Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 18th, 2009

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

Player of the year.

How do you define it. Who put up the best stats? Who is the best player on the best team? The most valuable player? Maybe the guy that, if you were to have a draft involving every player in the league, you would pick first?

My criterion is simple – who is the best player? Easy enough, right?

As of now, there are only four players that should be considered for the award, and another few that deserve a mention in the conversation.

  1. DeJuan Blair, Pitt – 15.7 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 5.8 Orpg, 60% FG
  2. Jerel McNeal, Marquette – 19.9 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.2 spg, 44% 3PT
  3. Terrence Williams, Louisville – 12.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.93 a/t
  4. Hasheem Thabeet, UConn – 13.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.3 bpg, 64% FG

Others deserving mention: Luke Harangody, Jonny Flynn, Jeff Adrien, Levance Fields, and Da’Sean Butler.

Right now, I have no idea who deserves the award. Two weeks ago, I thought McNeal would run away with it. Last week, I thought Thabeet would made a run at national player of the year. This week, well, just scroll down and read about the player of the week.

There are great arguments to be made for each of these four, as well as the five players deserving mention (I mean, Luke Harangody is the only player in the country to be in the top five of points and rebounds per game, and barely cracks the top five for Big East POY?).

What it is going to come down to is who leads their team to the Big East regular season title. Each of the four players listed are the MVPs of the four teams currently tied (in the loss column) atop the Big East.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: DeJuan Blair, Pitt

Think back to those wonderful times before Monday’s 7pm tip off. There yet? Remember how glorious it was to see and hear people finally recognizing Hasheem Thabeet’s contribution to the UConn Huskies? First, it was Jim Calhoun singing his praises (expected). Then, it was Jim Boeheim, who said Thabeet was the best defender he has seen in the league (a league and a coach that has seen the likes of Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutmbo, Alonzo Mourning, Emeka Okafor … the list goes on). Lastly, it was all the writers, who started to ask themselves “is Thabeet the Big East player of the year?” and “can Thabeet make a run at Blake Griffin for national POY?”.

Doesn’t that seem like so long ago now? It should, because all it took was two hours for DeJuan Blair to completely erase everything people had thought about Thabeet. Seriously, Thabeet didn’t look like the guy who was one block from a 20-20-10 game on Monday night. He looked like the intimidated freshman of two years ago that couldn’t get out of his own way.

Rightfully so. Blair literally and figuratively tossed Thabeet around all game to the tune of 22 points and 23 boards. Think about that for a second. 22 points and 23 boards. Against the #1 team in the country. Who happens to have a 7’3” center that is more than likely going to be a) lottery pick and b) some sort of all-american. No matter how you spin, Blair’s performance on Monday night was one of the best that I have seen in a long time. The question now becomes who will be a better pro? I’m saying Blair could average 12 and 8 in the league right now, but will never be much more than that. Thabeet? Well, he could be the next Saer Sene, but he could also be the next Mutumbo (as long as he steers clear of Blair the rest of the season his career his life.

If the NBA doesn’t pan out, it looks like the WWE may come calling (photo credit: AP/Fred Beckham)
If the NBA doesn’t pan out, it looks like the WWE may come calling (photo credit: AP/Fred Beckham)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Notre Dame

Everyone had written them off. They had lost seven in a row, fallen to 12-10 and 3-7 in the league, but most importantly they stopped playing defense. During that seven game losing streak, the Irish gave up an average of 85 ppg. That changed last week and ND finally looked like they cared on the defensive end of the floor, holding both teams they played this week to a meager 57 points. While one of those teams (South Florida) shouldn’t score more than 57 points against you, the other team was Louisville, who is currently sitting in the top 10. The Irish whooped the Cardinals by 33 points in a game that wasn’t in doubt after the first five minutes.

Notre Dame still has a very long way to go. They are 74 in the RPI with a strength of schedule of 42. But there is enough left on their schedule that if they can win some games and maybe get to 9-9 or 10-8, they should be sitting pretty. That will be a tough task, as they still go to West Virginia, Providence, and UConn, plus get a home date against Villanova. But hey, is asking a preseason top 10 team to win three in a row at home (especially when they had a 45 game streak there snapped this year) and pull one out on the road really too much to ask?

