Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Khem Birch Leaves Pittsburgh: In what was certainly a surprising development, Pittsburgh announced that highly-touted freshman Khem Birch would be leaving the program for personal reasons. No future destination for Birch was announced. The 6’9” freshman averaged 4.4 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 15 minutes per game for Jamie Dixon, including a season-high 15 points at Pennsylvania on November 25. Birch, a Canadian, was a five-star prospect out of Notre Dame Prep. Birch’s departure will be felt by a Panthers team still trying to find its identity. Pittsburgh remains a very deep team but has to get its defense in order to be able to win consistently once conference play begins.

Khem Birch Left Pittsburgh, Which Shocked No One Familiar With The Commitment Issues Of Well-Traveled Young Phenoms

  • Cincinnati Responds In Impressive Fashion: After losing a bunch of guys to suspensions (including Yancy Gates) stemming from the brawl with Xavier, Cincinnati somehow put together its two best offensive performances of the season. The Bearcats scored 78 in a win at Wright State before throttling Radford with 101 points on Saturday. Maybe the suspensions were just what Mick Cronin needed to get his team focused. While the competition wasn’t great, Cincinnati all of a sudden looks like an improving team after this week.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (11-0) — The Orange passed their first road test of the season, winning comfortably at NC State on Saturday. Dion Waiters led the way off the bench yet again with 22 points on 9-14 shooting while Kris Joseph added 21. Now that Syracuse has gotten by NC State without any trouble, the Orange could hold onto the top spot in the national rankings for quite some time. Jim Boeheim has some tricky games coming up against upstart Seton Hall, conference title contender Marquette and still-dangerous Villanova, but those are three games Syracuse should not lose. One area for the Orange to focus on in practice this week is defense. NC State shot 57.7% from the floor on Saturday. This week: 12/20 vs. Bucknell, 12/22 vs. Tulane.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Crosstown Knockout: Suspensions were handed down on Sunday for the embarrassing incident at the conclusion of Saturday’s Cincinnati/Xavier game, a 76-53 Musketeers victory. Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis each received six game bans while Ge’Lawn Guyn will sit out for one game. On the other side, Xavier suspended Dezmine Wells and Landen Amos (a walk-on) for four games while Mark Lyons will sit for a pair and Tu Holloway for one. As for Gates and company, six games doesn’t seem nearly enough, especially when only one of those is a Big East game (a probable loss at Pittsburgh to begin with). Mick Cronin’s comments certainly were interesting. The UC coach waxed poetic in the postgame press conference but didn’t follow those words up with strong actions. On the other hand, Cronin told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that the suspensions were handed down by those above him in the Cincinnati administration. Even so, it would seem hard to believe the administration wanted to go easier on the players than the head coach. If Cincinnati wanted to be serious, it would have suspended Gates and the others for a large chunk of the Big East season and the rest of non-conference play, or simply kicked them off the team. Instead, this incident is yet another example of placing sports and winning games before justice and learning a life lesson. If this happened off the basketball court, Gates would likely have been charged with battery. Instead, Gates only has to sit six games against the steady diet of non-conference cupcakes Cronin has feasted on over the last two years. From the fight itself to the way the aftermath has been handled, this has been one huge embarrassment for both Cincinnati and Xavier.

To Many, Saturday's Brawl Between Xavier And Cincinnati Signifies A New Low For College Basketball (USAT)

  • West Virginia and Marquette Involved in Thrillers: The Mountaineers ventured to Wichita, Kansas, and took on Kansas State in what was essentially a road game despite it being played away from the Little Apple. Bob Huggins was able to defeat his student, Frank Martin, but it took two overtime periods to do so. It was a thrilling game full of big shots and lots of toughness. It was very important for West Virginia to add a quality road win to its resume and while the Wildcats may not be as good as last season, this win could make a big difference if the Mountaineers find themselves on the bubble come March.  Marquette took on Washington at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night and found itself in a dogfight with the Huskies as UW took the early lead. Marquette fought back to take a three-point halftime lead when the game really ramped up. The high level of play led to numerous lead changes in an up-and-down affair that eventually came to an end when Jae Crowder knocked down a three from the corner to win it for the Golden Eagles, one of only nine undefeated teams remaining in college basketball as of this writing.
  • Big East Continues to Disappoint:  It’s still very early but it’s also hard not to notice that the conference may be looking at eight NCAA Tournament teams in a best case scenario. The Big East lost six games this past week, three by the dregs of the conference but three others by teams considered to be NCAA contenders. It was an awful week for Villanova as it blew two chances for quality wins away from home, losing in New York to Missouri and across town in Philadelphia to Temple. The Wildcats have lost four of their past five games and have zero wins of note on their resume to date. If Villanova doesn’t win at St. Joe’s this coming week, it may have to go 10-8 in conference play just to even be considered for the Tournament. Meanwhile, Cincinnati sits at 5-3 after the Xavier loss with key players in trouble due to the brawl. The Bearcats’ best win is a road victory over 4-5 Georgia, a bottom-tier SEC team. With no quality wins and two ugly losses already on their resume, the Bearcats probably have to beat Oklahoma on December 29 and go 10-8 in league play to have any chance.
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

Dominating the SEC:  In the newly expanded Big East/SEC Challenge, the Big East came away with a decisive 8-4 victory over the SEC. Only two Big East teams (DePaul and Rutgers) lost on their home floor while four conference members snagged important road wins across the south. The most impressive was Georgetown, a 57-55 winner over Alabama at Coleman Coliseum, a victory that should put the Hoyas in the national rankings this week. Providence earned a nice win at South Carolina while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati took care of business against Tennessee and Georgia. While this event doesn’t have the buzz of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for instance, I thought this was a success for both leagues. It’s good to get some quality games early in the season instead of fattening up on cupcakes. It’s a shame four Big East schools (Marquette, Villanova, Notre Dame and South Florida) had to sit out but that’s just the way it goes since the SEC only has 12 teams.

The Emergence of Georgetown and Marquette: As mentioned above, Georgetown knocked off Alabama, part of a 3-0 week bookended by two cupcakes. At 7-1 with a close loss to Kansas, the Hoyas look much better than originally advertised. Despite Georgetown’s admirable success, the most significant Big East win this past week came courtesy of Marquette. The Golden Eagles knocked off in-state rival and top ten Wisconsin in Madison on Saturday. The Badgers almost never lose at the Kohl Center so any team that comes out of there with a win deserves major props and earns my respect. I had my doubts about Buzz Williams’ team (ranked fifth here last week) but the win at Wisconsin is as impressive as it gets. Not to mention it was without starting point guard Junior Cadougan, suspended for the game by Williams for an unspecified violation of team rules, plus Jae Crowder was saddled with foul trouble most of the game. I’m officially on board the MU bandwagon.

Buzz Williams And Marquette Picked Up A Huge Win At Wisconsin

Jim Boeheim Apologizes: Syracuse’s important 72-68 victory over a quality Florida team took a back seat in the press room Friday night as Orange head coach Jim Boeheim apologized to those who accused former associate head coach Bernie Fine of sexual molestation. Saying he “misspoke very badly,” Boeheim appeared somber yet nervous as he stood in front of the large media contingent. He clearly looked like a man under a lot of pressure and he admitted as much, saying how difficult of a time this has been for him, his family, and his staff. On the surface it appears the Orange players are not distracted by all that is going on but it would be naïve to think they aren’t paying attention in some fashion. With the investigation ongoing and agencies such as the FBI and US Secret Service involved, it is highly likely that more information will come to light. The Orange players have to do their best to block out the distractions as they march deeper into a season full of high expectations. Two weeks into this, there still isn’t anyone out there who can confidently say what will happen over the next few months with regards to this investigation.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (8-0) — Off the court issues aside, Syracuse sure is taking care of business on the court. The Orange destroyed former assistant Rob Murphy’s Eastern Michigan squad before getting by Florida on Friday at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse didn’t shoot particularly well against the Gators but managed to get to the line 21 times while out-rebounding Florida. Florida’s 20 turnovers also helped the cause. On the broadcast, Jay Bilas said Brandon Triche could become Syracuse’s best player. I can’t disagree. Triche is a solid three-point shooter who is terrific in transition and defensively on the outer flank of Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. The junior’s statistics are up pretty much across the board in five fewer minutes of game action. This week: 12/6 vs. Marshall, 12/10 vs. George Washington.
  2. Louisville (7-0) – The Cardinals had to rally to defeat Vanderbilt on Friday evening with Peyton Siva sealing the win in the final seconds. A lot of people think Louisville is overrated but I’m not one of them. While the Cardinals certainly are banged up, Rick Pitino always gets the most out of his players. If Wayne Blackshear is able to make it back onto the court, watch out. This team could do a lot of damage with its defense come Big East play and has just enough capable offensive players to be satisfactory on that end once they put it all together. It also helps when you have such an advantage like this team does at the KFC YUM! Center. This week: 12/7 vs. IUPUI, 12/10 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can also find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

