College Basketball Nation: Seton Hall Pirates
The term "shooting guard" has never been so meaningless.
Everything in the NBA trickles down, which makes today's exercise -- an early list of shooting guards to watch in the 2014-15 season -- a difficult one. There might be some slight cheating involved (you'll see). Some of the below are traditional shooting guards; some are just guards. All will be fascinating to watch in 2014-15 for a variety of reasons.
Top returnees to watch
Ron Baker, Wichita State: The Shockers return both members of their starting backcourt from 2013-14, and Baker and Fred VanVleet actually do fit the traditional mold. VanVleet was a masterful pass-first point guard who steadily anchored WSU's offense; Baker attempted 179 3s and 141 2s and finished with a 120.9 offensive rating. If you're wondering why the Shockers can lose Cleanthony Early and still be the subject of huge expectations going forward, look no further.
Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: It's a bit hard to believe that after a stellar freshman campaign Sulaimon found himself so deep in Mike Krzyzewski's doghouse that, in early December, Coach K buried him on the bench in the equivalent of a DNP-CD. Transfer rumors and status questions abounded. Sulaimon eventually earned his way out of purgatory and back into regular minutes, and when he did he flourished. In his junior season, Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will have to take on leadership roles alongside the most talented Duke class in decades -- one with Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow ready to gobble up perimeter minutes. It's a huge season on deck for Sulaimon.
Michael Frazier II, Florida: Frazier is that rarest of modern college hoops birds: a traditional, almost literal, shooting guard. In 2013-14, Frazier shot 264 3s and made 118 of them, good for 44.7 percent -- a sterling percentage at that volume. He attempted exactly 79 shots from inside the arc. Frazier is an old-school, lights-out catch-and-shoot guy, albeit one who might need to expand his game in a Florida offense that will lose Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young. But he's already the college game's best pure shooter, and that's a hugely valuable skill to have.
Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Harrison, on the other hand, is a fantastic example of a player for whom the term shooting guard doesn't always quite fit. Despite a torrid postseason pace -- and those big-time clutch shots in Kentucky's surprise runner-up run -- Harrison finished the season having made just 62 of his 174 3s. That's not terrible, but it's not great, either. The presence of Harrison's twin brother, Andrew, as Kentucky's ostensible point guard drives the lack of distinction home. Still, Harrison's fundamental productivity -- and the odds of him improving his shot, and keeping defenders off balance, after a summer spent drilling in Lexington, Kentucky -- makes him as frightening a sophomore prospect as any player in the country.
Caris LeVert, Michigan: Was Nik Stauskas a shooting guard? Not really, which is why NBA scouts love him so much: As a sophomore, Stauskas flashed all of the Stephen Curry-esque tools (lights-out shooting, penetration work, athleticism and great passing) in a 6-foot-6 frame. Stauskas has NBA people all worked up, and understandably so. LeVert is a similar player. He's an excellent shooter whom coach John Beilein loves to run through pick-and-roll sets; according to Synergy an almost identical number of LeVert's possessions came in spot-ups (24.5 percent) as screen-and-roll plays (24.3). LeVert shot 40.8 percent from 3, 46 percent from 2, didn't turn the ball over often, and will get a ton of shots without Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III around this season. He has huge, Big Ten Player of the Year-level potential in his third year in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Top newcomers to watch
D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The top-ranked shooting guard in the class of 2014 arrives at OSU with a reputation for sweet shooting and deep range. The timing is perfect, because another offense-free season like last season might drive coach Thad Matta over the edge.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The best recruit Seton Hall has signed in … wait, don't answer that … Whitehead is a physical scorer who explodes to the rim and absorbs contact while there. He could make Seton Hall's season really interesting for the first time in a while.
Devin Booker, Kentucky: The return of the Harrisons shrank Booker's minutes by a big margin; the fact that he might be the fourth guy off Kentucky's bench tells you all you need to know about next season's Wildcats.
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Indiana's wealth of perimeter talent gets Lannister-esque with the addition of Blackmon; whether the Hoosiers will have anybody to play on the low block is a different and more pertinent question.
NEW YORK -- New Big East, same old Madness.
Less than 24 hours into the 2014 Big East tournament, we’ve already had two stunning upsets and lost the top seed.
On Wednesday night, Georgetown was defeated by DePaul for the first time in 20 years. On Thursday afternoon, No. 3-ranked Villanova fell to Seton Hall 64-63 on a buzzer-beater by sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs.
For Seton Hall, it’s the first win in school history against a team ranked in the top three in the Associated Press poll. The Pirates had been 0-30 against such teams.
Seton Hall had just 15 hours to rest and prepare for Villanova following its 51-50 victory over Butler on Wednesday night.
Perhaps the short turnaround helped. Villanova trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half before scoring the final six to make it 34-26 at intermission. The Wildcats shot 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) and missed seven free throws in the first half.
A 16-0 Villanova run fueled by several open-court steals and scores put the Wildcats back in front with just more than eight minutes remaining. But the Pirates did not fold. The game came down to the final minute, when the lead changed hands four times.
Josh Hart's layup with 41 seconds to play put Villanova up 61-59. Freshman Jaren Sina buried a 3-pointer from the corner 20 seconds later to give Seton Hall a 62-61 lead.
Darrun Hilliard's floater in the lane rolled in with 11 seconds left, pushing the Wildcats back ahead 63-62. And then Gibbs hit the biggest shot of them all -- a step-back jumper from the top of the key as time expired.
“It was supposed to get in my hands, and I was supposed to create a shot for my teammates or create a shot for myself,” Gibbs said. “I just stepped back and hit the jumper.”
Seton Hall finished the regular season in eighth place in the 10-team Big East but has played nine games decided by a single point this season, going 4-5. The Pirates also have two three-point losses, one in overtime and the other in double overtime.
