Big East Basketball's 'Shot to Nothing' Remains the Wise Play

Big East Basketball's 'Shot to Nothing' Remains the Wise Play

It's called the Holy War, but as long as we're getting religious, maybe it's time to talk about Reconciliation.



They're small. They're private. They're Catholic. They're known primarily for the success of their basketball programs.



And they have absolutely no influence whatsoever in modern college
athletics. That's what happens when you don't have an FBS football team.



Other universities are flying all around — figuratively and literally,
given some upcoming travel schedules — to position themselves for
football's upcoming rounds of TV-generated payouts, while schools
without bargaining chips are left to watch it all unfold.



The chasm between the Jesuits and the Augustinians was once
unbridgeable, at least in basketball-terms. But now, considering how the
college landscape has changed, and given the declining number of priests in
this country, is it time to combine forces?



Lo and behold, with Villanova set to host St. Joe's on Tuesday night,
Tuesday morning brought with it the news of a meeting between the seven
Big East-only basketball schools and conference commissioner Mike
Aresco. The topic of those schools exploring alternative
athletic opportunities was broached.



Of the most note in the reaction pieces filed is Dana O'Neil's on ESPN,
in which she pays the programs a number of backhanded compliments for
finally taking action.



But with the exception of Villanova's decision to pass on FBS football
when it had the opportunity to fill a need in the Big East, hasn't a
"check" been the basketball  schools' only play? They won't raise or
even re-raise. They'll just sit there and check,
check, check
at the poker table all night, attempting to bluff a mad
Russian into giving them his entire pot. They'll check, with the hopes
that they'll receive a sizable check of a different kind later on.



Other than sitting and waiting, what alternative do they have? A
basketball super-conference, of course. Villanova and its
basketball-only counterparts don't have today's most valuable commodity:
football. Instead, they'll make do with what they have. They
have basketball, and they're going to attempt to give you the best
basketball possible.



It's the ultimate "zig while everyone else is zagging" move. And if you're
wondering what it might look like, Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald on
Tuesday published these proposals for an 18-to-20-team basketball
conference. Each list is, more or less, the Big East's
basketball-only schools combined with the Atlantic 10. Temple, UMass
and Creighton are all mentioned at points as other potential additions.



It's an idea I rather like, as it's one I've been proposing in private over the past month to anyone who will listen.



Of course, it's a gamble. Zigging while everyone else is zagging only
works when other people appreciate the value of your zig. Rephrased:
there has to be a lucrative enough market for basketball to make a new
conference, or an expanded Atlantic 10, attractive.



As O'Neil points out, recent reports indicate the basketball-only
schools would stand to make anywhere from $1.1 to 1.4 million per year
in a new Big East media deal worth anywhere from $60 to 80 million. By
contrast, the A-10's current television deal nets
each of its programs about $350,000.



The assumption inherent in any argument proposing an A-10/Catholic
basketball merger is that the addition of names like Georgetown and St.
John's and the alike would bring added value, that they would make more
money.



Just how much more money is the question. Because even if such a
conference has the potential prove better athletically than the Big
East, it might also prove worse off financially. As popular as the NCAA tournament is, college basketball's regular season just isn't a money-maker, not compared to football.



And that's the point I return to. Until the basketball-only schools — assuming they really feel the need to stay together, which is a whole other discussion — can be
assured they stand a greater financial benefit without the Big East than
with it, they have to continue to check.



It might not be the most exciting move, but considering their unenviable position, it's still the smartest.




Related: Until It Secures a TV Deal, Reserve Your Judgment on the New Big East [T7L]

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

Sixers burned by yet another point guard in loss to Celtics

The Sixers had been burned by point guards before. Many times, actually. 

Just a week ago, Kyrie Irving dropped 39 points in the Cavs' 112-108 win. Nineteen came in the decisive fourth quarter. 

On Saturday Isaiah Thomas did the same damage. The undersized All-Star tied his season-high with 37 points in the Celtics' comeback 107-106 victory (see instant replay).

“Isaiah’s an All-Star,” Jahlil Okafor said. “He showed us why tonight. He’s the head of their team and came up big for them like he usually does.” 

Thomas made his impact in spurts. During the Celtics' 9-0 second quarter run, he scored six of those points. In the fourth quarter, in which the game was decided, he dropped 12 straight Celtics points. Thomas finished the night 11 for 19 for the field and only 2 of 3 from three. 

The most telling stat was at the free throw line. Thomas shot 13 for 15 after attacking and drawing fouls, a point of emphasis by head coach Brad Stevens for the second half. 

Thomas scored 15 points in the first half. He noticed a change in the Sixers defense in the second and capitalized on it. The Celtics ability to stretch the floor with their three-point shooting bigs also created opportunities for Thomas to get to the rim. 

