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Archive for February, 2010

For Orange fans this Saturday night game was a dream.  More than 34,000 people packed into the Carrier Dome and most got to see just what they were hoping for – a dominant win for Syracuse.  The game was played at a torrid pace with a lot of up and down action, especially in the first half.  The Orange put forth a huge 40-minute effort.  As you would expect the Box Score includes some impressive statistics for Syracuse:

  • The Orange had six players score 12 or more points.  Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine each had 16 points off the bench.
  • Syracuse won the rebound battle 48-36.  Included in those 48 rebounds are 22 offensive rebounds.  Eight of those offensive rebounds were pulled down by Arinze Onuaku who really pounded the glass in the second half.
  • Villanova shot less than 42% (28-67) from the field and less than 29% (8-28) from three point range.  Like Providence, Villanova started out warm with the three as Scottie Reynolds hit two early deep ones.  But, just like Providence, they then were fairly cold.  When the Syracuse zone is at its best it pushes their opponents back further and further behind the three point line.  They then continue to shoot from long range thinking it is an open shot, but not really realizing how far back they are behind the line.
  • And finally…turnovers…after a very shaky start the Orange did an excellent job of taking care of the ball.  They finished with a respectable 10 turnovers.  That number is especially impressive when you consider that the Wildcats’ opponents are averaging 15.7 turnovers per game and the Orange are averaging a Big East worst 15.3 turnovers per game.
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As we head into the closing stretch of the regular season some of the Big East teams are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the middle of the conference standings (Connecticut and Marquette), while others are struggling at just the wrong time (Cincinnati and South Florida).  Earlier in the week I posted my thoughts on what all of the Big East bubble teams have to do to earn a birth to the big dance.  Going into the second to last weekend of conference play here are my updated power rankings:

  1. Syracuse (13-2, 26-2) (W @Prov 99-85)
  2. Villanova (12-3, 23-4) (L @Pitt 70-65, W USF 74-49)
  3. Pittsburgh (10-5, 21-7) (W Vill 70-65, L @ND 68-53)
  4. West Virginia (10-5, 21-6) (W SH 75-63, L @Conn 73-62)
  5. Georgetown (9-6, 19-7) (W @Lou 70-60)
  6. Louisville (9-6, 18-10) (W @DeP 68-59, L Gtwn 70-60)
  7. Marquette (9-6, 18-9) (W @Cin 79-76 OT, W @St.J 63-61 OT)
  8. Connecticut (7-8, 17-11) (W @Rut 76-58, W WVU 73-62)
  9. Notre Dame (7-8, 18-10) (W Pitt 68-53)
  10.   Seton Hall (7-8, 16-10) (L @WVU 75-63, W Rut 76-70)
  11.   Cincinnati (7-8, 16-11) (L Marq 79-76 OT, W DeP 74-69)
  12.   South Florida (6-9, 16-11) (L St.J 74-58, L @Vill 74-49)
  13.   St. John’s (5-10, 15-12) (W @USF 74-58, L Marq 63-61 OT)
  14.   Providence (4-11, 12-15) (L Syr 99-85)
  15.   Rutgers (4-11, 14-14) (L Conn 76-58, L @SH 76-70)
  16.   DePaul (1-14, 8-19) (L Lou 68-59, L @Cin 74-69)

Weekend Preview

Main Event
Villanova @ Syracuse, Saturday, 9:00 PM
This is the game Syracuse and Villanova fans have been waiting for…the matchup between the two teams that have sat on top of the Big East all season.  More than 34,000 will pile into the Carrier Dome to witness the battle.  Both teams have had to scrap their way through some tough games lately.  The Wildcats lost to Connecticut and Pittsburgh before beating USF most recently.  The Orange had a tough home loss to Louisville, but have rallied with consecutive wins against Georgetown and Providence.  A key to this game will be Syracuse’s defensive intensity.  They are willing to give up the three in the zone, but they need to be aggressive out front.  They need to make Villanova uncomfortable and to start their transition offense through forced turnovers.  I think the Orange will be focused and motivated and will win this one.  Although, a hot night from Big East Player of the Year candidate Scottie Reynolds could ruin the evening for the mass of Orange fans.

