'Bag: From the Big East to 'The Beach'

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
2:38
PM ET
Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.) Per the usual, we begin with video.

@XUmeat writes: What do you think happens to Big East hoops in the future?

Eamonn Brennan: Goodness. Who knows?

First of all, let's just say one thing: The Big East is going to need a new name. You can't add the teams the Big East added -- in far-reaching locales like San Diego, Idaho, Houston, Dallas, and so forth -- and still call yourself "The Big East." I know the Big Ten has 12 teams, and the Big 12 has 10, but neither of those misnomers come anywhere close to the fallacy presented by this new-look "East Coast" conference. Say what you will about the expansion moves, but the conference needs to be renamed.

Second, it would appear that Big East basketball will remain relatively unaffected in the transition. Football money is what drives the realignment, and as long as the Big East maintains its automatic-qualifier status to the BCS, it probably won't have to worry much about the basketball side of things, especially considering the still-long list of quality hoops programs in the fold. It may try to add a few more members as basketball-only schools, if only to further buttress it against the tide of realignment and help to replace the losses of Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia on the hoops side. But it doesn't look like the strategy of going all-in on hoops is in the Big East/West/Southwest's future anytime soon.

If anything, it seems the final upshot of this is that the Big East is no longer a "basketball" conference. It can't be. Neither can anyone else. Those days are gone now. If you want to maintain your status as a power-six league, you have to do it first through football. Basketball is much further down the list of concerns. For a league like the Big East, which has always been hoops-first, this is a slightly sad deviation from tradition. But we'll find a way to survive. (Hey, we're not the ones making the crazy travel plans.)


@ross_bernhardt writes: Are Long Beach State's "The Beach" jerseys the coolest we've seen so far this year? There have been plenty of good ones, but those take the cake!

Eamonn Brennan: I am inclined to agree. LBSU's decision to put "The Beach" on the front of the jerseys is not new, and it's not revelatory, but the 49ers have been getting much more attention this season thanks to their absolutely insane schedule, which has thus far included games at Pitt (an LBSU win), at San Diego State, at Louisville and last night's game at Kansas. A game at North Carolina and a neutral-court matchup with Xavier are still to come. That looks like the schedule of a guarantee-game playing, cupcake-offering, let's-just-keep-the-lights-on low-major. But LBSU has been pushing good teams to the limit on the road.

In any case, yes, the "Beach" jerseys are really, really cool. The only other uniforms that have caught my eye to the same degree this season have been retro looks, like Detroit's Monday night, or the white and red look with cursive lettering Memphis sported in its first home game (a win over Belmont) this season. The standard uniform designs for top Nike Elite and Jordan Brand teams have hit a bit of a dry spell, in my opinion; with the exception of the occasional hologram addition, there just hasn't been a lot new going on there. There are classics, of course, and a couple of new replica shorts I'd like to add to my collection. But LBSU's color and lettering combination is right up there.


@Zazmania writes: What does IU have to do to upset UK?

Brennan: In a word? Rebound.

In many more words: Indiana has a couple of inherent advantages Saturday, the first being that the fans in Assembly Hall are going to be absolutely insane. If you don't believe me, Google "Marco Killingsworth dunk vs. Duke," and that should give you some idea of the way Hoosiers fans, who are always intense anyway, show up when they a) feel their program is nationally relevant again and b) a hated No. 1-ranked opponent comes to town. Kentucky was never a great road team for much of last season. Whether or not that will carry over with a new group of players is up for debate, but it certainly can't hurt IU's chances. Either way, Indiana is naturally going to be more comfortable on its home floor, where it has been dismantling opponents this season. That will help, too.

But on the court, between the whistles, things could get a little bit hairy. The Hoosiers have yet to face a defense anywhere near as good as the Wildcats, one that swarms opponents with length and athleticism at every position. Indiana is ranked No. 5 in the nation in effective field-goal percentage coming in; Kentucky is No. 4 in opponents' eFG%. Provided UK doesn't suffer some of the same defensive lapses that allowed it to give North Carolina so many open shots this past Saturday, it seems safe to say the Hoosiers won't make nearly as many shots as they're accustomed to.

But the most intriguing battle will be on the boards. The Wildcats haven't been a great offensive team in any one area this season, but they're good to very good at a variety of things. One of those things? Offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, Indiana is ranked No. 227 in the country in opponents' offensive rebounding percentage. The Hoosiers, despite the addition of Cody Zeller, still don't have a ton of big bodies to go bang on the glass, which is what allowed NC State to nearly topple IU in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. If Indiana doesn't find a way to keep Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist off the glass, the defensive efforts they provide on first-shot opportunities might frequently go to waste.

