Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 5th, 2009

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

Remember all that talk about the Big East getting nine, maybe ten, teams into the dance? It seems like a long time ago now, as it is a legitimate possibility the league only gets seven teams in. The three teams in danger of missing out are Georgetown, Notre Dame and Providence.

The Irish are in the worst position right now. They are currently sitting at 12-8 and 3-6 in the Big East, but they are just 2-7 against the RPI’s top 50. Their RPI is 77 and their SOS is 49, which aren’t great. But the Irish still play four teams in the RPI top 20, and three more in the top 70, which means the Irish have plenty of chances to up their RPI rating.

Providence could also be in trouble. Their RPI is 63 and their SOS is 42. Their record is a little better than the Irish (14-7, 6-3), but they have struggled against the best teams (1-5 vs. RPI top 50, but 3-2 against 51-100). They, too, will get plenty of chances to improve their resume as they have five more games against the top 20.

Georgetown looks to be the safest right now. They have an RPI of 20, have played the toughest schedule in the country (and second toughest in Big East play to West Virginia). They are just 3-5 against the RPI top 50, but they do own wins against Memphis and at UConn. All Georgetown needs to keep in mind is Arizona last year. The Wildcats finished 16-14, 8-10 in the Pac-10 (good for 7th), but got into the dance as a 10 seed based on their tough scheduling (#2 in SOS).

The bottom line is that it is tough to rule out anyone near the bubble in the Big East. With so many quality teams in the league, all it would take for a Cincinnati or a St. John’s is a great finish to the season, and a run to the quarters or the semis of the Big East Tourney.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Hasheem Thabeet, UConn

Before the season started, I wrote this post discussing why I believed Thabeet was going to be the most valuable player during the season. Long story short, his presence on the defensive end allowed the Huskies to play their pressuring, overplaying defense because they didn’t have to worry about getting beat to the rim with the big fella there. While Thabeet has had a bit of an up-and-down season to this point, he dominated the paint last week as UConn stretched their winning streak to ten. After a somewhat pedestrian 11 points, 9 boards, and 4 blocks against DePaul, Thabeet posted his first career triple-double with 15 points, 11 boards (7 offensive), and 10 blocks in UConn’s demolition of Providence. While that was an impressive game, his impact in the Husky victory over Louisville was probably greater. While his numbers weren’t as great (14, 11, 4), his presence completely changed the way the Cardinals played. Samardo Samuels, who averages 12.4 ppg, looked like a terrified eighth-grader every time he touched the ball in the paint. Earl Clark stopped trying to get to the rim, and became strictly a jump shooter (he went 2-16 from the floor, 1-6 from three, and didn’t attempt a free throw – great stat line for your four to put up). The play that sticks out in my mind came at the end. Preston Knowles got into the paint, and looked to have an open lay-up. Thabeet came over, and instead of Knowles trying to finish and/or draw a foul, he tried a ridiculous wrap-around pass to Terrence Jennings that ended up out of bounds. It isn’t that often that a player can control a game without needing to touch the ball. Thabeet does that.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Villanova Wildcats

The Wildcats have not gotten a lot of respect this season (I’ve been a pretty big offender myself). Before this week, they didn’t have any impressive wins (although they also didn’t have any bad losses) and hadn’t been beating teams like a top 20 team should be. That changed on Wednesday, as ‘Nova beat Pitt 67-57 in the final college game at the Wachovia Center. Reggie Redding and Dante Cunningham led the Wildcats with 18 and 15, respectively, but the biggest reason for the win? The Wildcats were able to compete on the boards with Pitt, outrebounding the Panthers (the best rebounding team in the conference) 19-16 in the second half. Three days later, ‘Nova came back from an early deficit to beat Cincy 71-50 on the strength of 21 points, 8 boards, and 3 blocks from Cunningham. While the Pitt win still has a bit of an asterisk in my mind (DeJuan Blair was saddled with foul trouble), the Wildcats at least proved they are worthy of their ranking.



1. (1a) UConn 21-1, 10-1 (1, 1)

Last Week: 1/28 @ DePaul 71-49, 1/31 vs. Providence 94-61, 2/2 @ Louisville 68-51
Next Week: 2/7 vs. Michigan

The Huskies have firmly entrenched themselves atop the Big East power rankings after (very) convincing wins over Providence and at Louisville. I feel bad for Jerome Dyson. Hasheem Thabeet’s name is being thrown around NBA Draft boards. Jeff Adrien is Mr. Consistency, and now starting to get national attention. AJ Price is the guy that carried them last season after missing two seasons. No one ever talks about Dyson, which is a shame because he is a heckuva player. As a freshman he was UConn’s leading scorer, and he was last year as well before he was suspended. He struggled when he got back from the suspension fitting into a “role”, but he has relished that role this year. Dyson is not only the best on-the-ball defender the Huskies have, he also is the best hustle guy – you know those guys that just always seems to come up with the loose balls and offensive rebounds? It is really something he deserves mention for. It isn’t that often you see a guy come in as a star as a freshman, but develop into a role player.