The Week That Was

  • A Rough Week for the Big East: Conference teams lost 13 times this past week to the likes of UCF, Illinois State, Northeastern, and Richmond among others. Only three undefeated teams (Syracuse, Louisville, and Marquette) remain and of the 13 teams with at least one loss, only three (DePaul, Seton Hall and Georgetown) have not yet recorded a bad loss. As we enter December, the middle of the conference doesn’t appear to be as strong as in years past. The Big East has a handful of great teams and a host of teams that appear to be very average at this point. It’s a long season, but the chances of seeing nine or ten NCAA bids from this league are certainly not promising.
  • Syracuse and Marquette Take Home Titles: The Orange defeated Virginia Tech and Stanford at their second home, Madison Square Garden, to win the NIT Season Tip-Off while Marquette took home the Paradise Jam championship, albeit against a so-so field. Both teams struggled in their respective championship games, but managed to pull it out down the stretch, the sign of a good team. Each team’s schedule ramps up this week against a pair of top ten teams as Syracuse hosts Florida on Friday and Marquette visits in-state rival Wisconsin on Saturday.
  • Tim Abromaitis Tears ACL: There was awful news out of South Bend late last week when it was announced that Notre Dame fifth year senior forward Tim Abromaitis tore the ACL in his right knee during practice on Friday. The loss of Abromaitis is a huge blow to a Notre Dame team already with two neutral court losses on its resume and a pair of road games coming up this week. The Fighting Irish rotation is pretty much only seven deep now with only three or four reliable scorers. Point guard Eric Atkins has played very well, but Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton will have to step up in a big way for Notre Dame to have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

With A Big Game Against Florida Looming Friday, How Will Jim Boeheim Keep His Team Focused Amid The Bernie Fine Scandal?

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (6-0) – After feasting on four cupcakes to begin the season, the Orange were impressive late in victories over Virginia Tech and Stanford in the NIT Season Tip-Off. They struggled for the better part of both games, but the ability of this team to flip the switch and play like the top five team it is is something that will suit them well outside of conference play. However, Syracuse had better play well for 40 minutes once the Big East season arrives or else they’ll lose more games than you think. Jim Boeheim’s team ranks in the top ten nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of only four teams at the moment. Syracuse has done a great job forcing turnovers leading to easy points in transition. Dion Waiters appears to have taken his game to the next level as a sophomore with transition play being a big part of that. How this team is affected by the Bernie Fine investigation, if at all, is something to watch over the next few weeks. This week: 11/29 vs. Eastern Michigan, 12/2 vs. #6 Florida.
  2. Louisville (6-0) – Rick Pitino was successful last year by molding a team of role players into a cohesive unit with no superstars through an incredible focus on defense. Louisville looks to be following that same formula again in 2011-12. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency and only one opponent has scored more than 54 points. Of course, offense is Louisville’s biggest challenge. Peyton Siva is back, but Pitino’s rotation has been scaled back due to injuries to Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Blackshear may be back but Marra is lost for the season with a torn ACL. Louisville struggled against Ohio and has another tricky game with Long Beach State on Monday. Freshman Chane Behanan (9/9) is stepping up in the absence of Blackshear while Gorgui Dieng has been a shot-blocking machine in the paint at three rejections per game. This is a big week for the Cardinals as their competition gets stronger. This week: 11/28 vs. Long Beach State, 12/2 vs. #20 Vanderbilt. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

A Look Back

Players of the Week: Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame: Ben Hansbrough was sensational this week. In three games, he averaged 27.7 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game. He shot 25-40 (62.5%) from the field, 12-20 from three (60%), and 21-25 (84%) from the line. Efficient much? Abromaitis was just as good. Prior to this week, Abro had scored 13 points just once since January 8. He scored at least 22 points in each games this week, averaging 26.7 PPG and 5.7 RPG. He shot 27-49 (55.1%) from the floor and 17-29 (58.6%) from three. When those two are clicking like that, the Irish are going to be very tough to beat.

Team of the Week: Louisville: The Cardinals just keep rolling along. After sweeping Rutgers and Pittsburgh this week, Louisville has now won three games in a row to move into a tie with St. John’s for third place in the conference standings. Finishing in the top four would give the Cardinals one of the double-byes in the Big East Tournament. The bad news? The Cardinals lost Rakeem Buckles for the season with a torn ACL in the win over Pitt.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (25-4, 13-3) (1)
Last Week: 2/24 vs. West Virginia 71-58, 2/27 @ Louisville 59-62 OT
This Week: 3/2 @ South Florida, 3/5 vs. Villanova

I’ve been saying it all season long — Pitt is susceptible to being upset when they are pressured. Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Travon Woodall are all terrific basketball players, but none of them are what you would consider a great ball handler. It cost them against Louisville. But they were also hurt against the Cardinals with their inability to get to the offensive glass. The biggest reason Pitt is such an offensively efficient team is their ability to score on second and third shots.

2. Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/23 @ Providence 94-93, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall 60-48, 2/28 vs. Villanova 93-72
This Week: 3/5 @ UConn

See the above “Player of the Week” feature to read about the surprise near the top of the standings.

3. Louisville (22-7, 11-5) (5)
Last Week: 2/22 @ Rutgers 55-37, 2/27 vs. Pitt 62-59 OT
This Week: 3/2 vs. Providence, 3/5 @ West Virginia

See this week’s “Team of the Week” to see what has the Cardinals rolling into March

4. St. John’s (19-9, 11-5) (4)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. DePaul 76-51, 2/26 @ Villanova 81-68
This Week: 3/3 @ Seton Hall, 3/5 vs. South Florida

The Johnnies just keep on winning. After knocking off Villanova on Saturday, their streak has been extended to seven consecutive wins in the Big East (seven of eight overall, as there was a trip to UCLA thrown in that mix). The catalyst has been Dwight Hardy, also known as the “Baddest Man on the Planet”, who is averaging 28.3 points per game over the last eight games to throw his name into the mix for Big East player of the year.

5. Syracuse (24-6, 11-6) (6)
Last Week: 2/26 @ Georgetown 58-51
This Week: 3/5 @ DePaul

Here’s my concern with Syracuse: they blew a big lead to Georgetown, who was without Chris Wright, and had to rely on Scoop Jardine to save the day. Scoop’s a good player, but he’s not exactly what I would term “consistent.” They got nothing from Kris Joseph or Brandon Triche in the game. Rick Jackson is a glorified glue guy (and I mean that as an enormous compliment). Road wins at Villanova and Georgetown will move you up in the Power Rankings, but I’m not buying this team in the long term.

6. Connecticut (21-7, 9-7) (7)
Last Week: 2/24 vs. Marquette 67-74 OT, 2/27 @ Cincinnati 67-59
This Week: 3/2 @ West Virginia, 3/5 vs. Notre Dame

I wrote an extensive post on the Huskies and their reliance on Kemba Walker‘s offensive output yesterday. Essentially, the key for UConn on the offensive end is to get movement going around Kemba. Defenses are going to collapse on him, but help defense is much tougher when the offensive players are moving without the ball. UConn struggles when they are reduced to standing around and watching Kemba try to score.

7. Georgetown (22-7, 10-7) (3)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. Cincinnati 46-58, 2/26 vs. Syracuse 51-58
This Week: 3/5 @ Cincinnati

The Hoyas clearly still have fight in them, but without Chris Wright, this team is thoroughly mediocre. They simply don’t have enough offensive firepower. Wright is the Hoyas’ best playmaker and best creator. When he isn’t on the floor, Georgetown’s offense is no where near as dynamic or dangerous.

