Checking in on the… Big EastPosted by nvr1983 on January 14th, 2009
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
Give me an honest answer. What do you think is a more impressive accomplishment? Winning the Big East regular season title, winning the Big East Tournament, or reaching the Final Four?
Me? I’m going with the Big East regular season title. Every single time you step on the court in this league, it is a dogfight. It’s ridiculous what these teams go through. Take a look at the next six days for Syracuse: they head to DC on Wednesday to take on Georgetown, return back to Syracuse to face Notre Dame on Saturday, then travel to Pittsburgh to face the Panthers for Big Monday. Three games against top 15 teams in the span of six days culminating in a date with the #1 team in the country. And that isn’t an uncommon occurrence this year. Every team does it at least once (Running the Gauntlet, we’ve gone over this kiddies). The only conference that can match a run like that is the ACC, and that would have to mean one of Wake Forest, Clemson, Duke, or UNC plays the all of the other three. Tennessee playing Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas in the span of a week just isn’t quite the same thing.
What I love about this year’s version of the Big East is the unpredictability. I could legitimately see four different teams winning the regular season title and three others that, if they get hot, could reel off six or seven straight wins and end up on top. Before league play started, it was UConn. Then they lost to Georgetown on opening night, and the Hoyas became the team to beat. Then Pitt rolled through DC to become the new and current favorite. Who is next? Pitt plays Louisville and Syracuse this week. If one of those two knocks off the Panthers, are they the favorite of the week?
The more I think about it, winning the Big East tourney title may be a tougher feat than reaching a Final Four as well. For the first time, all 16 teams will be headed to Madison Square Garden to participate in the conference tournament, which just so happens to be the number of teams that play in each regional in the NCAA’s.
Going based on national rankings, the seeding for the top nine in the Big East tourney right now would look like this (in parentheses is the seeding that RTC’s resident bracketologist Zach Hayes has given in his most recent post:
1. Pitt (1)
2. UConn (2)
3. Syracuse (2)
4. Georgetown (3)
5. Notre Dame (5)
6. Marquette (4)
7. Louisville (6)
8. Villanova (10)
9. West Virginia (8 )
Personally, I think there is going to be some movement (either UConn or Syracuse will be a 1 seed, Louisville will not be a 6 seed, and West Virginia and Villanova better start winning before they mess around and end up with a NIT bid) with this seeding when it is all said and done but right now every team except for Villanova is either the same or a lower seed in the Big East tourney than they are in the NCAA tourney. What I’m saying is that if this came out as one of the regions on Selection Sunday, Digger Phelps would be screaming about how Notre Dame got jobbed everyone would be talking about how it is the toughest region. Assuming seeds win out, if UConn were to win this thing, they would have to beat Louisville, Syracuse, and Pitt on three straight nights.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Louisville. The Cardinals have really turned their season around in 2009. After losing at home to UNLV (without Wink Adams), Louisville has reeled off four straight wins with three coming this past week. Two of those wins, at Villanova and versus Notre Dame, were big conference wins against top 25 teams. The biggest reason why? Earl Clark and Terrence Williams are finally playing up to their potential. T-Will looked like a first-team All-American against Notre Dame. He finished the game with 24 points, 16 boards, 8 dimes, and 3 steals. That was a game after he went for 10, 14, 6 dimes, and 2 steals against Villanova. Clark averaged 17.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg, and 3.0 apg in the last three games, including a little how’s-your-father on Luke Harangody.
I’ve said this here before – with Louisville it is going to come down to shot selection. They have the athletes. They have the size. They have capable shooters that can knock down open threes (and they are going to be shooting a lot of threes – they take the most and make the second most in the Big East). They are at their best when they are shooting threes off the catch, and the easiest way to make that happen is to get the ball into the paint and then kick it back out to open shooters. Since they don’t really have a point guard, they need to rely on Williams and Clark, their two leaders in assists, for that penetration. It has also helped that Samardo Samuels is getting more comfortable with passing out of a double team. Louisville looks to be hitting their stride, and if they do, they have the pieces to make a run at the Big East title and the Final Four.
