Big East M5: 11.28.12 EditionPosted by mlemaire on November 28th, 2012
- Everyone has already used up all the good “Big East is turning into Conference USA” jokes so I will refrain, but we would be remiss not to mention that two more C-USA teams — East Carolina and Tulane — plan to defect to the Big East and will join the conference in 2014. The move is considered a reactionary decision to Rutgers’ impending departure, and a proactive decision considering the conference, smartly, expects more teams to defect in the coming months (Connecticut and Louisville, we are looking at you). As Big East fans, I wish we could say we were excited, but from a basketball perspective, Tulane and East Carolina hardly move the needle, if they move it at all. Don’t get us wrong, the Big East is trying to stave off irrelevancy and adding more teams is really the only way to do that, but adding mediocre teams from Conference USA is really only a band-aid, especially if UConn and others don’t plan on staying for much longer. I seriously doubt basketball fans are going to pack Madison Square Garden for a Big East Tournament matchup between Tulane and SMU.
- Things started well enough for Villanova as Jay Wright’s club began the season 3-0 including a solid win over Purdue in Madison Square Garden. But since then, everything has gone downhill in a hurry. A blowout loss to Alabama was followed by an embarrassing home loss to Columbia, and things hit a low point on Sunday when the Wildcats blew a second-half lead and lost in overtime to Big Five rival La Salle. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Wright and his team, but things were never supposed to get this bad, and the Wildcats have enough talent that they have no business losing by double figures to a mediocre team from the Ivy League. It should also be noted that this sort of embarrassing effort has become commonplace for ‘Nova over the last few seasons, and if they don’t start playing with more intensity and passion, Wright, even with his Final Four pedigree, could find himself on the hot seat at the end of the season.
- The biggest match-up involving a team from the Big East will be Thursday’s showdown between Notre Dame and Kentucky in the SEC/Big East Challenge. The Wildcats aren’t the same dominating force they were last year, but as the Fighting Irish understand, they are probably just as supremely athletic, especially in the frontcourt. Notre Dame probably has the advantage in the backcourt, at least when it comes to experience, but it will be extremely interesting to see Jack Cooley square off against Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein in the post as it figures to be a battle between great athleticism and great fundamentals. Cooley isn’t half as athletic as Kentucky’s young frontcourt, but he is more experienced and he won’t get rattled in the post.
- With UConn guard R.J. Evans out for at least another game because of a chest injury, coach Kevin Ollie has turned to junior combo guard Niels Giffey to pick up the slack. And if the first six games are any indication, Giffey will be up to the challenge. The Huskies have a talented backcourt duo in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, but Ollie considers Giffey the team MVP to this point because of his work ethic, intensity, and “glue guy” qualities. Giffey won’t wow anybody with his athleticism or overall skill set, but he can knock down an open three-pointer, rebounds well for his size, and is the type of scrappy player that every good team needs in the rotation. Conference play will really tell us what type of role Giffey has carved out on this team, but it’s not as if the Huskies have played all pushovers, so if Ollie and his team leave an impression this season, chances are Giffey will be a big reason why.
- Speaking of role players on teams without a lot of scholarship athletes who are being forced into crucial roles, Providence freshman Joshua Fortune has been playing A LOT for coach Ed Cooley. The forgotten guard in the Friars’ much-ballyhooed recruiting class has been thrust into duty because of injuries and is averaging better than 38 minutes and nearly 10 points per game through six contests. The Friars have very few competent Big East players and the 6’5″ Fortune is one of them. His shot selection and decision-making has been sketchy as he has more turnovers (22) than assists (17), but these are valuable minutes considering he will soon experience the brunt of a Big East schedule. One thing is for certain, there is no way Cooley can expect Fortune to handle this workload all season, as no freshman can. The good news is that fellow guard Kris Dunn should be back some time after the new year, and when he and senior Vincent Council return, Cooley will finally boast one of the best backcourts in the conference.