8. Villanova (21-8, 9-8) (8)
Last Week: 2/26 vs. St. John’s 68-81, 2/28 @ Notre Dame 72-93
This Week: 3/5 @ Pitt

Villanova is in a free fall. Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this team. They’ve lost five of seven and seven of 11. They certainly have talent on their roster, especially in the backcourt, but for the second straight season, the wheels have come off.

On the Bubble:

9. West Virginia (18-10, 9-7) (9)
Last Week: 2/24 @ Pitt 58-71, 2/27 @ Rutgers 65-54
This Week: 3/2 vs. UConn, 3/5 vs. Louisville

West Virginia probably isn’t in any danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but if they lose to both UConn and Louisville this week, then bow out in the first round of the Big East Tournament, the committee is going to have to take a look.

10. Marquette (18-11, 9-7) (10)
Last Week: 2/24 @ UConn 74-67 OT, 2/27 vs. Providence 86-62
This Week: 3/2 vs. Cincinnati, 3/5 @ Seton Hall

Marquette’s win over the Huskies on Thursday all but sent Buzz Williams’ team to the NCAA Tournament. If they can close out against Cincy and Seton Hall, they will lock up their bid.

11. Cincinnati (22-7, 9-7) (11)
Last Week: 2/23 @ Georgetown 58-46, 2/27 vs. UConn 59-67
This Week: 3/2 @ Marquette, 3/5 vs. Georgetown

Cincinnati can probably feel a bit safer than Marquette at this point. They have fewer losses and a better RPI. But with Marquette and Georgetown on the schedule for this week, they need to play like they’re still trying to get in.

Off The Bubble:

12. Rutgers (14-15, 4-12) (12)
Last Week: 2/22 vs. Louisville 37-55, 2/27 vs. West Virginia 54-65
This Week: 3/2 @ DePaul, 3/5 @ Providence

13. Seton Hall (11-17, 5-11) (13)
Last Week: 2/26 @ Notre Dame 48-60
This Week: 3/3 vs. St. John’s, 3/5 vs. Marquette

14. Providence (14-15, 3-13) (14)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. Notre Dame 93-94, 2/27 @ Marquette 62-86
This Week: 3/2 @ Louisville, 3/5 vs. Rutgers

15. South Florida (8-21, 2-14) (15)
Last Week: 2/26 @ DePaul 86-76
This Week: 3/2 vs. Pitt, 3/5 @ St. John’s

16. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) (16)
Last Week: 2/23 @ St. John’s 51-76, 2/26 vs. South Florida 76-86
This Week: 3/2 vs. Florida, 3/5 @ Syracuse

A Look Ahead
There are some really important games down the stretch that will determine the seeding for the Big East tournament as well as seeding (and bids) for the NCAA Tournament. With five teams currently sitting with seven or eight losses in the 7-11 spots in the standings, the race will be on to see who gets those last two first-round byes.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted 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.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 15th, 2011

 

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

A Look Back

  • Player of the Week: Dwight Hardy, St. John’s: Hardy has caught fire the past two weeks. He’s averaging 24.8 points per game over the past five games, including the 33 points he put on Connecticut on Thursday night. Then on Sunday afternoon, Hardy scored 18 big points as the Johnnies picked up a huge bubble victory at Cincinnati. We already know how good St. John’s is at home. The 17-point win over the Huskies wasn’t even one of their best two wins on their home court. What was impressive was going into Cincinnati and picking up a close win, albeit with the help of a Rashad Bishop lane violation. The Red Storm is not a lock to make the tournament just yet, but as long as they avoid a Georgetonian collapse down the stretch,Steve Lavin‘s crew will be dancing.
  • Team of the Week: Pittsburgh Panthers: The Panthers had one of the more impressive weeks that any team has put together this season. Playing without their leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, Pitt went into West Virginia and won in the Backyard Brawl rivalry game. Then on Saturday night on ESPN’s Gameday, Pitt held on against Villanova in an in-state battle. If it hasn’t been proven to you yet, the Panthers are a team that is greater than their individual parts. They are good enough that they deserve to be in the conversation not just for a No. 1 seed, but as the No. 1 team in the country.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (23-2, 11-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/12 @ Villanova 57-54
This Week: 2/16 vs. South Florida, 2/19 @ St. John’s

See the above “Team of the Week” portion.

2. Notre Dame (21-4, 10-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville 89-79 OT, 2/12 @ South Florida 78-55
This Week: 2/19 @ West Virginia

With Kemba Walker‘s continuing struggles, there is a legitimate argument to be made for Ben Hansbrough as the Big East’s player of the year. Notre Dame‘s offense is based around their ball movement, but Hansbrough is the guy who has the ball in his hands at the end of a clock. He’s the best creator that Mike Brey has, their leader in scoring and assists, and the best on-ball defender on the team. He also has all the intangibles you look for in a point guard. I love kids like Austin Freeman and Marshon Brooks and Rick Jackson, but I’m not sure there is a player in the conference that I would take over Hansbrough.

3. Georgetown (20-5, 9-4) (5)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Syracuse 64-56, 2/13 vs. Marquette 69-60
This Week: 2/16 @ UConn, 2/19 @ USF

The Hoyas won two games this week, but what was impressive was how they did it. On the road against Syracuse, the Orange took over down the stretch, keeping Syracuse from getting scoring opportunities while going on a game-ending, 15-3 run. Against Marquette, Georgetown dominated the second half on the defensive end of the floor and on the glass. They allowed the Golden Eagles to score just 25 points, held them to a 36.3% eFG, gave up just 11.1% OR, and forced Marquette into nine turnovers and 0.69 PPP. Not exactly the Georgetown team we have become accustomed to under John Thompson III.

4. Villanova (19-6, 7-5) (2)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers 76-77, 2/12 vs. Pitt 54-57
This Week: 2/15 @ Seton Hall, 2/19 vs. DePaul

The loss against Pitt is acceptable. Losing by three at home without a starter (Corey Stokes missed this game and the second half against Rutgers with turf toe) to the best team in the league and possibly the best team in the country is far from a bad loss. The Rutgers loss, on the other hand, is another story. The Wildcats blew a 13-point lead with five minutes left and an eight point lead with two minutes left. They turned the ball over, they allowed open threes, and, at the end of the game, Corey Fisher fouled Jonathan Mitchell shooting a three. He made it and made the free throw, and Rutgers picked up a huge win.

5. Louisville (19-6, 8-4) (6)
Last Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame 79-89 OT, 2/12 vs. Syracuse 73-69
This Week: 2/16 @ Cincinnati, 2/18 vs. UConn

What got into Kyle Kuric this week? The sophomore shooting guard had 28 points against Notre Dame in an overtime loss and followed that up with 23 points in the Cardinals’ win over Syracuse on Saturday. For the week, Kuric was 9-14 from three. He’s shooting 46.9% from deep on the season while averaging 10.0 points per contest. He needs to be a consistent scoring option for the Cardinals, as does Terrence Jennings. Jennings is only averaging 9.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but over his last five, he’s averaging 14.2 and 7.8.

6. Syracuse (21-6, 8-6) (4)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown 56-64, 2/12 @ Louisville 69-73, 2/14 vs. West Virginia 63-52
This Week: 2/19 vs. Rutgers

The Orange picked up a much needed win on Monday night, knocking off West Virginia at home to snap a three-game Carrier Dome losing streak. The biggest problem Syracuse has right now is a complete inability to defend the three point line. Their other issues — poor decision-making from the backcourt, Kris Joseph‘s inconsistency, Fab Melo missing practice — are second in importance to figuring out how to keep teams from hitting 10, 11, and 12 threes against them.

7. Connecticut (19-5, 7-5) (7)
Last Week: 2/10 @ St. John’s 72-89 , 2/13 vs. Providence 75-57
This Week: 2/16 vs. Georgetown, 2/18 @ Louisville

When Kemba Walker is playing like Kemba Walker, as opposed to Super Kemba, UConn is a good team, but they aren’t much more than an upper-half Big East team. Prior to Sunday’s win against Providence, UConn had lost three out of four in league play to fall back into the middle of the pack. This is a big week for he Huskies coming up, with Georgetown and Louisville.

