Checking in on… the Big EastPosted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2010
Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
With Georgetown, Pitt, West Virginia, and UConn all coming down to earth in the last few weeks, Syracuse and Villanova have established themselves unequivocally as the favorites in the Big East.
But who is better?
It depends on how you look at them. Going strictly by the numbers, its Syracuse. They are first in the country in the RPI, and third according to KenPom. They’ve done so playing the fourth-most difficult schedule in the country. They won at West Virginia and handily beat Georgetown at home despite digging a 14-0 hole. They are 4-0 on the road, beat Cal and UNC in MSG early in the season, and also beat Florida in Tampa. Their sole loss on the season was to Pitt.
Their length has made their zone almost impenetrable. They deflect passes and force turnovers, and are able to convert those turnovers into points as well as anyone in the country. Offensively, they play an incredibly smart brand of basketball, rarely taking a bad or forced shot. Want proof? They shoot, as a team, 53.4% from the floor, and have an effective field goal percentage of 59.3, second best in the country. It makes sense that Syracuse’s name is being thrown around when talking about the Final Four and the national title. They’ve had a fantastic season.
But Villanova has been great this year as well. In fact, they have a better record than Syracuse, as they are 8-0 in the league. They have five wins against the RPI top 50, and nine against the top 100. Their only loss is to Temple, which doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did when they were beaten. They’ve played more games (11) away from home than they have at home (10), and are 10-1 in those games. While their efficiency numbers are lower than you would expect from a team in the top five (KenPom has them at 13th), a big reason for that is their poor defensive efficiency, which is 71st in the country. But that number has been steadily climbing (they were 95th a month ago), and is made up for by a potent offensive attack.
Those numbers will only get better as Villanova continues to play at full strength. Reggie Redding, the Wildcats’ best perimeter defender, wasn’t eligible until after the Temple loss. Mouph Yarou is back from a bout of hepatitis, giving Villanova some depth in the paint. Head-to-head, this game would be a toss-up. Villanova has shooters and penetrators in their backcourt that thrive against a zone. Syracuse has the size inside and the discipline offensively to pick apart the Wildcat defense. I don’t think I’m the only one that would say the winner of this game would be a toss-up, depending on who got hot and where the game was played.
Having said that, if I had to bet on one of these two teams to win the Big East, I would put everything I own on the Orange. In a heartbeat. You see, Villanova has yet to really play the meat of the Big East. In February, not only will Villanova have to play Georgetown, Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia, and Cincinnati, they will have to play all five of them on the road. Going 3-2 in that stretch would be quite an accomplishment. And that’s not it. The Wildcats also have to UConn and West Virginia again at home. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone with a tougher schedule down the stretch than Villanova.
Syracuse doesn’t exactly play cupcakes the rest of the season. They get Louisville twice, UConn and Villanova at home, and travel to Georgetown and Cincinnati. But that is a far cry from what the Wildcats finish the season with. Its not crazy to predict the Orange to go 9-1 over their last 10 games, putting them at 16-2 in the conference. Can Villanova match that? The most intriguing part in all of this is that Villanova and Syracuse only play once this season, on Feb. 27th. Seeing as the winner will hold the tie-breaker if the two teams should finish the season with identical records, in all probability that game will be the de facto Big East championship game.
Think the Carrier Dome will be packed for that one?
Other News and Notes
- UConn has had a weird couple of weeks. They lost at Michigan before finding out that Jim Calhoun was going to be taking an indefinite leave of absence. They then beat St. John’s and #1 Texas at home, before looking lost in a 15-point defeat at the hands of Providence. The problem for UConn at Providence was the lack of a leader. When the Friars put a late run on the Huskies, they folded. Their offense stopped moving, they settled for contested jumpers and headlong drive into the lane, and lost all aggressiveness on the defensive end and on the glass. Could that have been different if Calhoun was on the sidelines? Who knows, but unless someone on that Husky roster becomes a leader a la AJ Price, UConn now looks headed for the NIT, while the win over Texas looks like a fluke.
- Another interesting tidbit from UConn’s last two weeks: in their loss to Michigan, the students rushed the Crisler Arena floor. When UConn beat Texas, their fans stormed the Gampel Pavilion court. But after losing to Providence, Frair fans RTC’d the Dunk. Has that ever happened before?
- In Georgetown’s 15 wins, Chris Wright is averaging 16.8 ppg as opposed to 6.5 ppg in their four losses. Pretty standard, considering Wright is one of Georgetown’s top scorers. But where it gets interesting is that Wright is averaging 6.5 apg and just 1.3 turnovers in the Hoyas’ four losses, a 5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. In their 15 wins, he is averaging 3.5 apg and 2.9 t/o’s. Not exactly ideal point guard numbers. But Chris Wright isn’t exactly your prototypical point guard, and Georgetown doesn’t exactly run your prototypical offense. The Hoyas’ playmaker is Greg Monroe. The offense runs through him at the high post, which means that Wright isn’t needed to be a great distributor or facilitator as much as he’s needed to be a guy that can score. And if he’s proved anything this season, its that he certainly has that ability.
- The top five in the Big East are all, barring a collapse down the stretch, a lock to make the Dance. But after that, the question marks begin to mount.
