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Baylor is clearly third in the Big 12

by - Published February 12, 2012 in Columns
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At this time of the year, we find out who teams are. The importance of each game in the standings is clearer, teams have injuries, seniors are playing their final games and freshmen have about 20 games under their belt.

Every season, there are some teams that look very good for a while, even good enough in our minds to be Final Four and/or national championship contenders. They have the talent, experience and early on a few good wins. They might not lose a game for a while, even beating some good teams. Then sooner or later, they get tested, and we find that they’re not quite at that level.

Enter this year’s Baylor Bears, 72-57 losers at Missouri on Saturday. … Continue Reading

A much-needed road win for West Virginia

by - Published February 6, 2012 in Columns
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It might not have been apparent for much of the game, but West Virginia needed a win on Sunday afternoon. The Mountaineers got it, but not without some consternation as they trailed for much of the game and needed overtime for an 87-84 win over host Providence.

“We needed this bad,” said head coach Bob Huggins. “We haven’t been nearly as good on the road as we have in the past. I needed it for my sanity.”

… Continue Reading

In a time of tribulation, college hoops shows the good in sports

by - Published December 6, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

The Jimmy V Classic couldn’t have come at a more necessary time this year.

College sports have had a rough run in recent months. Throughout the summer, fans had to try to figure out which conference their favorite team would be playing in when all the moving and shaking subsides. The motivation for conference realignment is all about the dollar bills, often at the expense of any sport not named football — and with little consideration for rivalries that make sports thrilling to watch and play.

But conference realignment was utterly benign compared to the chaos that erupted in State College, Pa., when one of the NCAA’s premier football programs crumbled under the weight of allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct by Jerry Sandusky, a former coordinator. Exacerbating the situation, coach Joe Paterno and Penn State officials appear to have covered up the activities, and it cost one of college football’s legends his job.

Then scandal crept into college hoops, at another sacred program. Coach Jim Boeheim has built Syracuse into a top program, and he relied on his top assistant, Bernie Fine, to help get the Orange there. But allegations of sexual abuse have surrounded Fine, and university officials fired him. Syracuse has received plenty of criticism for possibly failing to do enough to report the rumors of the abuse to police nearly 10 years ago, and Boeheim passionately defended his friend and assistant when ESPN first reported the allegations. He has had to backtrack from those statements, and some experts are calling for his ouster.

Yuck.

With such greed and alleged corruption percolating in college sports, it’d be easy to become disillusioned.

But resist the urge. Or to put it another way: “Don’t ever give up.”

Former NC State coach Jim Valvano made that phrase the motto of the foundation named for him after he died of cancer in 1993. Since his death, ESPN has partnered with the Jimmy V Foundation to raise funds for cancer research. The money goes directly to research, and it goes to a broad range of medical experts toiling to find a cure, not just for popular causes such as breast or prostate cancer but also rarer cancers that have a far worse death rate.

The annual Jimmy V Classic serves as a forum for ESPN to reach a national audience to urge donations, in addition to showcasing a few of the country’s best teams. If that’s not a great role for sports in U.S. society, I don’t know what is.

We go coast to coast with other news from the college basketball nation

Utah doesn’t have a Division I win yet on the season, and the Utes could struggle some more to pick that up after indefinitely suspending Josh Watkins, according to the Associated Press. Watkins has been Utah’s best player by far, averaging 17.7 ppg and 4.9 apg.

Things aren’t much better for one of the Utes’ biggest rivals, the Utah State Aggies. Diamond Leung, of ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog, writes that Brady Jardine could be out all season after injuring his foot Nov. 19 in the team’s win against Southern Utah. Jardine is one of the team’s top rebounders, averaging 7.7 rpg.

West Virginia v. the Big East continues to froth in the legal system, with the Big East’s lawyers moving for a dismissal of West Virginia’s lawsuit attempting to get the Mountaineers out of the conference and into the Big 12 ahead of the Big East’s mandatory 27-month waiting period, according to the Associated Press’ Vicki Smith.

