Saturday, February 28, 2009

Georgetown 56, Villanova 54

Yeah, because that makes a lot of sense.

Georgetown goes on the road to play the No. 12 team in the nation, commits 25 turnovers, spots that No. 12 team 17 free-throw attempts...and wins the game?

Just a brutal loss for Villanova, with consequences up and down the standings. First, it clinches that two-day bye for UConn no matter what happens in the Notre Dame game currently in progress. Second, it severely damages Nova's chances of cracking that top four and joining the Huskies in two-bye territory. They now have to win at Notre Dame and beat Providence at home, and hope either Pitt finishes 1-2 or Marquette finishes 0-3. Either or both of those two things could happen, since Pitt finishes at Seton Hall/Marquette/UConn and Marquette finishes at Louisville/at Pitt/Syracuse. But the Wildcats' margin for error is toast, thanks to an inexcusable loss.

And call me a grouch, but I don't buy the idea that this gets Georgetown back into the bubble discussion. I think (a) too much damage has been done already and (b) I've seen enough to get a bad feeling that they'll slip up in one of their final two games -- either at St. John's or, more disastrously, at home against DePaul.

(DePaul, by the way, lost by 21 at home to St. John's today and is now 0-16, with 10 of those 16 losses coming by at least 15 points. The Blue Demons have road games left at West Virginia and Georgetown -- their last two chances to pick up a conference win before they get to the Garden.)

But it was a pleasure to see the Hoyas actually win a game. It's the first time I've actually seen them win a game since the Jan. 14 home game against Syracuse. Seriously. The Rutgers and South Florida games weren't on TV, and I can't get the ESPN360 to work on this laptop. So that was fun, and who knows. Maybe they can at least make life tough on somebody in the Big East tournament.

I'm not getting carried away, though. They played a bad enough game today that they could have lost it to anyone -- St. John's and DePaul included. They won because Villanova, which nearly lost to DePaul on Wednesday, played even worse. Because the Wildcats are in the middle of a glitch that must be corrected by the end of next week if they want to do any postseason damage. Because Scottie Reynolds played one of the worst games of his career. And sure, because Summers hit a couple of threes.

Bottom line, there's no way to figure any of this. And every time one of these games goes the way of the impossible, it's a reminder that tomorrow is March 1, and it's all about to get gloriously insane.

A Seven-Bid League?

Remember when nine bids looked certain and people wondered if the league might be able to get 10? Well, ESPN's latest Bracketology has the Big East with seven bids -- Cincinnati and Providence both on the "First Four Out" list and Notre Dame and Georgetown justifiably not mentioned at all.

I'm thinking Cincinnati can get in with a win at Syracuse tomorrow and Providence can get in with a win at Villanova on Thursday, but the latter is going to be tough, because Nova is still motivated to grab one of those top four seeds in the conference tournament.

That's why my hopes for a Hoya upset this afternoon are minimal. I foresee something like the Louisville game from earlier this week -- a game in which Georgetown was totally outclassed by a far superior opponent and never had a chance. But I guess you never know. Right? RIGHT?????

Elsewhere on today's schedule, UConn must take care of business at home against Notre Dame. (If they do, they secure one of those top four seeds and a two-day bye at the Garden.) Pitt must take care of business at Seton Hall (so as not to fall too far from its short-lived No. 1 ranking). And St. John's must take care of its business at DePaul. The Blue Demons put a scare into Villanova the other night, may be playing well (for them) right now, and NOBODY wants to be the first Big East team to lose to DePaul this year. Not so close to the end...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Catching Up

As mentioned in earlier posts, it's been a tough week to keep up with the blog because I've spent it in Florida, covering spring training baseball. (Hearkening back to the days when I had a real job.)

But I have been watching what's been going on in the conference, and I'm here with some of the conclusions I've drawn from this week:

1. Marquette is toast without Dominic James. NO way they can absorb this loss the way UConn can (and sort of has) absorbed Jerome Dyson's. UConn is considerably deeper than Marquette is, with massive talent at every position and coming off the bench. All of Marquette's success this year depended on the brilliance of the "big four" -- James, McNeal, Matthews and Heyward. They don't have enough to cover what they lose with James out. Their perimeter game is their life, and it's irretrievably weakened. Which is too bad. I liked that team a lot.

2. Jim Calhoun is a jerk and a bully, but so are a lot of college coaches (football and basketball), and that doesn't mean he should have to give back any of his money if he doesn't want to. Would we all like wealthy people to show a little sensitivity in these times -- to at least act as if they care that people other than themselves and their neighbors are suffering? Sure. Would we like professionals to treat other professionals as professionals in professional settings -- i.e., not telling a fellow adult to "shut up" when asked a question in a news conference? Of course. But Calhoun, as great a coach as he is, has never been known as an especially effervescent human being. You wish the greats would all be good guys, but when you cover sports, you learn quickly that it's just not that way.

3. Villanova is in a really good spot to be the sleeper pick to win the Big East tournament and score a very nice seed in the Big Dance. Sure, they got scared by DePaul the other night, but they did win the game, and they're still moving in on Marquette and Pitt as they try to crack that top four and get the double-by at the Garden. With James and Dyson out, and Pitt having looked bad in a loss to Providence, red-hot Nova has every reason to think it can be conference champ with a good week in NYC.

4. I believe that DePaul will be 0-17 on the morning of March 7 but will fend off historic ignominy by defeating Georgetown in the final game of its regular season. I believe this with all of my heart, and it's a belief based on nothing but the way I feel this Hoya season is going. Call me a pessimist if you like, but what have we seen from the Hoyas to make me anything else?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Providence 81, Pitt 73 (Tuesday night)

Yeah, getting to this real late, for reasons outlined in my baseball blog (if you're into that sort of thing). But what kind of year is RCR having with predictions? Just when we say we're through with Providence, they go out and knock off the No. 1 team in the country.

Now you have to think the Friars have a shot at the Dance, right? Assuming they beat Rutgers and lose at Villanova, they're 18-12 overall and 10-8 in the conference going into the Big East tournament (where they're now quite likely to have a bye into the second round). Win one game in the Big East tournament, and you're 19-13, and the committee has to take a look at wins over Pitt and Syracuse.

