Checking In On… the Big East ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on February 27th, 2012
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
The Week That Was
- Temple In Big East Talks: The Big East may have a new all-sport member as early as this fall if the reports are true that the Temple Owls are in discussions about joining the conference. Adding Temple to the mix would be terrific for Big East basketball. While Syracuse is irreplaceable, you could make an argument that Temple and Memphis offset the departures of West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The enhanced stature of these two programs in the Big East will help fuel recruiting and could easily make them equal to what WVU and Pitt are right now. Temple will make its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance next month, its 30th in a storied history. The Owls have made two Final Fours and five Elite Eights, better than both Pittsburgh and West Virginia (WVU has two Final Fours, Pitt has one). Memphis has been to more Final Fours and Elite Eights as well, although two were vacated (1985 and 2008). All in all, I’d argue that the Big East hit a grand slam with Temple and Memphis, should this all go through. The league simply couldn’t have done better given the constraints it faced.
- Punching Your Ticket And Voiding It In The Same Week: One could argue that Seton Hall and Cincinnati punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with wins over Georgetown and Louisville, respectively, last week. However, both squads lost over the weekend (to Rutgers and South Florida), wiping out the good vibes from huge home wins earlier in the week. As of right now, the Pirates and Bearcats are likely still in the Tournament, but in much more precarious positions than before. In late-season college basketball, nothing is ever a sure thing until all the games are played. A team’s status can change at a moment’s notice.
- Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) – The men in orange just keep moving right along, picking up two more wins this past week. Finding a way to win is so cliché, but it has been the theme with this group over the last few weeks. Syracuse has moved its record to 29-1 with seven of their nine wins since the loss to Notre Dame coming by ten points or less. In the win over South Florida, Syracuse overcame 35% shooting and a 20-7 Bulls run to start the game by going on a massive 26-0 run that started about midway through the first half and bled deep into the second. Kris Joseph struggled shooting, but Scoop Jardine picked him up by scoring 15 points. Joseph rebounded in a big way with 21 points at Connecticut while Fab Melo added 11 points and nine rebounds. This team has more weapons than any in the nation, allowing the Orange to overcome off nights by some of their key players. More importantly, Syracuse out-rebounded UConn, 39-35. That’s significant because of what the Huskies bring to the table in their front court and Syracuse’s awful rebounding numbers that have persisted throughout the season. With the win at UConn, Syracuse officially clinched the Big East regular season title, something everyone knew was going to happen as early as when the calendar flipped to January. This week: 3/3 vs. #23 Louisville.
- Marquette (24-5, 13-3) – There are teams more talented than Marquette out there, but you will not find one with a greater will to win than this bunch of Golden Eagles. You might as well call them their old nickname, the Warriors, because that’s exactly what they are. Jae Crowder made his case for Big East Player of the Year last week in grand fashion, totaling 53 points in two wins over Rutgers and West Virginia. Crowder dominated West Virginia’s Kevin Jones in their head-to-head matchup and may have moved in front of Jones in the POY race in the process. Crowder certainly plays for a better team and that has to enhance his case even more. Despite Buzz Williams suspending Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan for the first half against West Virginia and Todd Mayo for the second half, Marquette rallied yet again to pull out a victory. I don’t understand the half-suspensions. Sit them down for the whole game if you want to make a statement, but that’s beyond the point. The Golden Eagles shot 50% for the game and forced 19 WVU turnovers, helping to offset 16 Mountaineer offensive rebounds. In the win over Rutgers, Marquette forced 21 turnovers and Johnson-Odom added 21 points alongside Crowder’s 27 as the Golden Eagles shot 54% overall. MU can close out the Big East regular season in grand style and finish with a 15-3 record if it takes care of two tough games in the coming week. This team has a legitimate chance to win the Big East Tournament and go deep in the NCAA’s. This week: 2/29 @ Cincinnati, 3/3 vs. #9 Georgetown.
- Georgetown (21-6, 11-5) – The Hoyas ran into the buzzsaw known as a desperate team in a Tuesday night loss to Seton Hall, but rebounded nicely with a dominating performance over a banged-up Villanova squad on Saturday. Georgetown allowed the Pirates to shoot 61%, a stunning number when you consider the Hoyas have been among the best in the Big East on the defensive end. No Georgetown player scored in double figures and John Thompson III was particularly upset with Markel Starks for not hustling at the end of that game. Starks paid the price on Saturday when he did not play due to a coach’s decision. That wasn’t an issue for Jason Clark and Otto Porter (15 points each) as the Hoyas responded well by holding the Wildcats to an anemic 28% shooting. Georgetown dominated the glass as well (+16). Porter was bloodied early in the game by a flagrant foul, but stayed in and had a terrific game. That kid is going to be some kind of player in this conference over the next three seasons. Heading into the last week of the regular season, the Hoyas are tied with South Florida for the final double-bye in next week’s Big East Tournament, but do hold the tiebreaker thanks to a 75-45 win over the Bulls on February 4. This week: 2/27 vs. #17 Notre Dame, 3/3 @ #10 Marquette.
