Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 10th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

The Big East lost three of their four marquee games this week as Notre Dame lost to Ohio State and West Virginia and Villanova were swept in the Jimmy V Classic (Marquette did pick up a win at home against Wisconsin). Even teams like UConn (four point win over Buffalo) and Syracuse (came back from down 16 against Cornell) barely avoided being upset. Right now, the only team that is playing well and has played well through out the season is Pitt.

If the first quarter of the season taught us anything, it isn’t that the Big East is weaker than expected as much as the rest of the country is not as far behind as it seemed. Look at those three losses listed above. Notre Dame, a team that is not quite as good as they were expected to be, lost to a better-than-expected Ohio State team in Luke Harangody’s first game back from pneumonia (yea, he had 25 and 16, but you have to factor in the adjustment other players – i.e. Kyle McAlarney, who was 3-11 for 6 points – have to make when he comes back). West Virginia, playing without Joe Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff, lost to Davidson. Villanova lost to a very good Texas team.

While the teams may be a little different than expected, the numbers still break down basically the same way. Four teams look like Final Four contenders, three teams are all but locks to make the tourney, and another four have put themselves in excellent position to earn an at-large bid.

Player of the Week – Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, Louisville

The two Cardinal forwards led Louisville to the championship in the Marques Maybin Classic. For the week, T-Wills averaged just 7.0 ppg, but he added 10.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, and 2.3 spg. Earl Clark, who was named MVP of the tournament, posted three game averages of 13.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 5.0 apg and 1.3 bpg, including a 17 point, 14 board, 8 assist night against Ohio.

Team of the Week – Marquette

Marquette picked up a much needed win against Wisconsin. They needed it for more than just their tournament resume, however. The Golden Eagles needed to prove that they were able to play at a slower pace and beat a bigger team. Marquette has a scrappy, tough group of guys on their team. While being known for their offensive prowess, Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews will all get after if defensively and are not afraid to mix it up in the paint with some bigger bodies. Really nice win.

Power Rankings (AP, Coaches):

CONTENDERS

1. (2) Pitt 9-0 (3, 3)

Last Week: 12/3 vs. Duquesne 78-51, 12/6 vs. Vermont 80-51
Next Week: 12/13 vs. UMBC

The Panthers just keep on rolling with two big wins over decent competition. This may be the best defensive team Jamie Dixon has had since he has been at Pitt. They are so disciplined. They aren’t going to turn you over (only force 15 per). What they do is play tough defense for 35 seconds, not allowing penetration or post entries, then force you to take a tough, low percentage shot and go get the rebound. The trio of Sam Young, Levance Fields and DeJuan Blair is so good and complements each other so well. Fields will break you down off the dribble, and if you help off of either of the two, he will dump it off to them. If you don’t, he’s getting to the rim. And if anyone misses a shot, chances are that Blair is getting the rebound. He had 17 and 16 rebounds in the two games last week, including 17 total offensive rebounds. I doubt there is a better rebounder in the country.

2. (1) UConn 8-0 (2, 2)

Last Week: 12/4 @ Buffalo 68-64
Next Week: 12/15 vs. Stony Brook

Yup, I did it. I moved the Huskies out of the top spot. A lot of it has to do with anger (Seriously? Buffalo? By four?), but a lot of it has to do with the fact that they have just been too inconsistent. They looked so good in wins over Wisconsin and Miami FL, but so bad in the games against La Salle and Buffalo, and even against Hartford (they were only up 43-42 with 15:00 left before going on a 54-12 run). Why are the Huskies struggling right now? One of the big reasons is that they lack a go-to scorer. Sure, Jerome Dyson, Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet are all putting up great numbers, but last year UConn played their best basketball once AJ Price solidified himself as the guy. Thus far, Price has been inconsistent and, at times, looked plain-old bad. The good news for the Huskies is that Stanley Robinson will rejoin the team starting in the game against Stony Brook, although it remains to be seen how he will be used and how game-ready he will be (if you don’t know the story about Robinson, read this).

