It's time for Week Two of Your Team Sucks: Big East Power Rankings by HotHot and Scott (cardscott5), sponsored by Old Grand-Dad bourbon. Week One saw a figurative ton of positive feeback. One person said it was the greatest thing Scott's ever put on his Cincinnati blog. Another fanboy on a Rutgers message board said "Those rankings are atrocious." Tremendous support.
This week, the rankings are mostly Scott's because I agreed with them except position #11. Credit Big East hoops aficionado Raphielle Johnson who smartly sided with me when we asked him to decide whether U of L or Notre Dame should be ranked higher. Following the rankings, our thoughts on the league.
4) West Virginia
7) Seton Hall
8) South Florida
11) Notre Dame
15) St John's
HH: HotHot. S: Scott (Scott)
S: I really can't believe PITTSBURGH is 0-6. The Panther defense continues to be horrible. This is not what you expect from a Pitt team. I remember watching the second half against Notre Dame and writing that off to the ND beats everyone at home phenomenon. Then Cincinnati got any shot they wanted in the second half. Following that was the DePaul meltdown. I don't really know what this team has in the tank. The bench was pretty good against Syracuse, but they were bad against Marquette. Ashton Gibbs tore up the Golden Eagles, but was 4-12 against the Cuse. If they are going to show any signs of life, it has to start this week. 3 of the next 4 are at home. Louisville and Pitt may not be a meeting of Big East titans, but damn is that game important to both teams. It could be the difference between a spark and missing the NIT for the Panthers. It's truly a gigantic game.
HH: It's unreal that 2+ weeks into conference play USF is 4-2 and Rutgers 3-3 while Pitt sits winless at 0-6. They'll improve when starting PG Tray Woodall returns from injury but, like Louisville, the window for Pitt to build an NCAAT-worthy resume is closing fast. To their credit, despite never getting closer than 8 points from the Orange, the Panthers showed some grit on the road at Syracuse. And as you said, Saturday's UofL - Pitt game is ironically important due to both teams' struggles. Both sides must feel as though they can grab momentum with a win. ESPN's GameDay crew will be at Pitt, an atmosphere everyone on Twitter will deservedly mock, but I expect to see a great battle for the "we're not the biggest dumpster fire in the Big East" title. There should be a WWF-style belt of shame for this. It would be DePaul's colors.
HH: Continuing with LOUISVILLE, I don't think the Cards have fallen into the depths of a "must win" panic mode as much as Pitt has, but this weekend's road game at the Pete must look ripe for the picking for a Louisville team who's publicly stated their goal is to win out at home and steal two games on the road. There are several storylines one can reference to explain U of L's recent skid, none more popular than Peyton Siva's regression. Siva's still racking up assists but he's become one-dimensional and thus easy to scout/defend. Would you agree with the notion he's currently the most overrated player in the Big East?
S: I would agree with the notion. Peyton Siva is getting assists, which you mentioned, and steals by the healthy boatload, but he's turning the ball over a ton. He's scoring something like 6 points a game in Big East play. He's a complete non-factor offensively because he's turned his game so one dimensional. He hasn't taken a free throw in 3 straight games. With the Cards struggling, he's the guy who is in the dog house. The Buckles injury really hurts depth wise, because now Swop has to play 10-15 minutes a game, and he's terrible. I don't think the Pittsburgh game is a must win, it's January and they have plenty of chances in this league, but it's damn close to a game they can't afford to lose. Taking a bad loss AND dropping to 2-5 in the league would be a disaster. The defense has to get better. Pitt has guys who can drill the 3. It doesn't have the prestige of Gameday games, but it's got the intrigue.
S: DEPAUL isn't very good. I think we can all agree on that. What I really like about them is how hard they play. They had chances to fold against Georgetown. The Hoyas kicked them down double digits multiple times. But DePaul kept clawing back. They put a lot of pressure on the Hoyas with their uptempo press. Brandon Young is a great player, but he's got to sport a more all around game. 1 assist and 1 rebound while going 6-16 isn't cutting it for an above average point guard. I'm going to call it now. DePaul wins 2 of their next 3.