Power Rankings

CONTENDERS

1. (2) Pitt 24-2, 11-2 (4, 4)

Last Week: 2/14 vs. Cincinnati 85-69, 2/16 at UConn 76-68
Next Week: 2/21 vs. DePaul

Pitt looks to be the new favorite to win the Big East regular season after a sensational performance from DeJuan Blair in Hartford (see above). One last not about the Panthers – Levance Fields deserves some recognition. The guy is a phenomenal point guard, who currently leads the country in a/to ratio. On Monday night, he finished off UConn with two late three pointers.

2. (1) UConn 24-2, 12-2 (1, 1)

Last Week: 2/11 vs. Syracuse 63-49, 2/14 @ Seton Hall 62-54, 2/16 vs. Pitt 68-76
Next Week: 2/21 vs. South Florida

The loss of Jerome Dyson is going to hurt the Huskies much more than people think. I hear people saying “Kemba Walker this, Craig Austrie that” and “Dyson missed 9 games last year, and UConn went 8-1”. Well, frankly, those people don’t really have a clue what they are talking about. As a freshman, Dyson was UConn’s best scorer and go-to guy. He relished the role, but as a sophomore, with Thabeet, Price, and Adrien emerging as stars, Dyson was thrown on the back-burner, so to speak. While still a multi-talented star, Dyson wanted to be the “man” instead of being a guy that helped his team win. He took bad shots, played lackadaisical defense, and didn’t hustle. It cost the Huskies some games, for sure. When he was out, UConn was able to play a more team-oriented style, which allowed Price to take over. Dyson came back and tried to fit in with the team, but still was not quite there.

But he was this year. Dyson was UConn’s best perimeter defender (on and off the ball), their best “hustle” guy, and a guy that got UConn a number of easy baskets – be it off of an offensive rebound, jumping a passing lane, or simply blowing by his man. Walker and Austrie are solid players, but neither of them bring the size, athleticism, or ability to the table that Dyson has. I can guarantee that Levance Fields doesn’t get two wide open looks at a three in the last three minutes on Monday if Dyson is on the court.

3. (4) Louisville 19-5, 10-2 (7, 7)

Last Week: 2/12 @ Notre Dame 57-90, 2/15 vs. DePaul 99-54
Next Week: 2/18 vs. Providence, 2/21 @ Cincinnati, 2/23 @ Georgetown

Louisville had a crazy week, losing to Notre Dame by 33 then beating DePaul by 45. The DePaul win is to be expected, but the ND loss was a bit puzzling (and would be even if the Irish weren’t a joke this year). More than anything, I think the loss to Notre Dame was a combination of Louisville being beat up (T-Will has a bum right wrist and Samardo Samuels had two teeth knocked out against St. John’s) and then coming out not ready to play.

NOT QUITE CONTENDERS

4. (5) Marquette 21-4, 11-2 (10, 11)

Last Week: 2/14 vs. St. John’s 73-59, 2/17 vs. Seton Hall 79-67
Next Week: 2/21 @ Georgetown

The Eagles bounced back from an 0-2 week with wins over St. John’s and Seton Hall. I like Marquette a lot. Dominic James and Jerel McNeal are two of my favorite players to watch. But I think the Eagles are about to collapse. They have no interior presence to speak of (apologies to Dwight Burke), and their last five games are all against teams with good interior play – @ Georgetown, UConn, @ Louisville, @ Pitt, Syracuse. I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost their last five.

5. (7) West Virginia 17-8, 6-6

Last Week: 2/13 vs. Villanova 93-72
Next Week: 2/18 vs. Notre Dame, 2/22 @ Rutgers

The Mountaineers earn the bump to #5 after demolishing Villanova on Friday night by 20. West Virginia has been consistently good this season, playing the toughest Big East schedule to date and hanging in with all of the big boys, but never beating them. They now have that win, and have won two of three (the other win was by 27 vs. Providence). The one loss in that stretch? To Pitt, when Alex Ruoff and DaSean Butler played a combined 40 minutes before both fouling out. Speaking of Butler, he may be the most underrated player in the league. He is averaging 18.3 ppg overall and 20.3 ppg in Big East play.