8. St. John’s (15-9, 7-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/10 vs. UConn 89-72, 2/13 @ Cincinnati 59-57
This Week: 2/15 @ St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Marquette

See the above “Player of the Week” portion.

9. Marquette (15-10, 6-6) (8)
Last Week: 2/9 @ South Florida 59-58, 2/13 @ Georgetown 60-69
This Week: 2/15 vs. St. John’s, 2/19 vs. Seton Hall

Sunday’s loss to Georgetown was Marquette’s worst loss of the season. By nine points. Think about that. The Golden Eagles need to start winning some of these close games down the stretch, but is there any team in the country that is more competitive than the Golden Eagles?

10. West Virginia (16-9, 7-6) (9)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul 72-61, 2/14 @ Syracuse 52-63
This Week: 2/19 vs. Notre Dame

There is something missing from this West Virginia team, but I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Kevin Jones is inconsistent, John Flowers is foul-prone, Casey Mitchell is a head case, and no one seems willing to box out.

11. Cincinnati (19-6, 6-6) (11)
Last Week: 2/8 @ DePaul 71-68, 2/13 vs. St. John’s 57-59
This Week: 2/16 vs. Louisville, 2/19 @ Providence

Mick Cronin seems to have finally gotten fed up with Yancy Gates‘ actions and apathy towards playing. The five-star recruit who is no better as a junior than he was as a freshman played just 16 minutes against DePaul and 13 minutes against St. John’s after sitting out against Pitt.

12. Seton Hall (11-14, 5-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers 69-64
This Week: 2/15 vs. Villanova, 2/19 @ Marquette

Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were kicked off the team on Friday after missing curfew to go to a party. Both were disappointments in their time in Jersey.

13. Rutgers (13-12, 4-9) (13)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova 77-76, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall 64-69
This Week: 2/19 @ Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights deserved that upset against Villanova. Mike Rice has his team playing so hard every night, they just have come up on the short end of the talent stick. I hope they enjoyed it.

14. Providence (14-11, 3-9) (14)
Last Week: 2/13 @ UConn 57-75
This Week: 2/17 vs. DePaul, 2/19 vs. Cincinnati
You have six more games to get the chance to see Marshon Brooks play as a collegian. It’s worth it.

15. South Florida (8-18, 2-11) (15)
Last Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette 58-59, 2/12 vs. Notre Dame 55-78
This Week: 2/16 @ Pitt, 2/19 vs. Georgetown

Why does USF struggle? Gus Gilchrist uses as many possessions as Marshon Brooks and Kemba Walker, but he has an offensive rating of 89.0.

16. DePaul (6-18, 0-12) (16)
Last Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati 68-71, 2/12 @ West Virginia 61-72
This Week: 2/17 @ Providence, 2/19 vs. Villanova

DePaul gets more competitive with every game they play. I think Oliver Purnell can make something out of that program.

A Look Ahead

This is a huge week for the UConn Huskies. Not only are they playing Georgetown on Wednesday, they get a rematch with Louisville on Friday night. Are the Huskies truly a contender in the Big East, or was the start of their season more of a fluke than anything?

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange: The Orange reached a critical point in their season on Wednesday. They had lost four consecutive games, there were all kinds of rumors involving turmoil within the locker room, and the team was heading to Hartford to take on then-No. 7 Connecticut. But the Orange were able to slow down Kemba Walker and knock off the Huskies, regaining some confidence along the way, before going into Tampa and whooping up on South Florida. James Southerland has seen his minutes cut, playing just two minutes in the past three games, while CJ Fair and Baye Moussa Keita — who are more active on the glass and better defenders than Southerland — have taken those minutes. Dion Waiters has also played better since he was benched at Marquette, scoring 19 points the past two games. Syracuse has a big week coming up, as they play Georgetown, Louisville, and West Virginia in the span of six days.

Player of the Week: Corey Fisher, Villanova: Villanova head coach Jay Wright switched around Villanova’s starting lineup, sliding Maalik Wayns to the bench, Corey Fisher over to the point, and moving Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood into the starting lineup at different times. Wright did it for two reasons — he wanted to make Villanova a better defensive team, and he wanted a bigger team on the glass. More importantly, however, he wanted one more player on the floor willing to get the ball into the big guys inside. And believe it or not, this Villanova team is actually at their best when they run from the inside-out. How did Fisher respond? By averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 55% from the floor in wins over Marquette and West Virginia.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (21-2, 9-1) (1)
Last Week: 2/5 vs. Cincinnati 71-59, 2/7 @ West Virginia 71-66
Next Week: 2/12 @ Villanova

The Panthers win at West Virginia on Monday proved just how good the program is that Jamie Dixon runs. Pitt won at West Virginia, a rivalry game on the road, without their most dangerous offensive weapon (Ashton Gibbs is out for two weeks with a strained MCL) against a team that was tied for second in the league standings. Nothing in the Panthers’ game plan changed. They still ran their same offense and they still crashed the glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds. Saturday’s matchup with Villanova should be quite a bit of fun, even if Gibbs is out.

2. Villanova (19-4, 7-3) (3)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Marquette 75-70, 2/5 vs. West Virginia 66-50
Next Week: 2/9 @ Rutgers, 2/12 vs. Pitt

See the “Player of the Week” section for a breakdown on Jay Wright’s tinkering with the starting lineup, and how Corey Fisher in particular has benefited.

3. Notre Dame (19-4, 8-3) (5)
Last Week: 2/3 @ DePaul 83-58, 2/6 vs. Rutgers 76-69
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Louisville, 2/12 @ South Florida

I’m still not sold on Notre Dame being the third-best team in the conference, but they continue to win and own the single most impressive victory in the league, a win at Pitt. Ben Hansbrough was once again sensational this week, averaging 24.5 points per game in two wins that, frankly, didn’t tell us much. The Irish blew out DePaul like they are supposed too before winning a tougher-than-expected game against Rutgers.

4. Syracuse (20-4, 7-4) (4)
Last Week: 2/2 @ UConn 66-58, 2/5 @ South Florida 72-49
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Georgetown, 2/12 @ Louisville

See the “Team of the Week section” for analysis on Syracuse getting back on the right track despite undue stress.

5. Georgetown (18-5, 7-4) (9)
Last Week: 1/31 vs. Louisville 62-59, 2/5 vs. Providence 83-81
Next Week: 1/9 @ Syracuse, 1/13 vs. Marquette

The Hoyas are arguably the hottest team in the Big East right now. With wins over Louisville and Providence, they Hoyas have won six in a row after starting off Big East play 1-4. That winning streak becomes all the more important with a trip to the Carrier Dome coming on Wednesday. Julian Vaughn has played very well of late despite having a bad ankle. He had ten points, including a number of important buckets, and four blocks against Louisville and followed that up with a 14-point, 11-rebound performance against Providence.

6. Louisville (18-5, 7-3) (6)
Last Week: 1/31 @ Georgetown 59-62, 2/5 vs. DePaul 61-57
Next Week: 2/9 @ Notre Dame, 2/12 vs. Syracuse

Right now, Louisville is simply surviving, as Rick Pitino put it after the Cardinal’s four-point win against DePaul. The issue for the Cardinals isn’t their talent level (which is low, given their ranking) or Pitino’s coaching (which has been as impressive as anyone in the country), it’s simply that they cannot get healthy. The latest injury has come to leading scorer Preston Knowles, who sat out the win over the Blue Demons with a hamstring injury.

7. Connecticut (18-4, 6-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Syracuse 58-66, 2/5 @ Seton Hall 61-59
Next Week: 2/10 @ Providence, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The Kemba Walker riddle has been solved — play UConn in a zone. Syracuse did it. So did Seton Hall. It makes it easy to help onto Walker and prevent him from getting one-on-one opportunities, and with the youth and inexperience on the UConn roster, it is very easy to get this team out of an offensive rhythm. Zones are difficult to beat when you don’t have great passing big men, and if you have seen Charles Okwandu or Alex Oriakhi play this season, you know they are not exactly Greg Monroe.

8. Marquette (14-9, 5-5) (7)

Last Week: 2/2 @ Villanova 70-75
Next Week: 2/9 @ South Florida, 2/13 @ Georgetown

Once again, the Golden Eagles suffered a tough loss against a quality opponent. But that doesn’t mean that this team is in any danger whatsoever of missing the NCAA Tournament. They’ve lost five of their last eight games, although in that eight game stretch, Marquette played seven teams (seven!) currently ranked in the top 15 in the country. All five of those losses were to top 15 teams, while the Golden Eagles also boast wins over the likes of Syracuse and Notre Dame. Only two of their last eight games are against ranked teams.