HH: I like DePaul's talent--both of them--and it's encouraging to look at the kenpom rankings and seeing them on the good side of #200 overall (currently #158) unlike the last few years, but they're still a couple bodies away from competing in the top half of the league. Purnell is speeding up their tempo even more this year (75 possessions per game, #4 nationally), which works great when they're forcing turnovers and Young & Melvin are hitting their shots, but there's no toughness or size there. The deficiency is obvious. They lack a complementary big man for Melvin in the frontcourt and will continue getting killed on the boards in league play, especially offensive rebounds that lead to easy second-chance points. The next three games represent DePaul's easiest conference stretch by far, but I only see them winning one, vs. St. John's at home.
HH: Let's talk GEORGETOWN. Your typical JT3 team--they don't turn the ball over, good shooters, impressive OOC resume, but the Hoyas haven't won any conference games they shouldn't have, if one downgrades the win at Louisville. That's not a knock on them, because they haven't really lost any games they shouldn't have either, but I'm using that to justify my reticence to label them as "great." I prefer solid and consistent. Several Big East team's fans would kill to be Georgetown right now and for good reason, but until they travel to Syracuse on Feb 8th, I don't know what we'll learn about them that we don't know already. Too harsh?
S: I would say no. They should have won 4 straight when they meet up with UConn on 2-1, and won 5-6 when they play the Cuse as you mentioned. I'm a believer in the 'You need 3 guys to be able to make a run' theory, and the Hoyas seem to have 2 and a half. You know you have Jason Clark, who was tremendous against DePaul. I'm going to be on Henry Sims. The problem comes with Otto Porter and Hollis Thompson. Porter is great, but he's a freshman and we've seen him wax and wane. Thompson can shoot the lights out, but you can take him out of the game. Looking at the box scores from the last 2 games, you'll see that Clark, Thompson, Sims and Porter all played well and the Hoyas won easily and comfortably. I wouldn't be surprised if Rutgers were a little test for the Hoyas, but Georgetown is what they are. If they are making shots, you are probably going to win. If they have something taken away, you are probably going to lose.
S: MARQUETTE seems like Georgetown in a lot of ways. They are a very strong team, but I don't really know how great they are. They have some big time players like Crowder, DJO and even Gardner, but they hit the wall in some point every game and just can't do anything. They lost at Syracuse for the main reason they were down 75 points in the first half. They got up huge against Georgetown and blew the lead. They got off to very slow starts against Pitt (trailing at the half) and Louisville (down 18-2). Can't help but think good teams put them away. That's what Vanderbilt did in their demolition of Marquette. Marquette looks poised to run off 6 straight into the run up to their last 6 games. I don't think they'll do it though. There is something about this team I don't trust. Which is a shame because I love the powder blues.
HH: Like we said in this space last week (MUST CREDIT Scott and hothot), Gardner is the key to Marquette's half court offense, especially after losing Otule. The Golden Eagles have great size, athleticism, they take care of the basketball, hit free throws and take smart shots. One of the big gripes with Marquette since Buzz took over is seeing them play not to lose when they get a decent size lead--typically when they slow down their tempo--something they didn't do in the win vs. U of L last weekend. Very impressive effort from Marquette and I really like their chances of getting a BET double bye right now. They should be favored to win their next 7 games until Feb 18th when they travel to UConn, and I think they'll be #2 in the Big East standings by then.
HH: Marqeutte's next opponent, PROVIDENCE, might not win another game this year if PG Vincent Council, second in the Big East in assists and ninth in scoring, can't fix whatever issues held him out of PC's loss at Syracuse Saturday. The Friars lost Kadeem Batts for the entire fall semester due to "issues unbecoming of a student athlete" and now Council--whose absence Saturday was listed as a "coaches decision"--seems to have fallen into the same pit. According to our friend Dave who runs Friarblog, this likely stems from the lax culture cultivated during previous head coach Keno Davis' tenure at Providence. Dave thinks it's likely Council will return this Saturday which is good because I don't see them winning their next two games vs. Marquette or at Pitt without him.
