Much attention has been paid to what this team does not do well: it has no Carmelo Anthony who can dominate a game both outside and inside, and it has many games without any production from its bench.
But Syracuse is one of those teams that plays like a true team, not a collection of five guys who happen to be wearing the same uniform. Hakim Warrick can dominate inside, and if teams double-down on him, Gerry McNamara is deadly from the outside. Billy Edelin averages 15 points and nearly six assists per game at the point.
This is still a team that can run into problems if it gets in foul trouble, but so far even that hasn't been much of an issue.
Vs. Pittsburgh, Jan. 24 - There's no rest for the weary -- both figuratively and literally. Syracuse came off a difficult week only to be upset by a dangerous rival on the road, and now will face a tough Panther squad at home. Hakim Warrick, who played every minute of the two games last week, is playing some great basketball despite getting battered around in the paint, and Pittsburgh in particular can be expected to get physical with the Orangemen. So far, that hasn't bothered Syracuse this season, but it will be interesting to see if the Orange starters can muster the same 40 minutes of energy playing Pitt after so many difficult games in a short stretch.
- Hakim Warrick scored his 1,000th point in the Notre Dame game. He finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and did not take a seat on the bench the entire way, playing all 40 minutes.
- The Syracuse backcourt deserves a lot of the credit for hounding Notre Dame star guard Chris Thomas into a subpar game. He made just 5 of 18 shots, and finished with four turnovers.
- Louie McCroskey matched his career high with eight points against the Irish, providing an offensive spark off the bench.
Quote to Note
"We're not going to change our game-plan. We want to get in there. We know teams are going to try to play us physical. We want to come back at them and play just as physical as they play us." -- Hakim Warrick, in the Syracuse Post-Standard.
For everyone who thinks all walk-ons are good for is practice work and garbage time, Tavio Hobson provides reason to reconsider.
Hobson is a second-year walk-on for Boston College, not accustomed to getting much in the way of playing time. But with starting guard Louis Hinnant sidelined by a sprained ankle, Hobson was called into action against Seton Hall on Saturday. Not only that, he had to guard Andre Barrett, a threat to win Big East Player of the Year honors.
And in a game the Eagles badly needed, Hobson played 11 minutes and did a good job harassing Barrett. The Seton Hall star scored 19, but went just 2-10 in the second half.
Steve Hailey, who got the start in Hinnant's stead, did not score in his 30 minutes on the court. He did finish with six assists.
Craig Smith provided the offensive firepower, scoring 26 points to lead all scorers. He finished just one rebound shy of his second double-double of the season.
Vs. N.C. State, Jan. 20; at West Virginia, Jan. 24 - A pair of winnable games for the Eagles this week, as N.C. State has struggled on the road and West Virginia has struggled everywhere since leading scorer Drew Schifino was kicked off the team earlier this season. Craig Smith has been a huge offensive threat, and if the Eagles' defense can clamp down on the opposition, Boston College has a good chance of scoring some key wins.
- Steve Hailey scored a career-high 18 points in his 24 minutes against Villanova. He got most of his playing time down the stretch, after Louis Hinnant suffered a sprained ankle in the second half.
- It appears as if the Eagles will be playing in the Big East for one more season, as the NCAA failed to accelerate a series of conference changes that would allow the Eagles to move to the ACC next season.
- Louis Hinnant is expected back from his sprained ankle this week.
Quote to Note
"He plays with all heart and I appreciate it because I'm a guy who plays with heart. So I just love the fact that a guy who doesn't play significant minutes every game comes out and seizes the opportunity, and that's what he did." -- Craig Smith on the efforts of walk-on Tavio Hobson, as quoted in the Boston Globe.
If you're looking for an explanation as to how UConn lost to North Carolina on Saturday -- apart from the obvious one, that the Tar Heels are an awfully good team -- check out the minutes played by Taliek Brown.
Plagued by foul trouble all day, Brown played just 22 minutes in the Huskies' 86-83 loss. That meant Ben Gordon had to play the point, and while he finished with 10 assists and just three turnovers, it also helped him struggle to 10 points on 3-14 shooting.
You wouldn't think that a player averaging less than four points a game would have such an impact. In fact, Brown averages a little over five shots per game, so it's safe to say he isn't being counted on for points production.