6. (5) Villanova 20-5, 8-4 (12, 14)

Last Week: 2/13 @ West Virginia 72-93
Next Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers, 2/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova finally took a loss after winning six in a row. They have put together a pretty impressive resume, and look destined to be a top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. More important for ‘Nova should be trying to earn the top four seed in the Big East tournament. They are currently two games out of fourth place (and a two day bye) with a very light schedule to end the season (@ Syracuse and @ Notre Dame are the two toughest games they have left). If they can win five out of the six, I bet that they jump Marquette and get to that fourth spot.

7. (6) Syracuse 19-7, 7-6 (24, 25)

Last Week: 2/11 at UConn 49-63, 2/13 vs. Georgetown 98-94 OT
Next Week: 2/22 vs. Villanova, 2/24 @ St. John’s

Syracuse has struggled through the brutal part of their schedule, winning just three of their last nine games. It hasn’t helped that big man Arinze Onuaku has been slowed by knee tendonitis. But against Georgetown, Onuaku looked as good as he has in a long while, going for 15 points, 13 boards and 4 blocks. The game went to overtime (thanks to shoddy free throw shooting and some timely threes by the Hoyas), but the ‘Cuse really dominated throughout, getting up by as much as 16 in the second half. When Onuaku is healthy, the Orange are a much different team.

BUBBLE TEAMS

8. (10) Providence 16-9, 8-5

Last Week: 2/10 @ South Florida, 2/14 vs. Rutgers
Next Week: 2/18 @ Louisville, 2/21 vs. Notre Dame

If you pay attention to Joe Lunardi (which you should, he is a god at his craft), he has Providence in the dance right now. The Friars will get to .500 in the league, but will that be enough if they lose to Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Villanova? Methinks PC needs to win two of those four games, getting to 11-7 in the league, to feel safe about their chances.

9. (9) Cincinnati 17-9, 7-6

Last Week: 2/11 vs. St. John’s 71-61, 2/14 @ Pitt 69-85
Next Week: 2/21 vs. Louisville

Cincinnati really needs to beat a top flight Big East team. Their two best wins right now are against Notre Dame and Georgetown (the Hoyas twice). Lunardi has the Bearcats as his third team out right now, and while they have a really good shot at getting to .500 in the league (South Florida and Seton Hall on the schedule still), they are going to want to beat one of Louisville, West Virginia, or Syracuse to feel safe.

10. (13) Notre Dame 14-10, 5-7

Last Week: 2/12 vs. Louisville 90-57, 2/15 vs. South Florida
Next Week: 2/18 @ West Virginia, 2/21 @ Providence

See above.

11. (8) Georgetown 13-10, 4-8

Last Week: 2/14 @ Syracuse 94-98 OT
Next Week: 2/18 @ South Florida, 2/21 vs. Marquette, 2/23 vs. Louisville

The Hoyas have lost seven of eight, but are still in contention because of their gaudy computer numbers (#1 in SOS, top 40 RPI). They have six games left, and three of those are gainst Marquette, Louisville, and Villanova. If the Hoyas can get two of those games, and win their other three (putting them at 9-9 in the league) they are in. If they win just one game of those three, they are going to need some help (a la Arizona last year).

BOTTOM OF THE BARREL

12.  (11) Seton Hall 14-11, 5-8

Last Week: 2/14 vs. UConn 54-62, 2/17 @ Marquette 67-79
Next Week: 2/22 @ St. John’s

13. (12) South Florida 8-16, 3-9

Last Week: 2/15 @ Notre Dame 57-67
Next Week: 2/18 vs. Georgetown, 2/21 @ UConn

14. (14) St. John’s 12-13, 3-10

Last Week: 2/11 @ Cincinnati 61-71, 2/14 @ Marquette 59-73
Next Week: 2/19 vs. Duke, 2/22 vs. Seton Hall, 2/24 vs. Syracuse

15. (15) Rutgers 10-15, 1-11

Last Week: 2/14 @ Providence 68-78
Next Week: 2/19 @ Villanova, 2/22 vs. West Virginia

16. (16) DePaul 8-18, 0-13

Last Week: 2/15 @ Louisville 54-99
Next Week: 2/21 @ Pitt

rtmsf (3728 Posts)


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One Response to “Checking in on the… Big East”

  1. Dr R says:

    Sorry, but there is no way the most accomplished Marquette Senior class loses five straight to end the season, much less its last home game to a young Syracuse team. Not happening.

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