S: The Friars are a little lucky that they have a break this week so they can at least get used to life without him. They played incredibly poorly without him on Saturday. They were also playing Syracuse, so that was probably to be expected. If they can get Council back, that would be a huge help. Obviously not knowing what the issue is, publicly, makes them a hard team to peg.
S: WEST VIRGINIA straight up dominated Marshall in the second half after dominating Rutgers a second time. They are playing very well. Kevin Jones is a monster this season. He put in 24 and 25 this week. He's over 20 points a game this year. Truck Bryant is a great sidekick. The Mountaineers are the team that would worry me the most. After Syracuse. They have their flaws, like their youth, but they have the man in the league this year, and that always gives them an edge. Hinds is stepping into the PG role nicely. They get Cincinnati at home this weekend in a very interesting game before they take the show on the road. Their offense is great right now, but look at their losses. You have to lock them up.
HH: The Mountaineers' last couple games are apt representations of their overall season, in that it's not how you start but how you finish. I knew Kevin Jones could rebound but never thought he could shoulder the load of being "the man" on a top team in the Big East. Their freshmen guards, Gary Browne and Hinds have stepped up their game in conference play and have given Truck Bryant the support I thought he would struggle without in the backcourt this season after early losses. Aside from their road game at Syracuse next Saturday, I see WVU being the Vegas favorite to win every game left on their schedule. The Orange sit alone atop the Big East but I would group WVU into the second tier of the Big East with Cincy, Georgetown & UConn.
S: The bloom looks to be off of NOTRE DAME. Not only was their home court winning streak snapped, but they were pretty much dominated by Rutgers. Jack Cooley, who we praised so much, was held to single digits in both losses. The book is out on them. They are looking down the barrel of a 5 game losing streak. Quite frankly, I think that's the direction they are going. Good teams are going to be able to score on them at will. They are also going to be able to get stops when needed. The Irish are just in for one of those years where they were going to be down, and now they are going to be kicked.
HH: Agree with your assessment of Notre Dame. It's going to get even uglier with a tough upcoming five-game stretch that includes three road games and a home contest vs. Syracuse this Saturday. I don't see them winning again until facing DePaul at home in three weeks. With Abromaitis out the rest of the year, I see the Irish burning their way to six conference victories and will need to win the BET to get an NCAAT seed.
S: CONNECTICUT is a frustrating team. They play hard and then they have times where they kind of don't look fully invested. They played pretty horrible defense against Cincinnati. Some of the shots they contested were made in their face. They get down double digits and then they fight back and take the lead. Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi were basically dominated by Yancy Gates and Justin Jackson. If they don't show up, UConn is in trouble. The last 2 Huskie losses have been the last 2 games that Andre Drummond has not thrown up a double double. Sometimes it's not rocket science. Connecticut has to get him involved if they are going to go places. 2-9, 4 points isn't getting it done. Jeremy Lamb needs to break out of his funk as well. They have Tennessee and the Notre Dame mirror game, so they should be able to get the ship righted without Ryan Boatright.
HH: I agree UConn will beat UT and Notre Dame, but I think Boatright's absence is a big deal. If you remember, they were voted as co-favorites with Syracuse to win the Big East this year and many national hoops pundits thought they could be better this year than last year's championship squad. That's not going to happen, but they do have the tools to be a dangerous NCAAT team. As you mentioned, Drummond has developed quickly into a double-double threat for UConn but looked disinterested vs. Cincy on Wednesday. I remember one sequence in particular where fumbled a pass out of bounds and then got beat for a dunk on the ensuing defensive possession. Looking at the box score, UConn actually out-rebounded Cincy by double digits, out-shot them from the FT line, handed out 5 more assists and made the same number of FGs as the Bearcats, but turnovers and perimeter defense killed them. That's where a guy like Ryan Boatright will really help them if/when he becomes eligible to play again.