“In the second half they sat back a little bit and they were switching a lot,” Thomas explained, also noting, “We wanted to put Okafor in a pick-and-roll. He sits far back. I just wanted to attack him downhill. It’s hard for bigs to move those bigs legs they’ve got. So I just tried to stay in attack mode and I saw we were in the bonus.”

The Sixers have had problems defending the one spot all season. Isaiah Thomas is the fifth starting point guard to score 30 points or more against them. He joins Russell Westbrook (32), Jeff Teague (30 in overtime), James Harden (33) and Irving. Another five (Kemba Walker, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry) have scored 20 or more points. 

The oneness of these high-scoring point guards doesn’t fall solely on the Sixers backcourt, where Sergio Rodriguez has been assuming the starting role in place of the oft-injured Jerryd Bayless. These opponents have been doing their work inside the arc. Of the five who have scored 30, only two (Harden and Irving) attempted more than three treys. 

“We’re all working hard trying to stop them, but it’s easier said than done,” Okafor said. 

The next point guard the Sixers will face is Emmanuel Mudiay when they take on the Nuggets Monday. Last season Mudiay hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three in Denver. 

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

usa-brandon-bell-james-franklin.jpg
USA Today Images

Instant Replay: No. 7 Penn State 38, No. 6 Wisconsin 31

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State got bullied a bit Saturday, but never gave up its lunch money. 

It spent the second half taking control of the schoolyard.

After getting pushed around for much of Saturday night’s first half, the Nittany Lions were anything but punchy after the break. Penn State (No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings) got its high-powered offense into gear in the second and roared back for the school’s first victory in the Big Ten Championship game, 38-31, over No. 6 Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions (11-2) are bound for the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season and are outright conference champions for the first time in 22 years.  

Penn State trailed by three touchdowns midway through the second quarter but allowed just three points the rest of the night. Quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 384 yards and a title-game record four touchdowns to spark a comeback that saw the Nittany Lions outscore the Badgers 24-3 in the second half. McSorley was named Big Ten Championship game MVP.

Wisconsin missed a 48-yard field goal early in the second half and Penn State needed just 11 seconds to take advantage. McSorley (22 for 31) hit Saeed Blacknall with a 70-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to a touchdown. Saquon Barkley tied it at 28 later in the third with a 1-yard scoring run.

Blacknall ended the night with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while DaeSean Hamilton had eight grabs for 118. 

Wisconsin retook the lead with a short field goal in the final seconds of the third quarter but Penn State went ahead for good on the ensuing drive, which ended with McSorley’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Barkley.

Tyler Davis added a 24-yard field goal later in the fourth and the Penn State defense sealed the victory when Grant Haley stuffed Wisconsin’s Corey Clement on fourth-and-1 with 1:01 to play.

The Nittany Lions fumbled the ball away twice in the opening half — one was returned for a short Badgers touchdown — but only trailed 28-14 at intermission after McSorley hit Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown with under a minute to play in the half. 

Mike Gesicki caught McSorley’s first scoring pass, a 33-yarder, late in the first quarter.

Clement finished with 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground for the Badgers (10-3), who also got scoring runs from Bradrick Shaw and Dare Ogunbowale. Bart Houston was 16 for 21 for 174 yards. 

Smelling the roses?
Penn State is likely off to Pasadena for the fourth time in school history and is seeking to reach .500 in college football’s longest running postseason game. The Nittany Lions defeated Oregon 38-20 in the 1995 game but fell to Southern California in their other two trips, in 2009 and 1923.

It appears the Trojans might be their opponents once more; No. 4 Washington won the Pac-12 championship Friday night but appears headed for the playoff. The Rose Bowl gets its choice of Pac-12 runner-up Colorado (10-3) or 9-3 USC.

There is a chance Penn State could be selected to the College Football Playoff, but No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington all won this weekend, while No. 2 Ohio State was idle. The playoff will be announced at noon on Sunday.

He’s fine
Sophomore running back running back Saquon Barkley showed no ill effects of a right foot injury suffered during a Nov. 26 win over Michigan State. He added the go-ahead touchdown — and another mention in Penn State’s record book — for good measure.

Barkley, who left in the third quarter of Nittany Lions’ penultimate victory, hauled in a touchdown pass from McSorley in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to give Penn State the lead for good. He had a short scoring run earlier in the period.

Barkley broke Evan Royster’s sophomore rushing record with a 19-carry, 83-yard night to push his season total to 1,302 yards. He set the mark for Penn State freshman (1,076) last fall.

Nice run
Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter snapped a shutout streak that had seen Penn State outscore its opponents 82-0 in the second halves of games. The last scoring play before Endicott’s boot came in the second half of a 45-31 win over Indiana on Nov. 12.