Checking in on the… Big EastPosted by nvr1983 on February 11th, 2009
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
It is time to stop talking about the Big East as the best conference in college hoops. In the current installment of Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, the Big East is getting seven teams in. That’s one fewer than the ACC and one more than the Pac-10. In fact, if we are talking in terms of percentage of league members to get a bid, the Big East slides all the way down to fourth as the Big Televen sends five teams.
Of course, if you look a little deeper, things could turn around pretty quickly. Cincinnati and Georgetown are Lunardi’s first two teams out while Providence is his sixth team out. He also has teams like Kansas State, Arizona, USC, and Boston College currently in the field. Maybe I’m a Big East homer (I don’t think I am) and maybe I just don’t know enough about the other teams and conferences (believe me, not true), but I find it tough to believe that those four teams are going to continue to win at the rate they currently are.
My question is why has the Big East gone from the “toughest conference in the history of conferences” to one with only the fourth highest percentage of teams into the dance this season?
The easy answer is that they have just put such a whooping on each other in conference play that they are bringing down the perceived level of play.
That would be wrong, which is why it is the easy answer.
The fact of the matter is that two teams that have been ranked in the top 10 (not just in the Big East, but in the whole damn country) are, as it turns out, not very good this year. That would be Notre Dame and Georgetown.
Since the turn of the calendar, these teams have played like they belong in the America East not the Big East. Georgetown is 3-7 in 2009, losing six of their last seven (including losses to powerhouse teams such as Cincinnati, twice, and Seton Hall). Their one win? An ugly 57-47 shootout slumber party at home against Rutgers. The Fighting Irish have been even worse, going 2-8 in the new year (including an inexplicable loss to St. John’s) while losing seven straight.
The Hoyas still have a shot at turning this thing around. They have an ok(ish) RPI of 38, which is mostly bolstered by their #2 SOS rating.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, is donezo. Luke Harangody might as well take the rest of the season off and start scheduling NBA Draft workouts now. Their RPI has taken a nose dive (79th) and it will be a miracle if they finish the season with under 14 losses.
All that said, if college basketball has taught us anything over the years, it is that mid-February is way too early to draw any conclusions. If Georgetown can turn things around (I’m not even talking a huge turnaround – I’m saying just win your homes games and road games against the cellar dwellers), Cincinnati can keep winning some “up” games, and Providence sells their soul for some defense, nine teams from the Big East is far from out of the realm of possibility.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Villanova
I don’t like making the same pick for team of the week or player of the week in back-to-back weeks, but I really had no choice after watching the Wildcats play. They went on the road to beat Providence before coming home and putting a whooping on Syracuse and Marquette. The thing that impressed me the most about ‘Nova this week was how they were able to change up their style of play. Known earlier in the season as a defensive stalwart, the Wildcats put together three straight games of 90+ points, cracking the century mark twice. While Scottie Reynolds (22.7 ppg) and Corey Fisher (15.7 ppg, 3.7 apg) have led the charge, it really has been a total team effort for the Wildcats. In the three games this week, seven different players reached double figures with five hitting for that mark in all three game. Against Syracuse, when Reynolds and Fisher both had an “off” game, Dante Cunningham stepped up and went for 31 and 10. Four different players also had double-doubles in that stretch. They hit 29 three’s as a team. One of the most telling stats, however, was the 57 assists they had on 103 field goals. I don’t know if ‘Nova is going to keep playing at this pace, but I’ve completely changed my perspective on this team in the last seven days.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
Vaughn led the Bearcats to a 2-0 week that put them smack dab in the middle of the NCAA tournament discussion. In wins against Notre Dame and at Georgetown, Vaughn averaged 25 ppg, 6 rpg, and 5 apg. Vaughn has not been the player he was last year. His scoring is down and his shooting is down across the board. The biggest reason for that is that teams have been able to key on him this year because of the lack of offensive firepower the Bearcats have on the rest of their roster, but he proven that he can still score against the Irish, going for a season-high 34 on just 13 shots. Against Georgetown, he took over the role of playmaker, handing out six assists (which could have been higher if his teammates could finish). The Bearcats now have a realistic shot at reaching their first NCAAtournament in the Mick Cronin era, and if they are going to make it that far, it will be Vaughn who carries them.