S: I was a hold on SETON HALL last week, and I'm moving closer to a sell on them this week. Serious Big East contenders don't lose to the middle and bottom of the league. All of their Big East losses are on the road. They gagged away the South Florida game by missing a front end late. They were kind of manhandled by Villanova. Nova shot 41 free throws. Herb Pope has gone 10-7 and 10-8. Fuquan Edwin has not really had his shot going. Jordan Theodore is in a slump from the field. The Pirates have some issues that need to be straightened out. Luckily for them, they get to go home and play slumping Notre Dame and Louisville. It's not exactly a must sweep situation, but looking at the 3 games after that, it's a must split.
HH: In consecutive losses to USF and at Villanova, Seton Hall looked more like the team picked to finish 13th by the Big East coaches this preseason than the one that started out 15-2. Theodore, SHU's leading scorer in conference play, shot just 7-29 combined from the field in those two losses, including an 0-9 start at Villanova Wednesday night, which helps explain the Pirates' small skid. Too many scoring droughts. They were also outworked on the glass in both losses. Speaking of which, Pope's rebounding has severely tapered off since facing Big East competition and he's not getting help from 6-9 forward Patrick Auda, who's averaging less than three boards per game in their last five contests. Look for another 6-9 forward, frosh Brandon Mobley, to contribute more as the Pirates battle teams with capable big men. If they don't split the next two at home vs. ND & U of L, this small skid could turn into an 0-7 slump after the three straight road games that follow.
S: SYRACUSE needs nothing said about them really. They are looking to be heads and shoulders above the rest of the league. They took a solid shot from Pittsburgh and answered every time. That was just their second Big East win by single digits. They have Notre Dame, which should be a win and a quick turnaround to Cincinnati. The 1 knock I think that can be given to them is that you can get stops if you can force the Orange into taking 3s and long jumpers. That's what Pitt did to get into that game. There just seems to be so much more talent on Syracuse than the rest of the league.
HH: Looking ahead at their schedule, there's a three game block in early February where Syracuse plays Georgetown & UConn at home then travels to Louisville, all in the span of six days. These are the three conference games that have the best shot at seeing an Orange loss IMO. The Hoyas are a good team and they'll be jacked up for the rivalry game. I think UConn is the one conference team that can stack up to Syracuse's talent and athleticism and it's possible Cuse will suffer from post-rivalry fatigue. If the Orange make it that far without blemish, then U of L could become a sneaky upset pick on Feb 13. Fun fact(s): there's not a player on Cuse's roster that's beaten Louisville, the Orange's last win vs. U of L was Feb 18, 2006 and the Cards are 7-1 all time vs Syracuse at home. If Pitino can re-create his Boeheim zone-busting magic, this could make for a fun "Big Monday" atmosphere in the KFC Yum! Center. Or Louisville will get blown out, because that's likely more probable.
S: One of the teams I can't get a good read on is RUTGERS. They pretty handily take care of Notre Dame at home, but that came after getting drilled a second time by West Virginia. Biruta and Derrick Randall are giving them nothing inside. They rely a lot on Eli Carter and Jerome Seagears to get them looks and points. Not sure if that's the right combination for success. Especially when you can score on them.
HH: Rutgers's 3-3 conference record is better than most thought it would be at this point, but they struggle with consistency. They're spoiled with young talent like Carter, Seagears and Myles Mack but when they face adversity again, i.e. losing consecutive games, who's going to pick this team back up? The reason they're not getting much out of Biruta & Randall at times is because they're always in foul trouble--an issue Biruta struggled with as a freshman last year--which contributes to another Scarlet Knights issue: conceding too many FTs. I see a string of losses coming for Rutgers. They can beat DePaul at home next Wednesday, but they're not a proven road team and I think they'll struggle with the middle portion of their conference schedule.
S: The second most impressive team in the league has been CINCINNATI. They are doing what no one else in the league is doing, winning on the road. They aren't winning in the prettiest ways, but they have some kind of other gear they pull out late in games that forces turnovers. They get turnovers that lead to easy points. They have multiple guys who aren't afraid to shoot. Dion Dixon made the big shot at Pitt. Cashmere Wright beat Oklahoma. Sean Kilpatrick beat UConn. Jeremiah Davis tied the St John's game. They have a few issues, like guard defense and rebounding, but if Yancy Gates is going to dominate inside, that covers some flaws. I think a stumble is coming, but right now, you can't ignore what they've done.
