after the victory against an enigmatic, yet talented Huskies group. 

Let's face it: This Orange group doesn't rank second when it comes to pure talent. In fact, it might not even crack the top five. But these guys have depth, chemistry and most importantly, tunnel vision.

"I don't pay it no mind," Orange sophomore guard Dion Waiters said. "I wasn't here for the drug stuff, the Fine stuff is out of our hands." 

"We don't know anything about it," teammate Scoop Jardine added about the latest news. 

I never gave the 'Cuse much of a chance to win the title. Not when this team goes up against Kentucky or North Carolina. But there's enough talent -- and these guys truly enjoy playing with one another. All you have to do is look at Jardine, spending most of his time on the bench in the second half against UConn, to become witness.

Jardine was busy smiling, laughing and cheering on his teammates, a far cry from the old Scoop - who would have been pouting and complaining about sitting on the bench. 

"He's come a long way," Syracuse coach-in-waiting Mike Hopkins said. "He's become a great leader." 

"The chemistry isn't even close to what it was here," Jardine said. "And I think I was a part of the problem in the past." 

James Southerland, the team's ninth man in what's arguably the deepest rotation in the country, came through on Thursday with a couple of huge second-half shots to made sure the 'Cuse didn't leave New York City early in the Big East tourney. The team's leading scorer, Kris Joseph, struggled -- but there's enough overall talent that this team won't go down due to the issues of one guy. 

These guys have come closer, Syracuse athletic director Darryl Gross, told me -- with all of the off-court issues that have surrounded the program. 

Boeheim addressed Yahoo! Sports  recent story that multiple former Syracuse players tested positive for drugs and the team still allowed them to play. 

"This was reported it five years ago," he said. "We're waiting for them to finish the process." 

Then Boeheim declined to be specific, moments later in the hallways of Madison Square Garden saying only that it's "been a long time." Later Thursday, ESPN reported that the NCAA issued a statement that said it "received a self-report from Syracuse University on October 27, 2010."

"None of this bothers our players, our team or me," he said. "None of this. If things were bothering us, we wouldn't be 31-1. Nothing bothers us." 

Then Boeheim became Boeheim, jovial and sarcasm seeping through while talking to the media on Thursday afternoon in the post-game news conference. He made fun of Kris Joseph for his 1-for-8 performance with an injury to his non-shooting hand. Then he joked that Peyton Manning should come to the New York Jets. 

"How Coach (Boeheim) has handled it all has made it a lot easier for all of us," Jardine said. "He's doing a good job and we're just going up and racking up wins." 

"You don't get many opportunities to be on a team like this," Waiters added. 

Not a 31-win team that has received more attention off the court than it has on it. 

Posted on: March 8, 2012 11:22 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 11:23 am

South Florida done enough to get NCAA bid

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK - Stan Heath and South Florida hardly did it in picturesque fashion, but the Bulls knocked off Villanova for the third time this season and reached the 20-win barrier in the process. 

That means South Florida won a dozen Big East regular-season games, finished fourth in the league and has now won 20. The Bulls have reached the Big East quarterfinals for the first time in school history. It should be enough to get into the NCAA tournament -- and is definitely enough to get Stan Heath off that dreaded hot seat. 

Remember, this South Florida team was without its most important player, freshman point guard Anthony Collins, for the first five games of the season due to a hip injury -- including two losses to Old Dominion and Penn State. Gus Gilchrist missed three games -- including the loss to VCU. Jawanza Poland missed the first 11 games of the year due to a suspension (two games) and a back injury (nine games). 

They aren't pretty to watch on the offensive end, but South Florida has won enough -- in arguably the top league in America -- to earn a spot whether the Bulls knock off Notre Dame on Thursday or not. 

"Twelve wins in this league," Heath said when asked if he thought he team was in the field after the win over 'Nova. "I don't know. I don't know why we shouldn't be." 

If there's an argument, it's that South Florida hasn't beaten enough of the Big East's big boys. 

Remember, they drew Pittsburgh, Villanova and Providence as the teams they played twice in conference play this season. No one had a clue that Pitt and 'Nova would finish towards the bottom of the Big East. 

But South Florida did take care of both Cincinnati and also beat Louisville at the Yum! Center down the stretch. 

These guys may not pass the "eye test" in terms that they aren't exactly pleasurable to watch on the offensive end, but South Florida has done enough to warrant inclusion in the Big Dance. 

Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:25 pm

Seton Hall misses opportunity; will wait and pray

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK - Seton Hall will have to sweat this one out on Sunday.

The Pirates missed out on a golden opportunity to punch their NCAA ticket with a 61-55 loss to Louisville Wednesday night in the Big East tournament. 

"Nobody expected us have as much success as we had," Seton Hall senior big man Herb Pope said following the loss. "I think we should be in the NCAA tournament, but it's not up to me." 