But Brown is the floor general who runs an offense with awesome offensive talent. He gets the ball to the offensive threats like Gordon, Emeka Okafor and Charlie Villanueva, and distributes it equally enough that no hot hand has a chance to cool off prematurely and nobody goes stale waiting forlornly for the ball to come his way.
If some basketball fans looked just at the stats and didn't appreciate what he does for a team, the UNC game should change some minds.
And his stats weren't bad at all as UConn delivered a 68-65 defeat to previously unbeaten Pittsburgh on Monday night.
Brown played 36 minutes, and scored eight points, with eight assists and six rebounds. Not in the box score was that he hit a key runner in the lane with less than two minutes left and pressured a three-pointer from Antonio Graves that would have tied the game at the buzzer.
Vs. Providence, Jan. 24 - Providence will look to make Emeka Okafor work for his points inside, and try to get a hand in Ben Gordon's face down low. The Friars may also take a page from the UNC handbook and make Taliek Brown work on defense, although few point guards are as capable of doing that as the Tar Heels' Raymond Felton. Providence is talented enough to upset the Huskies, but doesn't have the same firepower or depth.
Probable Lineup - Point guard Taliek Brown, shooting guard Ben Gordon, center Emeka Okafor, small forward Denham Brown, power forward Josh Boone.
- Entering Monday's game against Pittsburgh, Emeka Okafor had scored at least 20 points in five consecutive games. It was the longest such streak since Richard Hamilton broke the barrier for seven games in a row in the 1998-99 season. However, that streak was broken when he scored just 11 points against the Panthers.
- Ben Gordon needs 19 points this week to top 1,400 for his career. He is 16th all-time on the school's scoring list.
- Denham Brown has emerged as a fourth offensive weapon. He's averaging 13.4 points per game, up from 7.7 a year ago.
- Charlie Villanueva has made an instant impact. His 13.8 points per game place him fifth nationally among freshmen.
Quote to Note
"That's the objective -- have a deep bench and be able to run, run, run, sub in fresh guys and have equal talent on the court, and then run, run, run again. That wears you down physically, mentally, and emotionally. It does great things." -- Emeka Okafor, on his team's depth.
This is not a good week to ask Georgetown coach Craig Esherick about his non-conference schedule.
Granted, the Hoyas played nobody of consequence in November and December, which helps explain the team's gaudy record to start the season. But now that the Big East season has begun, and the Hoyas have lost three in a row, guess who awaits after a battle with rival St. John's?
The Duke Blue Devils.
The non-conference tilt couldn't come at a worst time for Georgetown, who will follow the Duke game with road trips to Providence and Miami. Particularly since the Hoyas just played a No. 1 team, and got drilled by UConn 94-70.
Of course, then the Huskies lost to North Carolina, and dropped from the top spot in the poll. So for the second week in a row, the Hoyas do battle with the No. 1 team in the nation.
At least this one's at home.
Jan. 20 vs. St. John's, Jan. 24 vs. Duke - The Hoyas can't look past St. John's, a team that's going nowhere but is dangerous enough to do damage. As for the Blue Devils, Georgetown will bother the Blue Devils with their defense, but have to value the basketball on offense as well. If the Hoyas can keep both opponents out of transition, they can have an impressive week.
- Despite their recent struggles, the Hoyas still lead the Big East in steals (12.15) and turnover margin (plus-6.46 per game).
- Georgetown has lost its last seven games against St. John's, entering this week's tilt.
- Brandon Bowman had 11 rebounds against UConn. It marked the first time this season the Huskies had allowed an opposing player to get double-digit rebounds.
- At least the Hoyas got to practice a variety of defenses against the Huskies. They tried man-to-man and zone, as well as their trademark press. Nothing worked.
Quote to Note
"They were really getting it and throwing it out, and every time we seemed to be one step behind." -- Gerald Riley, to The Hoya, on the team's struggles against UConn.
The Big East schedule is set up perfectly for the Hurricanes. It's a series of baby steps that couldn't have been better designed to measure the progress of the team.
Last week, the Hurricanes met two of the conference bottom-feeders in St. John's and Virginia Tech, both on the road. They won both to improve to 2-1 in the league and send a signal that Miami fans could at least begin checking for cheap fares to New York for the Big East Tournament.
