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 Providence. West 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
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.