February 11, 2010

Big East Power Poll Part Two: Thoughts on Marquette, Pitino, Pitt to the Big 10, Syracuse, and why Bob Huggins is the smartest scheduler in the game.

Ok, time for part two of the Big East power poll. If you missed part one of the power poll with teams 8-16, feel free to catch up to speed!

7) Marquette -- RPI 60 Pomeroy 18

Speaking of programs that are committed............

Now we're starting to get into the teams that are not only looking like NCAA Tournament teams, but might also make a little run if they get the right draw.

Marquette is heating up. Four wins in a row all of the sudden, and really starting to look like an NCAA team. Pomeroy loves Marquette this year (#18). Even though their RPI is 60 and Joe Lunardi doesn't have them in the NCAA tournament, my guess is that they're about to make a run here down the stretch.

Marquette is a great example of a program that has decided not to accept mediocrity as its fate in the Big East. Not only do they spend more money on their program than everyone else in the league, they have the nicest practice facility in the Big East with the Al McGuire Center. It has everything....state of the art locker rooms, great sports medicine and s&C facilities, a pool, player lounge, video editing room, etc. Top of the line. Meanwhile, ND has The Pit. And we wonder why our basketball program can't take it to the next level??

Imagine if you were a recruit looking at Marquette with what they have and then you show up at ND and see what we have, especially compared to the football program. This is why Marquette has consistently brought in 4 star guys in the last 5-6 years while we are bottom feeding for the 2 and 3 star guys and hoping we can coach them up. The Jerel McNeals of the world are the guys we need to get to the Sweet 16.

The other thing that I love about Marquette's program is that they have been fairly adventurous when it comes to nonconference scheduling. It's not all about squeezing every dollar out of the program at the expense of the brand. This year, they played Xavier, Florida State, North Carolina State, Michigan, and Wisconsin in OOC play. That's five really good games with two solid home and homes.

We should view Marquette as a model program. It all comes down to the collars. They don't have half the brand name that we have as a school, but they've been a consistently strong program that gets it. We don't need to resign ourselves to being a glorified mid-major with a bunch of white guys running around. Our collars should be talking to their collars to find out how to run a successful basketball program. In fact, if we wanted to trade all of our collars for someone else's collars, I'm all for it. We're the most mismanaged ahletic department in the country.

6) Pittsburgh -- RPI 18 Pomeroy 33

Death, taxes, and Pitt making a deep run in the Garden this year at the Big East Tournament!! Great year for Pitt hoops. It felt like a rebuilding year going in, and yet they've stayed the course with some promising underclassmen leading the way. Ashton Gibbs should be an All Conference pick this year, and Wanamaker is doing his best Aaron Gray impersonation. Pitt is looking at a nice 2-3 year run here with one only real senior (Dixon) as a major contributor.

In other news, the "Pitt to the Big Ten" rumors continue to circulate, but I cannot see this going down. What does this do for Pitt?? Don't they recruit NYC for all their hoops talent?? Those guys don't want to play in the Big Ten.

And what does Pitt really add to the Big Ten?? What's the point?? You already have a big presence in Pittsburgh with Penn State. The Big Ten Network is on all cable packages in that market, and there's plenty of local coverage of Big Ten sports. Pitt might solidify that market a little bit, but you get NOTHING outside the Pitt area. No Philly, no DC, no southern markets, no Great Plains, no Maryland, certainly no New York. It's a school that has zero presence once you get 20 miles outside the city. I live three hours from Pitt, and I literally have never met one Pitt grad/fan in four years of living in Columbus.

I guess Pitt gives Penn State a rival, but is that even really a major priority?? I don't see any reason to expand in the Big Ten unless you're going to make a major addition. Taking Pitt is the equivalent of drafting Carlos Beltran in your fantasy baseball league. He's the best available guy on your board, but you know you're finishing 7th in your league when you take him. I'd rather hold out and swing for the fences with a Nebraska or someone like that.

Dominoes are starting to fall in the conferences, and you never know what opportunities might open up. If the Pac 10 raids Colorado and another Big 12 team, maybe Texas or Nebraska reaches out to the Big Ten about a spot. If teams start jumping leagues, you never know what opportunities might open up.

I really hope this does not happen with Pitt. Not only does it not benefit the Big Ten at all, it would be disastrous for the Big East. We can't afford to lose an anchor program like Pitt if the Big East is going to survive in its current form. You lose maybe the best football program in the league, and one of the top 5 or so basketball programs. The basketball side could survive of course, but the football would take another massive blow to its credility as a BCS conference.

5) Louisville- RPI 43 Pomeroy 23

You knew this was coming. The Cards are quietly rounding into form and maybe looking like they can make a late surge . Ed Sosa is finally delivering on the hype in his 20th season as a Card. Am I crazy to say that he was on that team with Francisco Garcia and the boys?? Feels like he's been there forever.