The game wasn't just important for Pope and fellow senior Jordan Theodore and their chances to get into the Big Dance, but it also could be important for Kevin Willard. Seton Hall didn't get to the NCAA tournament last season and, after losing Pope and Theodore after this season, it would be a stretch to think the Pirates can get there a year from now. 

Which means Willard could go into his fourth season without an NCAA tournament berth on his resume. 

But the flip side is that Willard and the Pirates get in this season -- and it certainly gives him more security going forward. 

Willard has done an impressive job getting this team in position to be considered for an at-large berth. He's been integral in the maturity of Pope -- and has a group loaded with five freshmen, two sophomores and two guys sitting out via transfer. Seton Hall has won 20 games -- which bodes well since 147 of 152 Big East teams with 20-plus victories have earned a spot in the field. 

The Pirates have wins against Georgetown, UConn and West Virginia. They also have losses to DePaul, Rutgers and Villanova. 

"It's really tough for me and Herb to have to leave it up to the selection committee on Sunday," Theodore said. "We wanted to go out there and prove a point, and we came up short tonight, so it's a tough one." 

Now Seton Hall becomes scoreboard watchers, checking to see how Miami and N.C. State fare in the ACC, whether Northwestern can do anything of note in the Big Ten tourney -- and what happens out west in the Pac-12 with the likes of Cal and Washington. 

"We'll just go to church and hope and pray," Pope said. 

Posted on: March 7, 2012 5:52 pm

Ashton Gibbs takes blame for Pitt's season

By Jeff Goodman

Ashton Gibbs was about as stand-up as it gets. 

"It's been a rough season from beginning to end," Pittsburgh's senior guard said after the Panthers were knocked out of the Big East tournament by Georgetown on Wednesday. "A lot of it has to do with me not living up to expectations." 

"I didn't live up to it," he added. "I did a bad job leading this year and it clearly showed." 

But let's be honest. It was far more than just Gibbs not performing up to his potential. 

"This team lost a lot," Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. "We've been able to overcome it in the past. We weren't able to do it this year." 

Three years ago, Dixon lost his top three players -- Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields. Pittsburgh wound up winning 25 games the next season and finished 13-5 in Big East play. 

The Panthers have been a rock in the Big East since Dixon followed his former boss, Ben Howland. No program has had more success in league play over the past 11 years. There's the 290-87 overall mark, the 10 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and the 20 Big East tournament victories. The Big East tourney titles in 2003 and 2008. 

That's why everyone penciled Pittsburgh into the league title race and handed the Panthers a spot in the Top 25 prior to the start of the season despite losing Brad Wanamaker, Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown. 

But this year's edition is now 17-16 overall and finished 5-13 in the Big East - likely headed to the NIT. 

"It's obviously something I didn't even think about," Gibbs said. "I wouldn't have believed it in a million years that we wouldn't make the NCAA tournament at the end of the season." 

"But we'll play in NIT if we get invited," he added. "If not, we'll move on."

Gibbs' leadership -- of lack thereof -- was a piece. So was the injury sustained to starting point guard Travon Woodall which kept him on the sidelines for 11 games. There was the transfer of highly touted big man Khem Birch after the first semester and also numerous injuries to senior Nasir Robinson, Gibbs and others. 

"It all started with me not being the senior leader," Gibbs said.

Noble, but not entirely accurate. 

Posted on: March 7, 2012 4:12 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 5:23 pm

WVU blows lead, is officially out of the Big East

Huggins' team led most of the way, but after Kevin Jones didn't get shots near the end, UConn stole it. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — West Virginia’s Big East membership ends with a whimper and an ill-attempted fall-away shot by Paul Williamson.



Meanwhile, UConn Big East tournament storyline gets another injection and dollop of hype thanks to the Mountaineers’ inability to close out a 63-54 lead with 3:40 to go during Wednesday afternoon’s conference quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers, a .500 team in the Big East this season that hasn’t beaten a surefire NCAA tournament club since Jan. 21 (Cincinnati), made things more complicated upon their swift exit out of the league.

So, why was Williamson in the game, and why was he even shooting the ball with seconds ticking away in overtime? The rarely used man was inserted after the best beard in college basketball and the man attached to it, Deniz Kilicli, fouled out with 4:20 to go in regulation. Huggins opted to use a few different lineups once Kilicli was unavailable. Trailing 71-67, the entertaining, gruff coach had seen enough of his young team and its unreliable guards give the game away. So up went Williamson’s shot on a play Huggins refrained from expounding upon afterward. The ball met the side of the backboard, and it was in that moment that many inside the Garden looked at each other and asked, “Who is that?”

With the shot failing, it signaled West Virginia’s biggest problem and the only reason that it lost this game. Where was Kevin Jones? He’s the guy Bob Huggins is ticked off about not winning the league’s Player of the Year award (Jones came in second to Marquette’s Jae Crowder). Because Jones was hounded by future NBA lottery pick Andre Drummond — a bright moment for the UConn freshman in a game that saw him miss a field goal as if he was putting from 30 feet out — the young Mountaineers got tunnel vision and backed their way into overtime against No. 9 UConn.