In general, it's really hard to see the Hoosiers matching up with Kentucky's sheer physical ability at every position. But if they can keep the rebound battle manageable -- a big, big if -- they'll have a shot.


Patrick in New Orleans writes: Can Tulane get some love?! I'm not saying that we are a top team, but just a little shout out to the first real athletic success that we've had post-Katrina would be nice.

Brennan: Noted and reciprocated: Let's all throw some love in the direction of the Tulane Green Wave, who are currently 9-1 with a Dec. 3 win over Georgia Tech. Fun fact: Tulane coach Ed Conroy is from my hometown of Davenport, Iowa, and a fellow alumnus of Assumption High School. I used to attend his basketball camp. (I remember learning the value of the big two-footed jump stop. We did a lot of those.) Kudos to Coach Conroy, and also to assistant Andy Fox, another Assumption alum with whom I played AAU summer basketball for several years. More than personal connections, as Patrick writes, it's good to see Tulane experience some athletic success given everything the program has been through since the immense setbacks the city experienced in 2005. (And, well, yeah: Assumption pride, baby.)


@SYRmotsag writes: Who is going to win Saturday Ohio State or Kansas?

Brennan: If you read Bill Self's postgame comments after last night's near-scare at home vs. LBSU ("Our offense sucks. We are the worst passing team I've ever seen. It's ridiculous to watch.") you'd be inclined to bet the house on Ohio State. I think the Buckeyes should be the favorite, but you always have to account for the difficulty of playing on the road, and that goes double for this OSU team, which hasn't had to leave Columbus yet this season. The matchups favor the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes should win. But if they get off to a poor start on the offensive end, it could be a very close game -- and you never want to give that Allen Fieldhouse crowd a reason to get too excited.


@ASteinfield writes: Do you see MSU being able to extend its non-con rebounding dominance into the B1G?

Brennan: I do. The Spartans just look so much more physical this season, with Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix as well as Draymond Green battling for boards on the offensive end, that I don't think there will be too many teams that can keep them off the glass with anything resembling regularity. Of course, MSU has been feasting on lesser opponents since its two-game UNC-Duke festivities in November. But its performance on the glass and on the defensive end against Florida State -- the country's tallest team and one of the most physically imposing -- was truly impressive. Things are looking up in East Lansing.


@alex_idle writes: Who is the best on-ball defender in the country and why?

Brennan: I haven't seen anyone better than Ohio State guard Aaron Craft. Why is Craft so good? For one, he has incredible instincts. No player in the nation identifies and executes lighting-fast defensive decisions -- whether it's reaching in and stripping the ball or cutting off a defender with quick footwork -- better than Craft. He also uses his body incredibly well. He can get his chest on offensive players and provide contact, but he does so without committing fouls. He can take any team's best or most dangerous guard out of a game (see: Seth Curry). He's really, really good, and there are few offensive-minded guards in the country that can score on him with any regularly. It's so fun to watch.


@Doug1789 writes: What's the ceiling for the young Georgetown Hoyas? In the BE and NCAA tourney (if they get in)?

Brennan: Well, first of all, this Georgetown team should absolutely make the NCAA tournament. When you play as well as the Hoyas have so far -- with two wins in Maui, a win at Alabama, and only one loss (by four points to Kansas) -- you set yourself up very nicely for at-large consideration provided you don't totally slum it in conference play. I don't think that will happen. Other than Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville and Marquette, I'm not sure there's another Big East team obviously better than the Hoyas. They can compete with the best in their conference this season. The expectation of a top-half Big East finish might even be selling this team short.


@zipsofakron writes: Harvard, really? What are your thoughts on an Ivy league team actually in the top 25?

Brennan: I love it. What's not to love? I don't care how much effort Harvard has put into fielding a quality basketball team in recent seasons; I don't care how much some Ivy League schools have supposedly "relaxed" their stringent standards for admitting student athletes and helping finance their educations. This is still a non-scholarship league, one that still has some very serious academic requirements of its student-athletes. That Harvard has been able to do what it's done already this season -- winning the Battle 4 Atlantis, toppling Florida State in a defensive game, beating UCF a day after the Knights upset Connecticut -- is remarkable any way you slice it. And as someone who doesn't mind seeing college hoops' underdog conferences invade the football-monied, power-six hierarchy, I'd say it's been rather enjoyable, too.

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