Wonder how the NCAA committee is going to treat Louisville. Those losses to UNLV and Charlotte (by 20) and Western Carolina look awful on paper, but Louisville was like a different basketball team back then. Pitino's teams always have a tendency to start out slow while they work out the kinks, and the committee might take that into consideration. Still think they need to get to 10-11 wins and show some friskiness in the BET if they want to make sure they get in.

How about these "Pitino to the Nets" rumors though?? Is Pitino feeling like he's stuck in a fishbowl down there after his nasty affair leaked out?? Or is he feeling underappreciated?? Seems like UL fans are groaning about Pitino a little bit, which is laughable if you ask me. Cmon, Cards fans. Pitino went to the Final Four last year!! Isn't that still considered the pinnacle of basketball?? What more do you want?? Even if you think he doesn't have the same fire that he used to, it's not like he's churning out chump seasons in the NIT. In the last two years, he's gone to the Sweet 16 and the Final Four. And he's got probably the #1 recruiting class in the nation coming in for 2011, including two five star recruits. That's disappointing??? If you aren't happy with Pitino, I'll happily take him off your hands at ND.

Speaking of Pitino, when is Rick Pitino Jr. going to get that first job?? I can't
wait to see where that paisan ends up. ND??

4) West Virginia - RPI 6 Pomeroy 4

Bobby Huggins.....there isn't a smarter scheduler in the nation. Let's break this OOC schedule down to see the master at work. Mike Brey, get out your pen and paper and start taking notes if you're reading this:

1) Lack of duds -- WVU played 12 OOC games. Of those 12 games, they only played one 200+ RPI team (Coppin State). They played five 100-200 RPI teams (Cleveland State being one of them, which is good scouting by Huggins and his staff), and got extra RPI credit for beating Cleveland State on the road (again, very smart move). So of their 5 "bad" games, they did pretty well to find teams like Duquesne and Long Beach State that have palatable RPIs in the low 100s. This is what Huggs and his crew do. They look at returning starters and snatch up the best midmajors they can get.

By contrast, ND played seven 200+ RPI teams this year. SEVEN. And we played four 100-200 RPI teams, including our one big marquee game against UCLA. We only played one 100 or less RPI team this year. Unreal and a complete disaster on the scheduling front. That will cost us an NCAA bid if we get into the mix.

2) Winnable but quality intermediate games -- Here's the true genius of what Huggins has done. They played four teams with RPIs under 100, but not one of these teams was a serious threat to them.

Marshall - 85
Portland - 84
Mississippi - 39
Texas A&M - 19

That's not exactly Kentucky and Duke and North Carolina there, but they got major RPI points for winning those games. Huggins is the best in the business at finding winnable 50-100 RPI games to schedule. Scouting, scouting, scouting. You can boost your RPI ten points a year by finding these types of games.

3) Two big home and home series -- Ohio State and Purdue

These games really aren't even necessary for the RPI at this point because Huggs and his staff have already laid the groundwork with the rest of the OOC schedule, but these games are for the fans. Even though Marshall and Duquesne are helpful RPI games, they aren't games that fans really care about.

So you line up two big home and homes every year, which guarantees you one big nonconference home game a year. This year, they went to Purdue and hosted Ohio State. They split those games, but the results don't even matter. Fans are happy because they get some value for their ticket packages.

This is why Bob Huggins is the smartest scheduler in college basketball today. He has figured out a way to get incredible computer rankings every year without having to play a bunch of heavyweights. And he's been doing it for years.

Huggins only has one flaw. NCAA Tournament play. He's had his moments, but Huggins Ball has never translated to the NCAAs. Huggins has never placed a great emphasis on playing the type of precision, halfcourt offense that you need to play in the NCAAs to advance.

This WVU team has talent, but I don't see them as a Final Four contender unfortunately. I like this team with that Butler-Ebanks-Bryant nucleus and a talented inside presence in Kevin Jones, but I expect another relatively early exit for the Mountaineers.

3) Georgetown - RPI 7 Pomeroy 15

Had to figure that Georgetown would right the ship this year after a disappointing 2008-09 season. Just too much talent in that program, and JTIII has proven that he can win big in this league. Nice big three there with Wright and Freeman and Monroe. I know the opinions on Monroe are mixed, but he seems like one of those guys who will flourish in the NBA once you take the JTIII shackles off.

If you look at big wins, the Hoyas can stack up with anybody. They've destroyed Nova and Duke, and won convincingly at Pitt. Lunardi has them as a 2 seed. I buy it. If they keep winning, I think they can lock that #2 seed up.

As good as JTIII has been in the league, anyone else think that his system almost holds that program back?? I'd love to see what they'd look like with all those athletes in a typical halfcourt Big East style offense. Almost seems like the Princeton offense stifles them from reaching their full potential. I do enjoy watching it when it works, but can you win a title playing that way?? They have 3-4 NBA guys on this team. On paper, they're a Final Four contender. Will they bounce out early again?

Big game coming up next week between Georgetown and Syracuse. Might be a good indicator of where both those teams stand heading into March. If Gtown wins that one, you can start talking about them as a legitimate Final Four contender.

The Big East! What a league. 4 teams in the RPI top 7 this year. It's the best conference in America, and it's not even close.

