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Archive for the ‘Big East’ Category

TCU? Really Big East?

In an effort to quell the fear that they may get their BCS card revoked, the Big East has hastily invited Texas Christian University to join it’s bulging conference.  This attempt by the Big East to maintain their football relevance reeks of desperation and threatens to further fracture a union of schools that has a rich basketball history that was mortgaged some time ago.

This is not a criticism of TCU.  They have a very respectable football program that goes all the way back to 1896.  Since Gary Patterson took over the team in 2000 they are 97-28.  But let’s be realistic about this – what happens when Patterson leaves?  It could happen as soon as the end of this season.  If Georgia or Michigan were to call and invite him to interview for the head coaching position at their schools he’d have to take the call.  And if he leaves is the Big East left with just another mediocre program struggling for national relevance?  Goodness knows they’ve already got enough of those.

So the Big East is making a very short-term play and hitching their football future to a school that has been battling for respect in a conference that is a non-automatic BCS qualifier.  Is that a move that is supposed to get Big East fans excited?

And what about basketball?  I’ve thought in the past that the Big East’s best play may be to invest in roundball.  To pursue the title as the undeniable best basketball conference in the country.  They took a nice step toward that after the ACC grabbed three of their most competitive football schools in the early 2000s.  But now they take a step in the other direction without a major pay off.  And now the basketball conference has 17 teams.  How in the world are they going to manage 17 teams?

Finally there is the little issue of the money.  When the Big Ten was exploring expansion, money was a really big issue.  They were not going to add any schools that couldn’t bring in enough money to result in a revenue gain for all the members of the conference.  Where’s the big money gain here?  There is none. 

They can trumpet the fact that TCU resides in the fifth biggest market in the United States all they want but the reality is the Horned Frogs may not even be in the top 10 when you start ranking the franchises and universities that garner the most attention in Dallas/Ft. Worth.  And ultimately their addition could lead to a net loss because of the increase in travel costs.

So there you have it, that’s my take.  The Big East and TCU got together like two drunken Las Vegas club goers who could not keep their hands off each other and dashed off to the chapel to let Elvis seal the deal for their matrimony.  Let’s hope one of them doesn’t wake up wondering how big of a mistake they made last night.

Care to disagree?  Feel free to do so by posting a comment below.

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As the Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC and Pac-10 again have expanded their conferences, the ACC has sat back and watched.  The most important thing for the ACC at this point is that none of their current programs have been taken away by the other quickly growing conferences. 

While the ACC was the league that caused all of the tremors of expansion earlier this decade they will be the last conference to grow this time.  Initially I said that I expected that the final result of expansion would be four 16-team mega conferences.  As I’ve gone through this exercise, my thinking has changed.  The reason is that similar to what I said about the Pac-10 expansion, I don’t see four legitimate candidates available for the ACC at this point.  If the league moves more quickly, or if the Big Ten only grabs one of the Big East schools, I could see four legitimate candidates (Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia).  But I firmly believe that the Big Ten will grab two of those schools (Pittsburgh and Syracuse) and take that option away from the ACC.

So that leaves Connecticut and West Virginia.  The case for both schools is complicated. 

First, let’s look at Connecticut.  Traditionally the Huskies have had an excellent men’s basketball program, but they are currently under a great deal of scrutiny by the NCAA.  And according to SI’s Seth Davis, that is just the beginning of UConn’s issues.  Their candidacy with the ACC is certainly helped by the inclusion of the premier women’s basketball program in the nation.  Their addition would also solidify a rival for Boston College in the Northeast and bring some access to the New York City market.  Their academics (#66 ranking by the U.S. News and World Report) don’t match up with the ACC elite, but are still solidly in the range of the other schools.

The biggest challenge for West Virginia to overcome will be their academics.  They are ranked as a Tier 3 school by the U.S. News and World Report.  That means they are not good enough to be ranked among the top 133 colleges and universities in the country.  That fact will not sit well with the ACC whose lowest current ranking school is Florida St. at #102.  Otherwise they have a strong football program with a passionate fan base and a very solid basketball program.  In fact, they have a lot of depth in their athletics program as they currently stand at #15 in the Learfield Directors’ Cup standings.

Will the ACC be willing to overlook Connecticut’s NCAA violations and West Virginia’s less than ideal academic ratings?  I say yes.  I believe that the pressure to expand will be great because there is nothing saying that the Big Ten and SEC have to stop at 16 teams.  You could just as easily see them jumping up to 20.  So the ACC will react and add the Huskies and Mountaineers believing that their only way to ultimately survive is to strengthen their own ranks.

What are your thoughts?  Would Connecticut’s NCAA issues keep them from being invited to join the ACC?  Does West Virginia’s academic ranking make them a no-go?

