Checking in on the… Big EastPosted by rtmsf on December 31st, 2008
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
Big East play has officially begun! For each and every team in this conference, you can essentially throw out their non-conference games because they are guaranteed at least seven games against top 25 teams (or eight, can someone please explain to me how West Virginia is not one of the top 25 teams in the country?). Get hot at the right time, reel off five or six straight wins during the right part of your schedule, and you can thrust yourself directly onto the bubble.
Granted, that is MUCH more easily said than done. As you will see, every team in this conference has a run where they will play four or five top 25 teams in the span of two weeks. Because it was a slow week (thanks Santa, but you did get me Fifa ’09 so you’re not all bad) and more than a few teams didn’t play, I am going to be giving you what I like to call “Running the Gauntlet” (patent pending), which is the string of three or four or five (or sometimes even nine) games which you will only see in happening in the Big East.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Darryl “Truck” Bryant, West Virginia
Statistically speaking, Truck had far from the best week in the conference, even on his own team. In the Mountaineers’ only game (a blowout of Ohio State) Truck finished with 11 points and 2 dimes. But it is more than his performance, it is the importance of his play to this West Virginia team. It looks like there is a real possibility that Joe Mazzulla will be out for the season, meaning that Truck is basically the only PG Bob Huggins has on his roster right now. West Virginia does not need Truck to carry this team. In fact, they are probably better when he is blending in more than standing out, so to speak. What they need from him is tough defense, ball control, and the ability to make a big shot or big play when WVU needs it. He did that perfectly against Ohio State. The Mountaineers did not play all that well against the Buckeyes, but in the second half when they were pulling away, Truck was in the middle of everything. He had a couple tough finishes on drives to the basket, he scored a few times on a fast break, and on a team that struggles to move the ball at times, he orchestrated a beautifully run offense (especially in the second half) against a pretty good OSU zone. You want a good comparison for this kid? Think Levance Fields as a freshman.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Georgetown
The Hoyas played just one game this week. It just so happened that game was a win over UConn, the #2 team in the country. The Hoyas thoroughly dominated the Huskies throughout. If there was a word that defined the Hoyas performance, it was execution. JT3 had the perfect game plan against UConn. His Hoyas controlled the pace of the game by running through their offensive sets, then exploiting any UConn break down defensively. And when they attacked, they scored just about every time, especially down the stretch. UConn just couldn’t get any stops. If it wasn’t a back door cut, it was an open jump shot or a drive to the rim, which resulted in either a lay-up or a trip to the foul line (the Hoyas hit their last 18 free throws in the second half). Last week I told you I was finally coming to terms with the fact that Greg Monroe was not going to be a star just yet. Well, against UConn, Monroe proved why he had so much hype coming out of high school. He knocked down two threes, but was able to put the ball on the floor and go by Hasheem Thabeet when the big fella came out to guard him. He made three gorgeous back door passes, two of which came off the dribble. He blocked shots, and even ripped AJ Price at half court, which led to an and-1 lay-up. The most impressive part about Monroe right now is that he does all of this within the Georgetown system. The Hoyas still have some depth problems (the only starter that didn’t play 35 minutes against the Huskies was Monroe, and he was in foul trouble during the second half), but if guys like Jason Clark, Omar Wattad (side note: I think the best sign I have seen this year came at the Georgetown-Memphis game when some fan held up “Let’s Get Wattaded”), Julian Vaughn, and Henry Sims can provide anywhere between 8-15 minutes a game each, the Hoyas should be ok because of the pace they play at.
1. (4) Georgetown 10-1, 1-0 (11, 8 )
Last Week: 12/29 @ UConn 74-63
Next Week: 1/3 vs. Pitt, 1/5 @ Notre Dame
“Running the Gauntlet”: The Hoyas have already started traversing their gauntlet. 12/29 @ UConn, 1/3 vs. Pitt, 1/5 @ Notre Dame, 1/10 vs. Providence, 1/15 vs. Syracuse, 1/17 @ Duke, and 1/22 vs. West Virginia.