Will it be enough? I say probably not. The committee has a history of screwing Providence, and the out-of-conference schedule was weak. But they'll be in the discussion. And if they get hot and win TWO Big East tournament games and make the semifinals? Jeez.

I say, if the Friars can upset Villanova next week in Philly, they get in. I just don't think they can do that.

Pitt now becomes the team that has to worry about getting passed by Villanova for that critical No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. If they lose one of their remaining three games (at Seton Hall/Marquette/UConn) and Villanova wins out, Villanova catches them. And Villanova has the tiebreaker, as a result of their 67-57 win on Jan. 28.

See? This Big East season did turn out to be exciting. It's just that Georgetown wasn't a part of it.

Watching UConn-Marquette now. Will be back, as you know.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Louisville 76, Georgetown 58

If anybody still had any Hoya hope, this one should have taken care of it.

Just very simply never, ever in the game. Lousville rained threes from the start as if they were living in one of Larry Bird's best dreams, and there wasn't a thing the defense could do to slow them down or the offense could do to get back into the game.

Hoyas Prospectus is calling it Georgetown's worst game of the season, statistically, and given the work they do and what we saw with our own eyes there's no reason to doubt them.

This game was a comment on the sad state of this season. Go back a month and a half, and you'd have looked at this game as a good test, heading toward postseason. Louisville was hot, and at times this year has looked like a real Final Four contender. But you can size up their weaknesses (point guard play, drifting focus) and imagine how a good, disciplined, hard-nosed team might beat them -- especially at home.

But the Hoyas are no longer the kind of team that can imagine anything like that. Louisville is out of Georgetown's league, as is almost everybody else in the Big East.

The Hoyas are 14-12, 5-10 in the conference, looking at a near-certain loss at Villanova this weekend and then, hopefully a couple of wins against St. John's and DePaul to close out the regular season 7-11 and show up with a lousy seed in the conference tournament. They will rank as one of the year's most disappointing teams, nationally.

Just amazing.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Villanova 89, Syracuse 86

Which means Nova wins both of the big February matchups with Syracuse. Which makes sense, because Nova's the clearly better team at this point. At 10-4, the Wildcats would appear to be locked into that fifth seed for the Big East tournament, two games behind the three-way tie for second and two games in front of sixth-place West Virginia. But looks can be deceiving.

Nova can still move into that top four. There's a pretty good chance they win all of their four remaining regular-season games (at DePaul/Georgetown/at Notre Dame/Providence). The ND trip could be tricky, but still -- good chance the red-hot Cats get to 14-4.

If they do that, they could be in double-bye territory, because as we've all heard tell, the rest of Marquette's schedule is a food processor.

Having escaped Georgetown with a surprisingly narrow win, Marquette finishes UConn/at Louisville/at Pitt/Syracuse. Sure, they could win any or all of those games, but they could also very easily lose the first three. And if they did that, and beat Syracuse to wrap the regular season, they'd be 13-5, and Nova (with a 4-0 finish) doesn't have to show up at Madison Square Garden until Thursday.

As for the Orange...well, nothing takes the sting out of a tough Hoya Saturday loss like a tough Syracuse Sunday loss. The Cuse now sits at 7-7, tied with Cincinnati for that critical No. 8 spot. The No. 8 team gets a bye to the second round of the conference tournament. The No. 9 team has to play on Tuesday and, if it wants to win the tournament, win five games in five days. Providence plummeting from above and Notre Dame surging from beneath that tie means it could all still get very jumbled, but as of now next Sunday's Cincinnati-Syracuse game looks big.

The Orange should beat St. John's and Rutgers, and should probably lose to Marquette, so the Cincinnati game for them could mean the difference between a 9-9 conference finish and a 10-8.

For Cincy, which has West Virginia, South Florida and Seton Hall still on the schedule, it could mean the same. For Cincy, it could mean the difference between making the NCAAs and not. (Syracuse, sadly, looks to be in, barring the total collapse for which all good and decent hoop fans are surely praying.)

Elsewhere in the conference on Sunday, kind of a tough loss at St. John's for Seton Hall, whose midseason surge seems to have slowed and whose hopes of cracking that top eight seem to have vanished. And West Virginia takes care of business against a horrendous Rutgers team whose only conference win this season is against winless DePaul. (by 19 points, incidentally -- how horrible is DePaul?)

One game on the Big East docket tonight, as Louisville travels to Georgetown to accept about 20 turnovers, countless easy transition baskets and enough rebounds to make Jen Aniston proud.

Oh yes. Hoya Fever, baby.

Catch it.

And then turn it over.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Marquette 78, Georgetown 72, or "A Long Day's Journey to the NIT Bubble"

I mean, it may well be that Pablo Picasso was a fantastic dart thrower -- a champion dart thrower. And it may be that, as such, Pablo Picasso loved to show off his dart-throwing abilities. It may be that, any chance he got, Picasso would get up from his easel, head down to the local pub and challenge everybody in sight to games of cricket, or 501. That for days at a time, he would forget all about painting and just throw darts.


If that were the case, then there was probably somebody in Pablo Picasso's life who could get in the dude's ear and shout, "Okay! We get it! You're good at darts! But for God's sake, man! You're Picasso! Freaking PAINT already!"

Greg Monroe is an ultra-talented 6-foot-10 center for whom the Marquette Golden Eagles had no answer today. If the Georgetown Hoyas had wanted to, and if Monroe had been up for it, they could have run the entire second-half offense through him and won this game. He wasn't in foul trouble, the defense was working, and there were plenty of half-court sets, even some transition opportunities, that called for Monroe to forcefully take the ball to the basket and score.

But that doesn't work when all the guy wants to do is pass. It doesn't work when the offense works to get the big man the ball inside only to watch him dish it off at the last minute when the right play would be to shoot a hook shot, or even dunk the ball and scream the roof off the place like a real, monster big man does.

It doesn't work when there's nobody to get in Greg Monroe's ear and shout, "Okay! We get it! You're a great passer! But for God's sake, man! You're 6-foot-10! Freaking SCORE already!"

But this is just part of it, of course. There is so much else wrong. I have yet, for instance, to identify the problem for which Nikita Meschariakov is the answer. The offense seemed to work pretty beautifully for the final 17 minutes of the first half, while he sat stapled to the bench with three fouls. Near as I can figure, he's made about one shot since JTII dropped him into the starting lineup. And if he can't shoot, it's basically like playing with four.