“One of the referees told me the other night, he said he’s never seen a team go through what we’ve gone through and still come back and play hard every night,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. “I just think it’s the character of these guys.”
The new Big East now has its first signature moment, and Seton Hall has a berth in the Big East tourney semifinals for the first time since 2001. The Pirates will play either No. 4 seed Providence or No. 5 seed St. John’s on Friday.
Seton Hall was swept by St. John's in the regular season, but both losses were by -- you guessed it! -- one point. The Pirates split with the Friars, winning by one in double overtime and then losing by five.
“I really thought if we could get past Butler, we could beat anybody,” Willard said. “I was really scared about getting past Butler. It’s a tough matchup for us. They defend really well on us, and I thought if we could get past them, we could get some momentum and just keep going.”
Villanova, whose three previous losses this season came against ranked teams Syracuse and Creighton (twice), is still projected to be a No. 1 seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi -- as of now. But that could change as the rest of Championship Week unfolds.
“This was not about 1-seeds, 2-seeds,” Wright said. “This was about we wanted to come to Madison Square Garden and win the Big East tournament. Winning the Big East tournament would mean much more to us than a 1-seed.
“This is a great tournament. We want to be here until Saturday. I think we’re more disappointed about that. The NCAA tournament seedings? My belief is 1, 2, 3 -- it doesn’t matter that much. You’re going to play great teams.”
This summer, Georgia made one of the stranger and more random offseason personnel announcements in recent college hoops memory. In late July, incoming freshman and Switzerland native Dusan Langura, was injured in an explosion during a military training exercise. Since World War II, Wikipedia soon clarified, all Swiss males between 18 and 50 have been required to enlist in the nation's army and maintain their uniform, weapon, and ammunition in their homes. You know, just in case.
Langura eventually made it to Georgia, but his story was a reminder of a few things. American college basketball is a thoroughly international game, and there are still plenty of places in the world -- even banking powers in the developed world that haven't engaged in armed conflict since 1815 -- where the idea of being a member of the armed services is a mere fact of life.
Israel is one such place, and far more famous for it than the Swiss. At the age of 18, Israeli citizens are required to report for Israeli Defense Forces enlistment and training. Males are required to serve for three years; females for two. As the Star-Ledger's Brendan Prunty reports, one of those males is Seton Hall guard Tom Maayan, whose redeployment to the IDF cut short his basketball career in rather sudden and emotional fashion Tuesday night.
Why so sudden? Maayan was originally ordered into basic training this summer. But through "lobbying and politicking with the Israeli government," Prunty writes, SHU and Maayan's guardian were able to get an exemption to play for the Pirates this season. In November, that exemption was shortened to 120 days. Seton Hall kept up its push, but the reprieve officially ended Tuesday night after the Pirates' win over NJIT. Coach Kevin Willard made the news public after informing an "emotional" locker room.
"I think the yo-yoing was tough for everybody," Willard said after in the hallway of the Prudential Center. "It was tough for him -- those are his teammates, his family. His extended family. Leaving them wasn't easy. It wasn't easy last time and it wasn't easy this time, either. But it is what it is."
"We knew about it, but it was definitely tough," [teammate Sterling] Gibbs said. "Tommy's like a brother to us. It's like losing one of your brothers."
Unlike last time, the departure will end Maayan's career. Maayan didn't speak with the media, but he seemed to take a positive tone on Twitter.
unfortunately It was my last game as a pirate..Love my teamates coaches and the Shu fam! Thanks for all the love! #SHUBB#PIRATE4LIFE— Tom Maayan (@TomMaayan) December 11, 2013
Good luck, Tom.
Makes total sense.
Thus, as we unveil our list of the 10 worst nonconference schedules in the country among the big boys, I can totally understand why a coach such as Mississippi State’s Rick Ray or TCU’s Trent Johnson devised a relatively weak slate. Others such as Mike Anderson at Arkansas and Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh have no excuse.
Whatever the context, all of the schools on this list are high-major programs from the nine conferences that were part of this package and all 10 could’ve done better by at least adding another marquee game or two (schools listed in alphabetical order).
Toughest: Colorado (Nov. 30)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Nov. 27)
The rest: vs. Army (Nov. 8 in Lexington, Va.), vs. Citadel/VMI (Nov. 9 in Lexington, Va.), Jackson State (Nov. 14), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Nov. 17), Colorado Christian (Nov. 20), South Dakota (Dec. 5), Western State (Dec. 9), UC Riverside (Dec. 14), at UC Davis (Dec. 21)
Give the Falcons credit for scheduling a pair of quality opponents at home in Colorado and Richmond. But there really isn’t much else to get excited about here. Air Force’s only true road game is a Dec. 21 tilt at UC Davis. The rest of the schedule is abysmal, but Dave Pilipovich’s squad is in rebuilding mode, so this is actually a smart slate for this particular team.
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27)
Next-toughest: SMU (Nov. 18)
The rest: SIU-Edwardsville (Nov. 8), Louisiana (Nov. 15), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 3), Clemson (Dec. 7), Savannah State (Dec. 12), Tennessee-Martin (Dec. 19), South Alabama (Dec. 21), High Point (Dec. 28), Texas-San Antonio (Jan. 4)
This is one of the more embarrassing schedules on this list. If I'm ranking the top 10, Arkansas would probably be No. 2 or No. 3. Other than the Maui Invitational (the Razorbacks open against Cal and then play either Minnesota or Syracuse), there is not a single noteworthy game on this list. Arkansas is known for its tremendous fan support. Yet the best home game Mike Anderson can schedule for the Razorback faithful is a tilt with SMU? Inexcusable.
Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at Arkansas (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 17)
The rest: Stetson (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 13), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 29), South Carolina State (Dec. 3), Furman (Dec. 14), at Auburn (Dec. 19), VMI (Dec. 30)
The Tigers will likely enter ACC play with a gaudy record, but they won’t have many quality wins on their résumé. Other than maybe a road tilt at Arkansas, there isn’t one noteworthy game on this schedule. Unless, of course, you count the Charleston Classic, but it doesn't have a particularly strong field this season. Brad Brownell’s team opens up with Temple and will face either Georgia or Davidson the following day. This is an incredibly weak slate. Luckily Clemson has a big-time football team that will hold fans’ attention until January.
Toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: at Texas A&M (Dec. 4)
The rest: Texas State (Nov. 8), at UT-Pan American (Nov. 11), UT-San Antonio (Nov. 14), Lehigh (Nov. 17), Howard (Nov. 21), Texas-Corpus Christi (Nov. 30), San Jose State (Dec. 7), Alcorn State (Dec. 9), Louisiana-
Lafayette (Dec. 14), Rice (Dec. 21)
Four players on the Cougars' roster were ranked in the Top 100 of their respective high school class. In other words, there is way too much talent on Houston’s roster to be playing a schedule this weak. Playing Stanford (and either Pittsburgh or Texas Tech) at the Legends Classic is fine. But if UH wants to be taken seriously on a national level, it needs to add a few marquee games to its slate starting next season. The Cougars -- who won 20 games last season -- are in a big-boy conference now. They need to start scheduling like it.
Toughest: at Utah State (Nov. 23), Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)
The rest: Prairie View A&M (Nov. 8), Kennesaw State (Nov. 14), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 19), Jackson State (Nov. 27), Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 1), TCU (Dec. 5), Southeastern Louisiana (Dec. 13), Florida A&M (Dec. 17), Maryland Eastern Shore (Jan. 2)
The Bulldogs’ program was in shambles when Rick Ray took over prior to last season -- and things got even worse during the year thanks to a long list of suspensions and injuries. It got so bad that Ray had to use a graduate assistant in practice, until he tore his ACL. Somehow, Ray kept his players’ spirits up, and they managed to win a few games (including one against NCAA tournament team Ole Miss) near the end of the season. It was a phenomenal coaching job by Ray, but make no mistake, this program is still in full rebuilding mode, which is why this schedule makes sense. Whoever thought that Florida Gulf Coast would be the No. 1 home opponent on the nonconference schedule of a team from a major conference?
Toughest: vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 17 in New York)
Next-toughest: Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: Savannah State (Nov. 8), Fresno State (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 17), Lehigh (Nov. 20), Duquesne (Nov. 30), Penn State (Dec. 3), Loyola Marymount (Dec. 6), Youngstown State (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 21), Albany (Dec. 31)
The Panthers aren’t doing much to prepare themselves for their first season in the ACC, which will easily be the nation’s toughest conference. When your marquee nonconference game is against Cincinnati -- and this is the only thing close to a marquee game on this schedule -- then you know you’ve got problems. The only other semi-decent opponents are Penn State in early December and then Texas Tech in the Legends Classic, with a game against either Stanford or Houston the following night. Pittsburgh lost some key players to graduation (Tray Woodall) and the NBA draft (Steven Adams). And J.J. Moore transferred to Rutgers. So this may be the perfect year for a weak slate. Still, considering how good Pitt has been over the years, this could be the worst schedule in America.
Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23 in New York)
Next-toughest: at Rutgers (Dec. 8)
The rest: Niagara (Nov. 9), Kent State (Nov. 13), at Mercer (Nov. 16), Monmouth (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 1), LIU Brooklyn (Dec. 5), NJIT (Dec. 10), St. Peter’s (Dec. 14), Eastern Washington (Dec. 22), Lafayette (Dec. 27)
My colleague, Dana O’Neil, said it best about the Pirates in her analysis of nonconference schedules in the Big East: “If the Pirates beat Oklahoma in the Coaches vs. Cancer, they might face Michigan State. Or they might not. And that’s about all there is to like about this schedule.”
Toughest: vs. SMU (Nov. 8 in Dallas), at Washington State (Nov. 24)
Next-toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27, 29-30), at Mississippi State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Longwood (Nov. 12), Abilene Christian (Nov. 19), Texas Pan-American (Dec. 15), Grambling State (Dec. 19), Tulsa (Dec. 21), Texas Southern (Dec. 29)
This would be a terrible schedule for a program that was experiencing a moderate amount of success. But considering TCU won just two Big 12 games last season, this is the perfect slate for the Horned Frogs as they try to rebuild. Second-year coach Trent Johnson didn’t schedule the type of Top 25 squads that will shatter his team's confidence. But he also didn't produce a schedule so weak that it wouldn’t challenge his team as it continues to grow. SMU could contend for an NCAA tournament berth and, even though Washington State has struggled in recent seasons, Pullman is a difficult place to play. Tulsa and Texas Southern are both solid teams, and Mississippi State was making huge strides at the end of last season.
Toughest: Corpus Christi Challenge (Nov. 29-30), vs. Oklahoma (Dec. 21 in Houston)
Next-toughest: Buffalo (Nov. 8)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 11), Rice (Nov. 15), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 19), Sam Houston State (Nov. 24), Arkansas Pine-Bluff (Nov. 26), Houston (Dec. 4), McNeese State (Dec. 14), North Texas (Dec. 31), UTPA (Jan. 4)
I’m a little surprised that Billy Kennedy didn’t put together a tougher schedule for his third season. Granted, the Aggies lost two of their top players (Elston Turner and Ray Turner), so this team may take a small step back. But there’s not a single true road game on the nonconference schedule. The Aggies’ most daunting nonleague game is against an Oklahoma squad that probably won’t make the NCAA tournament. And their most appealing home contest is against Houston. Yay.