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I believe an NCAA mega conference expansion is inevitable.  I’ve also written that when everything shakes out I’d prefer that Syracuse become a member of the ACC.  I’ve been thinking through what I think will actually happen and now have predictions for the full mega conference expansion.  Because I think it is going to happen in phases, I am going to post it in phases.  I believe phase one will be the initial Big Ten expansion. 

As others have written, the Big Ten expansion is mostly about television markets.  Because of the Big Ten Network, universities that are featured in major televison markets stand to bring in a substantial amount of revenue for the existing programs in the conference.  The Big Ten can add a program that on its face doesn’t seem to bring a lot from a competitive standpoint, but because of the market that university operates in, can still bring in enough revenue to supplement the current annual Big Ten pay out per school of $20-22 million through new advertising and subscriptions.

The ultimate prize in the conference expansion is Notre Dame.  The huge NBC television contract and national popularity would greatly enhance revenue for any conference Notre Dame would join.  That impact would be even more substantial if the Big Ten can secure the Irish because of the Big Ten Network.  While I think Notre Dame will still resist this initial Big Ten expansion, I don’t think they’ll be able to stay away for long.  Their athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, has expressed the school’s desire to remain an independent.  However, he said in March, “You each could invent a scenario that would force our hand. It’s not hard to do.”  Swarbrick also said, “The only things that could make it happen are the sorts of radical change in the industry that would cause upheaval and impact a lot more (schools) than Notre Dame.”

To me that means that if major programs start leaving the Big East, Notre Dame will likely be forced to follow suit.  So what does the Big Ten do to force Notre Dame’s hand?

I think the Big Ten will not jump directly to 16, although they would if Notre Dame was ready to join the conference.  I think the Big Ten will likely expand to 14 programs and invite three Big East schools – Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh.  The Big Ten will add these three schools because:

  1. Each matches the academic profile of the conference.  Academic fit is extremely important to the Big Ten.
  2. They open up bigger television markets (New York, New Jersey and Pittsburgh).
  3. Their exit from the Big East will essentially cripple the conference and force each current member, especially Notre Dame, to make major decisions.

So what happens next?  Which conference will make the next move?  Look for my next post in a couple of days.

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It is now inevitable that there will be a major football-based expansion of the current power broker conferences in the NCAA, likely leading to four mega conferences.  I’ve been saying this was a natural progression since the recent ACC expansion and referenced a “massive” expansion in my post about Rutgers leaving the Big East for the Big Ten.

The Big Ten seems to be ready to make the first move, but I agree with Michael Felder at In The Bleachers who says that the ACC, SEC and Pac 10 would be wise to make their moves first.  The Big East and Big 12 should be trying to sure up their conferences by considering creative expansion as well.  The Big East has tried to take a step in that direction by hiring Paul Tagliabue.  I don’t think that is going to help.

So it appears that the conference alignment for my beloved Syracuse Orange is going to change dramatically.  If the Big Ten expands by more than one program the Orange will be heavily considered for an invitation.  Brian Bennett of ESPN’s Big East Football blog posted his Big East expansion worry-o-meter today.  He lists Syracuse as the third most likely school to get an invitation from the Big Ten behind Rutgers and Pittsburgh. 

There would certainly be positives in joining the Big Ten.  The league currently pays out $22 million to each of its members per year.  The Big Ten Network offers a lot of potential for additional revenue, especially if expansion hits major television markets.  The Big Ten should also provide an opportunity to re-ignite the football rivalry with Penn State and start new rivalries with other Midwest high profile programs.

If the Orange are not invited to join the Big Ten it is likely that they will be one of only a handful of football playing schools left in the Big East.  They should be a nice target for an ACC expansion.  Syracuse was initially invited to join the ACC in the first phase of the early 2000s expansion but was then uninvited.  Nice work John Swofford.  This time the invite would be for real. 

A major positive of joining the ACC would be the conference’s focus on basketball.  While this means there won’t be as much revenue in the mix, it does play to the strength of the sports programs at the school.  How electric would the Carrier Dome be for a late February match up against Duke or UNC?  Immediately Syracuse would take its deserved place among the blue bloods of the sport.  Another plus of ACC membership would be lacrosse.  The ACC would inarguably be the best lacrosse conference in the country.

So where would I like to see Syracuse end up?  It’s taken me a while to figure this out and that is why this post has been delayed.  I’d like to see them join the ACC.  It’s hard to pass up the money the Big Ten would bring but the ACC would be the more natural fit to me.  I like the conference’s emphasis on basketball and I think the football program would have a better chance for success.  I also think that it would be likely that UConn would be invited to join the ACC as well.  That would bring a good rival into the conference with the Orange.

