Checking in on… the Big EastPosted by Brian Goodman on February 22nd, 2011
Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.
A Look Back
Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: For the second consecutive week, Hardy is winning our Big East player of the week award. It’s well deserved; the senior guard is making an impressive push for the Big East player of the year. He had 28 points, six boards, and five steals in a win at Marquette, and followed that up with 19 points, including the game winning basket, in St. John’s Saturday upset of Pitt. On the season, Hardy is averaging 17.2 PPG, but over his last seven games — in which the Johnnies have gone 6-1 and thrust themselves right back into the race for a top four seed in the Big East tournament — Hardy has averaged 24.4 PPG.
Team of the Week: West Virginia Mountaineers: The Mountaineers probably weren’t in serious danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but they took a major step toward locking up a bid on Saturday with their win over Notre Dame. West Virginia is a tough team to peg right now, as their best players tend to be fairly inconsistent. You never know which Casey Mitchell or which Truck Bryant is going to show up, and Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed into the star that most thought he would turn into this year. Joe Mazzulla has never been a serious offensive threat. John Flowers gets himself into too much foul trouble. When they are playing well, this is a team that has the potential to make a run in March. They also are a team with the potential to get knocked off in the first round of both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)
1. Pittsburgh (24-3, 12-2) (1)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida 67-55, 2/19 @ St. John’s 59-60
This Week: 2/24 vs. West Virginia, 2/27 @ Louisville
Pitt may have been dropped in the national rankings this week, but that doesn’t mean that barring a collapse, the Panthers won’t be in line for a one-seed come Selection Sunday. The question right now is whether or not this team is built for March. The answer is … maybe? This isn’t a team loaded with future lottery picks. They don’t have a superstar. They don’t have the same kind of ceiling as one of the other potential one-seeds. Pitt cannot power their way through any tournament draw based on talent alone. That said, this season there aren’t many teams that match up that well with them. Maybe someone like a San Diego State or a Wisconsin. Keep an eye on the game against Louisville. The Panthers struggle against pressure at times. Louisville loves to press.
2. Notre Dame (21-5, 10-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia 58-72
This Week: 2/23 @ Providence, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall
All five of Notre Dame’s losses have come on the road, and all five of them have been by double digits. They did beat Pitt on the road, but that is as much a fluke as anything, as Mike Brey has discovered the secret to beating the Panthers with the ‘Burn Offense’ (hence the Wisconsin mention above). I like this team. I like their offensive versatility. I love Ben Hansbrough. But their inability to perform on the road puts a major question mark on how well they are going to be able to do in the NCAA Tournament.
3. Georgetown (21-6, 10-5) (3)
Last Week: 2/16 @ UConn 70-78, 2/19 @ USF 61-55
This Week: 2/23 vs. Cincinnati, 2/26 vs. Syracuse
Winning on the road in Big East play is not an easy thing to do, which is why a close loss to UConn and a closer-than-expected win at South Florida shouldn’t be too disconcerting for Hoya fans. That said, with the spring swoons that John Thompson III‘s teams have been known to take, seeing this team struggle can only bring up bad memories. One thing that can be comforting for Hoya fans — this team is a lot deeper and more balanced than people think.
4. St. John’s (17-9, 9-5) (8)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Marquette 80-68, 2/19 vs. Pitt 60-59
This Week: 2/23 vs. DePaul, 2/26 @ Villanova
A short addendum to what I wrote above on Dwight Hardy — I am not completely sold on St. John’s yet. They are terrific in front of their home crowd, but I want to see a marquee win on the road. They can do that on Saturday at Villanova.
5. Louisville (20-7, 9-5) (5)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati 54-63, 2/18 vs. UConn 71-58
This Week: 2/22 @ Rutgers, 2/27 vs. Pitt
Louisville seems to have a different guy step up every game. Last week, it was Kyle Kuric and Terrence Jennings. Before that, it was Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles. This week? How about Gorgui Dieng. The Senegalese freshman that has been banged up all season long had 13 points and 12 boards (six offensive) in the Cardinals’ win over UConn.
6. Syracuse (23-6, 10-6) (6)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers 84-80 OT, 2/21 vs. Villanova 69-64
This Week: 2/26 @ Georgetown
Syracuse’s biggest issue right now is that they just don’t seem to be that intelligent of a team. They allow far too may open threes on the defensive end of the floor, take a lot of quick shots on the offensive end, and give away too any silly turnovers that lead to layups. The defensive issue is a team issue — communicating and locating shooters in a zone is not necessarily a singular responsibility. Offensively, Scoop Jardine is a honorable mention or third team all-Big East player that thinks he is a first team All-American while Kris Joseph has the talent to be an All-American but plays like he is a role player.