- Notre Dame (20-9, 12-4) – Notre Dame’s thrashing of West Virginia on Wednesday night gave the Fighting Irish their ninth straight Big East win (a school record) but it was snapped on Saturday in a disappointing loss to an improving St. John’s team. Notre Dame went just 4-31 from three point land against the Red Storm, including a 1-9 performance from Pat Connaughton. Jerian Grant was 1-9 from the floor overall as Notre Dame could only muster 58 points against the Johnnies. Scott Martin and Jack Cooley did have 18 points apiece, but it wasn’t enough for the Irish on the road. Things were different in the win over the Mountaineers, as Notre Dame shot 61% and got 20 points from Grant in the blowout win. Eric Atkins added 13 points and eight assists and ND held WVU to 32% from the floor. The Irish are all but assured of a double bye in the conference tournament, something nobody could have imagined not even a month and a half ago. This week: 2/27 @ #9 Georgetown, 3/2 vs. Providence.
- Louisville (22-7, 10-6) – It was a struggle in both games, but Louisville did manage to split the week, losing to Cincinnati and beating Pittsburgh. Kyle Kuric had a nightmare game against the Bearcats (0-11 FG) but turned it around nicely against Pittsburgh on Sunday (17 points). Russ Smith added 18 points and four steals in the win as the Cardinals were able to overcome a substantial rebounding disadvantage by forcing 18 Pittsburgh turnovers. Louisville actually controlled the game against Cincinnati early, but a big Bearcats run in the second half gave them the upper hand. The Cardinals were 1-14 from deep in that game and lost their edge after Gorgui Dieng picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half. Dieng had 11 points and 13 boards and Rick Pitino criticized the officials after the game. The Cardinals have two tricky games this week, one against a South Florida team hungry for a quality road win followed by a trip to Syracuse to close the regular season. If it isn’t careful, Louisville could slip to 10-8 in the league. This week: 2/29 vs. South Florida, 3/3 @ #2 Syracuse.
- Cincinnati (20-9, 10-6) – The Bearcats got the win they needed on Thursday night against Louisville, but fell in heartbreaking fashion to South Florida on Sunday. Cincinnati shot only 33% against Louisville, but managed to win thanks to Cashmere Wright’s 22 points and the team’s 11-27 shooting from beyond the arc. Against the Bulls, UC could only managed a 3-15 effort from deep and shot 34% for the game. Sean Kilpatrick had 13 points, but Yancy Gates made only two of his eight shots against South Florida’s stifling defense. Despite early losses to Presbyterian and Marshall and a putrid RPI/SOS, I believe Mick Cronin has an NCAA Tournament team. The Bearcats boast a 4-3 conference road record with wins at Georgetown and UConn included, in addition to home victories over Notre Dame, Louisville and Seton Hall. I remember watching ESPN about five years ago when Jay Bilas said something to the effect that bubble teams have all proven they can lose, and that the question the committee needs to ask is who have they beaten? I’ve lived by that statement ever since then when looking at the resumes of bubble teams. Cincinnati’s wins are, if not the best, up there with any bubble team in the land. If I was on the committee, the Bearcats are in, RPI be damned. Opportunity knocks again on Wednesday with a visit from a top-ten Marquette team. This week: 2/29 vs. #10 Marquette, 3/3 @ Villanova.
- South Florida (18-11, 11-5) – After nearly pulling an improbable mid-week upset at the Carrier Dome, a game in which they jumped out to an early 13-point lead, the Bulls knocked off Cincinnati on Sunday for a crucial win in their quest to reach their first NCAA Tournament since 1992. Anthony Collins and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick were terrific last week for Stan Heath with Collins leading the way. The freshman point guard tallied 12 points and 10 assists on 6-7 shooting against Syracuse and added a game-high 14 points in a low scoring affair against the Bearcats, including two free throws to win the game with under five seconds to play. Fitzpatrick scored 11 against the Orange and grabbed 10 rebounds against Cincinnati. The Bulls needed that win and now have two more enormous opportunities this week against Louisville and West Virginia. If the Bulls get to 12 Big East wins, it’s going to be hard to deny them a spot in the field of 68. I’m not quite sure I’d put South Florida in the field as of this moment, but it has a chance to quiet the doubters in a big way this week. South Florida is playing outstanding defense, leading the league in opponent points per game. This week: 2/29 @ #23 Louisville, 3/3 vs. West Virginia.