On a personal note, joining the ACC would enable me to see the Orange much more often as living in Raleigh I could go to games at N.C. State, North Carolina and Duke.

So share with me Orange fans, what conference would you like to see Syracuse join?

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So it’s been nearly 48 hours since the 2009-2010 Syracuse Orange men’s basketball season ended.  I needed to give myself a cooling off period before writing my final words on the season.  Thursday night’s loss to Butler was incredibly frustrating…but before we go there, let’s give the boys their due. 

This season started with moderate hopes.  The Orange figured to be fighting for an NCAA tournament birth at the end of the season…an experience with which Syracuse University supporters are all to familiar.  But the season started and we quickly learned that this squad was much better than expected.  In sensational back-to-back evenings in mid-November the Orange dominated Cal and UNC to win the 2k Sports Classic.  We also discovered early that Wes Johnson was an incredible addition to the team.  The transfer’s athleticism, rebounding and shooting ability brought pure excitement.

Syracuse entered 2010 undefeated.  They would quickly lose though, during the second day of the new year at the Carrier Dome to Pittsburgh.  They would then regroup and win their next 11 games.  We watched Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson mature before our eyes.  All three became the players we could not have imagined they’d be.

This team was selfless and hard-working and having fun.  They ascended to a #1 ranking – the first time Syracuse had done so in 20 years.  What more could you ask for? 

Two late season losses and a first round exit (officially quarterfinals) from the Big East tournament cast doubt on this squad that had defied the odds.  As a result they were chosen as the fourth #1 seed in the NCAA tournament instead of the third #1 seed as expected.

But faith was restored on the first weekend of the Big Dance when the Orange safely eliminated Vermont in the first round and then blitzed Gonzaga in the second round even without the services of Arinze Onuaku.  The team we knew was back and so was Wes Johnson, apparently healed from the many injuries he had been battling.  He scored 31 points against the Bulldogs, pulled down 14 rebounds and dominated the beginning of the game.

Unfortunately it was not meant to be, as on Thursday night in Salt Lake City the Orange played their worst game of the year.  They looked like a bunch of nervous teenagers on the floor.  They threw the ball all over the place, they hurried shots and with the exception of a stretch in the second half they were not hustling on defense the way they had for most of the season.

Who’s to blame?  For me the answer is the coaching staff.  Here’s why:

1/ The players did not look ready to play in the first half.  It is the responsibility of the coaching staff to make sure that doesn’t happen.  All people are motivated by different things and the same is true for teams.  Whether it’s a “win one for the Gipper speech,” calm encouragement or individual pep talks, coaches need to know what their players respond to and certainly employ those tactics in the biggest games of the year.

2/ The players did not look prepared to play against Butler’s suffocating man-to-man defense.  They should have been completely prepped for that by the coaches.  There is no excuse for the players not being able to respond to Butler’s defense.  Syracuse plays in the Big East, they face teams that play that type of defense at least once a week if not twice a week during the regular season.

3/ The younger players do not receive enough in-game development.  Would it really hurt the team to go nine or ten deep and give some of the younger, depth players five minutes each a game?  With Arinze Onuaku going down this weakness was glaring.  DaShonte Riley was really not ready to play meaningful minutes.  He was just out there during the Gonzaga game and was pulled as soon as possible during the Butler game.  I love what Rick Jackson was able to do this year but let’s be honest, his play was awful against Butler.  He really hurt the team.  Kris Joseph was a ghost in that game.  In fact he wasn’t much better in the Gonzaga game.  He scored 11 points total in the last two games.  But was there really a single option to replace either of those guys?  No.  And why?  Because they were never developed.

Being that this is my last planned entry, I do want to thank the players that we will  no longer see wearing orange who made a sizable contribution while playing for Syracuse – Andy Rautins, Wes Johnson and Arinze Onuaku.  It was a pleasure to watch you gentlemen play.  And I also want to say that I am really looking forward to the offseason progress and watching the 2010-2011 team take the floor.

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The first weekend of the 2010 NCAA Tournament was not a pretty one for the Big East.  Based on seeding alone, the conference should have had five teams heading to the Sweet Sixteen.  But after some monumental collapses only two will be continuing play this week.  Syracuse and West Virginia both had a pair of excellent wins to advance in the big dance.  But before we get to the positives, let’s address the negatives, or as I like to call them – the six levels of disappointment:

Georgetown Hoyas – Unbelievably Disappointing

Wow…what can you say about this one.  Georgetown got run off the court by an Ohio team that was 7-9 in the Mid-American Conference.  After the first 10 minutes the game was essentially over.  Georgetown had the sixth best scoring defense in the Big East but gave up 97 points and allowed the Bobcats to shoot 58% from the floor.  As a 3 seed the Hoyas lost by more points to a 14 seed than any other 3 seed in history.  This was basically a complete no show.  But in hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised.  The Hoyas had a trio of bad losses during the regular season – at home against Old Dominion and South Florida, as well as at Rutgers. 

