Big East Wrap & Tourney PreviewPosted by Brian Goodman on March 8th, 2011
Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. With action at Madison Square Garden set to tip Tuesday, get up to speed with RTC’s regular season recap and postseason preview.
Tourney Favorite: Notre Dame: The Irish have been rolling through conference play, winning 11 of their last 12 games. Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis are playing as well as they have all season long. The Irish are the second best team in the conference, and they have owned the best team (Pitt) the past two seasons.
And If They Lose?: Pitt Panthers: The Panthers’ biggest strength — their offensive rebounding ability — has taken a hit with Talib Zanna going to the bench with a broken thumb. But they still have Gary McGhee and Dante Taylor, and experienced leaders in their backcourt (Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Travon Woodall).
Sleeper: West Virginia Mountaineers: Is this team really a sleeper? They are ranked in the top 25, they won this tournament last season, and they made the Final Four. That said, the ‘Eers seem to finally be hitting their stride, as Kevin Jones and Joe Mazzulla are playing their best ball of the season.
Don’t Bet Against: St. John‘s Red Storm: The Johnnies have been great at home this season. Guess where the Big East Tournament is being held?
You Should Bet Against: The UConn/Georgetown Winner: The Hoyas are still playing without Chris Wright. Since he went out, the Hoyas scored four field goals in the second half in a loss to Cincinnati, scored 51 points in a loss to Syracuse, and scored just 47 points in another loss to the Bearcats. UConn has struggled down the stretch as teams have begun to figure out how to stop Kemba. When they run into capable defensive teams (i.e. Pitt), they struggle.
A Look Back
Player of the Year: Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: This may not be a popular pick with UConn fans, but Hansbrough is the Big East’s version of Jordan Taylor. He’s not flashy, he won’t dunk on you or break your ankles with a crossover, but he’s efficient, he understands the game and what he is capable of doing, and he knows what Mike Brey expects from him on the floor. He averaged 18.5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game, and shot 45.1% from three. Hansbrough is the leader for a Notre Dame team that might be the favorite to win the Big East Tournament. More impressive? The Irish came back against UConn on the road on Saturday after Hansbrough had fouled out. The Irish are legit, folks.
First Team All-Conference:
- Kemba Walker, UConn: 23.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.3 APG
- Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: 17.9 PPG
- Marshon Brooks, Providence: 24.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG
- Ashton Gibbs, Pitt: 16.4 PPG, 46.6% 3PT
- Rick Jackson, Syracuse: 13.1 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.5 BPG
Coach of the Year: Rick Pitino, Louisville: It’s a toss-up between Pitino and Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, but since I already wrote about Notre Dame, Pitino gets the nod. Louisville was not supposed to be the third-best team in the Big East this season. On paper, their roster looks like a typical Louisville team’s second five. Throw in the injuries that this team has had to deal with all season long, and it is truly a feat that Pitino has gotten this group to 12-6 in the conference.
Final Power Rankings
1. Pittsburgh (27-4, 15-3) (1)
Last Week: 3/2 @ South Florida 66-50, 3/5 vs. Villanova 60-50
Pitt has the inside track to a one-seed. If they can make a run to the tournament final, they should be safe. That may be tougher than it appears, however, with Talib Zanna injured.
2. Notre Dame (25-5, 14-4) (2)
Last Week: 3/5 @ UConn 70-67
Notre Dame is also looking at a potential No. 1 seed with a tournament title. The Irish are playing for more than just seeding; they are also trying to change the public’s opinion of their program. Simply put, it doesn’t seem like the nation has much faith in the Irish.
3. Louisville (23-8, 12-6) (3)
Last Week: 3/2 vs. Providence 87-60, 3/5 @ West Virginia 70-72
4. St. John’s (19-9, 11-5) (4)
Last Week: 3/3 @ Seton Hall 70-84, 3/5 vs. South Florida 72-56
5. Syracuse (25-6, 12-6) (5)
Last Week: 3/5 @ DePaul 107-58
6. West Virginia (20-10, 11-7) (9)
Last Week: 3/2 vs. UConn 65-56, 3/5 vs. Louisville 72-70
The Cardinals, the Johnnies, the Mountaineers, and the Orange are all sitting in that 3-4 range right now. Unless St. John’s (who is the five seed) loses to Tuesday’s Seton Hall/Rutgers winner in the second round, none is likely to drop — they won’t be suffering a bad loss in the tournament. With a tournament win, it’s not out of the question to see one of these three climb up to a two-seed.
7. Cincinnati (24-7, 11-7) (11)
Last Week: 3/2 @ Marquette 67-60, 3/5 vs. Georgetown 69-47
The Bearcats have gone from a major question mark up to the 6-7 range. They aren’t going to drop out of the tournament, but if they make a run through the Big East tourney, how much further can they climb?
8. Connecticut (21-9, 9-9) (6)
Last Week: 3/2 @ West Virginia 56-65, 3/5 vs. Notre Dame 67-70
The Huskies will be an interesting team to keep an eye on. They have a number of impressive wins, but they have been inconsistent down the stretch. Should they lose to Georgetown in the second round, how far will they fall? Most have them in the 4-6 range right now.
9. Georgetown (22-8, 10-8) (7)
Last Week: 3/5 @ Cincinnati 47-69
The biggest question facing the committee in regards to Georgetown is Chris Wright. With him, they are one of the best teams in this conference. Without him, they cannot score.
10. Villanova (21-10, 9-9) (8)
Last Week: 3/5 @ Pitt 50-60
Villanova has fallen off of a cliff down the stretch of the season. They are in no danger of missing the dance, but where will they end up with a loss to South Florida? Can they fall down to the 8/9 game?
On the Bubble
11. Marquette (18-13, 9-9) (10)
Last Week: 3/2 vs. Cincinnati 60-67, 3/5 @ Seton Hall 72-85
Marquette needs to pick up a couple of wins to feel safe. Getting to the quarterfinals should get them into the dance. If they lose before that, the Golden Eagles could end up on the outside looking in.
Off The Bubble
12. Seton Hall (13-17, 7-11) (13)
Last Week: 3/3 vs. St. John’s 84-70, 3/5 vs. Marquette 85-72
13. Rutgers (14-15, 4-12) (12)
Last Week: 3/2 @ DePaul 68-64, 3/5 @ Providence 74-75
14. Providence (15-16, 4-14) (14)
Last Week: 3/2 @ Louisville 60-87, 3/5 vs. Rutgers 75-74
15. South Florida (8-23, 2-14) (15)
Last Week: 3/2 vs. Pitt 50-66, 3/5 @ St. John’s 56-72
16. DePaul (7-21, 1-15) (16)
Last Week: 3/2 vs. South Florida 73-83, 3/5 @ Syracuse 58-107