Best Matchup
Louisville @ Connecticut, Sunday, 2:00 PM
A classic matchup of legendary coaches, this game brings together two teams that are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives.  After being written off upon Coach Jim Calhoun’s return and a bad loss to Cincinnati, Connecticut has won three in a row.  Louisville had also been playing well until they failed this week to capitalize on a big opportunity by losing to Georgetown at home.  Louisville won the first matchup of these two teams handily on February 1st, 82-69.  That was before Calhoun’s return.  The Cardinals shot well and forced the Huskies into 17 turnovers.  I think Connecticut has rediscovered their swagger and will get an important win in this one.

Upset Alert
Providence @ South Florida, Saturday, 7:00 PM
The first matchup between the Friars and the Bulls was an overtime barn-burner that South Florida pulled out 109-105.  That was the big coming out party for Dominique Jones in which he scored 46 points.  While Providence has lost seven games in a row I keep expecting them to pull out an upset win.  South Florida may give them a good chance to do it, having lost four of their last five games.  Of course if Jones goes off for 40+ again they’ll have no chance.

Rest of the Slate (in chronological order)
Notre Dame @ Georgetown, Saturday, 12:00 PM
As good as Georgetown is, they’ve certainly been uneven.  They’ve easily won at Pittsburgh and at Louisville, but also have losses to USF at home and at Rutgers.  Notre Dame was expected to just play out the season after Luke Harangody’s injury, but they scored a dominant win over Pittsburgh this week.  I expect the Hoyas to come out strong in this game and handle the Irish.

Pittsburgh @ St. John’s, Saturday, 12:00 PM
The Red Storm has proven they can be a dangerous team having scored upset road wins the past two weekends at Notre Dame and South Florida.  They can count on Pittsburgh coming to play in this one though.  The Panthers will be angry after losing, and really not being competitive, this week at Notre Dame.  Pitt rode a late game rally to win the first matchup of these teams at the end of January, 63-53.  Expect the Panthers to come out strong and win this one as well.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia, Saturday, 2:00 PM
Cincinnati is fighting for their season and really needs to win two of their last three games to even merit consideration for the NCAA tournament.  That’s much easier said than done considering they play at West Virginia, then home against Villanova before finishing their season at Georgetown.  Meanwhile West Virginia has looked like one of the best teams in the country at times.  They have struggled lately though, winning only two of their last five games and coming off a loss at Connecticut.  As much as they need this game, I don’t think the Bearcats can win it.  Expect Bob Huggins to get his first win over his former team.

DePaul @ Rutgers, Saturday, 4:00 PM
What can you really say about this game?  How about this…somebody’s got to win.

Marquette @ Seton Hall, Sunday, 12:00 PM
Seton Hall is holding on to a slight chance to play their way into the big dance while Marquette is looking to solidify their seeding.  Both of these teams have played well lately.  The Golden Eagles have won seven of their last eight games and the Pirates have won four of their past five.  Marquette will have to contain dangerous scorer Jeremy Hazell while generating good scoring opportunities when they have the ball.  I expect Marquette to find a way to win this game but I will not be surprised if Seton Hall is able to pull it out because they will feel that they need the victory more.

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This game really felt like three games in one.  The Orange got off to a hot start and were up 24-11 less than six minutes into the game.  Then the Friars got strong three point shooting and the Syracuse defensive intensity dropped, resulting in Providence charging ahead to an eight point lead just after halftime.  In the third, and final, stanza the Orange stepped it back up on both sides of the ball, got a big lead with 10 minutes left in the game and cruised from there until the end.  Some interesting tidbits from the box score:

  • Whether it was bad defense or the result of a few hot hands, both teams really tickled the twine from behind the three point line.  The Orange were 10-21.  Most of the credit goes to Andy Rautins who was 8 for 12 from three point range.  Providence was 14-33 or 42.4%.  As always, Syracuse showed that they can be susceptible to a hot three point shooting team.  That’s just the risk you take playing a 2-3 zone.
  • The Orange were impressive on the boards, winning the total battle 37-24, and pulling in 17 offensive rebounds to the Friars’ 8.
  • Syracuse took care of the ball better in this game with a reasonable 12 turnovers.
  • Besides Andy Rautins and his hot shooting, huge props go to stat sheet stuffer Rick Jackson who had 28 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.  He shot 13 of 17 from the field.