Meschariakov's defensive breakdown with 48 seconds left in the game is the kind of thing that keeps you home in March. The team, down four in the final minute, plays stellar defense for 33 seconds. And then, with the shot clock gasping for air, you fall asleep and let your man get loose on the baseline for an easy layup that seals the game. Freaking brutal. And of course, not the only time today that it happened to someone in a Hoya uniform. The open three that tied the game for Marquette at the end of the first half was such a breakdown, and the past month is littered with them. When Selection Sunday comes and goes without "Georgetown" on one of those little bracket lines, it's going to be because they played the entire month of February without being able to make a single big defensive stop. On anybody.

And then there are the threes. I swear, at this point, the scouting report on Georgetown must say something like, "Let them make a boatload of threes in the first half, because then they'll think they're good at it, and they'll keep shooting them even when it doesn't make any sense, and they won't make a single one in the second half when all they really have to do is run their real offense and their pressure defense and they'd beat us by eight, and we'll win."

I still believe this guy is a good coach, but he's not coaching this team very well. Everybody's allowed a bad year, and JTIII is smack in the middle of his first bad year as Georgetown's coach. This particular group, for whatever reason, isn't buying into the offense or the defense the way his past teams have. This particular group doesn't maintain focus for 40 minutes, doesn't trust its plan, and as a result it loses. Pretty much every game.

The opinion of the ESPN halftime crew seemed to be that the Hoyas would have to finish at least 3-2 to have a shot at the NCAAs. Doug Gottlieb's point is that it's a weak bubble this year, and the Hoyas have a brutal schedule and a strong RPI. But now they have to go 3-1, which means either beating Louisville at home on Monday or winning at Villanova next Saturday. Not likely.

And if they do just miss, and they look back on the games that were winnable -- that they should have won -- they'll remember Seton Hall and West Virginia and Cincinnati (twice!), and they'll remember today's game, too. Because Marquette is good, and worthy of its record and standing in the conference. But this game was winnable, and once again, they didn't win it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Robert Churchwell

Yes, today is a special day at Robert Churchwell's Revenge. For it is the 37th birthday of... Robert Churchwell, the former Georgetown University basketball player for whom this blog is named.

This blog is so named because its author attended Georgetown concurrently with Mr. Churchwell, a very good college basketball player who played with such bigger stars as Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Othella Harrington and...well, just didn't win enough games to make those particular four seasons the greatest four in the program's history.

But this blog's author is grateful anyway to Robert Churchwell for the good times he had at the games he attended as a student. "Lamont Morgan's Revenge" just missed the cut, and "Joey Brown's Revenge"...well, Joey's name just isn't distinctive enough.

So, what's Robert Churchwell up to now, on the 37th anniversary of his birth? Well, he appears to be the basketball coach at Harrison High School in Atlanta, where the boys' basketball team is apparently called the Hoyas.

Coach Churchwell even has his own blog, which is chock full of useful and helpful information for the young men he's molding down there in Atlanta.

So, good on you, Robert Churchwell, and Happy Birthday. Thanks for the memories.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Current Big East Tournament Draw

We play this game when we're covering pro sports, looking ahead to postseasons. We write the words, "If the season ended today..." and put together neat little graphs and stuff.

And so, with the only two Big East games of the night looking kind of lame (Duke at St. John's and Rutgers-Villanova), I thought we'd take a look at what the matchups would be at MSG if the season ended (and the conference tournament started) today.

Why? I have no idea. But here you are:

(9) West Virginia vs. (16) DePaul
(10) Notre Dame vs. (15) Rutgers
(11) Seton Hall vs. (14) South Florida
(12) Georgetown vs. (13) St. John's

(5) Villanova vs. Georgetown/St. John's winner
(6) Providence vs. Seton Hall/South Florida winner (Yeah, that's right. The current draw puts one of these three teams in the quarterfinals.)
(7) Syracuse vs. Notre Dame/Rutgers winner
(8) Cincinnati vs. West Virginia/DePaul winner

(1) UConn vs. Cincinnati/West Virginia/DePaul winner
(2) Louisville vs. Syracuse/Notre Dame/Rutgers winner
(3) Marquette vs. Providence/Seton Hall/South Florida winner
(4) Pitt vs. Villanova/Georgetown/St. John's winner

All subject to change, of course. For instance, Louisville/Pitt/Marquette are all tied for second place right now, but Marquette still hasn't played either of the other two. Seedings could get beaten up badly over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Georgetown 65, South Florida 40

Not entirely sure what to make of it, but the Hoyas certainly needed it. A laugher. A rout. Whatever you want to call it, it's something Georgetown hasn't had in far too long. They knew they were bigger and stronger up front than the outmanned Bulls were, and they exploited that fact, working the ball inside and making sure Greg Monroe was the game's dominant factor.

South Florida's coach believed his team had an off night, and that may be so. But when Georgetown is playing well, running its disciplined offense and unrelenting defense, teams generally do have off nights.

So what's it to be here, fellas? Is it possible that, with eight minutes left in regulation at Syracuse, a light went on and this team started playing with passion and fire and intensity again? Is it possible that they'll actually be a difficult team for Marquette to play on Saturday, for Louisville to play on Monday, and for Villanova to play a week from Saturday?

That would make things fun -- even interesting. Regular readers of this site know we're not about to get our hopes up, but that doesn't mean we won't watch. Marquette is a team that the Hoya team of early January would have beaten. They are loaded on the perimeter, soft inside, and if you can keep them on the perimeter, they've shown that they won't hit all of their jump shots.

Pomeroy has the Hoyas beating Marquette 73-69, a 67 percent certainty of a Georgetown victory. Of course, Pomeroy had the Hoyas 7-1 over their last eight games, and instead they are 2-6. (Just missed on that one, Kenny....)

One more thing. Nikita Mescheriakov is 0-for his last seven three-point attempts since taking over Jessie Sapp's spot in the starting lineup. Now, I understand that Sapp is in the doghouse, and that it apparently has something to do with something he said and shouldn't have said to our beloved coach in the locker room recently. Given that, and the fact that Sapp went about eight weeks without hitting a field goal earlier this year, I can completely see not starting him. But John -- if Mescheriakov can't hit threes...isn't that kind of like playing with four guys?

