Checking in on the… Big EastPosted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2008
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
The Big East is proving why it is the best conference in basketball, as the 16 teams in the conference have lost a grand total of five games. I mean, Seton Hall barely sneaks into the top 10 in the conference and they are 4-1 with wins over USC and Virginia Tech early on. To be fair, most of the games that have been played at this point in the season have come against cupcakes, but a Big East team has already knocked off a marquee team in every other major conference (UConn has beaten Wisconsin and Miami (FL), Syracuse beat Florida and Kansas, Notre Dame beat Texas, and Seton Hall beat USC).
Power Rankings (AP, Coaches):
1. UConn 5-0 (#2, #2) – It is pretty tough to argue with UConn atop the BIAH Big East Power Rankings. They are 5-0 and coming off of a victory in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. More on the Huskies in a bit.
2. Notre Dame 4-0 (#8, #8) – Notre Dame gets the nod at #2 because of their win over Texas in Maui. Now that Kyle McAlarney has found his stroke (13-23 from the floor, 11-20 from deep in his last two games after starting the season 2-13), it is clear that the Irish are going be able to put up points with anyone. Their biggest question mark right now is defense and rebounding. Against Texas, Notre Dame was out-rebounded 45-33 and gave up 15 on the offensive glass.
I know that the Irish have two first-team all-conference players on their roster, but PG Tory Jackson is just as, if not more, valuable than both McAlarney and Luke Harangody. He is the guy that makes the potent Irish offense run. He is as quick as they come and can get into the lane against just about anyone, but he plays under control and rarely picks up a charge. When he gets into the paint, he is just as good at finishing as he is at drawing a defender and finding an open man (he’s led the Big East in dimes the last two years). To top it off, he has been knocking down his perimeter shot this season.
3. Louisville 2-0 (#3, #3) – It is tough to gauge the Cardinals at this point in the season. They have played just two games, both cupcakes and both blow outs, and they won’t really be tested until mid-December. What we do know thus far is that freshman Samardo Samuels looks as good as advertised – he’s averaging 21 ppg and 5 rpg through two games. The ‘Ville also got good news when Terrence Williams was healthy enough to play in their first two games (he underwent minor surgery after tearing the meniscus in his knee). He’s not there yet offensively (6-17 from the floor, 14 points in two games), but he has been filling up the stat sheet as usual (9.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 3.5 spg, 1.5 bpg).
4. Pitt 5-0 (#4, #4) – The Panthers, like the Cardinals, are undefeated but have yet to really play anyone. They have, however, been getting phenomenal play out of their big three of DeJuan Blair (17.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 71%, but he missed the Belmont game on Tuesday with swelling in his knee), Sam Young (19.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 60% FG), and Levance Fields (13.6 ppg, 7.3 apg, 1.0 t/o’s). While Pitt lost Blair for the Belmont game, they got some good news with the return of wing Gilbert Brown.
The key to the season for this Pitt team is going to be their wing play, which is a big reason why Sam Young, the Panthers best perimeter shooter, is playing on the wing this year. It is still early, but the early indication is that after Fields (10-19) and Young (5-16). If someone can step up and knock down shots (back up PG Ashton Gibbs is trying to, he’s 5-11 from deep), they will see a lot of the court.
5. Syracuse 5-0 – The ‘Cuse are for real this year. They are 5-0 with wins against Florida and Kansas (in what was essentially a road game) and have looked unstoppable on offense at times. But they have also looked disinterested and lackadaisical at times as well, especially defensively. The Orange start and end with the play of Jonny Flynn, who has reinforced the notion that he is one of the best PGs in the country. Flynn is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch (and I am a UConn fan saying that). While Flynn may be the best player on Syracuse, he is far from all that they have. Paul Harris is just as tough as always, but has added a 15-17 foot jumper that you must defend. Arinze Onuaku has gone from a 275 lb fat boy to 275 lb of muscle (seriously, he looks like he should be on World’s Strongest Man). Kristoff Ongenaet, Rick Jackson and freshman Kris Joseph all are going to be able to provide hustle, rebounds, and defense inside. And they’ve gotten back the two things they were missing last year – perimeter shooting from the wings (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins) and another guy that can penetrate and score or create shots for others (Devendorf). But the biggest change I see in this year’s team is that Jim Boeheim has them playing a lot of man-to-man, which makes it all-the-more difficult for a team to prepare for the Orange. Boeheim has himself a tough team that is going to make some noise this year.
6. Georgetown 2-0 (#21, #16) – The Hoyas are going to be a different team than they have been the last few years. John Thompson III is known for running a Princeton-style offense, but with the personnel that he has on his roster this year, Georgetown will be playing at a much faster pace this season. The main reason for that is the number of quick guards that JT3 has. Chris Wright battled foot and ankle injuries all last season, but is proving why he was a Mickey D’s all-american (13.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.0 t/o’s). The biggest reason that the Hoyas are mentioned this high, this early is because of super freshman Greg Monroe. Monroe has the build of a center (6’11”, 250 lb) but has the skill set of a small forward. He’s filled the stat sheet to this point in the season (17.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 3.0 bpg, 1.5 spg).