Toughest: at Boise State (Dec. 3), BYU (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Fresno State (Dec. 7)
The rest: Evergreen State (Nov. 8), UC Davis (Nov. 15), Grand Canyon (Nov. 21), Lamar (Nov. 22), Savannah State (Nov. 23), Ball State (Nov. 27), Idaho State (Dec. 10), Texas State (Dec. 19), St. Katherine (Dec. 28)
After struggling for most of the season, Utah won four of its final five games last spring and entered the offseason full of enthusiasm about the 2013-14 campaign. Reaching the NCAA tournament, however, will be darn near impossible with a schedule that includes just one true road game (at Boise State) and only two contests against likely tourney-bid contenders (Boise State and BYU). Playing a weak schedule the past two seasons made sense. But the Utes should’ve stepped it up a bit this season.
Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Orlando, Fla.), Purdue (Dec. 14 in Indianapolis)
Next toughest: Princeton (Nov. 16)
The rest: Lamar (Nov. 9), Vanderbilt (Nov. 19), at Ball State (Nov. 23), North Dakota (Dec. 7), Manchester (Dec. 9), at Evansville (Dec. 21), NJIT (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This isn’t an overwhelming schedule for first-year coach Brandon Miller, but it’s not a complete cakewalk either -- especially since Roosevelt Jones is out for the year. The Old Spice Classic gives the Bulldogs some pop, with a potential date with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in the second round (with Washington State as the opener) or Memphis down the road.
Toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec.1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
Next toughest: at Saint Joseph’s (Nov. 16), California (Nov. 22), at Long Beach State (Dec. 3), Nebraska (Dec. 8)
The rest: Alcorn State (Nov. 8), UMKC (Nov. 11), Tulsa (Nov. 23), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The hefty Wooden Legacy gives the Bluejays a challenge. There’s a first-round date with Arizona State and Jahii Carson then possibly San Diego State and a potential matchup with either Marquette or Miami on the other side. But for a loaded lineup like Creighton has, I would have hoped to see a little more meat in the nonconference schedule.
Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.), Arizona State (Dec. 6)
Next toughest: at Northwestern (Dec. 27)
The rest: Grambling State (Nov. 9), Southern Miss (Nov. 13), Wright State (Nov. 16), at Milwaukee (Nov. 19), Oregon State (Dec. 1), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 12), Chicago State (Dec. 15), Houston Baptist (Dec. 18), at Illinois State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- If this is the year the Blue Demons turn the corner, they will have earned their stripes. This is a decent schedule, thanks largely to an opening date with Final Four participant Wichita State in the semis of the CBE Classic. (Texas and BYU are on the other side.) Tussles with Arizona State and Northwestern also add some muscle.
Toughest: Oregon (Nov. 8 in Seoul, South Korea), at Kansas (Dec. 21), Michigan State (Feb. 1 in New York)
Next toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24)
The rest: Wright State (Nov. 13), Lipscomb (Nov. 30), High Point (Dec. 5), Colgate (Dec. 7), Elon (Dec. 17), Florida International (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Short of matching up with Kentucky in Kabul, I’m not sure how John Thompson III could have made his schedule much more daunting. From South Korea to Lawrence, with a date with Michigan State for added fun, that’s literally anyone anywhere. There’s also a pretty decent Puerto Rico Tip-Off field, with VCU, Michigan, Kansas State and Florida State.
Toughest: Ohio State (Nov. 16), New Mexico (Nov. 21), at Wisconsin (Dec. 7)
Next toughest: Arizona State (Nov. 25), Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
The rest: Southern (Nov. 8), Grambling State (Nov. 12), New Hampshire (Nov. 21), IUPUI (Dec. 14), Ball State (Dec. 17), Samford (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Love when a good team plays a good schedule. Buzz Williams has a delicious mix, traipsing across leagues (Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West) and mixing in a decent tourney as well. The only oddity is that the Wooden Legacy title game might merely be a Big East preview, with Creighton and Marquette seemingly headed toward each other.
Toughest: Kentucky (Dec. 1 in Brooklyn)
Next toughest: Boston College (Nov. 8), Paradise Jam (Nov. 22-25 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands), UMass (Dec. 28)
The rest: Brown (Nov. 13), Marist (Nov. 16), Vermont (Nov. 18), Fairfield (Nov. 29), at Rhode Island (Dec. 5), Yale (Dec. 17), Maine (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 4 -- Yes, Kentucky is on the schedule, which is big, but one game does not a schedule make. The Paradise Jam is a bunch of meh, with Maryland and La Salle the only intriguing opponents available. The rest of the Friars’ schedule is just a trip through New England.
Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23 in New York)
Next toughest: at Rutgers (Dec. 8)
The rest: Niagara (Nov. 9), Kent State (Nov. 13), at Mercer (Nov. 16), Monmouth (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 1), LIU Brooklyn (Dec. 5), NJIT (Dec. 10), St. Peter’s (Dec. 14), Eastern Washington (Dec. 22), Lafayette (Dec. 27)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 2 -- If the Pirates beat Oklahoma in the Coaches vs. Cancer, they might face Michigan State. Or they might not. And that’s about all there is to like about this schedule.
Toughest: Wisconsin (Nov. 8 in Sioux Falls, S.D.), Syracuse (Dec. 15)
Next toughest: Bucknell (Nov. 19), Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 29-30 in Brooklyn)
The rest: Wagner (Nov. 15), Monmouth (Nov. 22), Longwood (Nov. 26), Fordham (Dec. 7), San Francisco (Dec. 18), Youngstown State (Dec. 21), Columbia (Dec. 28), Dartmouth (Jan. 18)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 6 -- The Red Storm’s top two games are pretty good, and bonus points for playing the Badgers in Sioux Falls. After Penn State in Brooklyn, they face a decent test from either Ole Miss or Georgia Tech. The rest isn’t much to look at.
Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas), at Syracuse (Dec. 28)
Next toughest: at Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 7), La Salle (Dec. 15), at Temple (Feb. 1)
The rest: Lafayette (Nov. 8), Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 13), Towson (Nov. 17), Delaware (Nov. 22), Penn (Dec. 4), Rider (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- To understand this ranking, you have to understand the Big Five. Even when the Philly schools are down, the games are brutal, and with La Salle, Penn and St. Joe’s on the uptick, the city series is a beast. Now mix in a Battle 4 Atlantis that opens with USC and then likely Kansas (with Tennessee, Iowa or Xavier as likely third opponents) plus a visit to the Carrier Dome and you have a solid slate for Jay Wright’s crew.
Toughest: Tennessee (Nov. 12), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas), Cincinnati (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: Alabama (Dec. 21)
The rest: Gardner-Webb (Nov. 8), Morehead State (Nov. 18), Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 20), Abilene Christian (Nov. 25), Bowling Green (Dec. 7), Evansville (Dec. 10), Wake Forest (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Like Villanova, the Musketeers get a nice boost from playing in Atlantis, taking on a good Iowa team in the opening round. An on-the-rise Tennessee offers bonus points (and they could face the Vols for a second time in the Bahamas), as does the annual Crosstown Classic with the Bearcats.
After Syracuse’s 75-63 win over Seton Hall on Wednesday afternoon -- just the fourth game of a five-day event -- Jim Boeheim took nearly four minutes to answer what was, on the surface, a very simple question:
“Was there any different feeling for you walking into the building this morning?”
“Yeah, there was,” the Syracuse coach began. “In the locker room before the game, I was thinking about all the times coming here. I first came to the Garden when I was a sophomore in college -- the old, old Garden. Seems like about 50 years ago. Oh -- it was 50 years ago.”
That elicited chuckles in the packed interview room here at Madison Square Garden. But the room quickly fell silent again, as the Hall of Famer rambled on about the history of the Big East and his own career.
“Your whole life has been spent in this league, and the last 31 years coming to this building, that’s a lot. That’s a lot of memories, a lot of time.”
But Boeheim and his Orange will play at least one more game here, after wearing out the undermanned Pirates.
Seton Hall actually had a 10-point lead midway through the first half, after connecting on six of its first seven 3-point attempts. But James Southerland (20 points) enabled Syracuse to tie the game by intermission, making six treys of his own, five in the first 20 minutes.
Brandon Triche (17 points) and C.J. Fair (16 points, 8 rebounds) pushed the Orange over the hump in the second half. And the orchestrator throughout was sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who tied a Big East tournament record with 14 assists.
“Our offensive movement was the best it’s been probably all year,” Boeheim said. “Mike played, I think, his best game of the year.”
Syracuse (24-8, 11-7), which lost four of five to end the regular season, is looking to right the ship here in New York before next week’s NCAA tournament. And Triche, who had been mired in a shooting slump, shot 6-for-9 on Wednesday, including a key 3-pointer in the second half.
The normally stoic Triche screamed and pumped his fist after that shot went down. “I haven’t made a 3-pointer in like a month,” Triche said. “So I figured I’d celebrate a bit.”
The Orange, the No. 5 seed, next face No. 4 seed Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon. Pitt beat Syracuse on its home floor 65-55 back on Feb. 2, but Southerland was suspended for that game.
There were plenty of emotions on the Seton Hall side, too. The Pirates (15-18, 3-15) wrapped up a very difficult season, one marred by injuries up and down the roster.
Coach Kevin Willard essentially relied on just five players Wednesday, with his starters playing 182 of a possible 200 minutes. The Pirates hung tough -- the game was still tied with less than 13 minutes remaining -- before simply running out of gas.
“They played the same way they played all year,” Willard said. “They played with a lot of heart, a lot of pride.”
Sophomore guard Aaron Cosby scored a game-high 22 points. And the Pirates shot 10-for-20 from beyond the arc, including three treys from fifth-year senior Kyle Smyth.
Smyth broke down in tears when removed from the game in the final minutes, and was still choked up and red-eyed when facing the media.
“I think any collegiate athlete, when it comes to the end, it’s very emotional,” Smyth said. “Just all the emotions you run through five years in your head, everything that went on.”
Willard said he usually doesn’t get emotional at the end of a season. “But this one hurts because it was such a frustrating year,” Willard said. “I think I kind of knew how we could have been all year if we’d been healthy, and I feel bad for these guys because they really had to deal with a lot of negativity and a lot of frustration.
“So just proud of them. I really am. I hate losing, but I love these guys.”
The 34th Big East tournament -- the 31st at the Garden, and the last of its kind -- rolls on, with two more second-round games Wednesday night, and seven more games over the next three days.
But the goodbyes have already begun.
Last call is the championship game, Saturday night -- a game Syracuse has played in 14 times. "I remember every one of them like yesterday," Boeheim said.
The Orange have won five of them, and lost nine. But the legendary coach cherishes every single one of them.
“The heartbreaks are what make the good ones so great. You have to have them both,” Boeheim said. “I can’t really describe it accurately. It’s just -- it's my whole life.”
Observations from Syracuse's 75-63 win over Seton Hall at the Big East tournament on Wednesday:
What it means: Syracuse entered this Big East tournament having lost four of five and got a stiff challenge from Seton Hall. But the No. 5-seeded Orange ultimately prevailed over the No. 12-seeded Pirates, thanks in part to a record-tying performance by Michael Carter-Williams (see below).
Syracuse (24-8, 11-7) advances to the quarterfinals as it tries to get back on track and improve its eventual NCAA tournament seeding. Seton Hall (15-18, 3-15) won't be playing in any postseason tournaments beyond this one, but it can feel good about the way it finished, defeating South Florida in the first round and then giving one of the most talented teams in the country all it could handle.
The turning point: Seton Hall came out blistering-hot from beyond the arc, connecting on six of its first seven 3-point attempts. The Pirates jumped out to a 24-14 lead midway through the first half, with Kyle Smyth burying three treys during that stretch. But Syracuse rallied to tie the game at 34 at intermission thanks to James Southerland, who shot 5-for-7 from downtown himself and scored 17 points in the first 20 minutes.