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As we head toward the last two weeks of the regular season, there are seven Big East teams sitting squarely on the bubble.  Some have better resumes than others, but all seven have a chance if they can make a run.  Here’s what I think each team needs to do to get an NCAA Tournament invitation:

Louisville – 18-9 (9-5), RPI: 30, SOS: 9

Remaining Schedule: Georgetown, @Connecticut, @Marquette, Syracuse
The Cardinals have the best RPI of the bubble teams, but they also have the toughest schedule.  Two wins in those last four games and a first round Big East tournament victory will guarantee a spot in the big dance.  I think they still get in with some combination of two wins in the regular season and tournament.  It would be very difficult for the committee to leave them out with 10 league victories. 
Bottom Line – In

Marquette – 17-9 (8-6), RPI: 59, SOS: 55

Remaining Schedule: @St. John’s, @Seton Hall, Louisville, Notre Dame
While Marquette has the second best record of the Big East bubble teams, their RPI is relatively weak.  They have bad losses against DePaul and N.C. State.  To their advantage they have beaten the three Big East bubble teams they have played (Connecticut, USF and Cincinnati) and a chance to beat the other three (Seton Hall, Louisville and Notre Dame).  Three more regular season wins and they are in.
Bottom Line – In

Connecticut – 17-11 (7-8), RPI: 45, SOS: 2

Remaining Schedule: Louisville, @Notre Dame, @USF
What a roller coaster season it has been for the Huskies.  Over the past few games they have seemed to stabilize.  Monday night they got a very nice win over West Virginia.  The three games they have left will give them a chance to put some distance between themselves and the field.  They need some combination of three wins during the rest of the regular season and the Big East tournament to guarantee a spot.
Bottom Line – In

Seton Hall – 15-10 (6-8), RPI: 51, SOS: 13

Remaining Schedule: Rutgers, Marquette, @Rutgers, @Providence
The Pirates have a decent RPI, which works to their advantage.  The challenge is that it will only fall with the four games they have left to play, even if they win them.  I think their only real chance to make the tournament is to sweep the last four games and win in the first round of the Big East tournament.  They need to take advantage of the opportunity to differentiate themselves from Marquette.
Bottom Line – Out

Notre Dame – 17-10 (6-8), RPI: 80, SOS: 66

Remaining Schedule: Pitt, @Georgetown, Connecticut, @Marquette
The Irish have had a pretty flat season.  They have a couple of bad losses and one marquis win over West Virginia.  The only reason they are on this list is because their remaining schedule gives them a chance to play their way in.  To do so they have to either win all four remaining games and a first round Big East tourney game or three of the last four and three in the Big East tournament.
Bottom Line – Out

USF – 16-10 (6-8), RPI: 68, SOS: 52

Remaining Schedule: @Villanova, Providence, @DePaul, Connecticut
The Bulls were the feel good story of the middle of the conference season.  They won four straight games and were really sneaking up on people.  They they fell back down to earth.  They have a couple of big wins (Pitt, @Georgetown) and will need a couple more to get in the big dance.  I think they need to win all four remaining games and one in the Big East tourney.
Bottom Line – Out

Cincinnati – 15-11 (6-8), RPI: 56, SOS: 17

Remaining Schedule: DePaul, @West Virginia, Villanova, @Georgetown
Unpredictable is a good word to describe the Bearcats.  They have excellent out of conference victories over Maryland and Vanderbilt.  They have two wins over Connecticut.  And they have also lost to Seton Hall and St. John’s.  To guarantee a spot they need to win three of their last four and two in the Big East tournament.
Bottom Line – Out

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The last week in the Big East started off with a bang as West Virginia and Pittsburgh played an epic three overtime barnburner that ended with the Panthers winning 98-95.  The excitement continued throughout the week.  Sunday was upset day with Louisville beating Syracuse, Rutgers taking down Georgetown and St. John’s stealing a win at Notre Dame.  Monday saw Connecticut jump out of their doldrums with a solid 84-75 defeat of Villanova.  Wednesday was highlighted by Louisville surviving a 91-89 double overtime battle with Notre Dame.  An old school Big East rivalry was showcased on Thursday as Syracuse outlasted Georgetown 75-71. 