Just a thought.

Oh. Elsewhere. Right.

We're so over Providence. Yeah, you're reading that right. Up by one at the half, lost by 18. See ya, Friars.

And West Virginia takes care of business against Notre Dame, which puts the Hoyas in a three-way tie for 10th place (hey, we take what we can get), which is intriguing until you remember what the schedule looks like over the next 10 days.

But you never know, Wright? I mean, right? No wait. Maybe I do mean Wright.

Come on, Hoyas. Prove me wrong again. The good way this time.

Wednesday Night Preview -- Hoyas need a win in Tampa

I see Georgetown a 6.5-point favorite on the road and I wince. We're talking about a team that's one exactly one game (against Rutgers!) in the past five weeks. How can they be favored to beat anybody, anywhere?

But the fact is that they must. At 13-10 overall, 4-8 in the conference, an NCAA Tournament appearance is a pipe dream. But a loss tonight would put any kind of postseason tournament appearance in jeopardy.

How? Well, the next three games after this are Marquette/Louisville/at Villanova. Not one of those looks like a game Georgetown can win, which means a loss tonight has them staring at 13-14 overall, 4-12 in conference at the end of the month. They'd have to finish the regular-season schedule by beating St. John's and DePaul and win a first-round Big East tournament game just to get to 16-15.

Yes, it is possible that they could miss the NIT.

So yeah. Tonight matters. It matters that they play the way they did in the final eight minutes of regulation at Syracuse on Saturday. It matters that they do whatever they can do to make sure Greg Monroe exploits South Florida's weakness on the inside. It matters that they defend Dominique Jones for all 40 minutes, in transition, on the perimeter and between him and the basket, because he's the guy who could take over the game and go all Stephen Curry on them if they get lazy.

There are places where people are writing that Georgetown, given its overall strength of schedule and wins against Memphis and UConn, can still make the Big Dance if it finishes hot. I do not believe this, personally, but if it were true it would require at least two wins in that Marquette/Louisville/at Nova gauntlet. But even that won't matter much if they can't, tonight in Tampa, win a game that they and everybody else who thinks they should be in any postseason tournament should win.

Elsewhere, Notre Dame-West Virginia looks bigger for Notre Dame, but it's not a nothing game for the Mountaineers either. They're still trying to get into that top eight and get a first-day bye in the Big East tournament. Right now they're ninth.

And what an opportunity for Providence. Syracuse remains the Friars' biggest win, but if they can pull the upset tonight in Louisville they'll likely solidify their spot in that aforementioned top eight and go a long way toward locking down an NCAA tournament berth of their own. Not saying it'll happen, but Louisville's slipped a little bit lately, is dealing with some roster/lineup issues and could be vulnerable if -- IF -- they play a poor game and Providence plays a great one.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pitt 76, UConn 68

Yeah, this is late, but it's been a busy couple of days for reasons that have nothing to do with hoops. Trying to find a job and all that stuff, you know...

Anyway, my primary conclusion from Monday night's big game was one I've drawn before: Pitt is for real. I mean, as a Final Four and a national title contender. That UConn team was on fire. And yes, they're without Jerome Dyson. And yes, that had an obvious effect. But Pitt went in with a clear plan for stopping (or at least hassling) Hasheen Thabeet, which nobody had done in weeks, and it worked.

It worked because DeJaun Blair is an animal -- not tall enough but certainly tough, strong and mean enough to play Thabeet and make his night miserable. His clear mission throughout the first half was to be in between Thabeet and the basket -- not even necessarily to do anything while there, but just be in between the player and the hoop. And it worked.

Thabeet is a thug, as we've discussed here before, and a bully. And most teams don't have anybody who can or will stand up to him. Pitt is an obvious exception, and once they got into Thabeet's head and disrupted his game, they were in good shape. UConn had to move the ball outside, and without Dyson they didn't have enough scoring to put the game away. Kemba Walker is a great player, and will be better, but basically the Huskies had been running their offense through Thabeet (for good reason) for so long, they didn't know what to do when they couldn't anymore.

Let's make one thing clear, though. In spite of all of that, this was no Pitt rout. UConn went into the final minutes looking as if they'd pull the thing out in spite of the rough start. The Huskies remain one of the best, if not the best team in the nation, and should be considered a favorite come March even without Dyson.

All last night showed us is that that's true about the Pitt Panthers too.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Syracuse 98, Georgetown 94 (OT)


I see nothing that needs to be added to yesterday's post. This game was the whole concept wrapped up in a little package -- reasoned despair, unjustified hope, crushing reminder of reality, another freaking loss at Syracuse.

Syracuse can take their elbows and go have their NCAA tournament bid, bunch of thugs.

Hoya Prospectus breaks this game down better than I care to.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday Preview -- The Syracuse Game

Did I ever tell you how I feel about Syracuse?

The Syracuse game, every year, reminds me why it's a bad idea to root for teams. I've given up all of my childhood sports-fan allegiances (largely because I became a professional sportswriter and sort of had to), but I remain a depressingly devoted fan of my alma mater's men's basketball team, and once or twice (or sometimes three times) a year the Syracuse game reminds me why I enjoy sports so much more when I can just watch games and not care who wins.

The past two years, Georgetown was the clearly superior team -- a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs each year, a Final Four team in one of them -- and went up to Syracuse and got smoked. It was depressing. It was demoralizing. It was a given.

Never has it felt more like a given than it does today. Since Georgetown beat the tangerine-colored pests in D.C. on Feb. 14, the Hoyas are 1-6, the only win coming against Rutgers. Since that day, Syracuse is 2-5, but their wins (Notre Dame and West Virginia) are more impressive. The Orange have had injuries (Rautins, Onauaku) to blame for many of their struggles, thought Jonny Flynn's crappy shooting of late hasn't helped much either.

The reasons I'm not very hopeful of an upset here are (1) Georgetown's youth, and the good chance they struggle with the insane Carrier Dome atmosphere, (2) the fact that the Hoyas haven't run their offense smoothly or effectively for more than four minutes at a time since Jan. 14 and (3) Syracuse's need to win the game.