9. West Virginia (15-7, 6-4) (8)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Seton Hall 56-44, 2/5 @ Villanova 50-66, 2/7 vs. Pitt 66-71
Next Week: 2/12 vs. DePaul, 2/14 @ Syracuse

This is not a typical Bob Huggins team. There’s no toughness on this squad, mentally or physically. They are an atrocious 310th in the country on the defensive glass after Monday night’s debacle against Pitt. Kevin Jones and John Flowers are inconsistent and get pushed around inside too easily when they aren’t in foul trouble. Deniz Kilicli can score on the block, but he can’t defend anyone and doesn’t appear to know what a box out is. Cam Thoroughman is a blue-collar player that is tough and physical, but he just doesn’t have the talent to be an impact player. This team, believe it or not, is soft.

10. St. John’s (13-9, 5-5) (11)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. Rutgers 58-56, 2/5 @ UCLA 59-66
Next Week: 2/10 vs. UConn, 2/13 @ Cincinnati

Dwight Hardy went for 32 against UCLA, which was impressive, but the rest of the Red Storm decided to not make the trip to LA. It’s a shame, because the Johnnies really could have used that win. Thanks to their blowout of Duke, all this team needs to do is finish above .500 in the Big East to make the dance.

11. Cincinnati (18-5, 5-5) (10)
Last Week: 2/5 @ Pitt 59-71
Next Week: 2/8 @ DePaul, 2/13 vs. St. John’s

The bubble may be obscenely weak this season, but the Bearcats still look like they could end up being a longshot to make it. They played the 284th-best non-conference schedule, and while their win over Xavier looks better every day, they need to notch a victory over one of the top teams in the Big East. That will be tough if Yancy Gates, who didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday, remains suspended.

12. Seton Hall (10-14, 4-8) (14)
Last Week: 2/2 @ West Virginia 44-56, 2/5 vs. UConn 59-61
Next Week: 2/12 vs. Rutgers

Seeton Hall is playing well, but they cannot close out games. Unfortunately, after digging themselves a hole early in the season, the Pirates cannot afford losing close games.

13. Rutgers (12-11, 3-8) (12)
Last Week: 2/2 @ St. John’s 56-58, 2/6 @ Notre Dame 69-76
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Villanova, 2/12 vs. Seton Hall

The Scarlet Knights have now played three straight tournament teams down to the wire. Mike Rice has this team playing the right way. Once he gets some better talent into the program, Rutgers will be alright.

14. Providence (14-10, 3-8) (13)
Last Week: 2/2 vs. South Florida 68-63, 2/5 @ Georgetown 81-83
Next Week: 2/13 @ UConn

Marshon Brooks is now the leading scorer in the Big East at 24.1 points per game after dropping 43 on Georgetown in a losing effort.

15. South Florida (8-16, 2-9) (15)
Last Week: 2/2 @ Providence 63-68, 2/5 vs. Syracuse 49-72
Next Week: 2/9 vs. Marquette. 2/12 vs. Notre Dame

On Saturday, South Florida was outnumbered by Syracuse fans 3:1 in their own arena. Shameful.

16. DePaul (6-16, 0-10) (16)
Last Week: 2/3 vs. Notre 58-83, 2/5 @ Louisville 57-61
Next Week: 2/8 vs. Cincinnati, 2/12 @ WVU
The Blue Demons nearly got one against injury-depleted Louisville.

Looking Ahead
We have four terrific Big East matchups this week. On Wednesday, Georgetown heads to Syracuse in the first of their two games this season, while Louisville makes the trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. On Saturday, Syracuse and Louisville do battle while arguably the two best teams in the conference tip off in ESPN’s Gameday game as Pitt travels to Villanova.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

A Look Back

Generally, at this point in the season — late January — I have a pretty good feel for the college hoops landscape. This season? Bleh. It seems like every time I expect a team to begin their turnaround, they start to slump. Every time I expect a collapse, I get a winning streak.  The Big East is no exception. Louisville looked great last week, then lost to ProvidenceWest Virginia beat Purdue, then had two players get suspended. Notre Dame, who struggles on the road, went to Pitt and won on Big Monday.  Yeah. I got nothing.

Player of the Week: Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: You know you had a good week when you go for 28 points, six assists, and five boards against a team like Marquette and it’s not your best performance. Notre Dame paid a visit to the Petersen Events Center on Monday night and played their the ‘burn’ — as in burn the clock, and possibly your eyeballs — offense, slowing the game to a crawl. For the first 25 minutes, it was somewhat effective, but for the final 15 minutes of the game, Mike Brey did nothing but put the ball into Hansbrough’s hands. Seemingly every possession, the Irish ran him off of a high screen, and Hansbrough took advantage of the resulting mismatches, scoring 15 of his 19 points and handing out three of his seven assists over that stretch. The Irish would go on to beat Pitt 56-51 and pick up a huge road win, their first of the season.

Team of the Week: UConn Huskies - The Huskies won two big games this week, knocking off Villanova last Monday before upending Tennessee at home in the Vols’ first game with Bruce Pearl in two weeks. Kemba Walker has come back to earth in the past few weeks — which was expected — but it has been the emergence of UConn’s role players, most recently Jeremy Lamb, who have kept the Huskies notching wins. How crazy has this season been? No one had UConn in the NCAA Tournament in the preseason. Now? They are getting slotted into a No. 1 seed on a lot of bracket projections.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (19-2, 7-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/22 @ DePaul 80-50, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 51-56

Next Week: 1/29 @ Rutgers

Despite what the box score might look like, Pitt was not terrible offensively in their 56-51 loss to Notre Dame. When there are only 48 possessions in the game, 51 points actually isn’t too bad. The issue is on the defensive end of the floor. The Panthers were absolutely shredded by Ben Hansbrough coming off of a high ball screen. Their help side defense was terrible, as were their defensive rotations, and it resulted in layups and wide opens threes. That said, Pitt was playing much better on the defensive end. Chalk this one up to a great performance by the Irish?

2. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (3)

Last Week: 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59, 1/22 vs. Tennessee

Next Week: 1/25 @ Marquette, 1/29 vs. Louisville

See the above “Team of the Week” feature to see why UConn keeps winning despite the regression of Kemba Walker.

3. Villanova (17-3, 5-2) (4)

Last Week: 1/17 @ UConn 59-61, 1/22 @ Syracuse 83-72

Next Week: 1/26 @ Providence, 1/29 vs. Georgetown

When you split road games at UConn and Syracuse, you have to consider the week a win. It finally seems as if the Wildcats’ three backcourt stars are all clicking. Corey Fisher had 28 points against UConn; Maalik Wayns led the way against Syracuse, scoring 17 of his 21 points in the first half and finding (albeit briefly) his stroke from deep. Corey Stokes found his stroke as well after slumping for the past ten days or so. The most underrated aspect of this team, however, is Antonio Pena. He’s always been a tough defender and rebounder, but now he is knocking down jumpers as well.

4. Syracuse (18-2, 5-2) (2)

Last Week: 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74, 1/22 vs. Villanova 72-83

Next Week: 1/25 vs. Seton Hall, 1/29 @ Marquette

The Orange have now lost two games in a row after starting the season off with 18 straight wins, and both teams did it by slicing up the Syracuse zone. Well, Pitt sliced up their zone, Villanova simply bombed away from deep and hung on late. Should Orange fans be concerned? Not in the least. There is no shame in losing at Pitt without Kris Joseph (though Notre Dame may disagree) or at home to Villanova when their backcourt players get it going. Speaking of Joseph, he had 23 points against Villanova in his return from a concussion. Another item of note — Scoop Jardine is now 8-30 from the floor in his last three games.

5. Notre Dame (15-4, 6-3) (9)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati 66-58, 1/22 vs. Marquette 80-75, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame 56-51

Next Week: None

See above.