1. (1) UConn 22-1, 10-1 (1, 1)
Last Week: 2/7 vs. Michigan 69-61
Next Week: 2/11 vs. Syracuse, 2/14 @ Seton Hall, 2/16 vs. Pittsburgh
The Huskies played just the one game last week, a 69-61 win over visiting Michigan. The Huskies had some trouble adapting to the defense that Michigan was throwing at them (the Wolverines were going zone out of makes and man out of misses), digging a little bit of a hole against a hot shooting Michigan team. But UConn’s athletes and size eventually took over down the stretch. Hasheem Thabeet, once again, dominated the inside, going for 17 points, 12 boards, and 6 blocks. What I was most impressed with was the ability of Thabeet to defend a perimeter oriented Michigan team.
2. (3) Pitt 22-2, 9-2 (4, 4)
Last Week: 2/7 @ DePaul 92-69, 2/9 vs. West Virginia 70-59
Next Week: 2/14 vs. Cincinnati, 2/16 @ UConn
Pitt didn’t look overly impressive in wins against West Virginia and DePaul, but that is just how the Panthers win. They are not the kind of team that is going to blow you out of the water. What they will do, however, is grind you out defensively, wearing you down in the paint until they are able to pull away. DeJuan Blair needs to stay out of foul trouble. In the Panthers two losses, he was in foul trouble. Against West Virginia, Blair picked up two quick ones, but was bailed out by Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff spending the game in foul trouble. The difference in this Pitt team right now is that they are getting perimeter shooting from their role players. Jermaine Dixon, who was shooting under 16% from three at one point, has hit 15 of his last 28. Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs, 46% and 50% from three, respectively, have been two of the best shooters in the Big East.
3. (4) Louisville 18-4, 9-1 (5, 7)
Last Week: 2/8 @ St. John’s 60-47
Next Week: 2/12 @ Notre Dame, 2/15 vs. DePaul
The Cardinals only game this week was a sloppy win against St. John’s. If you are a Louisville fan, don’t read into it too much. Terrence Williams, who finished with just three points, almost didn’t suit up because on a badly bruised wrist. Samardo Samuels had his two front teeth knocked out in the first half and left the game to go to the hospital.
NOT QUITE CONTENDERS
4. (5) Villanova 20-4, 8-3 (13, 13)
Last Week: 2/4 @ Providence 94-91, 2/7 vs. Syracuse 102-85, 2/10 vs. Marquette 102-84
Next Week: 2/13 @ West Virginia
See above (Team of the Week).
5. (2) Marquette 20-4, 9-2 (10, 12)
Last Week: 2/6 @ South Florida 56-57, 2/10 @ Villanova 84-102
Next Week: 2/14 vs. St. John’s, 2/17 vs. Seton Hall
After starting the Big East season 9-0, Marquette has come back to earth a little bit as they dropped two this week (or course, it came the same week that I finally moved them up in the BE Power Rankings). To be honest, neither of these losses really changes my opinion of the Golden Eagles. There is no shame in losing at Villanova right now. Against South Florida, Marquette just had an off-night. They shot 21-54 from the floor, 4-24 from deep, and 10-23 from the line. With the number of shooters on Marquette’s roster, don’t expect that to happen too often.
6. (6) Syracuse 18-6, 6-5 (23, 22)
Last Week: 2/4 vs. West Virginia 74-61, 2/7 vs. Villanova 85-102
Next Week: 2/11 @ UConn, 2/14 vs. Georgetown
How many times are the Orange going to come out not ready to play? It is getting ridiculous at this point. After a nice win last Wednesday against West Virginia, the Orange came out flatter than an Olson twin against Villanova, digging themselves a 19-point hole in the first half before they decided to start playing. At this point, I have to blame Jim Boeheim. I believe that effort and intensity are coached. The ‘Cuse has the talent to be a final four team, but until Boeheim gets these guys playing for 40 minutes consistently, I would not trust the Orange to make a long run in the tourney.