We don’t place a ton of stock in the polls in general, but Harvard’s arrival this week is newsworthy. As CBS Sports.com reports, it’s the first time that the Crimson have ever appeared in the top 25, and they are the first Ivy League team to reach the polls since Princeton in 1998.

Games to watch Tuesday

  • Missouri vs. Villanova, 7 pm EST (Jimmy V Classic)
  • George Mason at Virginia, 7 pm EST
  • Kent State at James Madison, 7 pm EST
  • Robert Morris at Duquesne, 7 pm EST
  • Iowa at Northern Iowa, 8 pm EST
  • Washington vs. Marquette, 9 pm EST (Jimmy V Classic)
  • Long Beach State at Kansas, 9 pm EST
  • Memphis at Miami, 9 pm EST

No cause for alarm in the Big East

by - Published November 29, 2011 in Conference Notes
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One of the best parts of the early college basketball season is that, year after year, the big-time programs of the BCS conferences (mostly) load up on cupcake teams from lesser-known conferences to begin their campaigns — and those teams prove to be more substance than fluff.

More often than not, those cupcakes turn out to give some of the more talented squads from conferences such as the Big East a run for their money, even knocking off a few of them along the way.

The Big East has had its fair share of losses in the early going as some of the teams we picked to be contenders for the conference championships are dealing with some early season growing pains. … Continue Reading

Big East has some close calls but remained unscathed — until today

by - Published November 15, 2011 in Columns

Editor’s note: West Virginia just lost to Kent State 70-60 in a game played this morning as part of ESPN’s 25-hour marathon of college hoops. Figures.

Now that we are a week into the 2010-11 college basketball season, the Big East started the day as one of four conferences that could say every one of their teams made it through the opening weekend without suffering a loss; the ACC, Big 12 and Mountain West are the others.

Although you would expect most of the Big East to make easy work of their early season cupcake opponents, the parity of college basketball that has become prevalent in recent years showed itself once again with some big-time programs needing some solid play to hold off so-called mid-majors. … Continue Reading

West Virginia Mountaineers 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Conference Notes

West Virginia Mountaineers

 

Last Year:

21-12 overall, 11-7 Big East (T-6th)

Coach:

Bob Huggins (5th season, 101-42)

Projected starting five:

G: Jabarie Hinds, Fr.
G: Truck Bryant, Sr.
F: Kevin Jones, Sr.
F: Kevin Noreen, Fr.
F: Deniz Kilicli, Jr.

Important departures:

Casey Mitchell 13.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg
John Flowers 9.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg
Joe Mazzulla 7.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg

Inside the numbers:

45 percent scoring returning
47 percent rebounding returning

Additions:

G: Jabarie Hinds, 6’0”. 160 – Rivals #93
F: Tommie McCune 6’7”, 185 – Rivals #102
G: Gary Browne, 6’1”, 185

Schedule:

Toughest nonconference game: 12/23 at (12) Baylor
Toughest in-conference stretch: 2/11 – 2/22 vs. (8) Louisville, at (11) Pittsburgh, at Notre Dame

Prediction:

7th in BE; 20+ wins; Second round of NCAA Tournament

What to expect:

West Virginia will have a tall task ahead if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament. Losing three starters, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla, Huggins will look to Kevin Jones to be his go-to guy.

Jones struggled last year to score at times, but in typical Huggins fashion, their defense kept them in most games long enough for someone to hit a shot. Familiar faces Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli, two players who can take the load off of him scoring-wise, will join Jones in the starting five. Bryant will play more two-guard this year to concentrate more on scoring than assisting. Freshman Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne will take over point guard duties for the Mountaineers.

Hovering around the middle of the road in the BE, Huggins will need to do a solid coaching job to get this hodge-podge group of players into the Big Dance.

Back to Big East preview

Bracket Breakdown: Your Complete Guide to the Final Four

by - Published April 3, 2010 in Columns

On one side of the bracket that went busted a day into the NCAA Tournament, we have two Cinderella teams hoping that the crystal shoe will fit them at the end. On the other, we have two power-conference juggernauts trying to spoil the folk tale’s happy ending.