6. Louisville (15-4, 4-2) (5)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s 88-63, 1/22 @ Providence 67-72

Next Week: 1/26 vs. West Virginia, 1/29 @ UConn

Just three days after smoking St. John’s and playing one of their most complete games of the season, the Cardinals went into Providence and lost to the fired up Friars. Marshon Brooks had 20 of his 27 points in the second half as Louisville ended up shooting just 4-23 from three. I’ve said it since day one with this team — they are going to win games they shouldn’t win and lose games they shouldn’t lose. Live by the three…

7. Marquette (13-7, 4-3) (7)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul , 1/22 @ Notre Dame 75-80

Next Week: 1/25 vs. UConn, 1/29 vs. Syracuse

Another game, another tough loss for the Golden Eagles. With the way this team has competed against some very tough competition, it is difficult to believe that they are not good enough to be in the NCAA Tournament. Now they just have to prove it. With home games against UConn and Syracuse on tap this week, now is as good of a time as any to start.

8. West Virginia (13-5, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall 71-75, 1/23 vs. South Florida 56-46

Next Week: 1/26 @ Louisville, 1/29 @ Cincinnati

Since I named West Virginia the team of the week when they knocked off Purdue, the ‘Eers have proceeded to lose to Marshall after being down by 24 points, have a player (Dan Jennings) get kicked off the team for leaving the bench during the South Florida game, and saw their leading scorer (Casey Mitchell) suspended indefinitely for the second time this year.

9. Georgetown (13-5, 3-4) (10)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall 80-75

Next Week: 1/26 vs. St. John’s, 1/29 @ Villanova

The Hoyas picked up a nice little come-from-behind win against Seton Hall on the road. The bad news is that while Austin Freeman looks like he’s back in his groove shooting from three, the Hoyas still did not play all that well. Georgetown has a chance to avenge a loss to St. John’s on Wednesday at the Verizon Center before heading to Philly for a showdown with Villanova. Of note: Julian Vaughn was seen walking about campus in a boot this week, although reports are that it was precautionary.

10. Cincinnati (17-3, 4-3) (11)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame 58-66, 1/22 @ St. John’s 53-51

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Rutgers, 1/29 1/29 vs. West Virginia

The Bearcats got a must-win game on the road against the Johnnies on Saturday thanks to a Yancy Gates three-point play with eight seconds left. If Cincy really wants a shot at making the dance, they are going to have to put themselves into good position heading into the end of February. Five of their last seven games come against ranked opponents with Marquette in that mix as well.

11. St. John’s (11-7, 4-4) (8)

Last Week: 1/19 @ Louisville 63-88, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati 51-53

Next Week: 1/26 @ Georgetown, 1/30 vs. Duke

Not only did St. John’s get embarrassed on the road by Louisville, they lost an important game at home to Cincinnati when they couldn’t hit their free throws late. With Georgetown and Duke coming up this week, the Johnnies seem to be running out of chances.

12. Rutgers (12-7, 3-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida 71-62, 1/22 @ Seton Hall 66-60

Next Week: 1/26 @ Cincinnati, 1/29 vs. Pitt

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet. That said, Mike Rice is doing a good job with this group. Don’t be surprised if he builds a tournament-worthy team in the next two to three years.

13. Providence (12-8, 1-6) (15)

Last Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville 72-67

Next Week: 1/26 vs. Villanova, 1/30 @ Seton Hall

The Friars picked up a nice win at Louisville. Its really a shame that no one gets to see Marshon Brooks play, because he’s the real deal.

14. Seton Hall (8-12, 2-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown 75-80, 1/22 vs. Rutgers 60-66

Next Week: 1/25 @ Syracuse, 1/30 vs. Providence

This season has been an absolute disaster. The Pirates lost two more tough ones this week. I really do feel for those guys. They have been through a lot, with Bobby Gonzalez’s firing, Robert Mitchell‘s arrest, Herb Pope‘s heart problems, and Jeremy Hazell‘s wrist injury and shooting.

15. South Florida (7-14, 1-7) (14)

Last Week: 1/20 Rutgers 62-71, 1/23 @ West Virginia 46-56

Next Week: 1/27 vs. DePaul

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

16. DePaul (6-13, 0-7) (16)

Last Week: 1/18 @ Marquette 64-94, 1/22 vs. Pitt 50-80

Next Week: 1/27 @ South Florida

Looks like we’re headed for a showdown on the 27th…

A Look Ahead

Louisville takes on UConn and Georgetown heads to Villanova on Saturday, both at noon, but beyond that, it’s a rare quiet week in the Big East in terms of marquee matchups.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East.

 

A Look Back

The Big East seems like it is beginning to break into three groups at the top. You have the contenders at the top in Pitt and Syracuse, then you have a second tier of Villanova and UConn.

Beyond that, you may as well start flipping a coin.

Right now, Louisville and West Virginia look to be the best of the rest. This comes a week after Notre Dame and Georgetown looked like they were the best of the rest. Marquette is good enough to beat anyone in the league, but they haven’t been closing games. Cincinnati is still a bit of an unknown, as they have lost to Syracuse and Villanova on the road, but have taken care of everyone else they have played in conference play. St. John’s is another enigma, as seen by a 20-point loss and a 20-point win versus Notre Dame in the span of a week.

The craziest part? Every single one of those 11 teams I just mentioned has a real shot of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. There is no way that happens — there is too much parity in the league and these teams are going to be beating up on each other for another month and a half — but depending on how the rest of conference play turns out, I can realistically see nine teams earning themselves a bid.

That is, of course, assuming teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame figure out how to turn their season around and Cincinnati and St. John’s turn out to be for real. If those teams end up being the worst case scenario, I can also see a situation arising where only six or seven teams earn a bid.

The only thing I am sure of?

This league is going to be a fun one to follow for the next two months.

Player of the WeekPreston Knowles, Louisville: Rick Pitino has said it time and again — this Cardinals team doesn’t have a star. They don’t have a go to player. And as easy as that is to believe, Knowles is certainly close to becoming ‘the man’ for this team. In three games since we last did a Big East check-in, Knowles averaged 17.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG, and 2.3 SPG, all while hitting 11 of 24 from three. Knowles’ best statistical performance came in Louisville’s loss at Villanova on Wednesday, but he was the catalyst for their impressive comeback against Marquette. He scored 15 points in the second half, including four threes and two assists in the final 5:45 as Louisville overcame an 18-point deficit to win. He had the game winning assist with four seconds left, finding Kyle Kuric for a layup. Knowles’ transformation from a defensive specialist to an offensive star has been an impressive one to watch.

Team of the WeekWest Virginia: All of a sudden, the Mountaineers look like a team capable of making a run at the top four in the league. Kevin Jones had a slow start to the season, but he’s come on strong of late, averaging 17.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game — with 18 offensive boards — in the last three games. John Flowers is one of the best glue guys and arguably the best defender in the league. Casey Mitchell is always a threat to go for 25 points. If defenses key on him, Truck BryantDenis Kilicli, and Joe Mazzulla all have shown the ability to be double figure scorers. They have role players, they can defend, and when they are hustling and playing the blue collar game that Bobby Huggins loves, this team is dangerous. Ask Georgetown and Purdue, as both took a loss to WVU this week.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (18-1, 6-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette 89-81, 1/12 @ Georgetown 72-57, 1/15 vs. Seton Hall 74-53, 1/17 vs. Syracuse 74-66

Next Week: 1/22 @ DePaul, 1/24 vs. Notre Dame

Efficiency is the name of the game for this Pitt team offensively. They may be the best team in the country when it comes to executing offensively. They always seem to get the shot that they want, whether it is a post touch for Gary McGhee or a three for Ashton Gibbs coming off of a screen. If they miss, 45.6% of the time they get the offensive rebound. They also don’t turn the ball over in the half court, meaning that they maximize their possessions offensively as well as anyone. They’ve been knocked on the defensive end of the floor, but the last three games have looked much better. If there is an Achilles heel, it is that they struggle against pressure. Providence nearly beat them by forcing turnovers with a press while Syracuse and Georgetown got the Panthers to turn the ball over late using a press.