3. (3) Syracuse 8-0 (13, 16)

Last Week: 12/3 vs. Cornell 88-78
Next Week: 12/13 vs. Long Beach State, 12/15 vs. Cleveland State, 12/17 vs. Canisius

Syracuse has been living on the edge this year, as they trailed by 13 in their wins against Virginia and Kansas. Against Cornell, the Orange dug a 16 point hole in the first half. The issue right now for Syracuse is urgency. They don’t seem like they are focused at the start, and tend to take quick and rushed shots as a result. They also completely ignore Arinze Onuaku inside. Against a much smaller Cornell team, he didn’t take a shot and had one rebound in the first half. In the Cornell game, much like the game against Kansas, it was the defense that energized the Orange. In the Kansas game, the ‘Cuse switched from their zone back into an aggressive man-to-man and forced a couple turnovers that led to dunks. Against Cornell, it was a press that Boeheim put on that allowed the Orange to pull within five at the half. I’m not sure what Boeheim can do to get his team fired up from the get – he already starts in man.

On a side note, keep an eye on this Eric Devendorf issue. He was accused of hitting a fellow student in the face at 3am outside a frat party, but the circumstances surrounding the incident are a bit unclear (she is saying he hit her, he is saying it was an accident while defending himself from her blows). Regardless, he faced the SU judicial board on Friday, meaning there is a chance that the Orange could be without Devendorf for a while.

4. (5) Louisville 5-1 (9, 10)

Last Week: 12/6 vs. Indiana State 83-43, 12/7 vs. Ohio 91-56, 12/8 vs. Lamar 78-56
Next Week: 12/13 vs. Austin Peay

The Cardinals get bumped back up to contender status after a dominant week winning the Marques Maybin Classic. I like this Louisville team a lot. Their front line might be the best in the conference with Terrence Williams (who hasn’t found his shooting touch yet but is leading the team in rebounding, assists, and steals with 9.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, and 3.0 spg), Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels. Their backcourt is where the issues lie. The Louisville guards are, to a man, very tough defensively and aggressive when going to the boards. But they can’t shoot. It makes sense that if you are shooting poorly (say, I don’t know, 32.5% from three) that you would want to take the ball to the rim, especially when you have some great athletes playing against inferior competition, right? Well, that is the Cardinals, but so far, through six games, they are attempting 25 3s per game, and on the season have taken 20 more triples than free throws. If Pitino’s club wants to make a serious run, they will need to a) start hitting shots or b) start going to the hole.

TOURNEY TEAMS

5. (4) Notre Dame 6-2 (12, 13)

Last Week: 12/6 vs. Ohio State 62-67
Next Week: 12/13 vs. Boston University

Irish are a tough team to figure out. They looked very good (before the last minute) in their win over Texas and lost by just 15 to UNC with half of Luke Harangody, but they were thoroughly out played by a good, but not great, Ohio State team. Maybe you give them some benefit of the doubt because it was Harangody’s first game back from illness, and Kyle McAlarney is not going to go 3-11 and be held to six points too often. What it is all going to come down to for the Irish is defense – will they be able to stop people from penetrating like Evan Turner did Saturday (he finished with 28 points on 11-16 shooting)? The Irish are the exact opposite of UConn in that they have no shot blockers and instead want to keep you from penetrating and force you to hit tough jump shots.

6. (6) Georgetown 6-1 (19, 19)

Last Week: 12/6 vs. American 73-49, 12/8 vs. Savannah State 100-38
Next Week: 12/13 vs. Memphis

Two more blowout wins for the Hoyas. Just like I wrote last week, the Hoyas are a tough team to gauge right now. They will get a great barometer of where they are right now on Saturday when Memphis comes to town. The biggest issue I see with the Hoyas is their depth. Their starting five is very good and will be able to compete with anyone in the conference. But who is going to (and who would you feel comfortable with as a coach) come off the bench and produce? Jason Clark is a solid freshman, but that is really it on their bench.

7. (9) Marquette 7-1 (24, 24)

Last Week: 12/6 vs. Wisconsin 61-58
Next Week: 12/13 vs. IPFW, 12/16 vs. Tennessee

See above.