It’s not a good vs. evil story. It’s merely the Final Four, and its two No. 5 seeds (injury-riddled Michigan State and Butler) battling each other for one spot in the championship game while the ACC’s and No. 1 seed Duke combats the Big East’s and No. 2 West Virginia for the other. Two feel-good stories vs. two bracket-saving, household names.

It should be fun. Let’s take a look at those Final Four-ers.

Even though it’s a second consecutive Final Four trip for the Spartans (28-8), the state of Michigan should still be pleasantly shocked to find them there. Michigan State has walked on the borderline of survival in every round to reach these instances, having won its four games by an average of 3.25 points. Clutchness and healthy doses of guards Korie Lucious and Durrell Summers have done the trick. They have the Spartans feeling they can go from 2009 runner-ups to 2010 champions despite their major underdog status.

However, when it comes to underdogs, no team barks louder than the Bulldogs of Butler (32-4). Fans are growing either hopeful or tired of hearing about how this team’s run is not unlike that of the Hickory team from the “Hoosiers” movie, the story of a small-town Indiana high school squad that wins the state championship — my apologies if I ruined the movie for anyone.

The similarities are there. Butler is also from Indiana and plays in the mid-major Horizon League. Adding to that, the Bulldogs have pulled their set of upsets to get to the Final Four. They beat their region’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds — Syracuse and Kansas State, respectively — to get a shot at the title while playing in their home state.

As it’s been the case all tournament long, swingman Gordon Hayward will be key for Butler, not just because of his team-leading scoring but because of his rebounding. The sophomore will need to set a tone on the glass and hope his teammates follow. Michigan State is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and extra possessions could be the difference. The Spartans, for their part, must take Butler’s playing-at-home spirit out right off the bat. And they shouldn’t rely on their crunch-time skills. Butler, which comes into the game having won 24 consecutive games, has been just as good in those instances this tournament.

Whichever squad remains alive after the underdog-off will have to face a powerhouse in the championship game. Duke (33-5), thought by many to be the most vulnerable No. 1 Tournament seed, is the only No. 1 seed to make it to the Final Four. The “Big Three,” guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith and forward Kyle Singler, combine for about 70 percent of the Blue Devils’ total scoring and has carried Duke past every team it was supposed to beat. Now, however, Duke, a team that relies heavily on three-point shooting, will face its biggest offensive test against a lengthy West Virginia (31-6) squad that forced another No. 1 seed, Kentucky, into misfiring on 28-of-32 three-point attempts in their Elite Eight match.

The Mountaineers not only are long and effective zone defenders but also feature one of the most exciting players in the field: forward Da’Sean Butler. Butler hasn’t needed to hit any big shots this post-season as West Virginia hasn’t had any major scares during its run, but Butler is one bad dude when called upon, as proven by his two game-winners in the Big East Tournament. He and forward Devin Ebanks are the Mountaineers’ main offensive weapons.

Smith is the guy for Duke. His ability to break down defenses and create, along with his reliable jump shot, could have West Virginia scrambling out of their zone defense rather early. The Blue Devils are an outstanding shooting team, and the Mountaineers might not have a choice but to play them man-to-man. How West Virginia adjusts to Duke’s shooting ability will be the deciding factor. And it would also help the Mountaineers if they could make a couple of shots. Defense is what’s gotten them this far, but they’re the worst shooting team remaining. West Virginia has shot less than 42 percent in all of their tournament wins.

Because of its underdog of underdogs’ status, Butler is the team that seemingly everyone wants to win it all, especially because the Bulldogs are playing in front of their home crowd. Michigan State will be a tough rival, but these teams are evenly-matched. Meanwhile, on the other side, Duke will need a good shooting day to get past the Mountaineers, who will pray for an average shooting day to help them get back to the championship game for the first time since 1959. It should be fun.

Predictions that will probably be completely wrong: Butler and Duke advance. And Duke wins it all.

Bracket Breakdown: How the Big East Will Fare

by - Published March 16, 2010 in Columns

The Big East has eight teams in the NCAA Tournament, five of which are seeded No. 3 or better. That means the conference faces high expectations. However, if the regular season taught us nothing else, teams’ post-season success will depend entirely on match ups. For some of the Big East teams, the match ups don’t look favorable for a Final Four run. For others, winning any games might be a challenge.