The game was still tied at 46 with less than 13 minutes remaining. Then Syracuse scored seven points in a row -- two jumpers by C.J. Fair, sandwiched around another Southerland 3-pointer -- to put some distance between the teams. A Brandon Triche jumper with 6:49 left pushed the lead to double digits for the first time, 59-48. Injury-depleted Seton Hall, relying almost exclusively on its starting five, simply ran out of gas.
Star watch: Southerland finished with a team-high 20 points for Syracuse, shooting 7-for-11 overall and 6-for-9 from long range. Triche, who had been slumping, chipped in 17 points, and C.J. Fair had 16 points and eight rebounds.
But Carter-Williams is the one who made history. The sophomore point guard tied the Big East tournament record for assists in a game with 14.
Aaron Cosby scored a game-high 22 points for Seton Hall, shooting 6-for-8 from the field, 4-for-6 from 3-point range, and 6-for-7 from the foul line. Eugene Teague scored 13 points, and Fuquan Edwin added 11. The Pirates got zero points from their bench in the game.
Number crunch: For the game, Syracuse shot 56.3 percent from the field (27 for 48) and 60 percent from beyond the arc (9 for 15). The Orange out-rebounded the Pirates 29-18, including 10-4 on the offensive glass.
What's next: Syracuse will play No. 4 seed Pittsburgh on Thursday at approximately 2:30 p.m. in a battle of teams departing for the ACC after this season. The Panthers defeated the Orange 65-55 on Feb. 2 in Pittsburgh.
Seton Hall heads home to South Orange, N.J. and looks forward to next season.
1. Louisville. Don’t look now, but the Cardinals are getting hot again, as in red-hot. Louisville has won six in a row and nine of 10. The Cardinals have a shot at a Big East regular-season title and possibly a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. First, though, is the regular-season finale against Notre Dame. Expect overtime.
2. Marquette. And on the Cardinals’ heels, here come the Golden Eagles. Marquette has won three in a row and five of six to clinch a double-bye in the Big East tournament. By now we ought to expect this from the Golden Eagles, but after losing the league’s leading scorer and player of the year, it’s a pretty impressive run.
3. Georgetown. The Hoyas’ 11-game streak came crashing to an end due to (depending on your point of view) 22 turnovers or an insanely lopsided foul disparity against Villanova. It’s not the end of the world. Georgetown can still claim a Big East title and make a case for a No. 1 seed. Of course, there’s a pesky little game Saturday against rival Syracuse, officially the last league game between the two.
4. Notre Dame. The Irish have one game left. Or four, depending on how many overtimes Notre Dame and Louisville decide to play. Regardless of the result, Notre Dame is assured of a solid finish in the Big East thanks largely to Mike Brey’s ability to once again redefine his team in the wake of an injury. Without Scott Martin, Notre Dame has gone all-in on defense.
5. Syracuse. Nothing like a game against DePaul to cure what ails you. The bottom-of-the-league-dwelling Blue Demons were the perfect antidote for the reeling Orange, which had lost three in a row. Now it’s time to see if Syracuse’s issues are really solved or if that game was merely a mask. It’s time for the last dance with Georgetown.
6. Pittsburgh. The Panthers will be a very dangerous team heading into New York. With DePaul as their last game, they'll likely be riding a four-game winning streak and, most importantly, surging confidence. Credit Tray Woodall with keeping this team on track all season.
7. Villanova. Enough bubble and roller coaster. The Wildcats are in the NCAA tournament after a ticket-sealing win against Georgetown. Now it’s about momentum. Villanova has been up and down all season, and while the Wildcats have shown remarkable resiliency, a little consistency would do them a world of good.
8. Providence. That people are even asking if the Friars have a shot at an at-large bid says everything about the job Ed Cooley has done. Providence could claim its 10th league win when it faces Connecticut to finish the regular season. Regardless, the Friars head to New York as a team no one wants to play.
9. Connecticut. The wheels are coming off a little bit here for UConn, which is trying to finish out the regular season without Shabazz Napier. The Huskies have lost three in a row, including a bad loss to South Florida. Connecticut’s season is over this weekend because of APR penalties.
10. Cincinnati. The best news for the Bearcats: They get a second chance. This season went off track in the past month, with six losses in eight games. Cincinnati finishes with South Florida, but it has to hope for good things in New York to turn around its postseason fate.
11. St. John’s. And the drama continues for the Red Storm. Steve Lavin suspended leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison for the rest of the regular season due to, he said, repeated failure to live up to the team’s standards. Then a game later, St. John’s and Notre Dame exchanged haymakers in a game-ending brawl. Lost in the confusion -- a three-game losing streak.
12. Rutgers. Give the Scarlet Knights credit. Without their leading scorer and with little left to fight for, they did just that -- they fought. Rutgers gave both Georgetown and Marquette plenty to handle before eventually losing each game. The Scarlet Knights close out the season against rival Seton Hall.
13. Seton Hall. The Pirates have won just once in the month of February. After an injury-plagued season, they probably won’t mind putting this year behind them. But if there is something to motivate them, it is this -- a game against Rutgers, the team that beat them by two earlier in the season.
14. South Florida. The Bulls are doing their best to have a good finish to erase the taste of a bad season. South Florida has won two in a row heading into its finale at Cincinnati. The difference in both Bulls victories: USF scored points.
15. DePaul. The Blue Demons have assumed their customary place in the Big East standings -- at the bottom. DePaul must beat Pitt and hope USF doesn’t beat Cincinnati if it wants to crawl out of last place in the league.