The last point may be the most important. At 18-7 overall, 6-6 in conference, Syracuse is in good shape to make the NCAAs -- as long as they don't fall apart completely in the final month. Of the six games left on their schedule, two are pushovers (at St. John's and home against Rutgers), three are tough (at Marquette and home against Villanova and Cincinnati) and one is this rivalry game today (noon, ESPN). If they win this game today, they're pretty much guaranteed at least 21 overall wins and no worse than a 9-9 Big East record. That, in this season, is a guaranteed ticket to the Dance.

Syracuse also right now holds a shaky grip on eighth place in the conference. (They're tied with West Virginia, but beat the Mountaineers head-to-head.) This is significant, remember, because the top eight get a bye to the second round of the Big East tournament next month while teams 9-through-16 have to show up and play Tuesday. Syracuse, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Providence and Seton Hall are all basically battling for the final three spots in that top eight right now.

The Hoyas are obviously in much worse shape. At 13-9 overall, 4-7 Big East, they need a 5-2 finish just to get to .500 entering the conference tournament. With Marquette, Louisville and a trip to Villanova still on the schedule after today, that would be a tough trick even if they were playing well. And they're really, really not.

But see, here's the problem. If the Hoyas win today, then you can start to hope. You can look and say, "Well, Marquette's not playing well now, and Louisville just got smoked by Notre Dame...maybe we can pick off one of those and..."

Trouble. This is how you set yourself up for disappointment.

So yeah, I'll watch today. And I'll hope. And I'll care. And I'll desperately want them to win, and if they do I'll consider it a Happy Valentine's Day. But man, I wish I could find a way to the freaking Syracuse game.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Notre Dame 90, Louisville 57???

I mean...really?

Louisville's weaknesses are obviously guard play and inconsistent focus, and both were in evidence in this one. The Irish, particularly Kyle McAlarney but also Ryan Ayers, did everything they wanted to do on offense from three-point range. Louisville had no answer for Luke Harangody, but that makes sense -- nobody does. They lost this one because they couldn't stop anybody and couldn't get their own offense going against one of the nation's softest defenses.

Every now and then, when we try to predict this sport, we are confronted with the reality that these games are being played by kids between the ages of 18 and 21, and are therefore unpredictable. This is obviously an example. NOTHING that happened in the past month suggested that Notre Dame, on a seven-game losing streak, could even hang close with Louisville, let alone beat them by 33.

Consequences, for Louisville, are negligible. They're still 18-5 overall and 9-2 in conference. Even if they lost all seven of their remaining games, they'd be 18-12 and 9-9 (albeit on an eight-game losing streak) and on the tournament bubble. But of course, they can't possibly lose all seven of their remaining games. The next one, for example, is against DePaul.

Consequences for Notre Dame, however, are much more interesting. If this game was truly a sign that the Irish have turned some kind of corner and can/will play better the rest of the way, then they actually still have a shot.

Notre Dame is 13-10 overall, 4-7 in the Big East. Their remaining schedule has three games they should obviously win (home against South Florida, Rutgers and St. John's) and four tough ones (at West Virginia, Providence and UConn and home against Villanova). If they can win the three easy ones and somehow pick up two of the other four (say, win at Providence and come up with a major upset of WV, UConn or Nova), then they get to 18-12, 9-9. From there, a win or two in the conference tournament likely seals a bid.

Lots of work to do still, of course. But those numbers mean that what Notre Dame did last night was nothing less than save their season.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

UConn 63, Syracuse 49

Yeah, nothing cheers a guy up like watching the Cuse get manhandled. Not that it'll make me feel any better Saturday afternoon, while I watch the Hoyas get manhandled BY the Cuse, but for one night it was fun.

After the game, Jim Calhoun called Hasheen Thabeet "the most dominant force in America right now." I assume he meant "in college basketball in America," thus exempting forces such as LeBron James, Barack Obama and American Idol, and I therefore agree with him. When Thabeet is as motivated as he apparently is right now, there's just not another team in the country with anybody who can play him.

Some bad news for the red-hot Huskies today, though, as Jerome Dyson is evidently out for the season with a torn knee ligament. My first reaction is to say they'll just slot the hyper-athletic Kemba Walker in there and not miss a beat, but Walker's been such a vital jolt of energy off the bench, you wonder if that translates into a starting role.

With Walker, A.J. Price, the terrifying Jeff Adrien and so many other talented players around Thabeet, I have to imagine UConn will still be fine, and a candidate for the national title. But they were starting to look as if they might run away and hide from everybody, and now you have to wonder how such a major injury will affect them.

Tonight's only conference game is Louisville at Notre Dame. The Irish have lost seven in a row and are grasping furiously for a ripcord. Can't imagine they find it tonight against T-Will and the Cards.

Back tomorrow with a recap of Louisville, if it's interesting enough, and maybe a preview of Saturday's Syracuse-Georgetown matchup, if I feel masochistic enough.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Villanova 102, Marquette 84

Halfway through the first half, each of these teams was on pace to challenge 120 points. It was a bomb-for-bomb shootout. Marquette came out raining threes (made seven of their first nine from behind the arc), and if you were Villanova and you'd been watching them all year, you had reason to think "Uh-oh -- this is going to be rough."

Instead, Nova matched them from the perimeter and beat them up inside. It's tough to imagine an offense anywhere in the country that's working better right now than the Wildcats' offense, and now here they are a game behind Marquette for that crucial No. 4 spot in the conference standings.

Nova's remaining schedule isn't a pushover (at West Virginia/Rutgers/at Syracuse/at DePaul/Georgetown/at Notre Dame/Providence), but given the way they're playing they'll have a chance to win all seven of those games and should reasonably expect to go no worse than 4-3.

Marquette's remaining schedule is a cheese grater, (St. John's/Seton Hall/at Georgetown/UConn/at Louisville/at Pitt/Syracuse), and the Eagles (now losers of two in a row) will have to work hard to go 4-3.

The team that claims that No. 4 spot won't have to play until Thursday, the third day of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. The team that finishes fifth will have to play on Wednesday, the second day. Big difference there. To win the conference title, the Wednesday teams will have to win four games in four days -- something that's only been done twice.

Right now, you have to like Dante Cunningham, Scotty Reynolds and the Villanova Wildcats as the team that will join Pitt, UConn and Louisville in double-bye heaven.


