Big East Tournament PreviewPosted by rtmsf on March 8th, 2010
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
Season in Review
The Big East regular season ended on Saturday, and I think it is safe to say that the league had a bit of an unpredictable season. Don’t believe me? Show me a season preview that had Syracuse winning the league, Pitt getting a double-bye, UConn playing on Tuesday, and with South Florida and Notre Dame finishing above UConn and Cincinnati. See? Unpredictable.
But what does that mean? Was the Big East better from top to bottom than it was last year? Did teams like Marquette, USF, and Notre Dame benefit from a down year? The one thing that is for sure is that the top of the Big East is nowhere near the top of last year’s Big East. Five Sweet 16 teams and three No. 1 seeds is a pretty phenomenal feat. But last year the conference only sent seven teams to the tournament, and there is a very good chance that number will be surpassed this season.
The way the Big East bubble is shaping up right now, five teams are in – Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pitt and Georgetown. Louisville and Marquette should be ok, but a loss on Wednesday and things could get dicey depending on how the rest of the bubble plays out. If Notre Dame happens to lose their first Big East Tournament game (to either Seton Hall or Rutgers), then the Irish could be in trouble as they will likely be right on the cut line. That gives us eight that are reasonably safe.
It is possible, however, for the Big East to get two more teams in. If today was Selection Sunday, then Seton Hall may actually be in the tournament. While they have 11 losses, the average RPI of the team’s that have beaten the Pirates is 26 and they have not lost to a team with an RPI below 64. Add into that mix that the Pirates have wins over Louisville, Notre Dame, Pitt, at Cornell and an RPI of 53. Its not a great profile, but its a very weak bubble this year. That could be enough. The other team that still has a shot of an at-large bid is UConn, simply because the Huskies have more good wins than most of the bubble teams. That said, they also have 14 losses. UConn will likely need to make it to the Big East semis for any kind of real shot at a bid.
The Big East Conference released their all-conference teams today, and there isn’t much there that I disagree with. (Note: there are six players on the first team because one of those six will win POY; POY, COY, and ROY will be announced on Tuesday between Big East Tournament sessions)
All-Big East Teams
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova (Unanimous)
Dominique Jones, South Florida
Wes Johnson, Syracuse
Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Greg Monroe, Georgetown
Ashton Gibbs, Pitt
Austin Freeman, Georgetown
Lazar Hayward, Marquette
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
Andy Rautins, Syracuse
Jerome Dyson, UConn
Kemba Walker, UConn
Corey Fisher, Villanova
Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
Samardo Samuels, Louisville
Jimmy Butler, Marquette
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame
Jamine Peterson, Providence
The biggest problem here is that there simply is not enough space on the All-Big East teams. Austin Freeman and Lazar Hayward deserve to be first-team all-conference players. Guys like DJ Kennedy, Mike Rosario, Stanley Robinson, Brad Wanamaker and Tory Jackson (I could go on and on) deserve some kind of mention for an all-conference team. But hey, that’s the nature of the Big East. When you decide to play in the biggest, and often times the best, conference in the country, you have to understand it will be that much more difficult to earn any kind of postseason award.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
It was very difficult to choose a Player of the Year in the Big East this season. Both Wes Johnson and Scottie Reynolds more than deserve the award, and putting together a convincing argument against them is a difficult thing to do. But I went with Butler for a couple reasons. For starters, he put up the numbers — 17.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, and 3.3 apg are not shabby by any stretch of the imagination. West Virginia also had a successful season, as they finished tied for second in the Big East and are still in the running for the fourth No. 1 seed. It was more than that with Butler, however. Butler could very well be the most clutch player in the country this season. Don’t believe me? Butler had the game-winning layup against Cleveland State on Dec. 19; ten days later, he hit a buzzer-beating fadeaway to beat Marquette; on Jan. 23 Butler hit the three that gave West Virginia their first lead against Ohio State, capping a comeback from a 15-point deficit, then proceeded to hit the three that pushed WVU’s lead to two possessions; Butler hit a 12-foot jumper to give WVU the lead against Louisville in the final minute, then hit the two free throws that pushed the lead to three points; and finally, on Saturday, Butler hit too many big shots to mention, but the one that mattered was his running, one-handed, 12-footer off-the-glass with six seconds left in overtime to give WVU the win.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
There were really just two choices here – Boeheim and Pitt’s Jamie Dixon. As good of a job as Dixon did this season, leading Pitt from the bottom of the Big East in the preseason to a team that is going to get one of the coveted double bye’s in the Big East Tourney, Boeheim was better. Syracuse wasn’t supposed to be anything special this season. They had lost Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Paul Harris, but as it turned out, those three ended up being addition by subtraction. Perhaps the most impressive part of Boeheim’s year isn’t that the Orange went from preseason middle of the pack to the Big East champions, or from unranked to a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. Its that he was able to lead the Orange to those heights without the benefits of one consensus top 100 recruit (Rick Jackson made at least one top 100 list, but was #103 according to Rivals).