2. Syracuse (18-1, 5-1) (1)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall 61-56, 1/12 @ St. John’s 76-59, 1/15 vs. Cincinnati 67-52, 1/17 @ Pitt 66-74

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Villanova

The Orange suffered their first loss of the season Monday night, but take it with a grain of salt. The loss came at Pitt when the Orange were missing Kris Joseph, and they were nearly able to overcome a 19-0 start by the Panthers. The Orange look like the best team in the conference on the defensive end of the floor, and the numbers back it up. The question all season long has been on the offensive end, but with Joseph’s recent scoring surge and the emergence of James Southerland as a spot-up shooter at the three/four spot, that may be less of an issue. The Orange aren’t getting a lot of pub right now, but this team is for real.

3. Connecticut (15-2, 4-2) (6)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Texas 82-81 OT, 1/11 vs. Rutgers 67-53, 1/15 @ DePaul 82-62, 1/17 vs. Villanova 61-59

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Tennessee

All of a sudden, UConn has a supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi has been fantastic the past four games, averaging 13.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while showing off some nice post moves. Jeremy Lamb has been playing very well on both ends of the floor. Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith both have shown the ability to be second and third scoring options this season. Kemba Walker‘s efficiency numbers have been dropping as defenses focus on him, but his teammates have shown an increasing confidence to take and make big shots when they are left open. As UConn continues to improve defensively — forcing turnovers and clearing the defensive glass — they are only going to get better as a team.

4. Villanova (16-2, 4-1) (3)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Cincinnati 72-61, 1/12 vs. Louisville 88-74, 1/15 vs. Maryland 74-66, 1/17 @ UConn 59-61

Next Week: 1/22 @ Syracuse

Villanova’s first loss in conference play came on a Kemba Walker buzzer beater in Gampel without Dominic Cheek. It also came on a night when Corey Fisher looked like Mr. 105 while the rest of his teammates struggled to get anything going offensively. I like what his team can do defensively, but I still have concerns on the offensive end of the floor. Maalik Wayns is talented, but he is inconsistent and needs to learn how to run a team and not just be a dribbler. Fisher has been up and down, although he looked terrific against UConn. The key may be Mouphtaou Yarou. If he can get better scoring on the block, the emergence of Antonio Pena‘s jump shot will give him a lot of opportunities down low with space.

5. Louisville (14-3, 3-1) (7)

Last Week: 1/9 @ South Florida 86-77, 1/12 @ Villanova 74-88, 1/15 vs. Marquette 71-70

Next Week: 1/19 vs. St. John’s, 1/22 @ Providence

See the “Player of the Week” feature above to see why Rick Pitino has Preston Knowles and the Cardinals rolling.

6. West Virginia (12-4, 3-2) (11)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown 65-59, 1/13 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/16 vs. Purdue 68-64

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Marshall, 1/23 vs. South Florida

See the “Team of the Week” feature above for my thoughts on the Mountaineers.

7. Marquette (12-6, 3-2) (10)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Pitt 81-89, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame 79-57, 1/15 @ Louisville 70-71

Next Week: 1/18 vs. DePaul, 1/22 @ Notre Dame

Marquette still hasn’t been able to figure out how to win the close games this season. The talent is clearly there — it wasn’t a fluke that they were up by 18 in Louisville — but the ability to finish games isn’t quite there yet. The perfect example — Marquette was up 70-69 against Louisville with less than 30 seconds left when they broke the Cardinals’ press. Instead of pulling the ball out, Dwight Buycks attacked Terrence Jennings and had his shot blocked. At the other end, the Golden Eagles lost track of Kyle Kuric on a dribble handoff, and it resulted in a wide open layup for the win.

8. St. John’s (11-5, 4-2) (9)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame 61-76, 1/12 vs. Syracuse 59-76, 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 72-54

Next Week: 1/19 @ Louisville, 1/22 vs. Cincinnati

I still can’t figure this team out. I thought I had them pegged — a fraud — after they were blown out by both Syracuse and Notre Dame, but then the Johnnies went and beat the Irish by 18 in a rematch on Sunday. They can defend, they are physical, and they have a couple of players that are dangerous when they get it going, but I’m not completely sold yet. Win at Louisville on Wednesday, and we’ll talk.

9. Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) (4)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. St. John’s 76-61, 1/10 @ Marquette 57-79, 1/16 @ St. John’s 54-72

Next Week: 1/19 vs. Cincinnati, 1/22 vs. Marquette

There are two different Notre Dame teams — the one that plays at home and the one that plays on the road. The Irish have four losses on the season — by 14 at Kentucky, by 12 at Syracuse, by 22 at Marquette, and by 18 at St. John’s. I love the roster makeup of this group. The mental makeup is a different story.

10. Georgetown (13-5, 2-4) (5)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia 59-65, 1/12 vs. Pitt 57-72, 1/15 @ Rutgers 74-65

Next Week: 1/18 @ Seton Hall

I’ve written off the Hoyas … for now. I’ve seen this happen too many times. It feels like a rerun of the 2009 campaign, when Georgetown jumped all the way to eighth in the country after a win at UConn to kick off Big East play before collapsing and getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. They are a small team up front and they aren’t a great defensive team, but they haven’t been good enough on the offensive end to make up for it.

11. Cincinnati (16-2, 3-2) (8)

Last Week: 1/9 @ Villanova 61-72, 1/12 vs. South Florida 74-66, 1/15 @ Syracuse 52-67

Next Week: 1/19 @ Notre Dame, 1/22 @ St. John’s

My opinion of the Bearcats hasn’t changed. I like the pieces they have, but I am not sure if they are good enough to make the tournament. Yancy Gates is inconsistent and their perimeter has had a tough time against good teams. They have two winnable road games against fellow tourney contenders this week. Win one and make a statement.

12. Seton Hall (8-10, 2-4) (13)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Syracuse 56-61, 1/12 @ DePaul 78-67, 1/15 @ Pitt 53-74

Next Week: 1/18 vs. Georgetown, 1/22 vs. Rutgers

The best story of the week belonged to Jeremy Hazell, who made a return from a broken wrist that required surgery and a gunshot wound to score 23 points against DePaul. I’m hoping that he can be the spark that the Pirates need to salvage their season.

13. Rutgers (10-7, 1-4) (14)

Last Week: 1/8 vs. Providence 85-72, 1/11 @ UConn 53-67, 1/15 vs. Georgetown 65-74

Next Week: 1/20 vs. South Florida, 1/22 @ Seton Hall

This group plays hard, they just don’t have the talent in the program to beat the big boys yet.

14. South Florida (7-12, 1-5) (16)

Last Week: 1/9 vs. Louisville 77-86, 1/12 @ Cincinnati 66-74, 1/16 vs. Providence 79-72

Next Week: 1/20 Rutgers, 1/23 @ West Virginia

15. Providence (11-8, 0-6) (12)

Last Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers 72-85, 1/13 @ West Virginia 63-93, 1/16 @ South Florida 72-79

Next Week: 1/22 vs. Louisville

16. DePaul (6-11, 0-5) (15)

Last Week: 1/12 vs. Seton Hall 67-78, 1/15 vs. UConn 62-82

Next Week: 1/18 @ Marquette, 1/22 vs. Pitt

I’d say there is a 25% chance that none of these three teams gets a win against any of the top 13 teams in the Big East. Who else is happy that TCU is joining the mix in 2012?

A Look Ahead

The big day for the Big East this week looks to be Wednesday, when St. John’s and Cincinnati get their cracks at Louisville and Notre Dame, respectively, on the road. Both teams need a win. Not just for their resume, but to make a statement. The way to earn respect in this league is by winning on the road against good teams. On Saturday, make sure you’re up early as Syracuse and Villanova tip at noon.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 5th, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

I am so glad that I don’t have to coach in the Big East.  As of today, UConn is 1-2 in the Big East after losing games at Pitt and at Notre Dame. Georgetown is 1-2 with losses coming at Notre Dame and at St. John’s. The Irish have beaten both the Hoyas and the Huskies, but they aren’t at the top of the league right now because sandwiched in between those two was a loss at Syracuse.  What about Providence? They are now 0-3 in the conference despite having the look and the feel of a team that is much better than an 0-3 Big East team. Why? Because they opened conference play with a trip to the Carrier Dome to take on the Orange before returning home to face suddenly-awesome St. John’s and Pitt.  All of that pales in comparison to the Johnnies*, however.