2. (2) Pitt 12-0, 0-0 (3, 3)
Last Week: Nothing
Next Week: 12/31 @ Rutgers, 1/3 @ Georgetown
Pitt takes the court again on New Years Eve as they open Big East play at Rutgers. Since the Panthers didn’t play last week, I’m going to use this space to talk a little bit about their match-up with the Hoyas in DC on Saturday. This will be the biggest test the Panthers have had this year. If you like defensive, tough, smash mouth basketball, be sure to check in for this one. The score might not break 100 combined. The way I see it, this game is going to won or lost on the glass, specifically the offensive glass for the Panthers. Pitt is not a very good team right now offensively as they don’t really have anyone you could consider a scorer outside of Sam Young. But they are so tough going after missed shots. They average more than 16 offensive rebounds per game (5.5 of those coming from DeJuan Blair). While the Hoyas will have a bit of a size advantage inside, they come nowhere near the Panthers in terms of sheer mass. It will be intriguing to see what Georgetown does defensively. Their match-up zone worked really well against the Huskies in terms of forcing turnovers, but UConn still ended up getting the rebound on 14 of their 27 misses. If they go man, I’m not sure if they are strong or athletic enough to handle the Panthers. Jeff Adrien killed the Hoyas in the second half and he is strong, but Blair (a similar player in terms of skill set) is stronger. I think the Hoyas best bet is to play that match-up zone, dare Pitt to shoot it from the outside, then crash the glass hard. The key for the Hoyas offensively will be DaJuan Summers and Greg Monroe. Do you think Blair and Tyrell Biggs can match up with them on the perimeter? Not likely. If those two play like they did against UConn, and the Hoyas can hold their own on the boards, I think they pull this one out at home.
“Running the Gauntlet”: 1/17 @ Louisville, 1/19 vs. Syracuse, 1/25 @ West Virginia, 1/28 @ Villanova, 1/31 vs. Notre Dame.
3. (3) Syracuse 13-1, 1-0 (13, 11)
Last Week: 12/30 vs. Seton Hall
Next Week: 1/2 @ South Florida
The Orange got two great pieces of news this week. The first is that Eric Devendorf has been reinstated. You don’t think Jim Boeheim has pull at this school? Devo’s suspension went from the rest of the season to two games. Granted, he did do 40 hours of community service not hitting women at a soup kitchen over the holiday, but it is still an impressive swing (although, to be honest, given the facts in this situation – the girl changing her story, a lack of witnesses, the notoriety of the Syracuse Judicial Board as a kangaroo court – I think it is a fair ruling). The other piece of news is that Andy Rautins seems to have finally figured out that he is, in fact, a good shooter. His last two games he has averaged 27.5 ppg while going 16-26 from deep.
“Running the Gauntlet”: I might as well put the whole conference schedule up on this one. 1/14 @ Georgetown, 1/17 vs. Notre Dame, 1/19 @ Pitt, 1/25 vs. Louisville, 1/28 @ Providence, 2/4 vs. West Virginia, 2/7 @ Villanova, 2/11 @ UConn, 2/14 vs. Georgetown, 2/22 vs. Villanova.
4. (1) UConn 11-1, 0-1 (2, 2)
Last Week: 12/29 vs. Georgetown 63-74
Next Week: 1/3 vs. Rutgers, 1/6 @ West Virginia
Yes, I did it. I dropped the Huskies from the ranks of the contenders. Drastic? Yes. Overreaction? Maybe. Warranted? Absolutely. Here’s why: the Huskies just did not seem to care against Georgetown. Let’s put this in perspective for you. UConn was playing their biggest Big East rival at home on national television as the opener of maybe the most anticipated conference in the history of basketball in front of 16,000 fans … and they came out flat? UConn is loaded this season, there is no question of that. But they don’t have a roster full of guys who are great basketball players per se. They are a group of ridiculous athletes that will thrive when they can get into an up-and-down game. In other words, they are going to be successful when they play hard, when they hustle, and when they play with intensity. And enthusiasm. And emotion. They showed none of that against Georgetown. Jim Calhoun was none too thrilled about his team’s performance either. One loss isn’t going to ruin this team’s season, as everyone is going to take their lumps in this conference. It is more than one loss for them. It’s more than the struggles of Hasheem Thabeet and Jerome Dyson and AJ Price. If this is how UConn plays all season, they are in trouble.
One other note about the Huskies. Jim Calhoun may have to break down and start playing a zone. There aren’t a lot of teams that the Huskies front line is going to match-up well with defensively because Jeff Adrien and Thabeet are not very good perimeter defenders. Most of the other bigs in the conference can step out and put the ball on the floor on the perimeter. This wasn’t a problem last year for a team like Georgetown (with Roy Hibbert) because Hibbert was a threat on the offensive end, especially when he went up against smaller opponents. The mismatch worked both ways. For UConn, Thabeet is not an offensive threat unless he gets the ball handed to him three feet from the rim (even then, he may struggle – check the 30 second mark). They don’t get the benefits of the mismatch on offense.