2. (4) Marquette 20-2, 9-0 (8, 8)

Last Week: 1/31 vs. Georgetown 94-82, 2/3 @ DePaul 76-61
Next Week: 2/6 @ South Florida, 2/10 @ Villanova

It is time I give credit where credit’s due. While I am still not convinced that Marquette is as good as their record indicates (they don’t play any of the other top four teams until their last four games, they are playing some great basketball right now. It is also about time Jerel McNeal was thrown into the conversation for not only the Big East, but the national player of the year (I love hate tooting my own horn, but read this column from about a month ago – I know, I’m good). In two games last week, McNeal averaged 26 ppg, 5 rpg, 8.5 apg, 5 spg, and 3.5 bpg. He also shot 10-18 from three. Overall, in Big East play, McNeal is averaging 23.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, and 2.4 spg while shooting a league best 53% from three and making 3.5 3’s per (0.1 behind McAlarney for the league lead).

3. (1b) Pitt 20-2, 7-2 (6, 5)

Last Week: 1/28 @ Villanova 57-67, 1/31 vs. Notre Dame 93-80, 2/2 vs. Robert Morris 92-72
Next Week: 2/7 @ DePaul, 2/9 vs. West Virginia

If it is possible when you are 20-2, Pitt is a better basketball team than their record indicates. Both of their losses came on the road when DeJuan Blair was in foul trouble. I’ve said it before, but any loss on the road in conference play can be written off in my opinion. The teams know each other so well and both the players and the fans of the home team are so fired up that it is almost inevitable you will lose a few games away from home. Dropping a road game becomes even more likely when you lose a guy as valuable as Blair is to foul trouble. And Blair is valuable. He is the main reason Pitt is one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and posted one of the most impressive games of the season against Luke Harangody and the Fighting Irish, going for 23 points and 22 boards (11 offensive).

4. (1c) Louisville 17-4, 8-1 (5, 7)

Last Week: 1/28 vs. South Florida 80-54, 1/31 vs. West Virginia 69-63, 2/2 vs. UConn 51-68
Next Week: 2/8 @ St. John’s

Louisville had their 10 game winning streak snapped as they were smacked by UConn at home on Monday. It was also their first loss in conference play. Cardinal fans shouldn’t be too worried about the UConn loss, as the Huskies played one of their best games of the season while catching Louisville on an off-night. What they should be worried about is the declining production of Samardo Samuels. Granted, some of that has been caused by Earl Clark and Terrence Williams playing much better of late, as well as the emergence of Terrence Jennings as a solid contributor off the bench. But we are talking about a guy who was averaging 17 ppg halfway through December (he is down to 12.4 ppg). In the last five games, Samuels has averaged 21 mpg. In total in those five games, he has grabbed just 15 rebounds while committing 17 fouls and turning the ball over 12 times. Some of it is a lack of aggression. Some of it seems like a lack of confidence. But regardless of the reason, Samuels just has not been the same player he was early on, especially on the offensive end (in his defense, Samuels isn’t really tasked with getting defensive rebounds as much as he is with keeping a body on the opponent’s big man while letting T-Will/E5 swoop in and grab the board). It came to a head against UConn when Samuels was just 0-2 from the floor, and looked like he wanted absolutely no part of Thabeet.


5. (9c) Villanova 17-4, 5-3 (17, 16)

Last Week: 1/28 vs. Pitt 67-57, 2/1 vs. Cinci 71-50
Next Week: 2/4 @ Providence, 2/7 vs. Syracuse, 2/10 vs. Marquette

See above.

6. (5) Syracuse 17-5, 5-4 (20, 20)

Last Week: 1/28 @ Providence 94-100
Next Week: 2/4 vs. West Virginia, 2/7 vs. Villanova

The Orange have been in a bit of a funk lately, losing four of their last five and three in a row. Part of the reason is injuries – Andy Rautins missed the Providence game with a sprained ankle while Arinze Onuaku has been slowed recently because on knee tendonitis. This has meant that Syracuse has been playing with a shorter bench, It also hasn’t helped that Paul Harris has been struggling of late, posting just 23 points and 19 rebounds in the last three games combined. One of the major issues I see for the Orange right now is Arinze Onuaku’s free throw shooting. The guy has never had a great touch from the line, but if you shoot near 50%, you are at least (on average) putting up a point every time you step to the line. This year, Onuaku is shooting just 35% from the line, but his performance in Big East games is almost comical. 20%!!! Are you kidding me? He is actually 7-35 from the free throw line during conference games. It hasn’t cost them a game yet (he almost did against South Florida, who started putting him on the line in the second half – he went 0-7 and the Orange nearly blew a 16 point lead), but this could be a big, big problem for the Orange come tourney time.