- Seton Hall (19-10, 8-9) – The rollercoaster that is Seton Hall’s season took another wild swing last week as the Pirates destroyed Georgetown before losing to Rutgers on the same floor four days later. The Hall picked up the high quality win it desperately needed, dominating the Hoyas with 61% shooting. Jordan Theodore led the way with a career-high 29 points, including a perfect five of five from three point range. It was a different story against Rutgers. Despite a strong line in the box score (17 points, nine assists, one turnover), Theodore went just 4-14 for the game with many of those shots being forced. The Pirates, a solid defensive team for the majority of the season, were awful on that end against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers shot 53% for the game and even better from deep (10-15). That cost Seton Hall the game and the Pirates now are back on the bubble. The Hall is probably on the right side of the cut line right now, but must avoid a loss at DePaul and probably needs to win a game in the Big East Tournament to feel safe. The loss to Rutgers knocked the Pirates’ RPI down over ten spots and they reside in the mid 40’s. Fuquan Edwin picked up 11 steals in the two games last week, boosting his nation-leading average to 3.1 per game. This week: 3/3 @ DePaul.
- Connecticut (17-11, 7-9) – Shabazz Napier’s wild three-pointer to win the game at Villanova in overtime last Monday night just might have saved UConn’s season. If that shot missed and the Huskies went on to lose in double overtime, Connecticut would be 16-12 (6-10) right now. But it went in and UConn is still alive and kicking even after blowing a golden opportunity to punch its ticket against Syracuse on Saturday night. The Huskies lost by two as their late rally fell short. Andre Drummond played like the recruit most thought he would be, posting a double-double (17/14). Jeremy Lamb had a great week, going for 19 against Syracuse and 32 in the Villanova win. Connecticut has very strong computer numbers in their favor and should find their way into the NCAA’s if they beat Providence and Pittsburgh this week. Should they lose one of those, the Big East Tournament becomes huge for the Huskies. A crucial Wednesday matinee with fellow bubble club member Seton Hall is becoming increasingly likely next week at Madison Square Garden. This week: 2/28 @ Providence, 3/3 vs. Pittsburgh.
- West Virginia (17-12, 7-9) – After two crushing losses last week, West Virginia may be in the worst position of any Big East bubble team. The Mountaineers have now lost seven of their last nine games and face a must-win against DePaul on Tuesday before a monster game at South Florida on Saturday. West Virginia was blown out in the second half at Notre Dame and couldn’t win at home against a Marquette team that had four players suspended for half of the game. West Virginia shot 32% and went 1-15 from beyond the arc against the Irish and couldn’t take advantage of 16 offensive rebounds against Marquette. 19 Mountaineer turnovers did them in despite 25 points from Truck Bryant. With only two players capable of putting the ball in the basket on a nightly basis, Bob Huggins’ club may be destined for the NIT unless it goes 2-0 this week. This week: 2/28 vs. DePaul, 3/3 @ South Florida.
- St. John’s (13-16, 6-10) – Don’t look now, but St. John’s is only one game behind West Virginia and Connecticut in the Big East standings. Should the Red Storm tie the Mountaineers, they would actually get the tiebreaker and grab the ten-seed in the conference tournament. St. John’s has won three straight after losing four in a row, but faces a difficult road swing through Pittsburgh and Rutgers in the final week of the regular season. It continues to be the Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison show for the Red Storm but Amir Garrett has emerged as a solid third option for Mike Dunlap. Harkless and Harrison combined for 37 points in each win over DePaul and Notre Dame last week. The Johnnies are playing better and could be a tough out for someone in the second round of the conference tournament, should they managed to win their first round game. This week: 2/29 @ Pittsburgh, 3/3 @ Rutgers.
- Rutgers (13-16, 5-11) – After getting blitzed by Marquette, Rutgers went up to Seton Hall and dealt the Pirates a harsh blow in their NCAA Tournament quest. The road team has now won the last five games in the Rutgers/Seton Hall rivalry, an interesting statistic in a series that is always heated. It wasn’t any different on Saturday as the Scarlet Knights held on for an overtime win behind Dane Miller’s double-double (21/10). Rutgers made 10 of its 15 three point attempts, including the game winner by Jerome Seagears in the final seconds. Rutgers shot 53% for the game and limited Pirate point guard Jordan Theodore to 4-14 shooting. Against Marquette, Seagears also played well (14 points) but 21 RU turnovers made the Scarlet Knights no match for the run-and-gun Golden Eagles. Gilvydas Biruta had a nice week for Mike Rice’s team, scoring 12 points against Marquette and 16 against Seton Hall. Rutgers has a good chance to get to 7-11 in league play with two home games this week against teams in the bottom half of the league. That would have to be considered a successful season for RU with such a young roster. This week: 3/1 vs. Villanova, 3/3 vs. St. John’s.