“Running the Gauntlet”: 2/16 vs. Pitt, 2/21 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Marquette, 2/28 vs. Notre Dame, 3/7 @ Pitt.
5. (6) West Virginia 10-2
Last Week: 12/27 @ Ohio State 76-48
Next Week: 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 1/6 vs. UConn
“Running the Gauntlet”: 1/31 @ Louisville, 2/4 @ Syracuse, 2/7 vs. Providence, 2/9 @ Pitt, 2/13 vs. Villanova, 2/18 vs. Notre Dame.
6. (5) Notre Dame 9-2 (7, 10)
Last Week: Nothing
Next Week: 12/31 @ DePaul, 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 1/5 vs. Georgetown
Mike Brey knows how to schedule during the holidays – two of the fluffiest cupcakes before Christmas (Savannah State and Delaware State) and waiting almost a week before playing a game after Christmas. I question the intelligence of scheduling a cross-country trip to play UCLA in the heart of the Big East season though.
“Running the Gauntlet”: 1/12 @ Louisville, 1/17 @ Syracuse, 1/24 vs. UConn, 1/26 vs. Marquette, 1/31 @ Pitt, 2/4 @ Cinci, 2/7 @ UCLA, 2/12 vs. Louisville.
7. (9) Louisville 8-2 (18, 18)
Last Week: 12/27 vs. UAB 82-62
Next Week: 12/31 vs. UNLV, 1/4 vs. Kentucky
The Cardinals played like the team everyone thought they were going to be against UAB. I know the Blazers have had their roster decimated, but they still have their core of Robert Vaden, Paul Delaney, and Lawrence Kinnard, which is enough to make any team dangerous. And Louisville buried them playing far from their best game. A huge reason was the play of Terrence Williams, who finally showed why he is regarded as one of the best all-around players in the country (21 points, 10 boards, 7 assists, 3 steals, 5-8 three’s). Pitino also shook up his line-up starting Jared Swopshire and Preston Knowles over Earl Clark and Andre McGee. He said it was because he wanted the younger guys to get important minutes in case of injury or foul trouble, but more than likely it was to send a message to his guys (I remember reading a Pitino quote about Clark that said essentially “he is great in games, but not too good in practice”). Here is my (newest, albeit ever changing) take on the Cardinals. They are always going to be a three-point shooting team. The question is, what kind of threes do they take? When they get the ball into the paint (via a post touch or penetration) and kick it out for open looks, they are much better shooters than when they settle for contested three’s off the dribble in transition or after swinging the ball on the perimeter. I think the biggest issue thus far (other than Terrence Williams getting back from his knee injury) is getting used to playing with Samardo Samuels as opposed to David Padgett, who was a much better passer out of the post.
“Running the Gauntlet”: 1/10 @ Villanova, 1/12 vs. Notre Dame, 1/17 vs. Pitt, 1/21 @ Rutgers, 1/25 @ Syracuse.
t8. (7) Marquette 11-2 (NR, 25)
Last Week: 12/28 vs. Presbyterian 84-45
Next Week: 1/1 vs. Villanova, 1/4 @ Cinci
“Running the Gauntlet”: 2/21 @ Georgetown, 2/25 vs. UConn, 3/1 @ Louisville, 3/4 @ Pitt, 3/7 vs. Syracuse.
t8. (8) Villanova 12-1 (15, 13)
Last Week: 12/29 vs. Temple 62-45
Next Week: 1/1 @ Marquette, 1/6 @ Seton Hall
“Running the Gauntlet”: 2/7 vs. Syracuse, 2/10 vs. Marquette, 2/13 @ West Virginia, 2/19 vs. Rutgers, 2/22 @ Syracuse
Again, I’m going to use this space to talk about the upcoming match-up between these two teams. Before I do, one quick note about ‘Nova – great to see Corey Fisher get hot after struggling throughout December. He went for 23 on 7-8 shooting (4-4 from deep) in their win over Temple. On to the game. Right now, these two teams are the biggest question marks among the upper echelon of the Big East. Both are guard oriented teams with an issue in the middle. While they play slightly different styles (Marquette likes to run more) they both play a lot of perimeter guys and love to shoot threes. The key to this game will be how Villanova handles Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal. Both of those guys are strong, bigger than their Wildcat counterparts, and make a living slashing to the basket. The Two Coreys (Fisher and Stokes) are both excellent players, but I see them having all kinds of trouble with the quickness and/or strength of the Marquette back court guys. Likewise, it will be difficult for Marquette to match-up with Dante Cunningham inside. But if Marquette chooses to go to their small line-up (essentially playing Lazar Hayward at center), Cunningham will be able to defend him on the perimeter. That said, I still think Matthews and McNeal will be too much for ‘Nova at home.