7. (6) West Virginia 15-5, 4-4

Last Week: 1/28 vs. St. John’s 75-52, 1/31 @ Louisville 63-69
Next Week: 2/4 @ Syracuse, 2/7 vs. Providence, 2/9 @ Pitt

The Mountaineers already have four losses in conference play, but those four losses are to Pitt, Louisville, UConn, and Marquette (WVU has played the toughest schedule in the Big East so far). The bigger issue for the Mountaineers is that they just received word that Joe Mazzulla will be getting surgery on his shoulder to repair a growth plate fracture. Which means that their biggest issue is, well, still their biggest issue. They don’t have a playmaker that can create for someone else. But they do have Da’Sean Butler, who has been playing as well as anyone in the league over the last three weeks. He is averaging 23.7 ppg and 6.2 rpg in the last six games. With their defense and their intensity, and with two scorers like Butler and Alex Ruoff, the Mountaineers are going to be able to play with anyone in the league. But they just don’t strike me as the kind of team that is going to be able to knock off the big boys. West Virginia only has two guys that are “basketball players”. Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith, Truck Bryant – those guys are athletes that just happened to choose basketball for whatever reason. Ruoff and Butler are basketball players. As hard as Ebanks, et al, are going to play, and as good as they are at what they do, the best teams are going to have players that are as strong, as fast, and have the same vertical as the WVU kids. But instead of just being athletes, they can also handle the ball and knock down a 17 footer. WVU is not going to surprise you this year – they will win the games they’re supposed to and lose the one they’re supposed to.

Bubble Watch

8. (9a) Georgetown 13-8, 4-6

Last Week: 1/28 @ Cincinnati 57-65, 1/31 @ Marquette 82-94, 2/3 vs. Rutgers 57-47
Next Week: 2/7 vs. Cincinnati

The Hoyas finally snapped their five game losing streak by knocking off Rutgers at home on Tuesday. The biggest problem the Hoyas are having right now is on the offensive end – they can’t score. Take away the Marquette game (Georgetown put up 82 points in large part because Marquette forced the Hoyas to play at their pace and gave up a bunch of easy looks by gambling for steals) and Georgtown is averaging 59.8 ppg in their last six games.

9. (10) Providence 14-7, 6-3

Last Week: 1/28 vs. Syracuse 100-94, 1/31 @ UConn 61-94
Next Week: 2/4 vs. Villanova, 2/7 @ West Virginia, 2/10 @ South Florida

The Friars finally landed a marquee win by knocking off Syracuse at home after blowing leads against Georgetown and Marquette. The Friars are still in decent shape, assuming they can win some games down the stretch. All of their losses are to potential tourney teams, and if they can add one or two more of the upper echelon Big East squads to their resume, can you send the Friars to the NIT, considering how weak the bubble is this year?

10. (9c) Notre Dame 12-8, 3-6

Last Week: 1/31 @ Pitt 80-93
Next Week: 2/4 @ Cincinnati, 2/7 @ UCLA

Notre Dame has lost five in a row, and while those five games all happen to be against teams in the top five in this edition of Power Rankings, you can’t be considered one of the top teams in a conference if you can’t beat the top teams in the conference. The question now becomes can Notre Dame turn this around? It is too early to count them out (they still play UCLA, Louisvile, West Virginia, UConn, and Villanova), but they will need to start winning some games. Now the question becomes, if Notre Dame finishes in the 18-11, 17-12 range with wins over Texas and, say, UCLA, Villanova, and UConn, are they a tournament team?


11. (11) Cincinnati 14-8, 4-5

Last Week: 1/28 vs. Georgetown 65-57, 2/1 @ Villanova 50-71
Next Week: 2/4 vs. Notre Dame, 2/7 @ Georgetown 93-83

12. (13) St. John’s 12-9, 3-6

Last Week: 1/28 @ West Virginia 52-75, 2/1 vs. South Florida 65-48
Next Week: 2/5 @ Seton Hall, 2.8 vs. Louisville

13. (14) Seton Hall 11-9, 2-6

Last Week: 1/29 vs. Rutgers 70-67
Next Week: 2/5 St. John’s, 2/8 @ Rutgers

14. (12) South Florida 7-14, 2-7

Last Week: 1/28 @ Louisville 54-80, 2.1 @ St. John;s 48-65
Next Week 2/6 vs. Marquette, 2/10 vs. Providence

15. (15) Rutgers 1-9, 10-13

Last Week: 1/29 @ Seton Hall 67-70, 1/31 DePaul 75-56, 2/3 @ Georgetown 47-57
Next Week: 2/8 vs. Seton Hall

16. (16) DePaul 0-10, 8-15

Last Week: 1/28 vs. UConn 49-71, 1/31 @ Rutgers 56-75, 2/3 vs. Marquette 61-76
Next Week: 2/7 vs. Pitt, 2/10 vs. Seton Hall

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