Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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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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