7. Marquette 3-0 (#15, #15) – Marquette has no size inside. None. Their biggest player? Dwight Burke at 6’8”, 250 lb and he is averaging a whopping 2.0 ppg and 3.0 rpg. So to combat that, the Golden Eagles are running and gunning, then running and gunning some more. Through their first three games, Marquette was averaging over 100 ppg (although that dropped when they were held to 83 points Tuesday night). What is even more impressive is that the Eagles are putting up those numbers offensively and Dominic James has yet to really get involved. Wesley Matthews (22.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.0 apg), Lazar Hayward (20.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg), and Jerel McNeal (19.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.5 apg) have all started the season on fire.
8. West Virginia 3-0 – Like Louisville, it is tough to judge where West Virginia is right now because they have yet to play much competition. Alex Ruoff looks like he is ready to take over the role of lead scorer. Through three games, he is averaging 18.7 ppg (although 25 of those came against Delaware State). Hyped freshman Devin Ebanks has yet to really make an impact, averaging just 8.0 ppg and 4.7 rpg. Thus far, my opinion of West Virginia is the same as it was in the pre-season – a ton of excellent role players, but still no star.
9. Villanova 4-0 (#20, #22) – Villanova may be 4-0, but they have a ton of questions marks right now. First of all, Scottie Reynolds has yet to really get on track. After Tuesday night’s game, Reynolds is averaging just 13.0 ppg while shooting 30% from the floor. They also have yet to answer their issues along the front line. They still have Dante Cunningham, who is off to a very good start to the season, but Shane Clark is battling injuries (as usual), Casiem Drummond was suspended for Tuesday’s game (and was ineffective when he was playing), and Dwayne Anderson is hurt. Antonio Pena is averaging 8.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg, but he’s fouled out of back-to-back games.
10. Seton Hall 4-1 – The Pirates had a very impressive performance in Puerto Rico, knocking off USC and Virginia Tech. I’m not convinced yet, but they do have a lot of weapons. Jeremy Hazell is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, as he has the green light from Bobby Gonzalez to shoot whenever and from wherever he pleases. He’s been hitting more often than not this year, as he averaging 22.8 ppg (42.3% FG, 38.6% 3’s) and put 32 on Memphis. Eugene Harvey has looked good running the offense (12.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.0 apg) and John Garcia (10.4 ppg, 11.4 rpg) and Robert Mitchell (14.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg) form an above average front line.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
11. Cincinnati 4-0 – Deonta Vaughn has yet to show why he was a first-team all-conference player last year (although he hasn’t had too yet). Highly touted freshman Yancy Gates and Texas transfer Mike Williams have both looked good in stretches, but have been inconsistent.
12. Providence 3-1 – The Friars got knocked off by a better-than-you-think Northeastern team, but bounced back to put up 100 in consecutive games while winning three straight. PC has been getting balanced scoring thus far, with Marshon Brooks leading the way at 15.0 ppg off the bench.
NEED TO FIND ANOTHER CONFERENCE
13. St. John’s 4-1
14. DePaul 2-0
IT’S A GOOD THING WE HAVE A FOOTBALL TEAM
15. Rutgers 3-1
16. South Florida 1-1
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
Flynn led the Orange to a championship in the CBE Classic while averaging 21.5 ppg and 4.0 apg. But more importantly, it was the big shots and big plays he made. Flynn had three steals on three consecutive possessions to spark a 16-2 run that erased a 13-point Kansas lead in the CBE finals, and then hit a three with six seconds left to send the game into OT. On the season, Flynn is averaging 21.0 ppg and 4.6 apg and has the Orange sitting at 5-0.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: UConn
The Huskies won the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands, knocking off Miami (FL) and Wisconsin along the way. It has all started defensively for the Huskies as they have gone back to Jim Calhoun’s bread-and-butter defense – the 2-2-1 press. UConn has four guards that are essentially inter-changeable (AJ Price, Craig Austrie, Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker), and Calhoun uses them to harass and pester opposing guards after every made basket. UConn has five guys scoring in double figures, two guys averaging a double double, and AJ Price has yet to play anywhere near the level he did last season (coming off of the torn ACL, Price is currently battling a sprained ankle and an abscessed tooth). UConn has yet to really get it going this year. When they do, they are going to be tough to beat.
NOTABLE GAMES OF THE WEEK:
- 11/26 Notre Dame vs. UNC (Maui finals)
- 11/27-30 Georgetown vs. Wichita State (Old Spice Classic)
- 11/27-30 Providence vs. Baylor (Anaheim Classic)
- 11/28 Virginia @ Syracuse
- 11/28-29 Pittsburgh vs. Texas Tech (Legends Classic)
- 11/28-29 West Virginia vs. Iowa (Las Vegas Invitational)
- 11/28-29 Cincinnati vs. Florida State (Global Sports Classic)