Most Improved Players: Jamine Peterson, Providence and Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame
Its interesting how similar these two are. Both came in as freshman in 2007-08, playing limited minutes. Both decided to redshirt their second season. Then both came out this season and, well, dominated. Peterson has been one of the most productive players in the conference all season long. He is a small forward, but can basically play anywhere on the floor, almost like a poor man’s Michael Beasley. How many players have you seen go for 29 points and 20 boards in a game this year? Abro has developed into one of the most potent offensive weapons in the league. There may not be a shooter with a purer stroke than the 6’8 Abromaitis. With his feet set, his shoulder’s squared and a clean look at the rim, he is all but automatic. He’s also managed to add slashing ability and improved athleticism to his arsenal. These two are going to be the stars of the league for the next few years.
6th Man: Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Joseph would start for just about any team in the country that didn’t already have a Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins on the roster. He’s the second leading-scorer for the Orange, instant offense off the bench. Joseph is an electrifying athlete that can run the floor and finish around the rim. Once Joseph adds a jump shot to his offensive repertoire, he’s going to be a first round pick.
Big East Tournament Preview
Where: Madison Square Garden
When: March 9-13
Final: March 13, 9:00 pm on ESPN
Favorite: Syracuse Orange
The Orange have to be considered the favorite to win the Big East tournament. They won the conference. They are the only team from the league to spend any time as the No. 1 team in the country. They are all but a lock to become one of the four No. 1 seeds. Bottom line – this team is good, and you don’t need me to explain that to you.
And if they lose?: Villanova Wildcats, West Virginia Mountaineers
Both Villanova and West Virginia are teams that are inherently flawed. The Wildcats struggle on the defensive end and lack an interior presence. West Virginia doesn’t have great backcourt play and struggles at times on the offensive end. But that said, the one thing both of these teams have is great players. Scottie Reynolds has grown form a chucker to one of the best all-around combo guards in the country. He is smart with the ball, he is an excellent shooter, and he has the ability to take over a game and carry Villanova. Da’Sean Butler is the same way. While he plays as more of a combo forward than a shooting guard, Butler has proven over and over again the ability to lead WVU and to hit the big shot. There are a couple keys for these two teams. If Villanova is serious about making a run through the Big East Tournament, they are going to have to get their fouling under control. The Wildcats still pressure the ball well and can get out and run in transition with the best of them, but if they are putting opponents on the foul line early and often, they are going to struggle. West Virginia’s key seems to be the 1-3-1 defense that Bobby Huggins employs every so often. Using it has won games against Villanoa and Louisville already this season. The advantage is a result of the length of the West Virginia team.
Don’t discount: Georgetown Hoyas
Georgetown has been inconsistent all season. They have some great wins, some terrible losses, and have been struggling of late. But one of the biggest causes of their recent struggles was Austin Freeman’s inability to stay in the lineup. Well, now we have a reason. Freeman was diagnosed with diabetes last week, and once healthy, put up 24 points as Georgetown whooped Cincinnati by 27 points. The Hoyas will be at full strength this week, and when they are, this team can beat anyone.
Sleeper: UConn Huskies
UConn’s issue hasn’t been talent; its been effort. The Huskies simply have not played hard or with any urgency consistently this season. But that doesn’t mean that this team lacks the talent. Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Kemba Walker have proven what they can do when they are playing well, namely beat Texas, Villanova and West Virginia. Its a tall task, but if Jim Calhoun can get these guys playing hard, UConn is a team that could make a run at MSG.
Other Names You need to Know
Dominique Jones, South Florida: Jones singlehandedly carried the Bulls from obscurity to the bubble. While their tournament dreams are all but finished, this is a Bulls team that has proven the ability to knock off some of the best in the Big East, and Jones is the biggest reason why.
Brad Wanamaker, Pitt: When people talk about the Pitt Panthers, the names you invariably are going to hear are Ashton Gibbs, Jermaine Dixon, and Gilbert Brown. But the guy that may be the most valuable on this team is Wanamaker. He does everything for them – he can defend multiple positions, he can shoot the ball, he makes plays with the dribble, he can pass. He may not be the best player on Pitt, but he could very well be the most valuable.
Hamady Ndiaye, Rutgers: The seven-foot Ndiaye has been a lot of fun to watch this season. Ndiaye still has a long way to go before he develops into an NBA caliber player, but right now he is as good of a shot blocker as you are going to find at this level.