10. (10) Cincinnati 10-3
Last Week: 12/29 @ Memphis 45-60
Next Week: 1/4 @ Marquette
Without Cashmere Wright, Cincinnati is turning into a team that relies on their size and athleticism going to the glass for offense. They are going to be successful against teams that can’t match-up with them vertical for vertical. When they play a team that does, you get performances like the one they had against Memphis (or Florida State earlier in the year). Against the Tigers, Cincy was 12-46 from the floor and turned it over 20 times.
“Running the Gauntlet”: I can see Cincy being 5-2 in the Big East on Jan. 27th, and 5-11 on March 2nd. 1/28 vs. Georgetown, 2/1 @ Villanova, 2/4 vs. Notre Dame, 2/7 @ Georgetown, 2/11 vs. St. John’s, 2/14 @ Pitt, 2/21 vs. Louisville, 2/26 vs. West Virginia, 3/1 @ Syracuse.
PLAYING FOR 11TH PLACE
11. (11) St. John’s 9-3
Last Week: 12/27 vs. Miami FL 56-70
Next Week: 12/31 @ Providence, 1/3 vs. Notre Dame
The Johnnies have put up a decent record playing without Anthony Mason Jr. and with an injured Justin Burrell the last four games (he missed two, limited minutes in two).
“Running the Gauntlet”: 1/3 vs. Notre Dame, 1/11 @ Pitt, 1/15 vs. UConn, 1/18 @ Villanova.
12. (12) Providence 8-4
Last Week: Nothing.
Next Week: 12/31 vs. DePaul, 1/3 vs. St. John’s
The Friars have the best chance to make a run an at-large bid as anyone on this list.
“Running the Gauntlet”: 1/28 vs. Syracuse, 1/31 @ UConn, 2/4 vs. Villanova, 2/7 @ West Virginia.
13. (13) Seton Hall 9-4
Last Week: 12/27 vs. Farleigh Dickinson 101-70, 12/30 @ Syracuse 76-100
Next Week: 1/3 vs. West Virginia, 1/6 vs. Villanova
The Pirates looked completely overmatched against Syracuse.
“Running the Gauntlet”: 12/30 @ Syracuse, 1/3 vs. West Virginia, 1/6 vs. Villanoca, 1/10 @ Notre Dame, 1/18 @ UConn.
14. (14) Rutgers 9-4
Last Week: 12/28 @ UNC 75-97
Next Week: 12/31 vs. Pitt, 1/3 @ UConn
How often do you hear someone say “they lost by 22 but put up a really good fight” about a Big East team?
“Running the Gauntlet”: 12/28 @ UNC, 12/31 vs. Pitt, 1/3 @ UConn, 1/7 vs. Marquette, 1/10 vs. Syracuse, 1/14 @ Cinci, 1/21 vs. Louisville.
15. (15) DePaul 8-5
Last Week: 12/28 vs. Alcorn State 90-67
Next Week: 12/31 vs. Notre Dame, 1/3 @ Providence
DePaul has now won four of their last five.
“Running the Gauntlet”: 2/15 @ Louisville, 2/21 @ Pitt, 2/25 vs. Villanova, 2/28 vs. St. John’s, 3/4 @ West Virginia, 3/7 @ Georgetown.
16. (16) South Florida 5-7
Last Week: 12/27 vs. Iona 68-55
Next Week: 1/2 vs. Syracuse
Dominique Jones playing for South Florida is such a waste of a stud. But explain to me how he can go scoreless against Wright State, and have 36 on Iona?
“Running the Gauntlet”: 2/6 vs. Marquette, 2/10 vs. Providence, 2/15 @ Notre Dame, 2/18 vs. Georgetown, 2/21 @ UConn.