- UConn has a win over Texas to give their resume some credibility, but after that their best “win” is probably close losses to Kentucky and Georgetown. The only reason they are in the conversation right now is the fact they’ve played the toughest schedule in the country, bolstering what is a top 30 RPI. The Huskies have a lot of work to do if they want to ensure a bid.
- Louisville is just 1-5 against the RPI top50, with that one coming against Cincinnati, who is 49th. Their best win out of conference? East Tennessee State, who is 128th. Louisville will have plenty of chances the rest of the season – they play six of their 11 games against teams in the RPI top 30.
- Cincinnati is in a little better shape than Louisville. They are 3-5 against the top 50, including a win over Vanderbilt that gets more and more impressive. They don’t really have any terrible losses, either, as their worst is a loss at St. John’s (a game they absolutely pissed away). If the Bearcats can take care of business in games they should win, their season will be decided in the final week, as they go to West Virginia, get Villanova at home, and go to Georgetown.
- Notre Dame has a lot of work to do. They lost their only top 100 nonconference matchup to Northwestern, while also losing to Loyola Marymount. Notre Dame’s biggest issue is that they don’t have the opportunities that other teams do – only two of their ten games are against the top five in the league.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK and TEAM OF THE WEEK: Dominique Jones and South Florida Bulls
For the first time in their Big East tenure, South Florida has won back-to-back games, beating Providence in overtime on Saturday before knocking off Seton Hall on Thursday night in another overtime game. I’ve been touting Dominique Jones all season long in this space, and this week he backed me up. Against Providence, Jones had the best all-around performance of the Big East season (sorry, Scottie Reynolds, but its true), as he scored 46 points (on 15-23 shooting), grabbed 10 boards, and dished out 8 assists as the Bulls overcame a 12 point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation to force the OT. Against Seton Hall, Jones scored six of his 28 points (on just 9-16 shooting) in overtime, also adding 4 boards and 3 assists. On the week, he averaged 37.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, and 5.5 apg while shooting over 60% from the floor.
1. Syracuse: 20-1, 7-1
Last Week: 1/23 vs. Marquette 76-71, 1/25 vs. Georgetown 73-56
Next Week: 1/30 @ DePaul, 2/2 vs. Providence
2. Villanova: 19-1, 8-0
Last Week: 1/23 @ St. John’s 81-71, 1/27 vs. Notre Dame 90-72
Next Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall
3. West Virginia: 16-3, 5-2
Last Week: 1/23 vs. Ohio State 71-65, 1/26 @ DePaul 62-46
Next Week: 1/30 vs. Louisville, 2/3 vs. Pitt
4. Georgetown: 16-4, 6-3
Last Week: 1/23 vs. Rutgers 94-68, 1/25 @ Syracuse 56-73
Next Week: 1/30 vs. Duke, 2/3 vs. USF
5. Pitt: 16-4, 6-2
Last Week: 1/24 @ Seton Hall 61-64, 1/28 vs. St. John’s
Next Week: 1/31 @ USF, 2/3 @ West Virginia
6. Louisville: 13-7, 4-3
Last Week: 1/24 vs. Cincinnati 68-60
Next Week: 1/30 @ West Virginia, 2/1 vs. UConn
7. Cincinnati: 13-7, 4-4
Last Week: 1/24 @ Louisville 60-68
Next Week: 1/30 vs. Providence, 2/4 @ Notre Dame
8. Notre Dame: 15-6, 4-4
Last Week: 1/23 vs. DePaul 87-77, 1/27 @ Villanova 72-90
Next Week: 1/30 @ Rutgers, 2/4 vs. Cincinnati
9. UConn: 13-7, 3-4
Last Week: 1/23 vs. Texas 88-74, 1/27 @ Providence 66-81
Next Week: 1/30 vs. Marquette, 2/1 @ Louisville
10. Marquette: 12-8, 3-5
Last Week: 1/23 @ Syracuse 76-71, 1/26 vs. Rutgers 82-59
Next Week: 1/30 @ UConn, 2/3 vs. DePaul
11. South Florida: 13-7, 3-5
Last Week: 1/23 vs. Providence 109-105 OT, 1/28 vs. Seton Hall 76-74 OT
Next Week: 1/31 vs. Pitt, 2/3 vs. Georgetown
12. Seton Hall: 12-7, 3-5
Last Week: 1/24 vs. Pitt 64-61, 1/28 @ South Florida 74-76 OT
Next Week: 2/2 @ Villanova
13. Providence: 12-8, 4-4
Last Week: 1/23 vs. South Florida 105-109 OT, 1/27 vs. UConn 81-66
Next Week: 1/30 @ Cincinnati, 2/2 @ Syracuse
14. St. John’s: 12-8, 2-6
Last Week: 1/23 vs. Villanova 71-81, 1/28 @ Pitt 53-63
Next Week: 2/2 @ Rutgers
15. DePaul: 8-12, 1-7
Last Week: 1/23 @ Notre Dame 77-87, 1/26 vs. West Virginia 46-62
Next Week: 1/30 vs. Syracuse, 2/3 @ Marquette
16. Rutgers: 9-11, 0-8
Last Week: 1/23 @ Georgetown 63-88, 1/26 @ Marquette 59-82
Next Week: 1/30 vs. Notre Dame, 2/2 vs. St. John’s