-Providence gets a win it had to have at South Florida. Do the Friars, currently in sixth place and 2.5 games behind Marquette, have any chance at all of sneaking into that top four? Probably not. Even if Marquette goes 3-4 the rest of the way, Providence would have to go 6-0 to pass them -- and they'll have to pass them in order to finish ahead of them, because they lost to them. And with trips to Louisville and Villanova and a home game against Pitt still on the schedule, it's hard to see how the Friars have enough gas to get into that group. But with two more games left against Rutgers, they look like a pretty good bet to finish in the top eight and watch the Tuesday games from the Garden sidelines.

-Seton Hall whipped DePaul, which ties them with West Virginia for ninth place, just one game behind the seventh-place tie between Syracuse and Cincinnati. The Hall is heating up, and making a play for one of those top-eight spots and a first-round bye. Can they do it? Going to to be tough. The Hall has seven games left: UConn/at Marquette/at St. John's/South Florida/Pitt/at Louisville/at Cincinnati. First glance, that looks like 2-5, which would be a 7-11 record -- likely not good enough for a first-division finish. But hey, the Pirates have won five in a row since their 0-6 conference start. They play that frenzied style that makes teams hate to play against them. IF they could swing a big, big upset -- say knocking off either Marquette, UConn or Pitt and then winning at Cincinnati to wrap it up, that would get them to 9-9 and give them not only a shot at the Tuesday bye but...dare we say it...a spot on the fringes of the NCAA tournament bubble?

-A note on DePaul, which is now 0-12 in the conference. You can probably bet your car, your house and what's left of your 401(k) on them being 0-15, since their next three games are at Louisville/at Pitt/Villanova. Their next shot at a conference win is a home game against St. John's on Feb. 28, then they finish at West Virginia/at Georgetown. It looks like their best chances to avoid the 0-18 finish will be that St. John's game and then the regular-season finale against the free-falling (sniff) Hoyas. However, not even an 0-18 finish will keep the Blue Demons away from the Garden. All 16 teams in the conference go to the conference tournament this year, and that means DePaul will hit the second week in March with a chance -- albeit a nearly invisible one -- to make it to the Dance.

-As of now, the Tuesday matchups at the Garden would be:
(9) West Virginia vs. (16) DePaul
(10) Seton Hall vs. (15) Rutgers (Jersey!!!!)
(11) Georgetown vs. (14) South Florida
(12) Notre Dame) vs. (13) St. John's
with Villanova, Providence, Syracuse and Cincinnati waiting to play the Tuesday winners on Wednesday. Interesting -- Providence, sitting there as a relatively weak No. 6 seed, would get the winner of that 11/14 game between Georgetown and South Florida. And while yes, I know the Friars just whipped South Florida last night and the Hoyas haven't beaten anybody but Rutgers in a month, that game would be no sure thing -- the 11/14 winner would have to think it had a decent shot to make the quarterfinals.

Of course, the chances of the standings being the same on March 10 as they are now are nil, so there's no point in breaking this down any further.

-Tonight, Syracuse travels to UConn for the Duke-North Carolina undercard game. Would be a huge win for Syracuse -- maybe even lock in their NCAA tournament spot. But Connecticut is the best team in the country right now, and they've been an 11-0 buzzsaw since losing their conference opener to the (sniff) once-mighty Hoyas.

-Also tonight, Cincinnati hosts St. John's. Bearcats need to win these easy ones if they want to give themselves a chance to sneak into the Dance with an upset of Pitt or Louisville.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tuesday night in the Big East

Very much looking forward to this Marquette-Villanova game -- moreso after reading Villanova by the Numbers' as-always-outstanding preview. (My favorite part, by the way, may have been the "common opponents." Both of these teams played Houston Baptist? Why??)

I agree with VBTN's concluding thoughts -- that the inside presence of Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena will be crucial on both ends of the floor. They'll need to be enough of a factor on offense to exploit their size advantage inside, and they'll need to be strong enough defensively to keep Marquette's guards from penetrating and keep them out on the perimeter, where they weren't real strong shooting the ball in their inexplicable loss to South Florida last week.

The game is big for both teams. Villanova is smoking hot and trying to make a late run for the conference title. Marquette is just now beginning the tough finishing part of its schedule, and it didn't close out the easy part very well. But assuming Lousville, Pitt and UConn will get three of the top four seeds in the conference tournament, that leaves only one more spot in that top four for either Marquette or Villanova. And being in that top four matters, folks, because the teams that are get TWO BYES and advance automatically to the Thursday quarterfinal games while the rest of the teams in the conference gouge out each other's eyes Tuesday and Wednesday.

Elsewhere tonight, we have Providence at South Florida -- obviously a must-win for Providence if it's going to position itself to get into the Dance by pulling some late-February upsets over the big boys. And Seton Hall visits DePaul, which is still looking for its first conference win. The Hall needs to beat the Paul to maintain its chances of moving into that "second four" which won't have to play on first day at the Garden.

ESPN's Bracketology -- Conference down to 7 bids

Remember those halcyon days of early January, when it looked like any one of nine teams could win the conference, everybody figured on nine NCAA tournament bids and wondered if somebody like a Providence or a Cincinnati could sneak in and make it 10?

Yeah. Hasn't worked out that way.

Right now, it looks like there are four teams capable of winning the conference title -- maybe five, if Villanova stays hot. And in the latest Joe Lunardi Bracketology breakdown on, the Big East is a seven-bid league, one bid behind the ACC, which has eight teams in the projected NCAA tournament field:

*Connecticut and Pitt have #1 seeds.

*Louisville has a #2 seed.

*Marquette has a #3 seed.

*Villanova has a #4 seed.

*Syracuse has a #7 seed (even though their only decent wins are Memphis and West Virginia, they benefit from their relatively easy conference schedule and their embarrassingly easy out-of-conference schedule, but we're not bitter or anything...)

*West Virginia has a #8 seed.

And that's it, folks. Lunardi lists Cincinnati and (sniff) Georgetown on his "First Four Out" list, which means either or both could find their way into the field with strong finishes. And he lists Providence on his "Next Four Out" list, which means the Friars could get in with a monster finish (they probably have to go 2-1 in their games against Louisville, Pitt and Villanova while winning all the rest of their games, something like that).

Notre Dame is nowhere to be found.