Syracuse Orange (Overall: 28-4, Big East: 15-3)

No. 1 seed, West Region

The Orange enter the NCAA Tournament as a favorite to contend for the national championship. But they will need to overcome some adversity to work their way through the West Region, even though they are a No. 1 seed. Syracuse will play at least the first weekend without senior Arinze Onuaku, who injured a quad in the Orange’s Big East Tournament loss to Georgetown. The Orange primarily use a seven-man rotation, so the loss of Onuaku makes them dangerously thin against No. 16 Vermont and either No. 8 Gonzaga or No. 9 Florida State.

Despite Onuaku’s loss, Syracuse should be able to get through the first weekend of action, though likely with more difficulty than originally anticipated. Syracuse’s offense will continue to roll along as one of the most efficient offenses in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics. Guards Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins fuel the No. 9 offense in the country. Both are tall guards — at 6-7, Johnson is more of a swingman — and present match up problems for opponents. They each shoot better than 39 percent from three-point range and combine to average 27.7 points per game.

However, Syracuse is not unbeatable, as Louisville proved twice this season. The Orange give up a lot of offensive rebounds because they play the 2-3 zone nearly exclusively. That scheme makes it more difficult to box out opponents. And offensively, Syracuse has a bad habit of turning the ball over.

Syracuse won’t meet a team until at least the Sweet 16 that can take advantage of those weaknesses. And that team is No. 13-seed Murray State, which would be overmatched offensively. However, if Onuaku remains out and the Racers find a way to get past No. 4-seed Vanderbilt and Butler/UTEP, Murray State has an excellent chance to shock the Orange.

Most likely, Syracuse will reach the Elite Eight, where the Orange’s run through the tournament will come to an abrupt halt. Three likely opponents — No. 2-seed Kansas State, No. 3-seed Pittsburgh and No. 7-seed BYU — all have the type of profile that would give the Orange fits.

Kansas State can rebound well and plays a fast-paced, intense game that would prevent Syracuse from stalling the Wildcats’ offense. Pittsburgh already has one win against the Orange this season. And BYU shoots 43 percent from three-point range and plays at one of the fastest paces in the country. The Cougars will try to beat Syracuse’s defense down the floor to prevent the Orange from setting up the 2-3 zone. And if they have to play in the half court, the Cougars can shoot over the zone.

West Virginia Mountaineers (Overall: 27-6, Big East 13-5)

No. 2 seed, East Region

The Mountaineers are one of the trendy picks to reach the Final Four as a No. 2 seed. And why not? West Virginia has five wins against teams seeded No. 1-3. The Mountaineers already have proven that they can beat anybody.

The key to West Virginia’s success is methodical offense, stout defense and better effort than their opponents’. A trio of players averages at least 11 points and six rebounds per game, led by senior Da’Sean Butler’s 17.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Butler proved in the Big East Tournament that he is a clutch player who can hit game-winning shots when needed. And West Virginia might need those services once or twice if West Virginia wants to reach the Final Four.

West Virginia’s weakness is flat-out ugly shooting. The Mountaineers shoot 48.8 percent from inside the arc, 33.6 percent from three-point range, and 69.6 percent from the free throw line. And West Virginia’s defense allows opponents to put up nearly identical numbers. The difference is that West Virginia is second-best in the country at collecting offensive rebounds, and the Mountaineers are among the top third in grabbing defensive rebounds. All of West Virginia’s starters are at least 6-7, except point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant.

West Virginia should have no troubles against its first two opponents. In the Sweet 16, No. 3-seed New Mexico could present problems. The Lobos are No. 5 in the country at gathering defensive rebounds, and they shoot well from three-point range. New Mexico also doesn’t commit turnovers. If West Virginia faces New Mexico, they’ll lose. But the Mountaineers look like they might catch a break thanks to a tough second-round draw for the Lobos, and West Virginia should make it to the Elite Eight.

