Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2009

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

Until Tuesday night, it was a relatively uneventful week in the Big East. The teams that should have won got the Ws, while the teams that were supposed to lose generally lost. That is, until Providence knocked off Pitt in front of packed house at the Dunk (for the record, Friar fans had one of the best ‘rushings of the court‘ that I have seen in a long time – they absolutely swallowed up the three Friar players in the center of the court).

Back to the point, not only were there not many upsets during the week, their weren’t that many outstanding performances. Weyinmi Efejuku of  Providence had 31 in a loss to Notre Dame. Ryan Ayers scored 28 in that same game, but earlier in the week struggled as the Irish lost to West Virginia. Luke Harangody had 26 and 13 in the Irish loss, but was non-existent until the final few minutes (when the game was decided) against Providence. DeJuan Blair’s 20 and 18 against DePaul (which should technically make the performance not count … it’s DePaul) is overshadowed by his 17 and 8 (and 5 turnovers and 5 fouls) in the loss to Providence.

You get the point.

Why should I be pointing that out to you? What is the significance of it? Is it just so I don’t look like a fool making my Player and Team of the Week picks?

Not exactly. It should show you that no team or player in the Big East (save for Providence, the damn Friars ruined my whole column) is stepping up to make a run at the NCAAs. As of this moment, the league should expect seven teams. After this win, Providence may be the eighth.

But Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and Georgetown all still had a realistic chance to get in by winning. Cincy’s loss to Louisville gives them a two game losing streak. A win at South Florida is not going to be enough for the Hoyas, who have now lost 9 of 11. Even Providence had lost two straight before the upset of Pitt.

Notre Dame is the only team that looks to have a little bit of life left in them. They have now won three of four, including wins over Louisville and Providence, with the loss coming at West Virginia. If the Irish can keep up their winning ways, there is a good chance the Big East could actually end up with nine tourney teams.

For the record, I’m sick of everyone talking about the Big East as the toughest conference in the country.

It isn’t.

Let it go.

Yes, they have five teams ranked in the top 10 (or 12, depending on the poll). Yes, at one point in the season they had nine teams ranked. Yes, they may get nine teams into the NCAA tournament. But assuming they do, the ACC is probably going to get eight (maybe nine as well) teams in. The Big Ten is looking at seven right now. The Pac-10 has a shot at getting six in. If that were too happen, than each of those three leagues would have a higher percentage of teams making the dance than the Big East.

Let’s take it a step further. Take a peek at the bottom four teams in the Big East. DePaul is winless. Rutgers has just one win against DePaul. South Florida has three wins, two against DePaul and one against Marquette. St. John’s has won four games, with the only significant win being against Notre Dame. Even Seton Hall, who is in 11th place, has just one of their five wins against a team other than the bottom four (and that came against Georgetown, who is in 12th).

In the ACC, there are only two teams that are considered cupcakes, and Virginia has knocked off Virginia Tech while Georgia Tech beat Wake Forest. In the Pac-10, Oregon is a joke, but the other nine teams can all beat each other on a given night. In the Big Ten, Indiana isn’t much to write home about and Iowa isn’t all that much better, but there are five teams within a game of each other battling for the coveted fourth and fifth spots, while the team in ninth place (Northwestern) has beaten Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio State.

I had a terrible time picking who should be atop the Power Rankings this week. With Jerome Dyson out, Pitt is probably the best team in the conference. But they had to go and mess everything up by losing to Providence last night (and looking awful in the process).

UConn would be the logical pick to slide into the top spot, but I cannot justify having them atop the Power Rankings – and above Pitt – when they just lost to the Panthers nine days ago, and had two unimpressive wins over bad teams surrounding that loss.

So is the answer then the Cardinals? Well, they lost to UConn and in their win over Pitt, DeJuan Blair and Tyrell Biggs both fouled out as the Cardinals went on a 24-8 run to close the game (couldn’t check KenPom or RPI numbers as they are going to change dramatically in the morning when the Pitt loss is factored in).

I really do not envy the guys making the decisions on the NCAA tournament bracket – I can barely decide on who is the best of three teams in the Big East, I can’t imagine having to pick the best bubble teams out of a group of fifty-some schools.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Louisville Cardinals

The ‘Ville kind of gets this one by default for going 3-0 this week while the rest of the conference had mediocre-to-bad weeks. It should be noted that the Cardinals fairly easily dispatched three opponents that are scrapping to make the NCAA tournament, with two of those wins coming on the road (Providence, @ Cincy, @ G’Town). Terrence Williams (15.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 6.7 apg, 2.3 spg) and Earl Clark (17.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.0 spg) were as impressive as usual, but the guy that has really made the difference in the Cardinal’s four game winning streak has been Preston Knowles. Knowles is one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big East, but in the last four games he has been absolutely on fire (19-26 FGs, 13-18 3s). He doesn’t take many threes (just about three per game), but he is shooting an outstanding 47% clip from deep, by far the best of the four guards in Pitino’s rotation (Jerry Smith is shooting 41%).