1. (1) Pitt 15-0, 3-0 (1, 1)
Last Week: 1/11 vs. St. John’s 90-67
Next Week: 1/14 vs. South Florida, 1/17 @ Louisville, 1/19 vs. Syracuse
Not much to report on about the Panthers this week. They rolled over the Johnnie’s on the strength of 23 points and 15 boards from DeJuan Blair. The biggest news from the St. John’s game was that Jermaine Dixon scored a career high 17 points. Dixon is garnering a reputation as one of the best on ball defenders in the conference, but what Pitt really needs out of him is another offensive weapon. They need him to be able to run the floor in transition and to slash to the basket from the wing. If he can do that and become a 10 ppg guy, it will take a lot of pressure off of Pitt’s big three. We will really find out about Pitt at the end of this week when they head to Louisville then host Syracuse. Both teams are capable of beating the Panthers, but I think Pitt gets handed their first loss at Louisville. The Cardinals are playing well right now, and I think their front line of Clark, Williams and Samuels will be able to compete with Blair and co.
2. (2) UConn 14-1, 3-1 (4, 4)
Last Week: 1/10 @ Cincinnati 81-72
Next Week: 1/15 @ St. John’s, 1/18 vs. Seton Hall
The Huskies put together another less-stellar-performance on Saturday against Cincinnati. I consider myself a pretty smart guy, and I know that I’m very knowledgeable about hoops, but I need help with something. Can someone please explain to me how Hasheem Thabeet, who is 7’3”, has been put on some lists as an all-american, and is way up there on the NBA draft boards, only gets three rebounds in a game in which he plays 29 minutes? I know Cincinnati is fairly big this year, but that is ridiculous. The good news for the Huskies is that AJ Price finally woke up against Cincinnati. He’s been really up and down this season, but he reached a low point against West Virginia when he went 0-9 from the floor in just 22 minutes of action. Price, after the game, called it the worst of his career, spent the off-days working on his shot, and came out on fire against the Bearcats. The two biggest ones he hit came at the end of the half. UConn had jumped out to an early lead, but Cincy was able to battle back and tie it up near the end of the half. But Price knocked down two huge three’s in the final 38 seconds to send UConn to the half up four with the momentum.
3. (3) Syracuse 16-1, 4-0 (8, 8 )
Last Week: 1/7 vs. DePaul 85-68, 1/10 @ Rutgers 82-66
Next Week: 1/14 @ Georgetown, 1/17 vs. Notre Dame, 1/19 @ Pitt
So the Orange’s four wins in conference play have come against the four bottom-feeders in last week’s Checking In… , but the Orange will be tested. Soon. And then over and over again. Syracuse probably has the toughest run of anyone in the conference. Their next 10 games consist of eight ranked opponents, while the two unranked teams are West Virginia (ranked last week) and Providence (the only Big East team that looks bubble-worthy). The only team in the top ten in the league that they don’t play in their next 10 games is Marquette. A couple notes on the Orange. Jonny Flynn didn’t shoot all that well against Rutgers, but scored 15 points, grabbed 7 boards (a team high), and had 9 assists without turning the ball over while playing 40 minutes. Oh yeah, and he did this:
Paul Harris is back from his thumb injury and looks fine as he averaged 20 ppg, 7.5 rpg, and 2.0 bpg, including a 26 point night against Rutgers (on 11-13 shooting). You may hate Eric Devendorf for the way he plays (running his mouth all game, showboating, cockiness, overall douchebaggery), but I think that his attitude is so important for this team. Syracuse has a tendency to come out flat and play without enough energy during games. Like him or not, one thing you cannot argue about Devo is that he always plays with intensity. And that intensity is contagious. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that in three of the four games since Devo has returned from his suspension, Syracuse has finished the first half up big (something they have struggled with a bit this year).