In the Elite Eight, West Virginia will either step up its offensive game or lose to No. 4-seed Wisconsin, which has the talent and offensive skills to get past tough defenses like Temple and Kentucky. The Badgers play as slow as West Virginia does and are more efficient on offense. That spells trouble for a team that doesn’t shoot well. Because Wisconsin isn’t concerned about setting up fast breaks, the entire team crashes the boards, which would neutralize West Virginia’s strength. Somewhat counterintuitively, the Mountaineers want the top seed, Kentucky, to reach the Elite Eight because that would present a much easier match up. But it’s not going to happen.

Villanova Wildcats (Overall: 24-7, Big East: 13-5)

No. 2 seed, South Region

Villanova is in trouble. The No. 2 seed in the South Region started the season 20-1 before losing six of its final 10 games. Three of the four wins came against teams that aren’t playing in the NCAA Tournament. Opponents started to figure out that the Wildcats’ defense is vulnerable to attacking offenses. Villanova is one of the most foul-prone teams in the tournament.

Villanova’s defensive liability will likely rear its head sooner rather than later because No. 7-seed Richmond and No. 10-seed Saint Mary’s will have match up advantages that will lead to an upset. The Wildcats have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, which will keep them in the game. And senior Scottie Reynolds is one of the most clutch players in the country, shooting better than 54 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range. But Richmond and Saint Mary’s have the height to frustrate Villanova’s outside shooters. And both teams shoot free throws well, which will likely be the deciding factor in a major second-round upset.

Pittsburgh Panthers (Overall: 24-8, Big East: 13-5)

No. 3 seed, West Region

For the Panthers, the West Region’s No. 3 seed, success will come slowly — literally. The Panthers average only 62 possessions per game, one of the slowest tempos in the country. After bleeding some of the clock, the Panthers are usually efficient on offense, even though they don’t shoot particularly well inside or outside the arc.

The team’s most critical player is sophomore Ashton Gibbs, who leads the team with 15.8 points per game. He is the team’s lone three-point threat, and he makes 40.2 percent of his three-point attempts. Joining Gibbs in the backcourt, Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wannamaker are a pair of seasoned guards who can help Pitt control the pace.

To beat Pittsburgh, an opponent needs to put pressure on a sometimes stagnant offense, force a faster tempo, deny second-chance points by grabbing rebounds, and play solid interior defense. That’s a lot to ask of an opponent, but the Panthers might face a few teams that meet that profile, starting with No. 6-seed Xavier in the second round. The Panthers find a way past the Musketeers before falling to No. 2-seed Kansas State or No. 7-seed BYU in the Sweet 16.

Georgetown Hoyas (Overall: 23-10, Big East: 10-8)

No. 3 seed, Midwest Region

The Hoyas are one of the more dangerous teams in the tournament, as they proved at Madison Square Garden when they beat Syracuse and Marquette before losing to West Virginia in the Big East championship game. But Georgetown is the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region. Although the Hoyas have the offense to hang with top-seeded Kansas, they don’t have a good enough defense. And Georgetown turns the ball a little too often to seriously threaten Kansas. Of course, that would assume the Hoyas can get past No. 2-seed Wisconsin.

Georgetown excels at finding good shots, thanks to sophomore center Greg Monroe. The big man looks like a surefire top five lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft, and Hoya fans hope he can help deliver a deep NCAA Tournament run before moving to the pros. With Monroe as the centerpiece of the offense, Georgetown shoots 54.6 percent inside the arc. Led by newly diagnosed diabetic Austin Freeman, Georgetown’s perimeter players shoot 38.8 percent from three-point range.

Despite the presence of Monroe on defense, the Hoyas aren’t great at stopping opponents. That likely won’t be a problem until Georgetown reaches Ohio State in the Sweet 16. Led by Evan Turner, the Buckeyes have the offensive efficiency needed to hang with Georgetown. And because Ohio State forces a significant number of turnovers, Georgetown’s tournament run will unravel in St. Louis.

Marquette Golden Eagles (Overall: 22-11, Big East 11-7)

No. 6 seed, East Region

It’s hard to tell whether Marquette will win more than a game or two — or any — in the tournament. But it is almost certain that the No. 6 seed in the East Region will be involved in some great finishes.