gtown-louisville-game

On a side note, I was sitting five rows back at center court in the Verizon Center on Monday for the Georgetown-Louisville game (seriously, I could have hawked a lugey on Len Elmore) and you can’t get a feel for how good this Louisville team can be until you see them up close and personal. Williams and Clark are both, simply put, freaks of nature. People just aren’t meant to be that big, that strong, and that athletic. Plus, they have some basketball skill as well. It almost isn’t fair.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Dwayne Anderson, Villanova

Anderson averaged 15.0 ppg and 5.5 rpg for the week (I told you it was quiet), but it was his performance against Syracuse that earned him player of the week honors. Anderson had 22 points against the Orange, hitting three threes in the first five minutes of the game to help the Wildcats build a lead against the Orange. More importantly, it allowed ‘Nova to stay within striking distance of the top four in the league (remember, the top four get two byes in the Big East tournament). They are two games back of first, and now just one game behind Pitt for fourth. ‘Nova has a relatively light schedule the rest of the way (@ DePaul, Georgetown, @ Notre Dame, Providence). Winning out is far from out of the question. The teams above them right now will all be playing tough games with a number of them against each other (Marquette plays Louisville, UConn, and Pitt while Pitt also gets UConn again). Those four will be losing some games before the season is done, which means that ‘Nova is in a great position to jump up and steal the fourth spot.

POWER RANKINGS

Contenders

1. (3) Louisville 22-5, 13-2 (6, 6)

Last Week: 2/18 vs. Providence 94-76, 2/21 @ Cincinnati 72-63, 2/23 @ Georgetown 76-58
Next Week: 3/1 vs. Marquette

Louisville’s press, when they are playing right, is as tough as any in the country. True, they have Samardo Samuels/Terrence Jennings protecting the rim. Also true, the four-headed guard spot (Andre McGee, Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles) apply extremely tough ball pressure at the top of the press. But to me, what makes their 2-2-1 so effective is Earl Clark and Williams playing the second row because they cover so much ground (I remember one specific play in the first half, when Chris Wright was bringing the ball up the floor on the left side of the court and threw a diagonal pass to a teammate who was just across half court. It looked open when he threw it, but Williams was able to get there and intercept the pass, then drove the lane at the two Hoyas defenders at the other end, kicking the ball out to Knowles for an open three – buckets). In most 2-2-1’s, a front-line defender has to man-up when the guard on his side has the ball and then retreat to help shade the middle when the opposite side guard has it. But since Williams and Clark can cover enough ground to help cover the man in the middle, it allows the Card’s guards to apply that much more pressure.

As tough as their press may be, Louisville is prone to throwing up a dud every now and again.

2. (1) Pitt 25-3, 12-3 (1, 1)

Last Week: 2/21 vs. DePaul 80-61, 2/24 @ Providence 73-81
Next Week: 2/28 @ Seton Hall

I still think Pitt is probably the best team in the conference, but their performance at Providence was nothing short of abysmal. The turned the ball over way too much (against the worst defensive team in the Big East), they didn’t rebound at all (against the 13th best rebounding team in the league), and they looked so bad defensively, especially for a Jamie Dixon team, that I am only half-kidding when I say I think they hot-boxed the team bus on the way to the game. While I think it was a combination of Pitt coming out lackadaisical and Providence being fired up for their senior night, it still doesn’t change the fact that Pitt was pretty thoroughly dominated until the final minutes of the game. If I am a Panther fan, the thing that worries me the most about this game – more than the fouls, the boards, or the defense, because there I truly doubt we will see an effort like that again from this Pitt team – is that DeJuan Blair was in foul trouble gain. Blair is a super strong guy, and a lot of what he does offensively he accomplishes by just bullying his way to where he wants to be (go to the 40 second mark of this clip, you’ll see what I mean). While it is good, physical play by Blair, it is the type of thing that is close to an offensive foul. You can’t just unseat a defensive player like that. With tighter whistles come tournament time, I think that there is a good chance Blair ends up in foul trouble at least once before the Final Four. How good is Pitt without him?

3. (2) UConn 25-2, 13-2 (2, 2)

Last Week: 2/21 vs. South Florida 64-50
Next Week: 2/25 @ Marquette, 2/28 vs. Notre Dame

UConn fans should officially be worried. After struggling to beat Seton Hall and getting beat by Pitt at home, the Huskies hosted South Florida and beat the Bulls in a rather ho-hum fashion. In fact, the most interesting part of that game came in the press conference, when Jim Calhoun went off on a reporter. At least Hasheem Thabeet was back to his intimidating self on Saturday, finishing with 21 points, 9 boards, and 6 blocks. We will learn a lot about how good the Huskies are in their last three games as they have to travel to Marquette and Pitt, and host Notre Dame.

Would Win The SEC

4. (6) Villanova 22-5, 10-4 (10, 12)

Last Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers 82-72, 2/22 @ Syracuse 89-86
Next Week: 2/25 @ DePaul, 2/28 vs. Georgetown, 3/2 @ Notre Dame

See Above.

