- After we’d learned last week that an injury-plagued Scott Martin was on an indefinite hiatus from Notre Dame’s rotation, Mike Brey insisted that he was holding open auditions to fill the starting job. Senior Tom Knight apparently earned the spot in practice, and responded in a big way in the Fighting Irish’ 73-65 win over South Florida on Saturday. In 32 minutes, the 6’10″ forward grabbed seven rebounds and scored a career-high 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting. He’d only scored 24 points on the season prior to the USF game. The performance underscored the value that experience plays in Brey’s program: “[Knight’s] been around us for a while, so it’s nice. You lose a six-year senior and we put in another senior who’s been in our program.”
- Many (myself included) dismissed Villanova’s upset victory over #5 Louisville last week as more symptomatic of a poor effort from the Cardinals than a turning point for the Wildcats. Then on Saturday, Jay Wright’s squad turned around and upset #3 Syracuse in overtime, 75-71, in a cumulative effort from “a long list of standouts.” Ryan Arcidiacono’s three sent it to overtime and Mouphtaou Yarou’s 13-point, 16-rebound double-double put his point guard in a position to tie it up. But the biggest key to Villanova sustaining its momentum may be the efficient scoring of 6’6″ sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard. After averaging 21.4% from the field and shooting 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in his first three Big East games, Hilliard is suddenly lighting up elite defenses, shooting 55.8% from the field and hitting 9-of-17 threes (53%) in these last four league games.
- Rick Pitino is calling tonight’s Pittsburgh game a must-win. Panthers’ blog Cardiac Hill concedes that a fourth straight loss coupled with a lack of quality wins could understandably trigger panic, but also argues that a loss to Pitt wouldn’t spell doom for the Cardinals. Pitino likely agrees, but a dose of exaggerated urgency could fit the bill for a team that might have been too flippant about losing after falling to Syracuse.
- Shabazz Napier willed UConn to a crucial win over Rutgers in Hartford over the weekend that moved the Huskies to .500 in conference play. Coach Kevin Ollie says the junior guard is healthy and “making the definite choice to be a leader.” Napier put forth the kind of efficiently prolific performance he had in the Huskies’ win over Notre Dame, scoring a team-high 19 points (6-of-13 shooting) to go with six assists and five steals. Most impressive was the fact that UConn finished +4 in rebounding margin, after being abused on the glass in their two previous games.
- Marquette is quietly sitting alone at a half-game out of first place in the Big East after subduing Providence 81-71 in Milwaukee’s Bradley Center. The game wasn’t particularly close after Marquette opened it up with an early 13-2 run, and the only real source of basketball-related excitement came from a huge Vander Blue dunk over LaDontae Henton. Thankfully, an absurd spectacle sparked by a rogue bat with a preternatural affinity for the brightest space in the building made the game well worth the price of admission. Ed Cooley was not amused. At least we have this .gif for posterity.
Ed Cooley: not stopping in bat country (From @bubbaprog)