Lessons learned from the second round

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Day 2 of the Big East tournament was more notable for referees mistakes than players’ performances. Still, there’s plenty to take away from it both on and off the court. Here’s what we learned in the second round:

  • Rutgers will be a fan favorite in 2011-12. After an incredible meltdown by the referees stole a win from the Scarlet Knights, first-year coach Mike Rice remarkably took the high road. Of course, maybe if Rice had seen the last-second travel/walk out of bounds/ball chucked into the stands in real time instead of on YouTube moments after the Johnnies’ 65-63 win, he might have had a different response.

    While Rice will be back with a promising corps of offensively-gifted recruits, you can’t help but feel terrible for senior Jonathan Mitchell. A member of the Florida national championship team in 2007, the 6-foot-7 Mount Vernon-native had all the makings of a March magician. He scored 25, including eight free throws in overtime in the first-round upset of Seton Hall, but pressed way too hard early against the Johnnies. He missed 10 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and scored just eight points the entire game. That tells you just how hard the rest of the team worked, keeping it close without its best player at the top of his game. Yet, he even followed the lead of his coach.

    “It sucks not to get a shot off, that’s what hurts the most,” Mitchell said.

    The loss will sting the rest of this month, but Rutgers actually came out a winner in a draining defeat.

  • Georgetown is this year’s Syracuse. Just as the Orange’s national title dreams went up in flames when big man Arinze Onuaku crashed down on the Garden floor last March with a knee injury, the Hoyas’ hopes for a deep March run were dashed when Chris Wright broke his hand Feb. 23 against Cincinnati. Georgetown has lost all four games without him, including a blowout loss to UConn in the second round of the conference tournament.

    “We miss Chris, absolutely, 100 percent, both ends of the court in every way,” coach John Thompson III said about his second-leading scorer and offensive catalyst. “The group that’s playing now … has to be better.”

    It’s unlikely. The DC3 is down to the DC2 and much less efficient. One time national Player of the Year candidate Austin Freeman is still getting his points, only they’re coming on way too many attempts. The senior has 41 points in his last two games but they came on 14-of-43 shooting. Jason Clark woke up for 23 points against UConn, but he had scored just 23 total points in the previous three games. Meanwhile, forward Julian Vaughn continues to be a no-show down on the blocks. He was relegated to picking up garbage points when the DC3 took all the shots, but now that his role has risen, his game simply has not.

    “We’re still a confident team,” Freeman said. “We will be all right.”

    Not buying it. Just like we aren’t buying Thompson’s talk that Wright, who had surgery last week, will be back in form for the NCAA tournament. These are the same exact lines Jim Boeheim fed us about Onuaku last season.

  • West Virginia will have an early exit next week, too. Leadership isn’t the only problem for this veteran team. Add shooting to that list after a 69-61 loss to Marquette Wednesday night.

    “I’ve said it and said it and said it, we just don’t make open shots,” coach Bob Huggins said. “We made some shots in the first and then the second half, we didn’t."

    West Virginia keeps repeating the same mistakes away from home. They blew a seven-point halftime lead to Marquette, that mirrored a regular-season game at Louisville, where they blew an eight-point lead at the break.  Its best rebounder, John Flowers, was in foul trouble all night allowing the Golden Eagles several second-chance opportunities, while Joe Mazzulla, Mr. Do-it-all-myself at times, had six turnovers against a pressure defense. What’s even more concerning than that, though, is this team’s drive.

    "They just wanted it more in the second half,” guard TrucK Bryant said.

    You would have never heard those words a year ago when WVU cut down the nets at the Garden and advanced to the Final Four.


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