This week's teams are a little tougher -- Rutgers and Villanova. Both are talented and have NCAA dreams, but the Hurricanes are at home for both.
Following that comes a road trip to Notre Dame, and a home game with Georgetown. Miami won't face a ranked team until Valentine's Day (a home date with Syracuse), and plays the three ranked teams in the league just once apiece.
The RPI may suffer, but if the Hurricanes don't have at least a decent won-loss record, they have nobody to blame but themselves.
Vs. Rutgers, Jan. 21; vs. Villanova, Jan. 25 - It sounds funny, but the Hurricanes need Darius Rice to get back on track. He's made just 8 of his 24 shots over the past two games, and against the strong defense of Rutgers and the firepower of Villanova, that's not going to be enough.
- The Hurricanes struggled against Virginia Tech, but managed to pull out a 65-59 victory despite what may have been Darius Rice's worst game of the year. He managed just six points on 2-10 shooting.
- Rice was also responsible for guarding Bryant Matthews, who scored 33 for the Hokies to lead all scorers. All in all, not a game he'll be writing home about.
- Will Frisby returned for the St. John's game after serving an eight-game suspension. He's not starting any more, but is a huge factor in giving the team a big body off the bench.
Quote to Note
"Probably the safest place to be was on the court when we were passing the ball because we were throwing it to everybody." -- Miami coach Perry Clark on his team's turnover troubles against the Hokies, to the Miami Herald.
Just when everything looked like it was going to be all right for the Fighting Irish, Mike Brey's squad is once again searching for answers.
Losses to Pitt and Syracuse left Notre Dame at 8-5, 2-2 in league play. This time, it's the defense that has the Irish in danger of slipping further into the Big East pack.
The Irish haven't held an opponent under 70 points since Jan. 7. Syracuse shot 56.5 percent from the floor (5-10 from three-point range), while Pitt shot 48.3 percent.
More to the point, multiple players questioned the team's heart after the Syracuse loss. Some said the Orange won because they played harder or wanted it more than the Fighting Irish, an attitude that needs fixing in a hurry.
In an effort to improve his team's performance on defense and on the boards, center Tom Timmermans has returned to the starting lineup. But it might take more than that to right the ship.
At Virginia Tech, Jan. 20; vs. Kentucky, Jan. 25 - This is a key week for the Irish -- a team that could go in either direction. Notre Dame is more talented than Virginia Tech, but has to go to Blacksburg, and the homecourt advantage it will have over Kentucky hasn't been enough lately to intimidate top teams. If they don't focus on playing tough defense, this could be the start of a long stretch for the Irish.
- Tom Timmermans' 16 points against Syracuse marked the first time in 73 career games that he'd made it into double figures.
- The 81 points Syracuse scored against the Irish marked the most Notre Dame has allowed all season.
- Notre Dame is 6-5 over its past 11 home games.
- Tom Timmermans' return to the starting lineup has been bad news for Jordan Cornette. He played just 10 minutes and did not score against the Orangemen. Rick Cornett, meanwhile, played just three minutes against Syracuse, and none against Pittsburgh.
- Colin Falls has been the top guard off the bench. He has played in all 13 games as a freshman.
Quote to Note
"We are not in Syracuse's territory, not this team, not right now. Syracuse is a very confident team with a nice tempo. We are not in their ballpark and we may never be in their ballpark this year." -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.
What a difference a week makes for the Providence Friars.
The Friars entered last week wondering if the basketball gods were against them, dropping a pair of buzzer-beaters to Texas and Rutgers. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, however, they regrouped and scored a pair of Big East wins by knocking off Seton Hall and West Virginia.
Providence has a chance to build some serious momentum heading into the stretch run. After an 89-59 home win over Loyola-Chicago on Jan. 19, three of the Friars' next four games are at home, and although the one road game is at formidable Connecticut, Providence can have a gaudy record to take into February if it comes through at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
But at the end of this stretch, the Friars will be awfully tired. Saturday's victory over West Virginia began a stretch of five games in 10 days.
Jan. 21 vs. Villanova, Jan. 24 at Connecticut - The Friars enter this stretch with confidence after winning its last two. Their best bet to make it through the week undefeated is to us their depth to wear down their opponents. But the Friars will have challenges against their two Big East foes, as both Villanova and UConn are among the deeper teams in the league.