In four out of five of Marquette’s final regular-season games, the Golden Eagles had to work overtime, winning three of them. The Golden Eagles played 16 games in which the final margin was five points or less. That’s nearly half the team’s games. However, Marquette won only half those tight games.

For the most part, Marquette doesn’t beat itself, committing the fifth-fewest turnovers in the country. With a guard-oriented lineup, the Golden Eagles rely heavily on three-point shooting. But they’re good at it, hitting 40.6 percent from three-point range. As often happens to guard-heavy teams, Marquette struggles to get rebounds.

That could pose an immediate problem against No. 11-seed Washington. The Huskies are hot as winners of seven consecutive games. And they are good at rebounding. Washington crashes the offensive glass, often successfully. In addition, the Huskies don’t commit many turnovers. Washington has a more balanced offensive and defensive attack than Marquette, and if the Huskies can control the pace, they’ll upset Marquette.

Despite a strong season, Marquette will fall to a Washington team that has an experienced starting cast that will dictate the pace.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Overall: 23-11, Big East: 10-8)

No. 6 seed, South Region

Notre Dame stormed through the final weeks of the regular season, much of that without Luke Harangody, to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Their run impressed the selection committee, which rewarded the Fighting Irish with a No. 6 seed in the South Region. Frankly, that’s too good of a seed for this team, despite victories against Pittsburgh (twice), Georgetown and Marquette in the past three weeks.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s first-round opponent, No. 11-seed Old Dominion, is probably better than that seeding. This match up could easily be a No. 8 seed vs. No. 9 seed, which would be considered a toss up. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Old Dominion has an excellent shot to beat the heavily imbalanced Irish. Notre Dame has the No. 4 offense in efficiency but the No. 140 defense. That defensive ranking has improved since Harangody’s injury and subsequent reduced role. But the team’s offense has also leveled off a little, too.

For its part, Old Dominion has the No. 16 defense and No. 72 offense. That’s not great balance, but it’s better than Notre Dame. Plus Old Dominion has a tall lineup anchored by senior center Gerald Lee, who should cause fits for the Fighting Irish. Old Dominion leads Division I in offensive rebounding, which should continue against Notre Dame. The Irish like to mix a health dose of zone coverage into their defensive sets.

These teams might not combine for 100 points, but look for the Monarchs to end Notre Dame’s impressive late-season surge.

Louisville Cardinals (Overall: 20-12, Big East: 11-7)

No. 9 seed, South Region

Louisville is a more balanced version of its first-round opponent, No. 9-seed California. The Cardinals, who are the No. 8 seed in the South Region, have a fairly efficient offense and a middle-of-the-road defense. In comparison, Cal’s offense is No. 4 in efficiency, but its defense is No. 81. For Louisville to get past California and cause problems for top-seeded Duke, the Cardinals need to channel the energy they played with against Syracuse, which Louisville beat twice this season.

For the Cardinals to take care of California, sophomore Samardo Samuels needs to use his superior size to create a mismatch. Samuels averages 15.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game for the Cardinals. WIth his size, he can force California to collapse its defense, opening opportunities for Edgar Sosa and Louisville’s outside shooters. That formula delivered huge wins against Syracuse.

The Cardinals will use that game plan to success against Cal, but it won’t be enough against Duke. Although Louisville might frustrate Duke at times, the Blue Devils have too much talent to fall to an inconsistent Louisville team.

For West Virginia, the Butler Keeps Doing It

by - Published February 18, 2010 in Columns

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – West Virginia’s most important player isn’t someone that anyone would have imagined a few years ago.  But Da’Sean Butler is closing the book on a fine career that has come a long way from his days growing up in Newark, New Jersey.

Butler wasn’t the pick of many to play in the Big East.  He got plenty of notice from playing at Bloomfield Tech a little north of his hometown, at that time a burgeoning powerhouse that was dormant for many years before Courtney Nelson, DaShawn Dwight and Jason Wilson brought them into prominence that included trips to some major in-season tournaments.  Still, Butler was at best an Atlantic 10-level prospect, a nice player with some good skills but not all that athletic and not with one thing in particular that he hangs his hat on.  He was, in many respects, a typical John Beilein recruit: he’s talented, but doesn’t look like a Big East player at first glance.