7. (7) West Virginia 16-8, 5-6
Last Week: 2/4 @ Syracuse 61-74, 2/7 vs. Providence 86-59, 2/9 @ Pitt 59-70
Next Week: 2/13 vs. Villanova
West Virginia has played such a tough schedule in the Big East. I’ve said it before, but I’m just not sold on this team being able to knock off some of the big boys in Big East play. This week was a perfect example. They struggled to find a rhythm offensively in a loss to Syracuse, blew out a solid Providence team, then lost an ugly game to Pitt (it was only a n 11-point margin, but the Mountaineers were pretty much out of it the whole second half) even though DaJuan Blair played just 16 minutes. I like West Virginia’s combination of toughness, athleticism, defense, and rebounding, but they just don’t have enough offensive firepower around Butler and Ruoff.
8. (8) Georgetown 13-9, 4-7
Last Week: 2/7 vs. Cincinnati 62-64 OT
Next Week: 2/14 @ Syracuse
Georgetown has lost six of their last seven games including two to Cincinnati and one to Seton Hall. Their only win in that time? At home to a bad Rutgers in an ugly game 57-47. I think that Georgetown turns it around. They have a very good defense, the combination of Greg Monroe, DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman is as good of a 1-4 as there is in the conference, and I have a lot of respect for John Thompson III as a coach. All the Hoyas need to do to reach the tourney is win the three games against the bad teams on their schedule and take care of business against Marquette and Louisville at home. A tall task, of course, but if they can’t then they don’t deserve to be in the tournament.
9. (11) Cincinnati 16-8, 6-5
Last Week: 2/4 vs. Notre Dame 93-83, 2/7 @ Georgetown 64-62 OT
Next Week: 2/11 vs. St. John’s, 2/14 @ Pitt
See above. One more note about the Bearcats. They have a four game stretch coming up against Pitt, Louisville, West Virginia, and Syracuse. If they can win one of those games and beat the other three teams on their schedule, they should be in excellent shape.
10. (9) Providence 15-9, 7-5
Last Week: 2/4 Villanova 91-94, 2/7 @ West Virginia 59-86, 2/10 @ South Florida 77-62
Next Week: 2/14 vs. Rutgers
The Friars bounced back from three consecutive losses with a win at South Florida on Tuesday night. Providence gas a very good shot at getting to 10-8 in the conference with two games left against Rutgers and one against Notre Dame. If they can somehow spring an upset on Pitt, Louisville, or Villanova and finish at 11-7 in the league, shouldn’t that merit an NCAA bid?
11. (13) Seton Hall 14-9, 5-6
Last Week: 2/5 vs. St. John’s 91-81, 2/8 @ Rutgers 65-60, 2/10 @ DePaul 72-49
Next Week: 2/14 vs. UConn, 2/17 @ Marquette
Seton Hall has now won five games in a row. Granted, the only team they’ve beaten that wasn’t terrible in that stretch is Georgetown (even that could be debatable at this point).
12. (14) South Florida 8-15, 3-8
Last Week: 2/6 vs. Marquette 57-56, 2/10 vs. Providence 62-77
Next Week: 2/15 @ Notre Dame
The Bulls get the boost after handing Marquette their first loss in Big East play.
13. (10) Notre Dame 12-10, 3-7
Last Week: 2/4 @ Cincinnati 83-93, 2/7 @ UCLA 63-89
Next Week: 2/12 vs. Louisville, 2/15 vs. South Florida
Notre Dame’s last three games have been against Pitt, Cincinnati, and UCLA. None of those three teams are known as offensive juggernauts, but the Irish have still allowed an average of 91.7 ppg in those three games.
14. (12) St. John’s 12-11, 3-8
Last Week: 2/5 @ Seton Hall 81-91, 2/8 vs. Louisville 47-60
Next Week: 2/11 @ Cincinnati, 2/14 @ Marquette
15. (15) Rutgers 1-10, 10-14
Last Week: 2/8 vs. Seton Hall 60-65
Next Week: 2/14 @ Providence
The Scarlett Knights lone win is against DePaul.
16. (16) DePaul 8-17, 0-12
Last Week: 2/7 vs. Pitt 69-92, 2/10 vs. Seton Hall 49-72
Next Week: 2/15 @ Louisville
Can DePaul avoid going winless in the league?