4. (8 ) Louisville 12-3, 3-0 (20, 20)
Last Week: 1/7 vs. South Florida 71-57, 1/10 @ Villanova 61-60, 1/12 vs. Notre Dame 87-73 OT
Next Week: 1/17 vs. Pitt
NOT QUITE CONTENDERS
5. (4) Marquette 15-2, 4-0 (14, 14)
Last Week: 1/7 @ Rutgers 81-76, 1/10 vs. West Virginia 75-53
Next Week: 1/17 @ Providence
There may not be a team in the league playing better basketball than Marquette and there may not be a player in the country playing better than Jerel McNeal. Marquette is one of the most fun teams in the country to watch (who wins in a dunk contest – Jonny Flynn or Dominic James? Flynn probably has more tricks like between the legs and whatnot, but I bet James can jump over a car length wise – I’m taking James), but they proved against a tough West Virginia team that they are not afraid to mix it up in the paint, no matter the size disadvantage. The Mountaineers have a lot of big, long, athletic guys and they love to attack the glass. After watching the Eagles dismantle the Mountaineers in the second half, I am a bit less worried about Marquette’s size, but I still don’t see how they can match-up with a team like Pitt or Louisville or UConn that is so big on the interior. One word of advice for Buzz Williams: Mo Acker and David Cubillan are good players. Use them instead of playing James and McNeal 40 minutes in a 22 point win.
6. (6) Georgetown 11-3, 2-2 (13, 12)
Last Week: 1/10 vs. Providence 82-75
Next Week: 1/14 vs. Syracuse, 1/17 @ Duke
I think we can now officially end any discussion about who the best freshman in the country is. After struggling with just two first half points, Greg Monroe took the game over in the second half against Providence, finishing with 13 points, 11 boards, 8 assists, 5 steals, and 2 blocks. The kid does it all. But what is more impressive than that stat line (and what is much more important for Georgetown as a team) is that they were able to come back on Providence without their two seniors. DaJuan Summers picked up his fourth foul early in the second half with the Hoyas down 44-42. With a line-up of two sophomores and three freshmen (Monroe, Jason Clark and Henry Sims), Georgetown went on a 19-2 run to take a 15 point lead. The Hoyas biggest issue right now is their depth, especially along the front line. If Henry Sims can turn into a reliable option along side Julian Vaughn, it will mean that not only can Georgetown go big if necessary (one of the two alongside Monroe and Summers), but that the Hoyas can afford to rest their starters. Playing 35-40 minutes a night in this league is too much (Georgetown proved that with their sluggish performance against Notre Dame). One thing I question JT3 on is the intelligence in scheduling Duke in the middle of Big East play. This conference is hard enough, why would you want to add an extra game in the middle of league play against the #2 team in the country?
7. (6) Notre Dame 12-4, 3-2 (12, 13)
Last Week: 1/10 vs. Seton Hall 88-79, 1/12 @ Louisville 73-87 OT
Next Week: 1/17 @ Syracuse
As I see Notre Dame play more, I am becoming less and less impressed with the Irish. Luke Harangody’s awesome, that’s obvious. But I have some issues with how he played against Louisville. I feel like he is turning into a jump shooting big man. There is nothing wrong with that, because he has been hitting the shots. The issue is that it hurts his efficiency because he doesn’t draw fouls and get to the line. But he is also taking himself out of the play on o-boards, and he is really the only rebounder that the Irish have on their roster this year. I hope every Big East coach was watching the Notre Dame-Louisville game. The Irish had just made a run, taken a 71-67 lead with 5:35 left, and Samardo Samuels had picked up his fourth foul. For the rest of regulation and overtime, Pitino rotated Samuels offense-defense with Terrence Jennings, a 6’10”, athletic, shot-blocker. Notre Dame would score two points from then on out because Harangody became a non-factor against Jennings, getting his shot blocked three times. To slow down ‘Gody, put someone long and athletic on him. The key to ND this year is going to be Tory Jackson. In the four ND losses, Jackson has 17 assists and 15 turnovers. In the 12 wins, his assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.3:1. The Irish are at their best when he is making plays and finding open teammates without turning the rock over. The Irish better hope no one is hurt, especially in their back court, because they only have one capable sub in Luke Zeller.