2. I don't understand why four Stanford assistant coaches and Cal assistant Gregg Gottlieb were ejected from the Cal-Stanford game for coming onto the floor to break up a scuffle Wednesday night. The assistant coaches were acting as peacemakers and trying to ensure the situation didn't escalate. Gottlieb was reacting to a volatile situation. Were the assistant coaches expected to just sit there and watch a full-scale fight? At some point, common sense has to factor into some of these decisions. If the assistant coaches were doing more harm than good, fine. Gabriel Harris of Stanford and Richard Solomon of Cal were also ejected -- but not for fighting, meaning they wouldn't have to miss their respective teams' next games, in the Pac-12 tournament. The conference could always add to the discipline if warranted.
3. Give Washington State coach Ken Bone and Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory a lot of credit for ensuring their teams were still playing with purpose and passion in the final week of the regular season, despite no shot at the postseason (barring miraculous runs in the Pac-12 and ACC tournaments, respectively). The Cougars' victory over UCLA in Pullman on Wednesday had to give Bone such relief after a rough season. The Yellow Jackets, mired in the bottom third of the ACC, denied Miami the chance to clinch the league's regular-season title with a last-second putback. The same is true of Nebraska's Tim Miles, who had the Huskers ready to pounce on Minnesota in Lincoln. South Florida, meanwhile, has won two in a row at the bottom of the Big East. This final week of the season has proven to be as unpredictable as the season as a whole.
1. Georgetown. While the rest of the top 25 spent the week losing on the road, the Hoyas kept winning. Georgetown did not close the Carrier Dome, but it walked out for the last time against its Big East rival with a victory and then followed it up with an impressive double-OT victory at Connecticut. Heading into the home stretch, the Hoyas have won 10 in a row and are the team to beat.
2. Louisville. No one is talking much about the Cardinals these days. That might change after this weekend, when Louisville heads to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. The Cards have won seven of their past eight -- the lone loss to Notre Dame in five overtimes -- but also have feasted on teams they should frankly beat. The stakes are higher from here out, with the Orange followed by a desperate Cincinnati team and the Irish once more.
3. Marquette. Buzz Williams is tired of hearing that his team works hard. Fine. It plays really hard, too. It is neither an insult to the Golden Eagles' talent nor a slap to their methods to say they are a blue-collar team. It's a fact. Williams doesn’t often get the stud recruits, but he builds top players, and that is what’s happening with this team. Marquette has won three of four and remains very much in play for the Big East regular-season title.
4. Syracuse. If Jim Boeheim is lashing out at the media (again) you can bet the Orange are having some troubles. Whether it’s a masterful distraction tactic or mere frustration, it’s also telling when Boeheim goes on a postgame rant. He did it again this week after Syracuse lost to Marquette on the heels of its loss to Georgetown in front of 35,012 Orange fans. Syracuse can still win this thing but the road isn’t easy -- with DePaul sandwiched between a home game against Louisville and a road game at Georgetown.
5. Notre Dame. The Irish’s defense continues to work its mastery, limiting Cincinnati to just 41 points after holding Pittsburgh to 42. Notre Dame’s methods may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they're working, as the Irish have won four of their past five and seven of their past nine heading into what should be an interesting game at Marquette.
6. Pittsburgh. Don’t count the Panthers out just yet. After backsliding against Marquette and Notre Dame, Pitt regrouped nicely to beat St. John’s and South Florida this week. The Panthers got their defense back in order in both games and Jamie Dixon eased the offensive reins just enough to allow the Panthers to breathe.
7. Villanova. The Wildcats simply need to decide what tournament they’d like to play in for the postseason and stick to it. Villanova put itself on the right side of the bubble with a gutsy win against Marquette and then found itself teetering a game later, after losing to feckless Seton Hall. The Wildcats have two games left to prove their worth before the Big East tournament and both have some oomph -- at Pittsburgh and home against Georgetown.
8. Connecticut. As the Huskies’ season heads toward its conclusion -- with no Big East tournament in sight -- they continue to impress with their effort. UConn lost in double overtime to Georgetown but will finish above .500 in the league. Considering how limited the lineup is, that’s a big plus for the Huskies.
9. St. John’s. The roller-coaster Red Storm appear destined to finish on the same up-and-down swing they've been on all year. St. John’s is a good team, but not quite yet an upper-echelon team. That said, this young lineup could pull off an upset of sorts in the Big East tournament.
10. Providence. The league’s best turnaround goes to the Friars and Ed Cooley, who have won five of their past six and could, with games against St. John’s, Seton Hall and Connecticut, finish above .500 in the league. That’s a huge step for a rebuilding team.
11. Cincinnati. And there’s the opposite of Providence, the Cincinnati Bearcats. They don’t look like an NCAA tournament team and they aren’t playing like one either, having lost five of their past six. This is a tailspin without rhyme or reason and one that may not end anytime soon, with Connecticut and Louisville on the schedule next.
12. Seton Hall. Give the Pirates their due. Mired in a nine-game losing streak, with a roster decimated by injuries and nothing much to fight for, Seton Hall still managed to play with gumption and oust Villanova. Fuquan Edwin especially ought to be lauded; he has carried the Pirates on his back all season.
13. DePaul. The Blue Demons aren’t really 13th in the league. They are essentially tied for last but, since we have to rank even the bottom, at least give credit to DePaul for trying. The Blue Demons put up a decent first-half fight against Louisville and actually led UConn at the break.
14. Rutgers. The good news for the Scarlet Knights -- the season is almost over. The bad news -- they still have to play Georgetown, Marquette and rival Seton Hall, all without leading scorer Eli Carter. That’s almost cruel.
15. South Florida. Last week the Bulls were 329th in scoring offense; this week they're 332nd and sadly for USF, this game is predicated on scoring more points than your opponent (just a tip). The good news -- the Bulls play DePaul next so someone actually has to win.