Conclusions? Could be that the mid-pack conference teams (Georgetown, Notre Dame...) weren't as good as we thought they were. Could be that some perceived back-of-the-pack teams (Cincinnati, Providence, Seton Hall...) were a lot better than we thought they were. Regardless, there's a lot more definition in the Big East standings than we expected there to be on Feb. 10. We'll see if the next four weeks can do anything to flip it upside down.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cincinnati 64, Georgetown 62 (OT)

Man. That Georgetown-Notre Dame NIT Final at Madison Square Garden is going to be AWESOME.

What's to say about our Hoyas? Too young, and just not all that good. They had an 11-point second-half lead and lost the game at home. Jessie Sapp spent the whole game on the bench. The thing's a mess right now, and while I have confidence in Thompson to figure it out, what I mean by that is that I don't think the program is about to plunge back into years of listlessness. This year, I believe, is lost.

Seven games remain -- three they should win, four they should lose. If they all go to form, they finish the regular season 16-13 overall and 7-11 in the conference. Say they win a first-round Big East tournament game, that's 17-14 overall. Tough to sway a selection committee with numbers like that, especially when you finish the season 5-11 (which is what happens if this scenario unfolds this way).

Elsewhere, big win for Villanova over Syracuse, because they play again in two weeks and neither could afford to get swept. If Villanova can beat Marquette on Tuesday, they may start to like their chances of cracking that Top Four that gets two days' worth of byes in the conference tournament. The rest of the Wildcats' schedule is reasonably mushy.

As for the Orange, they're not out of the woods yet -- especially since the tournament committee hasn't shown them a whole lot of love the past two years -- but they're going to have to collapse pretty badly against a relatively soft schedule to miss out on March Madness.

Syracuse is 18-6 overall, 6-5 in conference. They played a pathetic out-of-conference schedule, picking up a good win at Memphis and a bad loss at home to Cleveland State along the way. And their in-conference record doesn't feature many good wins. They've beaten Seton Hall, South Florida, DePaul, Rutgers, Notre Dame and West Virginia while losing to Georgetown, Pitt, Louisville, Providence and Villanova.

But the rest of their schedule, somehow, isn't overly brutal. Assume losses at UConn and Marquette, wins at home against Georgetown, Cincinnati and Rutgers and a win at St. John's, and they're at 10-8 even if they lose at home to Villanova in two weeks. A team that's 22-9 overall and 10-8 in this year's Big East gets in, period. Now, if they slip up and lose a couple of those games -- say to Cincinnati or the Hoyas -- then maybe they find themselves needing a couple of wins at the Garden to get in. But looking at the schedule, I say the Orange are set up.

Which sucks. I mean, the most fun part of Selection Sunday the past two weeks has been the outright screwing of Syracuse and subsequent whining.

But who am I kidding? That's only fun when your team does get in. And sad to say, our Mighty Hoyas are going to have to pull off a miracle to make it in this year.

South Florida 57, Marquette 56? Seriously??

Incredible play by Dominique Jones to win it. Horrendous loss for Marquette. No way can you hang in the Best-Team-In-The-Conference conversation with Connecticut if you're going to go down to Tampa and lose to South Florida. UConn, in case nobody else has noticed, is a rabid steamroller right now. You think Jeff Adrien would tolerate a loss to South Florida at this point in the season?

Look, Marquette's having a great year, and surely you're allowed one bad loss. But who could have seen this coming? With 11:48 left, Jerel McNeal hit a three to tie it at 40-40, and I thought (actually said to my wife, who could care less), "Okay, here they go. This is what they did to Providence. They'll rain threes the rest of the way and win by 15."

But they didn't! They missed all their threes! They attempted seven threes the rest of the way and missed every single one of them. And as a result, they lost. Cracked Sidewalks has a brief, angry breakdown that keeps it as simple as it is -- Marquette lost this one because they couldn't hit their shots, even from the free throw line.

Good for Jones and South Florida, because everybody should get to win a big game every now and then. But for Marquette...yucko.

Saturday slate, as indicated in an earlier post, features the first of two big Villanova-Syracuse games as its highlight. I enjoyed chewing my way through the preview on Villanova by the Numbers.

We'll check in sometime Saturday, our mood of course dependent on the Hoyas' ability to get revenge against Cincinnati.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Big East "Bubble"

Seton Hall beat St. John's on Thursday night, and I can't think of a thing to say about that except that the guy, Hazell, is an animal and I'm very glad the Pirates have picked up a second and third conference win since breaking the seal against the Hoyas. I'd feel better if the second and third conference wins had come against, say, Pitt and Syracuse (especially Syracuse, come to think of it), but I'll take it.

Cruising around the webisphere, I come across ESPN's "Bubble Watch," which is a conference-by-conference look, more than a month before the Big Dance, at which teams are in, which teams are almost in and which teams have "work to do."

We scroll, as we always do, right to the Big East, where we find four teams listed as "Locks" -- no surprise, UConn, Pitt, Louisville, Marquette, the conference's well defined Top Four.

The site lists Villanova and Syracuse under "should be in," and then lists West Virginia, Georgetown, Cincinnati and Providence as teams with "work left to do."

So that's 10 total Big East teams that thinks have a shot at March Madness if, presumably, they all do the work they have left to do. What jumps out? Well, the fact that Notre Dame isn't one of them.

The Irish are paying the price for a six-game losing streak that stands an awfully good chance of reaching eight with their next two games against UCLA and Louisville. The streak includes no bad losses (the worst is at Cincinnati, which isn't as bad a loss as it looked like it would be a few weeks back), but the fact is that they need to win six of their final eight games to finish 9-9 in conference, and their schedule still includes Louisville, West Virginia, UConn and Villanova. This is why that loss at St. John's was so bad. The difference between a 9-9 conference record and an 8-10 conference record is huge to the selection committee, and if the Irish get hot, that loss could well be the difference.

Here's the rundown on some of the teams that DO show up on the Big East Bubble Watch:

*Villanova: "They are only 2-4 against RPI top-50 teams, and only seven of their 18 victories against Division I teams have come against RPI top-100 opponents." However, the site also points out the Wildcats' victory over Pitt as a big point in their favor and says their remaining schedule (which includes Marquette, West Virginia, Georgetown and two games against Syracuse) offers opportunities to beef up their credentials.