7. Connecticut (20-6, 9-6) (7)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown 78-70, 2/18 @ Louisville 58-71
This Week: 2/24 vs. Marquette, 2/27 @ Cincinnati
Kemba Walker was terrific against Georgetown, playing his best game in over a month and reigniting talk of him being the national player of the year. He was horrible against Louisville, reminding us why he has been surpassed in the national consensus. How about this stat — outside of Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (who has been sensational the last two weeks), UConn was 6-30 from the floor for 29 points against Louisville. That includes Kemba.
8. Villanova (21-6, 9-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall 60-57, 2/19 vs. DePaul 77-75 OT, 2/21 vs. Syracuse 64-69
This Week: 2/26 vs. St. John’s, 2/28 @ Notre Dame
The good news for the Wildcats is that they got Corey Stokes back from the turf toe injury that had kept him out for three games. The bad news is that they looked just as lost offensively with him as they did without him. Against Syracuse, Villanova just had so much trouble executing, especially down the stretch. It didn’t help matters that Maalik Wayns was out with back spasms, but when Villanova is at full strength, he doesn’t start anymore. Jay Wright has some serious kinks he needs to work out with this team.
9. West Virginia (17-9, 8-6) (10)
Last Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame 72-58
This Week: 2/24 @ Pitt, 2/27 @ Rutgers
See the “Team of the Week” mention above.
10. Marquette (16-11, 7-7) (9)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s 68-80, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall 73-64
This Week: 2/24 @ UConn, 2/27 vs. Providence
The February 24 game at UConn is the most important game of Marquette’s season. A road win against a top 25 team would be huge for their NCAA Tournament profile, which is as bubbly as it gets this season.
11. Cincinnati (21-6, 8-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville 63-54, 2/19 @ Providence 93-81 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ Georgetown, 2/27 vs. UConn
Cincinnati’s last four games come against Georgetown (twice), Marquette, and UConn. The win over Louisville was very important for their tournament hopes, but if they are going to be dancing, they are going to have to play their way into the tournament. Given how week the Bearcats’ non-conference resume is, I would strongly suggest winning at least two of those games.
12. Rutgers (14-13, 4-10) (13)
Last Week: 2/19 @ Syracuse 80-84 OT
This Week: 2/22 vs. Louisville, 2/27 vs. West Virginia
The Scarlet Knights are not a team you want to play right now if you are a Big East team fighting for one of those top four spots in the Big East Tournament. They are scrappy, they play hard, they are brimming with confidence, and they are just talented enough to spring some upsets. I love this group.
13. Seton Hall (11-16, 5-10) (12)
Last Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova 67-70, 2/19 @ Marquette 64-73
This Week: 2/26 @ Notre Dame
Seton Hall just doesn’t have the horses to close out close games. It’s a shame. On paper, it looks like they do.
14. Providence (14-13, 3-11) (14)
Last Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul 76-79, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati 81-93 OT
This Week: 2/23 vs. Notre Dame, 2/27 @ Marquette
Providence looked like they had given up on the season after losing to DePaul and getting down by 16 to Cincy at home. Then they forced overtime in that game. Its a shame that Marshon Brooks can’t play on a better team.
15. South Florida (8-20, 2-13) (15)
Last Week: 2/16 @ Pitt 55-67, 2/19 vs. Georgetown 55-61
This Week: 2/26 @ DePaul
The Stan Heath‘s credit, he at least has this group competing. Jawanza Poland is going to be a serious player down the road.
16. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) (16)
Last Week: 2/17 @ Providence 79-76, 2/19 vs. Villanova 75-77 OT
This Week: 2/23 @ St. John’s, 2/26 vs. South Florida
Kudos must be given to the Blue Demons. Oliver Purnell has these kids playing hard despite having absolutely nothing but pride to play for. They also snapped a 24-game losing streak in Big East play.
A Look Ahead
There are a lot of very important games in the Big East this week. Marquette has a huge one at UConn. Cincy heads to Georgetown and then hosts UConn. Pitt plays Louisville and West Virginia. Syracuse heads to Georgetown in the league’s best rivalry. There is a lot to look forward to for the east coasters.