8. (7) West Virginia 11-4, 1-2
Last Week: 1/10 @ Marquette 53-75
Next Week: 1/14 vs. Marshall, 1/17 vs. South Florida
A couple of weeks ago, I was all about Truck Bryant. After watching him against UConn and Marquette, I am not so sure. The bottom line is that regardless of how impressive he has looked, Bryant is still a freshman. Against UConn, he had 11 points and 7 assists, but versus West Virginia, he was held scoreless with just one board, one assist, and four turnovers. I’m not saying Truck needs to take over games (yet), but he needs to be relevant for WVU to be relevant.
9. (9) Villanova 13-3, 1-2 (23, 22)
Last Week: 1/10 vs. Louisville 60-61
Next Week: 1/18 vs. St. Johns
I think I would have a much higher opinion of the Wildcats if they had actually knocked off Louisville instead of handing them the game with missed free throws and missed lay-ups. Their best win right now is … I’m not sure – St. Joe’s? Rhode Island? Seton Hall? Temple? This team seriously needs to put it together if they want to make the NCAAs. My biggest issue with Villanova is that it is looking more and more like their guards just aren’t that good. They were hoping that Scottie Reynolds/Corey Fisher/Corey Stokes were going to be as good as the Marquette guards (or at least close to them), but they aren’t. Looking at their schedule, Villanova is going to need to beat at least one of the other top Big East teams just to reach .500 in conference play.
10. (12) Providence 11-5, 3-1
Last Week: 1/7 @ Cinci 87-79, 1/10 @ Georgetown 75-82
Next Week: 1/17 vs. Marquette, 1/19 vs. Cinci
The win on the road at Cincy was huge, but so was blowing the lead at Georgetown. Providence is probably going to have to finish with 10 wins and in the top half of the league if they want to reach the tournament, which means they need to handle schools like Cincy and they cannot blow leads when they are beating any of the top 9 nine teams.
WE SUCK, BUT WE GOT A WIN
11. (10) St. John’s 10-5, 1-2
Last Week: 1/11 @ Pitt 67-90
Next Week: 1/15 vs. UConn, 1/18 @ Villanova
The Johnnies have some fight in them this year. It’s a shame that they are without Anthony Mason, Jr. because he would have formed a really nice duo with DJ Kennedy.
12. (13) South Florida 6-9, 1-2
Last Week: 1/7 vs. Louisville 57-71, 1/10 @ DePaul 80-58
Next Week: 1/14 @ Pitt, 1/17 @ West Virginia
While this year may be a loss, if the Bulls are able to get Dominique Jones, Gus Gilchrist, and Mike Mercer back, they just added Ohio State transfer Anthony Crater to the mix, who was a highly rated PG coming out of high school.
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT A TEAM WILL GO WINLESS IN BIG EAST PLAY?
13. (14) Rutgers 9-8, 0-4
Last Week: 1/7 @ Marquette 76-81, 1/10 @ Syracuse 66-82
Next Week: 1/14 @ Cinci
It’s too bad that Rutgers plays in the Big East, because they have a decent, but young, team.
14. (11) Cincinnati 10-5, 0-3
Last Week: 1/7 vs. Providence 79-87, 1/10 vs. UConn 72-81
Next Week: 1/14 vs. Rutgers, 1/17 @ DePaul, 1/19 @ Providence
The Bearcats are going to struggle until they can get Deonta Vaughn healthy.
15. (16) Seton Hall 9-7, 0-4
Last Week: 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-88
Next Week: 1/18 @ UConn
The Pirates have now lost 6 of 7 after starting out the season in such promising fashion.
16. (15) DePaul 8-9, 0-4
Last week: 1/7 @ Syracuse 68-85, 1/10 vs. South Florida
Next Week: 1/17 vs. Cinci, 1/20 @ South Florida
A 22 point loss to USF at home? Embarrassing.