*Syracuse: "three very good nonconference victories (Florida and Kansas on neutral courts and at Memphis). The Orange probably could use one or two victories over the league's top five RPI teams to improve their seeding. They will have a chance to do that the next two weeks, when they play Villanova (twice), at Connecticut and home against Georgetown." Doesn't that last bit make you think that, if either Syracuse or Nova sweeps the other, one of those teams moves a lot closer to the wrong side of the bubble?

*West Virginia: "The Mountaineers bring a couple of decent nonconference wins (road victories at Ole Miss and Ohio State) and a win at Georgetown to the table, but they might need another signature victory to feel safe." They still have road games at Pitt and Cincinnati and home games against Villanova and Louisville, but they could lose all four of those and still finish .500 in the conference. If they win one of them, they're probably getting in.

*Mighty Hoyas: "it might take a complete collapse for the Hoyas not to receive an at-large bid. They have victories over Memphis, Connecticut and Syracuse, and are playing the country's third-toughest schedule." Fair enough, but does anybody else fear a "complete collapse" might be underway? Five straight losses and a shaky home win against Rutgers does not inspire confidence. I'd like to see them pick up one or two more "big" wins (say, home against Marquette or at Villanova, something like that) before I start feeling good. Mainly, though, I just want them to beat Cincinnati tomorrow and look awesome doing it. It's been a real long time since they looked awesome.

*Cincinnati: "Cincinnati has a couple of so-so nonconference victories (UAB and UNLV) and beat Georgetown at home. But the Bearcats probably need to finish better than .500 in Big East play to garner serious consideration." Can they do it? They're 5-5 right now with road games remaining at Georgetown, Pitt, Syracuse and South Florida and home games against St. John's, Louisville, West Virginia and Seton Hall. I say that's three they should win, three they should lose and two toss-ups (at Georgetown and home to West Virginia). So if they can complete the season sweep of the Hoyas tomorrow afternoon, they're set up with a good chance.

*Providence: "they might need a 10-6 finish to secure an at-large bid. They won't bring a single quality nonconference victory to the table...The Friars missed a big chance to make a statement by losing to Villanova 94-91 on Wednesday night." Anybody who's been following this blog (are you out there?) knows we love Providence. The Syracuse win was huge for them, but they've dumped a couple in a row now to UConn and Villanova and they've allowed exactly 94 points in each of their last three games (and 93 in the one before that!) The Friars will have to play over their heads the rest of the way to have a shot. They're 6-4, so they must finish 4-2 to hit that 10-6 mark. That means winning two of four very tough games -- at West Virginia, at Louisville, at Villanova and home against Pitt -- and not slipping up anywhere else.

Marquette travels to South Florida tonight for what should be a shutout, then we get a six-game Saturday slate whose highlight is the first of those Syracuse-Nova matchups. We'll watch that one as long as we can get the ESPN360 working and keep one eye on those Mighty Hoyas...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A week in review -- Did Jessie Sapp really hit two three-pointers in the same game?

Just back from a week in Florida visiting the in-laws. The blog has, sadly, suffered for the trip because the room in which we stayed at the Courtyard Boynton Beach did not have internet access.

It did, however, have cable. And between that and a review of the scores of the past six days, I have a few thoughts:

*The Hoyas won a game! Sure, they lost one too -- at Marquette on Saturday, to extend the losing streak to five games before a lackluster bounce-back against Rutgers on Tuesday night. But we here at RCR prefer to think positive, and it's good that they beat Rutgers. Very good. Still looking shaky -- with four tough games and four "easy" ones left they'll need to pull an upset or two in order to finish with a .500 conference record. But it had been so long since the last win that we're just going to focus on the fact that Georgetown scored more points than Rutgers, enjoy it and (for now) leave it at that.

*Notre Dame did NOT win a game. The Irish lost to Pitt and Cincinnati, have dumped six games in a row and now sit at 3-7 in the conference, in 12th place, and 12-9 overall. Their next game is Saturday at UCLA, a likely loss. Assuming they lose that game, their home game against Louisville and road games at West Virginia and UConn, they'd have to win all of the rest of their remaining games just to finish 17-13 overall and 8-10 in conference. That would mean beating Villanova at home and Providence on the road, neither a sure thing. I sort of called this a month ago, pegging Notre Dame as the "Top Nine" team most likely to slip into the conference's bottom tier, but I had no idea it would be this bad. (And sadly, I also had no idea the Hoyas would join them.) Luke Harangody remains one of the best players in the nation -- probably the best offensive player in the nation -- but the rest of the team is a mess, the shooting is unreliable and the defense just doesn't exist. We could be seeing a complete collapse.

*Marquette hosts Connecticut on Feb. 25. By that time, there's a real chance that Marquette will have a 14-0 conference record and UConn's will be 14-1. Both teams have potential trouble spots between now and then, but the only game in which either might not be favored is Marquette's road game at Villanova. Right now, you get the sense that UConn is the conference's best team, if not the country's. They crushed Louisville, which had been crushing everybody for weeks. Their only loss in conference came in their first game, against Georgetown -- a game after which Jim Calhoun, by all accounts, tore them to shreds in the locker room because he felt they hadn't played as hard or as well as they could. What's happened since (a 10-0 record by the Huskies and a 3-7 record for the Hoyas) bears that out, though Marquette will get its chance to prove its guards are the class of the conference on Feb. 25.

*If the Big East tournament were held today, the first-round matchups would be as follows:
(9) West Virginia vs. (16) DePaul
(10) Georgetown vs. (15) Rutgers
(11) St. John's. vs. (14) South Florida
(12) Notre Dame vs. (13) Seton Hall
with Villanova, Providence, Syracuse and Cincinnati waiting to take on the winners on Day Two. In my opinion, not enough has been written about the format of this year's Big East tournament, and the possibility that one or two NCAA tournament teams could be playing on its first day, needing to win five games in five days to be conference champs. Teams like Georgetown, West Virginia and Notre Dame should be incredibly motivated over the next few weeks to find a way out of that bottom eight and into that middle tier, from which they'd "only" have to win four games in four days to win the tournament (something that's only been done twice). This tournament is always a knock-down, drag-out, but this year's could be the toughest and roughest of all time.