Nearly four years and 30 pounds of muscle later, he’s more than just a Big East player.  He’s arguably the best player in the conference.  What’s not up for debate is that he’s underrated.

“I think Da’Sean is probably as underappreciated as anybody in America for just the things he can do,” said head coach Bob Huggins.  “I don’t know if there’s a more complete player anywhere in the country.”

All Butler has done is be a model of consistency and improvement.  He’s scored in double figures 98 times in 133 career games, and has started every game since the start of his sophomore year after being a solid reserve as a freshman.  When Huggins took over as head coach, Butler thrived, and has looked like the perfect bridge between coaches.  He should surpass 2,000 career points before his career is over and will leave in third place on the school’s all-time scoring list.

And this is a player who barely topped 1,000 career points in high school.  What hasn’t changed is the winning: he helped Bloomfield Tech win 97 games in four years, and in his nearly four years at West Virginia the Mountaineers have won 96 games.

Huggins was quick to note how versatile Butler is, and that was probably a big reason Beilein recruited him.  The Mountaineers have played him at every position except center, and that gives them a lot of options since they can go big in the backcourt with him at one of those positions.  He’s been adept at filling the stat sheet, and in Wednesday night’s win over Providence, he had another day at the office: 16 points, five rebounds, three assists with just one turnover.

Following a season where his teammates selected him as their MVP, Butler played for USA Basketball at the World University Games last summer, averaging 8.6 points per contest.  Just being selected was proof of how far he had come, but he’s followed that up with an excellent senior year that has had some big moments.  It started with being named the 76 Classic MVP as the Mountaineers won the title, as he scored 26 points in the title game and averaged 18.7 points per game while shooting nearly 56 percent from the field in the three games.  But that was just the beginning.

As the season has gone along, Butler has been Mr. Clutch for his team.  At Cleveland State, he scored a driving layup with 1.2 seconds left for the winning basket.  Against Marquette, a long jumper with 2.3 seconds left gave the Mountaineers a one-point win.  He also hit a game-winner against Louisville with 16 seconds left.

The Mountaineers have the personnel to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, although they haven’t been able to pull out some games against other elite teams.  Close losses at Purdue and at home to Syracuse stand out in that respect, while they also lost at home to Villanova and more recently lost a tough triple over time game at Pittsburgh.  If they are going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, the person most likely to lead them is Butler, the versatile senior who has come a long way and is still underrated.

Jimmy V Classic Features Solid Performances

by - Published December 14, 2008 in Columns

NEW YORK – The Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden gave us a vintage individual performance. And a team performance that, if not vintage, was certainly eye-opening.

Scores:
Davidson 68, West Virginia 65
Texas 67, Villanova 58

What Davidson Did Well: Follow the lead of their “franchise” player and maintain poise. The Wildcats built an early second half double-digit lead only to see West Virginia claw back and take a lead of their own. Sterling guard Stephen Curry was struggling from the floor, largely due to being hounded by a taller, longer Mountaineer defender all night long. In the end, Curry proved to be the major difference. With the game on the balance Curry stepped up. In front of over 14,000 with five minutes left the Davidson junior hit four major shots. And they weren’t exactly wide open looks. He simply put his signature on the contest and willed his team to victory when they needed it most. Curry finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 assists. The stat sheet tells us Curry was 9 of 27 from the field, including 4 of 16 beyond the arc. The stats list him as game-high scorer but do not tell the type performance he had those final few minutes – when his team needed him most. Lest anyone think Curry is solely a green-light gunner, he had a game-high 10 assists and looked for his teammates all night.