HH: Their first few years in the Big East, Cincy always folded down the stretch. It was tradition. But last season it seemed to happen in reverse. After losing several conference games early on, Gates finally turned on his "plays up to potential" switch in late February, leading UC to win 6 of their last 8 conference games before suffering a bizarre 38 point loss to Notre Dame in the BET Quarterfinals. That same script seems to be playing out again for Gates as he returns to form after the Xavier fight suspension and UC's offense is clicking as guys like Kilpatrick and Jaquon Parker have stepped up to ease the load on Wright and Dixon. If Gates continues to play the way he finished last season, this looks like a team headed toward a top four finish in the Big East.
S: Another team that you can't deny what they've done on the court is SOUTH FLORIDA. They ugly up games and they rebound. The thing that speaks most to me are the amount of assists. They had 18 assists on 22 FGs last night. That's following 16 on 21 FGs in the Seton Hall win. Anthony Collins isn't a scoring threat, but he sets up the offense and gets them going. They have a couple of guys who can put in buckets, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, JAWANZA Poland and Victor Rudd. They've lost 2 of the 3 conference games where they've given up 60. They have 7 road games left and 1 road win this season. For now, 2 games over .500 in the Big East for the first time ever, it's celebration time. Especially with a winnable game against DePaul Sunday.
HH: JAWANZA! As we mentioned in this space last week, the first half of the Bulls' schedule is a cakewalk compared to the second. And as you just implied, Collins has added a subtle but necessary dimension to USF. They lost senior point guard Anthony Crater before the season began when he was dismissed in May due to violation of team rules, and LaVonte Dority transferred in the middle of the season, but they've turned out to be addition by subtraction type moves. Fun fact: Crater now plays at NAIA Georgetown College in KY now; he's below average there, too. Collins, a freshman, not only distributes the ball well but he's become a steals machine for a team who's slow tempo--ranked dead last in the conference--increases the value of each possession. They'll have to continue outrebounding their opponents and shooting FTs at a high % (79% in conference play) to match their best Big East finish ever, a 9-9 record in 2009-10 with Dominique Jones, but it's still doable.
S: I'm not sure VILLANOVA has turned a corner or if they are just getting a break in their schedule, but they look better. They gave Cincinnati all they could handle. They took it to Seton Hall the first half, withstood a run and pulled away late. It seems like they realized that they could drive to the basket and take their chances getting fouled. 41 free throws against the Hall, 22 against UC. Maalik Wayns has turned into a good slasher who gets whistles. JayVaughn Pinskton was tremendous against the Hall. They can't shoot 3s at all, but love to shoot them, which will probably continue to hurt them. They have a couple of roadies up next, @ St John's, @ Louisville. Is this a rally?
HH: Still not sold on Villanova. I joked last week that they have to figure out how to get to the FT line 45 times a game to win and they damn near did that in their victory over Seton Hall Wednesday night. And you said it, they have to stop jacking up threes when they're not going in and rely more on Wayns to not only score but to drive and dish. Along with Cheek, Wayns has some good role players to work with--guys like James Bell, M. Yarou and Darrun Hilliard-- but Pinkston is their tremendous upside caliber talent and if he continues playing well, they can make life difficult for a lot of teams down the stretch.
S: ST JOHN'S gives the appearance of a team that's hitting a door. A door named dad. They've hit 49 the last 2 games. They've got 5 blowouts in conference play and it's looking more and more like they just caught Cincinnati on a bad day. They aren't getting anything off the bench. D'Angelo Harrison is in a slump. Moe Harkless can't be superman. Here's your cellar dweller.
HH: Just not enough talent or depth on St. John's roster right now to change the projection of their season. They still play DePaul twice, Villanova and Notre Dame but aside from those matchups, I don't think they'll even threaten to win any other games this season. It's a lost year, but Lavin should have this program buzzing again soon.