Once in overtime, West Virginia didn’t make a field goal. Oh-for-11. The team couldn’t find Jones and Jones couldn’t get open. He didn’t attempt a shot in the final 7:15 of regulation.

“I feel a little bit of disbelief, disappointment,” Jones said. “We didn’t make the correct decisions at the end. I think it was a little bit that they had Andre Drummond on me. Some of my teammates weren’t able to find me. UConn made the correct plays at the end of the game.”

Was this an emotional ending for Huggins? Uh, no, at least not outwardly. When one reporter addressed him and the players in the postgame press conference, Huggins was either lost in the riveting stat sheet or just flat out ignoring the question. He lifted his head up when the room was silent after the question was completed, as if he’d been called on in class and got caught daydreaming.

Jones answer the question. Eventually, Huggins did talk when another was asked.

“It’s been a good run,” he said of West Virginia’s 17-year stay in the Big East. “We’ve enjoyed it — most of it, anyway. There’s nothing like coming to the Garden to play in the tournament.”

That was all Huggins had to say about it. And as for Williamson’s involvement, I asked him how the play broke down. He responded, “He made a hard shot.”

Made? What? I don’t even know. Maybe he misheard. What's evident now and has been the case for most of this season and the majority of his career: Huggins is ticked. He should be, because this team’s been inconsistent and a frustrating one for him to coach this season. If not for Jones, WVU isn’t even in the NIT.

“He (Jones) was playing with a bunch of freshman that don’t have any idea what the hell they’re doing,” Huggins said. “And they don’t mean to, but to do what this guy’s done … with seven freshmen and a junior college transfer who didn’t play … we couldn’t ask him [and senior Truck Bryant] to do any more. You hope that your freshmen get better and start to understand a little bit better. You can’t give them the ball at the end and knowing full well it’s hard to guard him at the foul line.”

As for the mandatory are-they-in question, I think WVU is headed to the First Four, or just barely dodge it with an 11 seed. They've got enough inventory to clear the 10-or-so teams fighting to squeeze in. Here is Huggins’ defense of WVU's resume:

 “We’ve played more games against top 100 than anybody in the country. We’ve played more games against top 50 teams. We’ve done more things than they’ve asked us to do, except win a couple of games,” Huggins said.

It's that last part that always catches up with teams.

Posted on: March 7, 2012 3:51 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 3:56 pm

It's not last year, but UConn has tourney magic

UConn's come-from-behind overtime win against West Virginia set up a quarterfinal showdown with Syracuse. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Goodman

NEW YORK - Two down, three to go. 

It's already begun, with people tossing around the name "Kemba" after the UConn Huskies have reeled off two wins in the Big East tournament. It's in reference to last year's ridiculous run to the tourney crown, but this isn't the same team. Jim Calhoun knows it and so do veterans like Alex Oriakhi, who was around for last year's memorable five victories in five days. 

That team was fun to watch. 

This team is a complete enigma. 

"We're just taking it one game at a time," Oriakhi said after the 71-67 victory. "It's been a tough year." 

The Huskies were down nine points with less than four minutes remaining against West Virginia on Wednesday afternoon before Shabazz Napier did his best Kemba Walker impression -- going off in the second half to rescue UConn. He went for 22 of his 26 points after the break. 

"It was looking ugly," Oriakhi added. 

Now Calhoun, who has led his team to three straight victories since returning from back surgery, should be able to breathe easy when the NCAA Selection Committee unveils the bracket on Sunday. It would be difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn't have UConn in the field. 

"I'm so proud of this team," Calhoun said. 

For what? 

This group has earned the 2011-12 title of "Ultimate Underachievers." The Huskies have a pair of likely lottery picks in Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, in addition to a few more guys that could well be playing in the NBA one day. Sure, their Hall of Fame coach missed 11 games this season and freshman guard Ryan Boatright sat out two separate occasions due to an NCAA investigation.  

"No excuses," Calhoun said. 

UConn will face Syracuse in the quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon -- and a win against the Orange will bring more questions about a repeat of last season. 

"There's no magic," Calhoun said. "It's just us." 

Napier showed why he's the most important player on the UConn roster on Wednesday. He brings the consistent toughness to the table that's clearly lacking with Drummond and Lamb. 

"We already felt like we're in the tournament," he said after the win. "We're trying to prove to ourselves. It's all about us." 

The interesting aspect now for next week becomes whether the Huskies can pull of the upset of the Orange and move up to an 8-9 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

Just imagine a matchup in the round of 32 between UConn and, say, a Kentucky or North Carolina. 

But once again, we're starting to get ahead of ourselves -- just as some were doing at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. 

"It way too early," Oriakhi said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves." 

Category: NCAAB
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