- It was practically a night off for Ryan Gomes against West Virginia. He played 31 minutes against the Mountaineers, after being on the court for all 40 minutes in the team's previous two games.
- While much of the season has been the Ryan Gomes show on offense, Sheiku Kabba led the way against WVU. He knocked down five three-pointers on his way to a 24-point effort. Gomes was "held" to just 21.
- Rob Sanders is able to do conditioning drills and light shooting, but is still sidelined with two broken fingers on his right hand.
Quote to Note
"I think you're starting to see this team come together offensively. Obviously, we made 13 threes and that makes everything look good, but we're getting good rhythm. We're very confident right now. From an offensive standpoint that's about as good as you can get from our end as far as moving the ball, making shots, making the extra pass and being aggressive." -- Tim Welsh to the Providence Journal.
It was really close to being a great week for the Scarlet Knights. In fact, it was eight minutes away.
Rutgers had a four-point lead with 8:01 to play against Pittsburgh, enjoying a 47-43 edge and looking to become the first team to defeat the Panthers this season.
Instead, all it was another "almost." The Panthers closed the game on a 16-2 run, winning 59-49.
Unlike the team's earlier loss to UConn -- which left Rutgers fans lamenting that the college basketball rules don't allow the second half to be 30 seconds longer than the first -- the Scarlet Knights flat-out ran out of gas in this one.
Pittsburgh played great down the stretch, but Rutgers made only one of its six shots from the floor during that period. Gary Waters' crew also turned it over three times and missed the front end of a one-and-one.
The Scarlet Knights have proven they can play with any team in the league. If they hope to have a shot at playing in the NCAA Tournament, now's the time to show that they can take the next step and finish the job.
At Miami, Jan. 21; vs. St John's, Jan. 24 - Both these games are winnable, but Miami is showing signs that it's not content to be on the bottom of the Big East again. Once again, it comes down to the Rutgers offense being able to put enough points on the board to win. In particular, Herve Lamizana has to stay in the game -- the Scarlet Knights have a tough time scoring inside when he's on the bench.
Scarlet Knights Notes
- Herve Lamizana battled both foul trouble and the Panthers defense, scoring just six points on 3-of-12 shooting before fouling out in 27 minutes.
- In a rare misstep by the Rutgers defense, the Scarlet Knights were hammered by Pittsburgh in the paint, getting outscored 32-18.
- Gary Waters has developed a solid nine-man rotation. Quincy Douby, Byron Joynes, Calvin Wooten and Juel Wiggan come off the bench, with Douby providing enough spark that he's the third-leading scorer on the team.
- It took them five extra minutes, but the Scarlet Knights had five players in double figures in an overtime victory over Monmouth. Adrian Hill was the only starter stuck in single digits, finishing with five points.
Quote to Note
"They played. Don't put it all on us. They played tougher and tougher. They took things to heart. I don't think we unraveled. We didn't execute and they took it to us." -- Gary Waters, in the Newark Star-Ledger, after the loss to UConn.
Seton Hall enters the week coming off of back-to-back losses, and coach Louis Orr wants the skid to stop.
Orr was visibly upset after Saturday's 72-63 loss to Boston College. He had a 20-minute meeting with his players in the locker room before emerging to talk to the media, and blasted his team for taking plays off and lacking the intensity it needs if it hopes to make the NCAAs.
In addition to Orr, senior point guard Andre Barrett was less than happy with the Boston College performance. He made just two of his 10 second-half shots, and got a technical foul for kicking the basket support with 19 seconds left.
Vs. Syracuse, Jan. 20; vs. Virginia Tech, Jan. 24 - Syracuse is a team that kills you if you take plays off -- something Louis Orr, a former Orangemen who played under Jim Boeheim, knows full well. But it's one of those games that the Pirates need to win to look good before the Selection Committee in March, particularly since they just dropped a tough one to Providence at home. If Orr's tirade after the Boston College game results in 40 minutes of the type of basketball he's looking for, the Pirates can pull off the upset.
- Guard John Allen appears to be breaking out of his scoring slump. He had back-to-back double-figure scoring efforts last week, tallying 11 points against Providence and 15 against Boston College.