*For the record, I will note here that every of-the-week award– player, team, coach, rookie, cheerleader, mascot, and fan — that this here blogger has been foolishly delegated by the powers that be at RTC headquarters to give out to the Big East this week is going to St. John’s. I grew up on the Big East. There is nothing better than Big East basketball. And the Big East doesn’t feel right unless the Johnnies are good. Here’s to hoping it stays that way.

The next seven games on St. John’s schedule are brutal. They go to Notre Dame. Then they host Syracuse and Notre Dame. Next is a trip to Louisville before Cincinnati comes to town. To finish out January, the Johnnies head down south for a jaunt to Georgetown and then Duke (Duke!) on the 30th.  And this is coming off of trips to West Virginia and Providence before they knocked off Georgetown in the Garden.  Right now, St. John’s is 3-0 in the Big East. Justin Brownlee and DJ Kennedy make up arguably the most versatile pair of forwards in the conference. Dwight Hardy‘s nickname is Buckets, and if you’ve seen him play, you know why. Paris Horne is an excellent perimeter defender while Justin Burrell, Dele Coker, and Sean Evans are all big and athletic. And, keep in mind, point guard Malik Booth has been hampered by a hamstring injury this entire time.  This team is good. How good? Ask me January 31st.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Syracuse (15-0, 2-0) (3)

Last Week: 12/28 vs. Providence 81-74, 1/1 vs. Notre Dame 70-58

Next Week: 1/8 @ Seton Hall

James Southerland is a name you are going to want to remember. Lost in Kris Joseph‘s surge of late and Rick Jackson‘s season-long DeJuan Blair impersonation, Southerland has become a very important piece for Jim Boeheim. He’s athletic, lengthy, and stands 6’8. He’s a competent defender — although he’s not great on the perimeter just yet, he blocks shots and makes steals — but more importantly he’s a sharpshooter that can spread the floor offensively. Remember the Orange’s weakness? (Hint: perimeter shooting.)

2. Pittsburgh (14-1, 2-0) (2)

Last Week: 1/4 @ Providence 83-79

Next Week: 1/8 vs. Marquette

This is why Pitt is so good: against Providence, they turned the ball over 22 times as the Friars’ press wreaked havoc. Pitt was in bad foul trouble, even being forced into a zone defense in the second half. Brad Wanamaker fouled out with a few minutes left with Pitt losing after blowing a ten-point lead. And the Panthers still pulled one out on the road, thanks in large part to Wanamaker’s sub, Travon Woodall, making a couple of huge plays late, including hitting the go-ahead three.

3. Villanova (12-1, 1-0) (4)

Last Week: 12/30 @ Temple 78-74, 1/2 vs. Rutgers 81-65

Next Week: 1/6 @ South Florida, 1/9 vs. Cincinnati

I can’t say enough about how good Corey Stokes has been this season. He’s a “role” player according to KenPom’s usage stats, but he leads the teams in scoring and in a stat I like to call “clutch, gutsy jumpers.” He led the team in scoring both games this week, including a very good second half against Temple.

4. Notre Dame (12-2, 2-1) (6)

Last Week: 12/29 vs. Georgetown 69-55, 1/1 @ Syracuse 58-70, 1/4 vs. UConn 73-70

Next Week: None

The Irish are legit, folks. Two solid wins to start the Big East season. Experienced, heady group of players. Lots of shooting, multiple scoring threats, versatile lineup. They aren’t that deep, and they will be without Carleton Scott for a while as he deals with a hamstring injury, but, like I said, this team is legit.

5. Georgetown (12-3, 1-2) (1)

Last Week: 12/29 @ Notre Dame 55-69, 1/1 vs. DePaul 86-75, 1/3 @ St. John’s 58-61

Next Week: 1/8 vs. West Virginia

Hmm. Did I overrate the Hoyas when I called them the Big East favorite? Three games in, it looks like it. I’m not ready to back off of that yet, but the way their backcourt played in losses to Notre Dame and St. John’s concerns me. They get dropped this week, but I expect a rebound.

6. Connecticut (11-1, 1-2) (5)

Last Week: 12/31 vs. South Florida 66-61 OT, 1/4 @ Notre Dame 70-73

Next Week: 1/8 @ Texas

Yes, UConn lost to Notre Dame, but there were some positive signs. The Huskies got 46 points out of Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb, and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. Alex Oriakhi gave them nothing. Literally, zero points. Kemba Walker struggled, going 8-23 against a swarming defense while also missing some shots he normally makes. And UConn still lost by just three at the Joyce Center after blowing two chances to tie the game with under 30 seconds left.

7. Louisville (11-2, 0-0) (7)

Last Week: 12/31 @ Kentucky 63-78

Next Week: 1/5 vs. Seton Hall, 1/9 @ South Florida

The Cardinals had an embarrassing loss to Kentucky. That said, Kentucky is, in my opinion, underrated this season. More concerning for me is the fact that Rakeem Buckles is now out with a broken finger.

8. Cincinnati (14-0, 2-0) (8)

Last Week: 12/28 vs. DePaul 76-60, 12/31 vs. Seton Hall 70-53

Next Week: 1/6 vs. Xavier

Still reserving judgement (Xavier on Thursday will be my marker), but that win over Seton Hall resonated in these parts.

9. St. John’s (10-3, 3-0) (12)

Last Week: 12/29 @ West Virginia 81-71, 1/1 @ Providence 67-65, 1/3 vs. Georgetown 61-58

Next Week: 1/8 @ Notre Dame

See the introduction for my take on the Red Storm.

10. Marquette (10-4, 0-1) (9)

Last Week: 12/29 @ Vanderbilt 76-77, 1/1 vs. West Virginia 79-74

Next Week: 1/5 @ Rutgers, 1/8 @ Pitt, 1/10 vs. Notre Dame

I just don’t think this program will ever change. And I love it. Every game they play is exciting. Their guards are always talented and unafraid of taking a big shot. Their forwards are always versatile scorers. Honestly, I believe this is one of the top six teams in this conference. Now they just have to prove it.

11. West Virginia (8-4, 1-2) (10)

Last Week: 12/29 vs. St. John’s 71-81, 1/1 @ Marquette 74-79, 1/4 @ DePaul 67-65

Next Week: 1/8 @ Georgetown

I don’t know what’s going on with the Mountaineers. They are now 1-2 in the Big East after nearly blowing a 14-point lead in the last 10 minutes against DePaul. Right now, this is not a tournament-caliber team.

12. Providence (11-4, 0-3) (11)

Last Week: 12/28 @ Syracuse 74-81, 1/1 vs. St. John’s 65-67, 1/4 vs. Pitt 79-83

Next Week: 1/8 @ Rutgers

Providence, I believe, is a tournament caliber team. See the introduction for a look at what’s going on in the Big East headquarters’ city.

13. Seton Hall (6-6) (12)

Last Week: 12/31 @ Cincinnati 53-70

Next Week: 1/5 @ Louisville, 1/8 vs. Syracuse

I feel for the Pirate players. So much talent coming in, but one star gets shot after breaking his wrist and the other isn’t the same after literally dying for a few minutes over the summer.

14. Rutgers (9-4, 0-1) (13)

Last Week: 12/28 vs. UNC 55-78, 1/2 @ Villanova 65-81

Next Week: 1/5 vs. Marquette, 1/8 vs. Providence

Liked Gil Baruta. Then he threw a reverse hammer fist at Dominic Cheek and got tossed against Villanova. Now, not as much.

15. DePaul (6-8, 0-2) (16)

Last Week: 12/28 @ Cincinnati 60-76, 1/1 @ Georgetown 75-86, 1/4 vs. West Virginia 65-67

Next Week: None

DePaul getting the bump! Oliver Purnell has his kids playing hard. Cleveland Melvin is going to be a star in this league, as well as Brandon Young.

16. South Florida (6-9, 0-2) (15)

Last Week: 12/28 @ Seton Hall 55-64, 12/31 @ UConn 61-66 OT

Next Week: 1/6 vs. Villanova

I’m embarrassed to say I’m a UConn fan when I see them get taken to overtime by USF.

Looking Ahead

There will be some terrific Big East basketball to close out the week. Thursday, Cincinnati takes on city rival Xavier. Saturday, West Virginia heads to Georgetown, Marquette heads to Pitt, UConn travels to Texas, and St. John’s has a date at Notre Dame. Sunday, Cincy gets their second test of the week as they visit Villanova.

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