5. (4) Marquette 23-4, 12-2 (8, 10)

Last Week: 2/21 @ Georgetown 78-72
Next Week: 2/25 vs. UConn, 3/1 @ Louisville

Nice win for Marquette at Georgetown, but the Hoyas are nowhere near the team they were at the start of the season. Marquette is a team that everyone should be watching very closely as the season comes to a close. I’ve been saying it all season, but until we see Marquette go up against a team with the size, length, and athleticism (especially in the front court) that Louisville, Pitt, and UConn provide, it is going to be very difficult to truly judge this team. One thing is for sure – they are Marquette.

Should Be Dancing

6. (5) West Virginia 19-8, 8-6

Last Week: 2/18 vs. Notre Dame 79-68, 2/22 @ Rutgers 74-56
Next Week: 2/26 @ Cincinnati, 3/1 @ South Florida

A couple nice wins for WVU this week, as they knocked off Notre Dame and held off a scrappy Rutgers team on the road. While Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler are starting to really get keyed on by opposing defense, the Mountaineers you front court players are stepping up. In the two game last week, Wellington Smith (10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.5 bpg), Devin Ebanks (12.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.5 bpg) and Kevin Jones (11.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) all had excellent weeks.

7. (7) Syracuse 20-8, 8-7

Last Week: 2/22 vs. Villanova 86-89, 2/24 @ St. John’s 87-58
Next Week: 3/1 vs. Cincinnati

Maybe this Syracuse team just isn’t as good as people thought they were going to be this year. They have won just seven of their last eleven games after starting out the year 16-1. The Orange still have a problem a getting into a game at the start. As good as they were coming from behind early in the season, the ‘Cuse have struggled coming back as the season as progressed. One of the ideas I have seen thrown around is that the Orange should switch over to a man-to-man defense to try and combat these intensity issues. While it is an interesting thought, I don’t believe that you completely overhaul your system (in this case Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone) when your kids aren’t playing well in it. If they are having problems with intensity, why not come out in a press, dropping back to zone?

8. (8) Providence 17-11, 9-7

Last Week: 2/18 @ Louisville, 76-94, 2/21 vs. Notre Dame 84-103, 2/24 vs. Pitt 81-73
Next Week: 3/1 @ Rutgers

The Friars landed a huge win against Pitt. They have two games left now – at Rutgers and at Villanova. Assuming they split, that puts PC at 18-2, 10-8 in the Big East. Their best wins are against Pitt, Syracuse, and two against Cincinnati. Is that enough to get them in? I’m not sure (RPI numbers are not updated yet). They might want to win one or two (if they don’t get the bye) wins in the Big East tourney, or just beat Villanova, to be safe.

Work Left To Do

9. (9) Cincinnati 17-10, 7-7

Last Week: 2/21 vs. Louisville 63-72
Next Week: 2/26 vs. West Virginia, 3/1 @ Syracuse

Cincy was Joe Lunardi’s first team out after losing to Pitt and Louisville last week. While the Bearcats have some nice wins this year (@ UNLV, UAB, Miss St, G’Town x2, Notre Dame), they don’t currently have a win over an NCAA tourney team. Unless they get one against West Virginia or Syracuse this week, they could be in trouble.

10. (10) Notre Dame 15-11, 6-8

Last Week: 2/18 @ West Virginia 68-79, 2/21 @ Providence 103-84
Next Week: 2/25 vs. Rutgers, 2/28 @ UConn, 3/2 vs. Villanova

Notre Dame gets three of their last four games at home, having to travel to UConn. Notre Dame is probably going to have to win out if they hope to get an at-large bid. If they don’t win out, they absolutely need to win all three home game, then pick up a couple in the Big East tournament. But the Irish will make it interesting. Isn’t that what Mike Brey wanted?

Everyone Else

11. (12) Seton Hall 14-12, 5-9

Last Week: 2/22 @ St. John’s 65-70
Next Week: 2/25 vs. South Florida, 2/28 vs. Pitt

Jeremy Hazell is second in conference play at 23 ppg.

12. (11) Georgetown 14-12, 5-10

Last Week: 2/18 @ South Florida 65-40, 2/21 vs. Marquette 72-78, 2/23 vs. Louisville 58-76
Next Week: 2/28 @ Villanova

When was the last time that a team won games against two top five opponents (UConn and Memphis) and didn’t reach the tourney?

13. (13) St. John’s 13-15, 4-11

Last Week: 2/22 vs. Seton Hall 70-65, 2/24 @ Syracuse 58-87
Next Week: 2/28 @ DePaul

14. (14) South Florida 8-18, 3-11

Last Week: 2/18 vs. Georgetown 40-65, 2/21 @ UConn 50-64
Next Week: 2/25 @ Seton Hall, 3/1 vs. West Virginia

15. (15) Rutgers 10-17, 1-13

Last Week: 2/19 @ Villanova 72-82, 2/22 vs. West Virginia 56-74
Next Week: 2/25 @ Notre Dame, 3/1 vs. Providence

16. (16) DePaul 8-19, 0-14

Last Week: 2/21 @ Pitt 61-80
Next Week: 2/25 vs. Villanova, 2/28 vs. St. John’s

rtmsf (3748 Posts)


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