- On the other hand, while Louis Orr isn't counting on Marcus Toney-El to pile up the points, he'd sure like to see better number than five points over two games, which is what Toney-El managed last week.
- Senior Damion Frey played nine minutes as a reserve against Boston College. He might get similar minutes against Syracuse if Orr wants to throw a lot of bodies at the Orangemen's inside force. Hakim Warrick.
- Orr has appeared to have settled on a seven-man rotation, with J.R. Morris and Donald Copeland the first men off the bench.
Quote to Note
"We have to be more aggressive at the defensive end of the floor. In retrospect, last year that's what got us to where we were. If we're trying to make move to the NCAA Tournament, that's the way we have to play. We have to find that hunger." --- Marcus Toney-El, in the Newark Star-Ledger.
It's becoming apparent that the next month and a half of Red Storm basketball will be nothing more than playing out the string.
St. John's dropped a pair of winnable games last week, falling to Miami and Villanova. With a senior-laden team offered little hope of shining in March on a national stage, it will be a challenge to interim coach Kevin Clark to keep this team together enough to play the spoiler down the stretch.
This week is a big one for the future of this season. The Red Storm, which has struggled to score all season, plays a pair of teams who also have problems finding the basket. Neither Georgetown nor Rutgers have shown they're capable of an offensive explosion, so a pair of low-scoring games is likely.
Boding ill for this week: The Red Storm is just 1-4 on the road this season.
At Georgetown, Jan. 20; at Rutgers, Jan. 24 - Free throws. The Red Storm has shown it will play 40 minutes of defense against all comers, and that it probably won't break any records for offensive explosions. But St. Johns is going to have a tough time pulling out the close ones with the way it has performed from the line at times. It went 10-19 against Miami and 6-11 against Syracuse; in both instances, a better performance might have led to a different outcome.
Probable Lineup - Guard Elijah Ingram, guard Darryl Hill, center Abe Keita, forward Grady Reynolds, forward Kyle Cuffe.
Red Storm Notes
- This is the first time St. John's has started the Big East season with four consecutive losses.
- It's tough to blame the seniors for the loss to Villanova. Grady Reynolds, Andre Stanley and Kyle Cuffe all finished in double figures.
- Neither Elijah Ingram nor Kyle Cuffe started against Villanova. Interim coach Kevin Clark sat them for the first 3:27 for being late to a film session.
Quote to Note
"I really don't think that's what it is. (Our comeback) showed we still have the fighting spirit on our team." -- Interim coach Kevin Clark, in the New York Daily News, when asked if his team was spiraling out of control.
It's too early to say whether it was a season-saving performance, but not too early to know that losses to St. John's are ones that all Big East teams are going to wish they had back in March.
The Wildcats looked like they were in trouble early, falling behind 18-11 and getting knocked off the ball by the St. John's defenders. Even with the homecourt advantage, it's a game that young teams sometimes lose because they can't make the necessary adjustments to a difficult style of play.
But at a time when nobody else on the team could seem to find the basket, freshman guard Mike Nardi came through and got the team back on track.
More importantly for coach Jay Wright, his team showed the ability to pull out a close game. St. John's pulled to within 74-70, but Villanova pulled away in the final four minutes to win 85-74.
"We didn't put the games away against Notre Dame and Boston College, but we did it today at home," Wright said.
At Providence, Jan. 21; at Miami, Jan. 25 - The Wildcats got killed on the glass against St. John's, losing the battle of the boards 43-31. That could be a problem if the inside guys don't improve against Providence and Miami. Both teams are dangerous enough that extra opportunities can prove costly. Scoring lulls are also a concern. This team has looked better at home than on the road, but it's going to need some road victories if it hopes to make a run at an NCAA bid.
Probable Lineup - Guard Randy Foye, guard Mike Nardi, guard Allan Ray, forward Curtis Sumpter, forward Jason Fraser.
- Whatever coach Jay Wright told his team at the half against St. John's, it paid off. In the opening 20 minutes, his team made just 12 of 28 shots. But 'Nova shot 15-of-25 from the field in the second half, and made 6 of 10 attempts from beyond the arc.
- Villanova made 27 baskets against the Red Storm. Nineteen came off assists.
- Mike Nardi has 62 points and 16 assists over his last three games.