2. If the Georgetown-Connecticut game was the last one between the two schools, the series ended with a bang. The Huskies are the big loser in fading rivalries with the Big East split after seeing quality games over the past 10-plus years with Pitt, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Providence and St. John's. The ACC has always said it can take schools early, and that's why I wouldn't be surprised to see Notre Dame in the ACC in 2013-14 if this split occurs. Louisville and Rutgers are stuck in the Big East and Maryland in the ACC because it's too late to change for this fall. Louisville would have to play Connecticut, Cincinnati and Memphis in 2013-14 to at least keep those rivalries going for another year before they could get split up once the Cardinals move to the ACC.
3. UCLA coach Ben Howland said he's confident that the Pac-12 can become a destination conference tournament with the move to Las Vegas, much like the Big East was in New York. There is a chance. The Pac-10/12 was never a draw at Staples Center in Los Angeles; the league has a chance with the games in Las Vegas. The Big East had something unique in New York with the players wanting to play at Madison Square Garden. The ACC missed that opportunity by playing in Greensboro, N.C., (home to an arena and not much else for a destination) and not Charlotte or another major city in the region. The SEC should probably stick to Atlanta or New Orleans. The Big Ten should have made Chicago its tournament home annually (the event is there this season) and the Big 12 makes most sense in Kansas City, Mo. If the ACC were smart and thinking long-term, it should try to get into MSG with Syracuse, Pitt, North Carolina, Notre Dame and, of course, Duke as draws every year.
1. Georgetown. John Thompson III was understandably worried that his Hoyas might look past basement-dwelling DePaul, what with the last game at the Carrier Dome next on the docket. He didn't need to be. His Georgetown team is clicking and now rides an eight-game win streak following a walkover of the Blue Demons.
2. Syracuse. The Orange already stopped one hot Big East team cold. Can they do it again? The task against Georgetown on Saturday will be a lot tougher. Still, what Syracuse did to Providence -- which had won four in a row including victories against Cincinnati and Notre Dame -- was impressive. It was an impolite beatdown, with the Orange leading 43-16 at the half.
3. Marquette. The Golden Eagles overcame a sluggish start to beat free-falling Seton Hall and remain tied atop the league standings. That’s probably a surprise to a lot of folks, but Marquette always is in the mix. Tough game Saturday at a hungry Villanova team.
4. Louisville. The game against South Florida wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, but Russ Smith's game was a lot more palatable. That’s huge for the Cardinals. The mercurial guard is really the key to Louisville’s success. He has to find a way to remain electric but in control if the Cards are going to own March. He did it against USF, scoring as always but complementing his game with four assists, six rebounds and a more attentive focus on defense.
5. Notre Dame. The Irish remain a good, if unreliable team. They managed to score all of three points in the first 14 minutes against Pittsburgh and win the game anyway. So that’s something. And so is winning three of their past four, even if by just the slimmest of margins. A tough finish -- Cincinnati, at Marquette, St. John’s and at Louisville -- will determine a lot for Notre Dame.
6. Villanova. And they’re back. On the bubble, that is. The Wildcats went from in the tourney to out to back in again, courtesy of a good win at Connecticut and a survival victory against Rutgers. This Saturday’s game against Marquette isn’t a must-win, but a home game against a top-25 RPI team is the kind you want to get to solidify your spot.
7. Pittsburgh. Just when the Panthers got everyone’s attention. ... Back-to-back losses to Marquette and Notre Dame aren’t the end of the world, but Pitt remains something of a show-me team, needing to prove it belongs in the NCAA tournament and has found a consistent stride. Sunday's game against St. John’s is a pretty big one.
8. Connecticut. When Ryan Boatright couldn’t score against Villanova, the Huskies lost. When he couldn’t score against Cincinnati, UConn won. The difference? Shabazz Napier. He scored 27 against the Bearcats, helping a feisty UConn team stay competitive even when there’s little to compete for.
9. Cincinnati. A once promising season is slipping away for the Bearcats, who have lost four of their past five and are a very precarious .500 in the league. With a tough sprint to the finish -- at Notre Dame, Connecticut and at Louisville among the remaining four games -- Cincinnati is going to have to work to finish on the winning side of the league slate.
10. St. John’s. The Red Storm are good enough to beat the teams they are supposed to beat, such as South Florida this week. Now they have to figure out how to get over the hump and beat the top teams. Pitt is sort of a tweener game for St. John’s, tough because of the way the Panthers defend, but not completely unbeatable. It will be interesting to see how Steve Lavin’s group handles them.
11. Providence. Don’t jump off the Friars’ bandwagon altogether. Yes, the 25-point loss to Syracuse showed just how far Providence has to go, but remember how deep the hole was for the Friars. With a favorable schedule to finish the regular season -- at Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s and at Connecticut -- there’s still plenty Providence can do in what should be a pivotal, turnaround season for the Friars.
12. DePaul. The Blue Demons won for the first time since Jan. 5, beating Rutgers in a game in which they led, trailed and then led again. DePaul followed it up with a blowout loss to Georgetown. So much for that.
13. Rutgers. From the "things can always get worse" file, the Scarlet Knights will finish the season without their leading scorer. Eli Carter has a fractured fibula. Give his remaining teammates credit for putting up a fight against Villanova in the first game without him, but with four games left, including Marquette and at Georgetown, uphill just got a lot steeper in Piscataway.
14. Seton Hall. The Pirates have been done in by injuries all season, and the record shows it. At 2-12, Seton Hall has its worst Big East record in 29 years. Seton Hall has tried a team meeting. Kevin Willard closed the locker room after the most recent loss. It’s probably time to ask those priests at the end of the bench to get to work.
15. South Florida. How low can they go? The Bulls in scoring, that is. USF is now 329th, averaging 59.2 points per game. There are only 16 teams beneath the Bulls and only two -- Vanderbilt and Nebraska -- from power conferences. And again we just have to ask ... how did the Bulls beat Georgetown?