What West Virginia Did Well: Rebound and defend. Davidson coach Bob McKillop was hard-pressed to remember another time his team was out-rebounded so bad, and won. West Virginia owned a 58-32 edge on the boards; on the offensive end it was 29-12. The Mountaineers were hit with backcourt injuries, as Alex Ruoff was out and Joe Mazzulla was limited to six minutes of action. Regardless, you knew coach Bob Huggins would not use that as an excuse and come up with a defensive scheme to neutralize Curry. And he did. Huggins kept rotating fresh bodies on Curry. Virtually all of the West Virginia defenders were the taller, long type, hoping to disrupt the Wildcat marksman. It worked.

“They (West Virginia) were taller and longer defensively than what I am used to,” Curry said. “Every time we screened they switched and another tall defender was there waiting.” Simply, he was forced to earn every shot. In the end Curry just did what great players do. Even then, there weren’t any easy shots.

What Villanova Did Well: Compete inside. Texas posed a huge problem with three 6-10 players in the rotation. The Texas “bigs” are collectively not the greatest skilled but they can bang and wear you down. Dante Cunningham had another impressive performance, battling inside and putting up a team-high 23 points and 12 boards. Dwayne Anderson added 9 boards in relief. The 6-6 senior swingman will have to step up and help inside on a regular basis once Big East play unfolds with a succession of physical challenges. Villanova out-rebounded Texas 35-31 and was not significantly hurt on the offensive end by the Longhorn big men.

What Texas Did Well: Defend all night long. In the post-game press conference A.J. Abrams enthusiastically discussed the Longhorn defense. They forced Villanova into a 38 percent shooting night, which included a 4 of 18 (22 percent) mark from beyond the arc. Texas also imposed their defensive will to disrupt the Villanova offense into a 19-turnover evening. On a night when the pace was moderate and possessions were at a premium, that figure loomed as a crucial one. The stat sheet, again, will tell one and all Justin Mason scored 3 points in 33 minutes. Mason’s work is another example of the stats not doing him justice. He played outstanding perimeter defense and was a big reason Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds had a 10-point night on 2 of 7 shooting from the floor.

Final Note on ‘Nova: For Villanova this was their first major test of the year. Actually, they faced Rhode Island in the Hoop Group Classic but didn’t get the challenge they expected. Texas provided the measurement. It would be harsh to say the Wildcats failed. Let’s say it was a learning experience. As well as the Wildcats competed, coach Jay Wright noted a little extra toughness is needed facing a team like Texas. In the loaded Big East, Villanova will face several programs of a similar challenge.
Wright is looking for key defensive stops. Villanova trailed by four points midway through the second half. On several consecutive trips they simply could not get the contest to a one-possession game, thanks largely to Abrams’ (game high 26 points) clutch shooting. The game boiled down to defense. And the Wildcats couldn’t get those key stops at crunch time.

A few players that impressed:

  • Abrams, Texas G: Scored 26 points, 4-of-9 from 3.
  • Mason, Texas G: The defense never rests.
  • Damion James, Texas F: Scored16 points. Can operate in the paint or outside.
  • Cunningham, Villanova F: A competitive and tough 23 point 12 board night.
  • Corey Stokes, Villanova G: Knocked down a few threes early, finished with 11 points.
  • Stephon Curry, Davidson G: Went for 27 points, but his spurt in the last five minutes was the story.
  • Andrew Lovedale, Davidson F: Took advantage of the defense’s concern over Curry, scored 15 points.
  • Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia F: Solid 24-point, 14-board outing.
  • Devin Ebanks, West Virginia F: Impressive inside, scored 13 points and added 17 rebounds.

Quotable: “I really think we have the ability to get to the Final Four. But before we even think about that, we just want to get better each day.” – A.J. Abrams, Texas

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Conference Coverage

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The teams that have led the way in the Big Sky of late were right there again this season. One of them won both the regular season and conference tournament, and also had a nice time with the post-season awards as well.

2013-14 MEAC Post-Mortem

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The 2013-14 season was N.C. Central’s year in the MEAC, as the Eagles completed their four-year ascent to the top of conference.

2013-14 Big 12 Post-Mortem

June 30, 2014 by

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When it comes to overall depth, the Big 12 this season may have been one of the strongest leagues in a long time. The conference sent seven of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the first time in 21 years and just the fifth time ever that a league sent 70% or more of its teams to the tourney.

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