Big East : Trio of teams search for on-court leadership

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Jon: [email protected] For Pittsburgh, the 2011-12 season has been one full of streaks — both good and bad.After starting off the season 11-1, including a stretch in which the team won nine straight games, Pittsburgh lost its next eight games. The Panthers were once last in the Big East with a 0-7 conference record.Fast forward more than two weeks and Pittsburgh has won four straight games behind point guard Tray Woodall, who missed 11 games earlier this season.‘He’s our point guard, and he gives us ball handling,’ Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon said on the Big East coaches’ teleconference Jan. 26. ‘But he’s a fourth-year junior, he’s a leader and probably our most vocal leader — no question about it. He understands what we’re trying to do.’Meanwhile, Connecticut (15-8, 5-6) and Seton Hall (15-8, 4-7) find themselves moving backward. The Huskies, ranked No. 13 just three weeks ago, have lost five of their last six games. Connecticut’s lone win in those last half-dozen games came against Seton Hall, losers of six straight. Four weeks ago, the Pirates were ranked No. 24 and looked like the surprise team of the Big East. Now, it just has the feel of a typical Seton Hall year.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAnd it’s starting to look more like a typical Pittsburgh team with the return of Woodall. He scored 26.5 points per game in wins versus West Virginia and Villanova. Woodall’s return also allowed senior guard Ashton Gibbs — leading the Panthers with 16.8 points per game — to go back to the shooting guard position.‘He’s really been the most vocal guy as far as directing traffic and telling guys what to do,’ Dixon said on the teleconference. ‘So a lot of experience with him and I think the guys really have a lot of confidence in him, and he was playing at a high, high level before he went down.’While Woodall’s return gives Pittsburgh a boost in performance and leadership, Connecticut is still searching for players to step up to replace leaders Kemba Walker and Donnell Beverly from last year’s national championship team.‘I think guys are trying to do it and trying to step up,’ said George Blaney, Connecticut’s associate head coach, on the teleconference Thursday. ‘I think one of the problems we’re having is we really are so very young.’Blaney lists sophomore guard Shabazz Napier, sophomore forward Jeremy Lamb and junior center Alex Oriakhi as those he would like to see assume leadership roles on the team. Lamb has been working hard to become a leader on the team, Blaney said, although it’s not typical of his personality to do so.Blaney said he hopes Napier and Oriakhi will step up as the season progresses. But it’s not all about leadership.The Huskies also have to execute.In a 58-44 loss to No. 12 Georgetown, the Huskies went 1-of-18 from the field during a 12-minute portion of the game. Connecticut also struggled from beyond the arc, going 2-of-20.‘I think first off that offense is the hardest thing, and offense can sometimes come and go,’ Blaney said. ‘We thought at one time that we kind of solved the problem a little bit by getting the ball off the floor and really pushing it at people. We’ve done it at times, but we don’t seem to be able to maintain it.’Oriakhi’s production has also been down, as he’s averaging just 6.6 points and five rebounds per game this season. Oriakhi produced 9.6 points and nearly nine rebounds per game last season.‘Alex is struggling a lot,’ Blaney said. ‘He’s working at it and trying to figure it out, and we’re trying to figure it out for him. He hasn’t played with the same dominating defensive ability and dominating rebounding ability that he showed last year, and that’s where we need to get him back to.’And the Huskies will have to improve without head coach Jim Calhoun, who took an indefinite medical leave of absence Friday. He has been suffering from spinal stenosis for several months. The condition causes him severe pain and hampers mobility.Connecticut ended its four-game losing streak Saturday with a 69-46 win over Seton Hall, extending the Pirates’ losing streak to six games.Seton Hall looks like it needs even more work than Connecticut.‘Seton Hall kind of did the same thing that we’ve done,’ Blaney said. ‘Got really high in the rankings, won some games in a row and all of a sudden, as many teams do in this league when you’re playing tough games every single night, you get caught in a cycle where it doesn’t seem you can get yourself out of it.’Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said in the teleconference Thursday that his team hasn’t been able to capitalize on opportunities as of late, as the Pirates have missed open shots that have led to easy buckets for its opponents.And one key to turning it around this season will be keeping star senior guard Jordan Theodore healthy. Theodore is averaging 15.4 points and 6.8 assists per game this season. Willard said he would like to give Theodore two or three minutes of rest in the second half to keep him fresh at the end of the season.But rest or no rest, the Pirates still need some shots to fall.‘The last couple games we’ve missed a lot of layups and a lot of opportunities to kind of give us a chance to get a W,’ Willard said. ‘We’ve just been struggling to put the ball in the basket. We’re playing hard, we’re playing good defense, we just got to try to take advantage of some shots.’Big East game of the weekNo. 12 Georgetown (18-4, 8-3) at No. 2 Syracuse (23-1, 10-1)Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPNBoth are coming off huge wins: Georgetown beat South Florida by 30 points on Saturday, while Syracuse defeated a young St. John’s team 95-70 on Saturday. Both indicate the latest game between the two bitter rivals should be a good one.Sophomore center Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse starting lineup on Saturday, bringing in 14 points but only three rebounds in 21 minutes of work. Also emerging was freshman Michael Carter-Williams, who scored 13 points.And the Orange will need to play tough against a physical Georgetown team, which is led by senior guard Jason Clark and junior forward Hollis Thompson. Clark is averaging more than 15 points per game, while Thompson is scoring nearly 14 points per game and bringing down more than five rebounds per [email protected]center_img Commentslast_img

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