Villanova Wildcats – Incredibly Disappointing

Maybe it was the 2 seed that the committee saw fit to give the Wildcats that blinded us.  After starting the season 20-1 Villanova sputtered to a 4-5 regular season finish.  Then they lost to Marquette in the first round of the Big East tournament.  But Villanova is a tourney team and Jay Wright is a tourney coach so they earned back faith as more college basketball fans picked them to win the South region than any other team.  Those that did, myself included, had to sweat out a first round win over Robert Morris.  They would not be able to come back against St. Mary’s, as poor shooting (less than 37% FG in both NCAA tournament games) and the inability to stop St. Mary’s big man Omar Samhan doomed them.

Louisville Cardinals – Awfully Disappointing

It wasn’t the fact that Louisville lost to California that was a huge letdown, after all they were the 8 seed and Cal the 9 seed.  It was the way they lost.  They were down 12-0 immediately and never could recover.  They barely challenged the Golden Bears.  They shot horribly from three point range (26%) and Samardo Samuels was the only starter in double figures.  Hard to believe that this is the same team that beat Syracuse twice.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Wastefully Disappointing

Heading into the NCAA Tournament Notre Dame was going in the opposite direction of Villanova – they had strong positive momentum.  With their backs absolutely against the wall they rallied to win their last four regular season games and then two important Big East Tournament games.  They lost by only two in the Garden to West Virginia in the Big East semis.  But their luck ran out on the day after St. Patrick’s Day as a couple of last second attempts bounced out of the basket and they lost to Old Dominion 51-50.  Don’t cry for the Irish though – Luke Harangody was spotted in the Cat’s Meow on Bourbon Street after the game.

Marquette Golden Eagles – Marginally Disappointing

After losing to a much improved Washington Huskies squad on a shot with 1.7 seconds left the Golden Eagles have nothing to be ashamed of.  The athletically-gifted Huskies are exactly the type of team that Marquette had trouble with this year.  Not to mention that Washington did go on to dominate New Mexico.  Nonetheless the season did end on a disappointing note for a team that showed a lot of heart throughout.  Some times the matchup just doesn’t work out your way.

Pittsburgh Panthers – Mildly Disappointing

Sure Pitt was the higher seed against Xavier, but they gave an excellent effort two days after dominating Oakland.  In the last 10 minutes the Panthers continued to rally but every time they closed the lead down the Musketeers would answer.  When it came down to it Pittsburgh just could not make enough shots to win.

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So, just like I initially predicted it’s Syracuse vs. West Virginia in the final…oh, okay, well I wasn’t that far off.  In reality, I’m not surprised that Georgetown beat Syracuse, nor that they will be playing for the Big East Championship tonight against West Virginia.  The Big East Tournament has often been about a dominating player and the Hoyas certainly have one in Greg Monroe.  Monroe had 16 points and 8 rebounds against USF; 15 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists against Syracuse; and 23 points, 13 rebounds and 7 assists against Marquette.

Of course, the Mountaineers have had their own dominating player in Da’Sean Butler.  He hit the winning shot against Cincinnati while scoring 15 points, pulling in 6 rebounds and dishing 5 assists.  He followed that up with 24 points and 7 rebounds against Notre Dame last night.

It was less than two weeks ago that these two teams had their only meeting of the season on senior day in Morgantown.  The Mountaineers got off to an early lead and dominated that game.  The final score was 81-68.  The Hoyas were without the services of Austin Freeman, who missed the game with a mysterious illness that would soon be determined to be diabetes.

As for this game, I’d look to West Virginia to try to get a lot of defensive pressure on Georgetown.  They will try to take advantage of the extra day of rest they have coming into this game.  It was heavy defensive pressure that helped them beat the Hoyas in the first matchup.  Georgetown will have to take care of the ball and run a methodical offense.  If they get involved in a fast-paced, up and down game they will be in trouble.

Both of these teams rebound the ball very well.  Whoever can control the boards will have a big advantage.  I think West Virginia will keep the pace where they want it; distribute the ball well on offense; take advantage of Georgetown’s extra day of playing and short bench; and get the big win.  My final score prediction is 75-69. This should be enough to get West Virginia a number one seed in the NCAA tournament.  If you think that sounds ridiculous, look at this evaluation of the resumes of WVU and Duke.  Of course, I’ll still be surprised if they were to get the one seed over the Blue Devils.

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