8. (7) West Virginia 6-2

Last Week: 12/3 @ Mississippi 80-78, 12/6 vs. Cleveland State 53-43, 12/9 vs. Davidson 65-68
Next Week: 12/13 @ Duquense

What is a word that can describe how West Virginia looked offensively against Davidson? Awful? Putrid? Vile? In their defense, the Mountaineers were playing with out Joe Mazzulla (left very early because of a shoulder injury suffered in a previous game) and Alex Ruoff (shoulder as well), two of their primary ball handlers. But still, they couldn’t move the ball, they couldn’t anything, and they couldn’t get the ball to the basket or to people who can score in a position they could score. What we did see out of WVU was tremendous offensive rebounding ability (they had 29 on the game, although a lot of that was a result of not making shots). The bottom line is that WVU will be good once they get Mazzulla and Ruoff healthy and have some semblance of an offense because they guys that played tonight showed that they can do a few things – play great defense, hit the boards, and hustle their butts off. Most impressive was freshman Devin Ebanks. The kid has a while to go before he is skill catches up with his raw talent, but he proved what kind of potential he has. He grabbed 17 rebounds in two games this week, but also was out matching up with Stephen Curry for much of the Davidson game.

9. (7) Villanova 8-1 (15, 12)

Last Week: 12/4 vs. Houston Baptist 93-57, 12/9 vs. Texas 58-67
Next Week: 12/11 vs. St. Joe’s, 12/14 @ La Salle

Villanova lost one of their big men, Casiem Drummond, this week when he decided that he would be transferring. It is not a huge loss as he battled injuries and attitude problems, which limited his playing time for the Wildcats. The bigger issue at hand was the loss to Texas, however. Dante Cunningham played fantastic, which he has done all season. The senior finished with 23 and 12 on a variety of jumpers and tough baskets inside. But the bigger question was where did ‘Nova’s guards go. Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, who average 38 ppg combined, finished with 21. Granted, Texas is a tough team defensively, but Villanova still looked bad in stretches on the perimeter. If the Wildcats hope to make noise in the Big East this season, those three are going to have to be better against good competition.

10. (11) Cincinnati  6-1

Last Week: 12/6 vs. UAB 87-80
Next Week: 12/13 vs. Xavier

The Bearcats have vaulted themselves into the NCAA tournament conversation with a 6-1 start including wins over UNLV and UAB. And they are doing it with Deonta Vaughn struggling (Mick Cronin even benched Vaughn at the start of the UAB game because of the way he was playing) and without freshman Cashmere Wright. I haven’t had a chance to see Cincy play yet, but that will come on Saturday when they host cross-town rival Xavier, which is always a great game to watch.

OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

11. (10) Seton Hall 7-1

Last Week: 12/9 vs. California Baptist 92-80
Next Week: 12/13 @ St. Peter’s College

Another ho-hum opponent, another close victory for the Pirates.

STILL HOPING

12. (14) Providence 6-3

Last Week: 12/3 vs. Brown 86-62, 12/6 vs. URI 66-65
Next Week: Nothing

Big week for PC as they bounced back from a poor trip out to Anaheim with two wins.

STRUGGLING

13. (13) South Florida 3-3

Last Week: 12/3 @ UAB 77-78 OT, 12/6 @ UCF 63-71
Next Week: 12/14 vs. Niagara, 12/16 vs. Vanderbilt

Yes, I know they are 3-3 and have lost two straight. But they are about to get Gus Gilchrist and Mike Mercer eligible, who should form a pretty good quartet when combined with Dominique Jones (18.2 ppg) and Jesus Verdejo (17.5 ppg).

14. ( 15) St. John’s 7-1

Last Week: 12/8 vs. NJIT 82-54
Next Week: 12/14 vs. Bethune-Cookman

Oh, sweet, a win over a team that has lost 41 straight games.

15. (12) DePaul 4-2

Last Week: 12/3 @ Cal 67-77, 12/6 @ Northwestern 36-63
Next Week: 12/10 vs. Morgan State, 12/13 vs. UCLA

They got smacked on the road twice against the cellar dwellers of the Pac-10 and Big 10.

16. (16) Rutgers 5-3

Last Week: 12/3 @ Rider 66-62, 12/6 vs. Binghamton 56-66
Next Week: 12/10 @ Princeton, 12/14 vs. Delaware State

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