- Pittsburgh (15-14, 4-12) – The Panthers played only once last week and lost a tough one at Louisville on Sunday, their fifth consecutive loss. It has been a lost season for Jamie Dixon, but the play of J.J. Moore has to be encouraging. Moore went for 16/7 against Louisville and has now scored 47 points over his last three games. With Tray Woodall still struggling (2-10 FG, six turnovers against UL) and Ashton Gibbs not being a major factor, Dixon has to love how his 6’6” sophomore is playing. Dante Taylor added 11 points against the Cardinals for the Panthers, who will bid farewell to Gibbs and Nasir Robinson in Senior Night ceremonies on Tuesday against St. John’s. This week: 2/29 vs. St. John’s, 3/3 @ Connecticut.
- Villanova (11-17, 4-12) – It has not been a good year for Big East teams from Pennsylvania. Villanova has been even worse than Pittsburgh as the banged up Wildcats took two more hits this past week with losses to Connecticut and Georgetown. The game against UConn was there for the taking but JayVaughn Pinkston could only manage a 5-17 shooting effort against the tough Husky front court. Pinkston then injured himself in warm-ups against Georgetown and played only two minutes. Maalik Wayns returned from injury against the Hoyas but was ineffective (1-10 FG). Mouphtaou Yarou missed eight shots as well but Dominic Cheek did record 19 points after dropping 23 on Connecticut. James Bell missed both games due to a sprained ankle. This season can’t end soon enough if you’re a Villanova fan. This week: 3/1 @ Rutgers, 3/3 vs. Cincinnati.
- Providence (14-15, 3-13) – In the battle to stay out of the basement, Providence emerged with a two-point victory over DePaul in Chicago on Saturday led by LaDontae Henton’s 24 points and 15 rebounds. Henton also hit the game-winning jumper for the Friars as they moved one game ahead of the Blue Demons with two left to play and the tiebreaker in hand. Providence is assured of staying out of the cellar if it wins once this week or DePaul loses one more time. Vincent Council had 14 points and 11 assists in the win while Bryce Cotton added 19. The Friars have a huge opportunity to play spoiler when Connecticut visits the Dunkin Donuts Center on Tuesday night. Providence has played well against UConn over the years and did upset Louisville at home earlier this season. This week: 2/28 vs. Connecticut, 3/2 @ #17 Notre Dame.
- DePaul (11-17, 2-14) – It’s hard to see the Blue Demons winning twice this week so a noon tip on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the #9 seed is now all but assured. DePaul committed 18 turnovers in a loss to St. John’s last week, ruining Cleveland Melvin’s 18 points and career-high 15 rebounds. Jamee Crockett was a woeful 1-11 from three point land against the Johnnies in what should have been a winnable game for DePaul. Moses Morgan had 13 points against Providence but it was Donnavan Kirk who stole the show against the Friars with 11 rebounds and eight blocks. DePaul has two chances this week to deal a pair of bubble teams brutal losses. This week: 2/28 @ West Virginia, 3/3 vs. Seton Hall.
- Monday, 2/27: #17 Notre Dame @ #9 Georgetown – These two teams have played their host of classic games over the years. Another one could be in store on Monday night in DC.
- Wednesday, 2/29: #10 Marquette @ Cincinnati – Huge, huge opportunity for Cincinnati to punch its ticket, something West Virginia couldn’t do on Friday against the Golden Eagles. The Bearcats will need a better defensive effort than the first time these two teams met in Milwaukee in order to pull the upset.
- Wednesday, 2/29: South Florida @ #23 Louisville – Louisville doesn’t shoot the ball all that well and that could be the perfect recipe for South Florida to steal a road win that could very well put it in the NCAA Tournament. If the Bulls can muck up the game and protect the ball, they’ll have a good shot.
- Saturday, 3/3: West Virginia @ South Florida – The second of two massive games for the Bulls is the regular season finale against desperate West Virginia. This could amount to an elimination game depending on what happens around the country.
- Saturday, 3/3: #9 Georgetown @ #10 Marquette – A titanic clash on the final day of the regular season between two teams with drastically different styles of play. Marquette blew a 17-point lead in the first meeting way back on January 4.
- Saturday, 3/3: #23 Louisville @ #2 Syracuse – The Orange snapped a seven game losing streak against the Cardinals with a one-point win in Louisville on February 13 but this is an opportunity for the Cardinals to enhance their NCAA seeding against a Syracuse team that doesn’t have all that much to play for. The Orange have won the Big East regular season crown and are pretty much a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Caught On Film
The West Virginia student section didn’t appreciate Buzz Williams dancing to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” after Marquette knocked off the Mountaineers by a point in Morgantown on Friday night.