2) Villanova - RPI 3 Pomeroy 11

All right, now we're getting to the two teams that I consider to be the true Final Four contenders in the league. I'll start with Villanova. As much as I like Villanova, I think I liked them more last year with Dante Cunningham. As great as their guards are, Cunningham was the guy they turned to when they really needed a bucket. He'd quietly bang out 17-18 points every game with about 10 rebounds and anchor the middle for that team. I like Antonio Pena, but he's not the same caliber player, especially on the offensive end. What will happen with Nova once they get into the tourney and run into someone like Michigan State who can throw big bodies at them in spades and still match up reasonably well on the perimeter?? There aren't many teams like that, but they are out there.

Having said that, I love watching Nova play. Fun to watch. ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK. Spread it out, four guards, NYC/Jersey kids, beat your man off the dribble, push the ball, get in your face on defense. They bring these waves of guards into the game, and all of them are as good as the guys they are subbing in for. When they get hot and start creating turnovers and guys like Stokes and King start getting open looks in transition, they are lethal. Just an amazing team to watch when they are rolling. They take small ball to a new level.

Jay Wright has really got it rolling. Check out what they've done in the last five years:

2004-05 - Sweet Sixteen
2005-06 - Elite Eight
2006-07 - NCAA First Round
2007-08 - Sweet 16
2008-09 - Final Four

Nova's gotta be on the list of teams that can get back to the Final Four this year, but it comes down to matchups for them. They are clearly not as balanced this year as they were last year, and teams like Kentucky and Syracuse and Kansas can throw waves of big men at them. If they get into a halfcourt, slug it out game with one of those teams, it's a tough matchup.

1) Syracuse - RPI 2 Pomeroy 3

My vote for the best team in the Big East and maybe the best team in the nation is Syracuse. No brainer I guess, but who could have seen this coming?? I thought they'd have to regroup after losing Flynn and Devendorf. Was there a little Ewing Theory with those guys??

Where were all these guys last year?? Obviously, Wes Johnson was not available, but what about the other guys?? I don't even remember Kris Joseph from last year, and he's a beast now. Rick Jackson couldn't make a layup, and now he's a monster down low. Even Rautins has taken his game to another level this year.

I don't see any weaknesses on this team. They are the total package. Quality guards, great wing players, two monsters down low. The zone is as good as ever, and James Arthur Boeheim is as good as any coach in the nation at managing a game.

As talented as they are, Syracuse is not winning with the Carmelo Anthony's of the world this year. Take a look at their roster:

Triche -- 3 star
Joseph -- 3 star
Onuaku -- 3 star
Wes Johnson - transfer (2 star out of high school)
Rick Jackson -- 4 star
Jardine - 4 star
Rautins -- Canadian recruit who chose Syracuse over Providence and St. Bonaventure

That's the bulk of their team right there. They are winning with 3 star types and a couple 4 stars (Jackson and Jardine). Just goes to show that there a lot of different ways to win. You need talent, but there are a lot of talented guys out there flying under the radar. Credit to Boeheim for some shrewd scouting.

I'm hopping on the Cuse bandwagon as soon as the tournament starts (if not sooner). It's a fun team to watch, a well-constructed roster, and I'd like to see Boeheim get another ring. He's got a great chance to do it.


Jimmy said...

How do you like your Louisville pick after that turd sandwich vs. the Johnnies?

They lost too many pivotal pieces in the last couple years to keep churning out Final Four caliber teams. I have no doubt Pitino will right the ship and "surprise" people next year, but this just isn't their year.

Kevin said...

I'm going to be legitimately sad when Boeheim retires, and that's coming from a Kansas fan who has suffered from his genious. His teams are consistantly good to great, rarely mediocre, which is a solid enough trait. But his demeanor on the court and in life is what I appreciate most. I can't remember seeing him above a 5 out of 10 on a scale of upset/angry. Sure, he'll yell at some refs and players, but I never get the impression that he's going to lose much sleep. It's like he's perpetually shrugging his shoulders. I love that. Hell, I try to emmulate it. Being pissed off ain't no fun. I have no idea why I posted this. I guess I just love, love, love Boeheim (or at least the persona that I see on TV). Cuse is in MY house, oh my God, oh my God.

Jimmy said...

Marquette basketball brings players in that have little to NO business being at Notre Dame with the academic workload.

They have an entirely different set of academic requirements for that team. Not saying one is right and one is wrong. It's just reality.

Unless ND's academic requirements (not entrance requirements, but students taking real courses and submitting real work once enrolled) pull an about face -- never happening -- you can't compare those two Catholic schools.

You can't argue that Marquette is a basketball school with better facilities devoted to the program. That's a huge reason why they compete at a higher national level year in and year out. Sure they get some more AAU-type ballers. They also have enjoyed better recent coaching from Tom Crean, Buzz Peterson and the like. Both are better coaches than Michael Brey in terms of big picture program stuff.

Jimmy said...

And by "can't argue" in the last paragraph, I meant to totally agree with your claims.

They are inarguable.