Here are my updated power rankings:

  1. Syracuse (12-2, 25-2) (L Lou 66-60, W @Gtwn 75-71)
  2. Villanova (11-2, 22-3) (W Prov 92-81, L Conn 84-75)
  3. Pittsburgh (9-4, 20-6) (W @Marq 58-51)
  4. West Virginia (9-4, 20-5) (W @Prov 88-74)
  5. Georgetown (8-6, 18-7) (L @Rut 71-68, L Syr 75-71)
  6. Louisville (8-5, 17-9) (W @Syr 66-60, W ND 91-89 2OT)
  7. Marquette (7-6, 16-9) (W USF 63-52, L Pitt 58-51)
  8. South Florida (6-7, 16-9) (L @Marq 63-52, W Cin 65-57)
  9. Cincinnati (6-7, 15-10) (W @Con 60-48, L @USF 65-57)
  10.   Connecticut (5-8, 15-11) (L  Cin 60-48, W @Vil 84-75)
  11.   Seton Hall (6-7, 15-9) (W Dep 79-71, W @St.J 59-50)
  12.   Notre Dame (6-8, 17-10) (L St.J 69-68, L @Lou 91-89 2OT)
  13.   Providence (4-10, 12-14) (L @Vil 92-81, L WVU 88-74)
  14.   Rutgers (4-9, 14-12) (W Gtwn 71-68, W @DeP 68-64)
  15.   St. John’s (4-9, 14-11) (W @ND 69-68, L SH 59-50)
  16.   DePaul (1-12, 8-17) (L @SH 79-71, L Rut 68-64)

Weekend Preview

Main Event
Villanova @ Pittsburgh, Sunday, 12:00 PM

Best Matchup
Marquette @ Cincinnati, Sunday, 2:00 PM

Upset Alert
St. John’s @ South Florida, Saturday, 12:00 PM

Rest of the Slate (in chronological order)
Seton Hall @ West Virginia, Saturday, 12:00 PM
Louisville @ DePaul, Saturday, 2:00 PM
Connecticut @ Rutgers, Saturday, 4:00 PM

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Wow…what a game.  As good as the Orange looked in the first half, they looked just as bad in the second half.  Of course the officiating was ridiculously uneven as well.  As usual box score analysis shows some keys to the game:

  • I don’t think I’d believe it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.  Syracuse shot 90% from the free throw line, making 27 out of their 30 shots.  That was huge.
  • The Orange also made eight of their 15 three point shots.  The Hoyas shot a cold 20% behind the three point arc, 5-20.
  • Andy Rautins and Wesley Johnson played big.  Rautins had 26 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists.  Johnson had 16 points 8 rebounds 5 blocks and 3 assists.
  • Why was it so close in the end?  The Orange shot a dreadful 33% in the second half and had 18 turnovers in the game.  Turnovers are really starting to be a problem for this team.

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So the sports world is buzzing with the news that Tiger Woods will be holding a press conference tomorrow.  He will be delivering a statement and taking no questions.

Tiger Woods - what will he say?

What can we expect to hear from Tiger?  Not a whole lot.  Expect him to admit that he was in rehab, to apologize again to his family, to ask for privacy as he takes on his personal challenges, and to announce when he plans to start playing on the PGA tour again.

And as the Average Guy that is enough for me.  We tend to hold our sports heroes to a higher level of expectations, and to forget that they are human.  Tiger was born and raised to be a phenomenal golfer, not necessarily to be the best possible person. 

The quickest way for him to put this whole thing behind him in the eyes of the public is to get out there and start playing in tournaments again.  There will be a contingent of fans that will hold his indiscretions against him.   Most of them will be the same people that would root against him in tournaments just because he is the best anyway. 

Personally, I hope he has taken the steps needed to reform himself.  He owes that to his wife and his children.  We can also hope that his approach to the fans will be improved.  He’s always been prickly with the crowds and maybe this experience will make him re-think that.

Regardless, one of the only things the American public likes to do more than tear down our celebrities is to play a role in building them back up again.  With a little humility and a return to winning, Tiger Woods will quickly get back in the good graces of sports fans.

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