- As Jason Fraser gets healthier, he's providing a big boost for the Wildcats. He had a double-double against St. John's, with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Quote to Note
"When we start getting the ball moving and have continuity, we are a tough team to stop on the offensive end. We have a good group of guys, but it takes time, so we have to always keep our heads up and keep getting better." -- Villanova point guard Mike Nardi.
In one game last week, Bryant Matthews was a one-man wrecking crew. In the other, he wasn't even the Hokies' leading scorer.
Guess which game Virginia Tech won?
Matthews scored 33 in the Hokies' conference home opener, more than half of the team's total, but Virginia Tech fell to Miami 65-59. Against West Virginia, Matthews scored 19, teammate Zabian Dowdell scored 20, and the Hokies won in Morgantown 69-67 on a Markus Sailes buzzer-beater.
The kind of balance the Hokies showed in the WVU win is essential if they're going to make some noise in conference play. Even if Matthews is unstoppable on some nights, opponents have been able to let him have his points while keeping everyone else out of the offense.
At Seton Hall, Jan. 24 - The schedule gets a lot tougher over the next few weeks, as this week's pair of games are the first of five against NCAA Tournament hopefuls. The Hokies need to do the little things in order to stay in the game -- going 10-26 on the line against Miami cost Virginia Tech the game.
- Virginia Tech's key players got a great chance to prove their fitness against the Mountaineers. Bryant Matthews, Zabian Dowdell and Markus Sailes played all 40 minutes. Shawn Harris played 34.
- The Miami loss marked the end of the Hokies-Hurricanes rivalry in Big East play. Not to worry ... the schools will meet again next season when both jump to the ACC.
- After trying several different lineup combinations, Shawn Harris has gotten the nod in the past two games at the forward slot opposite Bryant Matthews. Coleman Collins and Allen Calloway now come off the bench.
- Starting football quarterback Bryan Randall had an impressive game off the bench against Miami, with three steals, three points and two rebounds in 16 minutes. He can expect to pick up more than the usual number of walk-on minutes with Jamon Gordon still sidelined with a knee injury.
Quote to Note
"You're not winning games going 10-for-26 [on free throws] and missing defensive assignments. Guys will get exposed tomorrow in film. ... If you didn't get back with a sense of urgency, you let your teammates down." -- Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, in the Roanoke Times, after the loss to Miami.
West Virginia's early success showed signs of a balanced attack. But after last week, it's safe to wonder whether the Mountaineers weren't just a one-man team after all.
Without Drew Schifino, dismissed from the team for a "violation of team rules," the Mountaineers dropped a pair of conference games last week. Losing to Providence is no disgrace, and the 87-66 margin makes it tough to assume that any ex-Mountaineer not named Jerry West would have made a difference. But a 69-67 loss to Virginia Tech, in Morgantown, may be a sign that WVU has gone from the NCAA to the NIT bubble.
Putting points on the board hasn't been a strength for this team all season. It's gotten worse without their leading scorer. West Virginia hasn't broken the 70-point barrier in the three first three games of the post-Schifino era.
There's no word on the status of Schifino. He won't be back in Morgantown, but coach John Beilein says the program will do what it can to help him transfer to another school.
Vs. Marshall, Jan. 21; vs. Boston College, Jan. 24 - On the surface, this pair of home games isn't a bad deal for a team looking to regroup. But Marshall will be eager to score a win over its state rival, and Boston College can put some points on the board. It's critical that someone take over Drew Schifino's role as the go-to-guy on offense. A balanced attack won't lead to many victories if it's only good for 60 points a game.
- With Drew Schifino gone, the only Mountaineer averaging in double figures is D'or Fischer, at 10.1 points per game. However, five others average at least five points per contest.
- Patrick Beilein tied the Mountaineer record by making 32 free throws in a row, dating to last season. The streak ended in the Virginia Tech game.
- Patrick Beilein has provided a spark off the bench, averaging 14 points in two games last week.
- Jarmon Durisseau-Collins may not score much, but he's done a great job of distributing the basketball. Through the Providence game. Collins had 51 assists to just 23 turnovers.
Quote to Note
"If we shoot the ball well we can play with a lot of people as we've proved this year. But if we're not shooting it well it's been tough for us." -- Coach John Beilein.
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