Big East Wrapup & Tourney PreviewPosted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2009
Tuesday, March 10th / First Round
– Game 1: #9 Cincinnati vs. #16 DePaul
– Game 2: #12 Georgetown vs. #13 St. John’s
– Game 3: #10 Notre Dame vs. #15 Rutgers
– Game 4: #11 Seton Hall vs. #14 South Florida
Wednesday, March 11th / Second Round
– Game 5: Game 1 Winner vs. #8 Providence
– Game 6: Game 2 Winner vs. #5 Marquette
– Game 7: Game 3 Winner vs. #7 West Virginia
– Game 8: Game 4 Winner vs. #6 Syracuse
Thursday, March 12th / Quarters
– Game 9: Game 5 Winner vs. #1 Louisville
– Game 10: Game 6 Winner vs. #4 Villanova
– Game 11: Game 7 Winner vs. #2 Pitt
– Game 12: Game 8 Winner vs. #3 UConn
Friday, March 13th / Semis
– Game 13: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 10 Winner
– Game 14: Game 11 Winner vs. Game 12 Winner
Saturday, March 14th / Finals
– Game 15: Game 13 Winner vs. Game 14 Winner
It is only fitting that the biggest conference in college basketball have the biggest tournament. For the first time, the Big East is inviting all 16 teams to MSG for a five day extravaganza. The BET is always full of exciting moments – from Ray Allen vs. Allen Iverson in 1996 to Taliek Brown’s banked in 30 footer in 2002 to Gerry McNamara’s superhuman performance in 2006. With the number of good teams and absurdly high number of talented players, this year’s edition of the BET should not disappoint.
Before we get into the tournament itself, let’s take a look at the season that was:
Biggest Surprise: I’m going to go with Villanova. I thought the Wildcats were going to be good this year, but I never could have predicted that they were going to be in and around the top 10 for much of the season, finishing in the top four in what many think is the toughest conference in the country.
Biggest Disappointment: Notre Dame barely edges out Georgetown to earn this not-so-special title. The Irish were picked in the top 10 in the preseason and are led by Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney, but lost seven in a row in Big East play and finished in 10th in the league at 8-10. Maybe this will teach Mike Brey you have to play defense if you want to win games.
Coach of the Year: Rick Pitino deserves credit for turning his team around at the start of league play. Jim Calhoun needs a mention for the way UConn played all year despite missing Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson for extended periods of time. Keno Davis did a commendable job getting the Friars within a win of an NCAA tournament trip. But my COY award is going to Jay Wright at Villanova. His team has far less talent on their roster than any other school that finished in the top six in the league, but he has his guys playing as well as anyone in the country. After starting Big East play 2-3, the Cats won 10 of their last 13.
Most Improved Player: This one is a tie between Wesley Matthews of Marquette and Dante Cunningham from Villanova. Matthews has always been a talented player, but he was never asked to be a scorer under Tom Crean when the Eagles already had McNeal, Dom James, and Lazar Hayward. With new coach Buzz Williams running the show, Matthews has turned into one of the most potent slashers in the league. Cunningham has always had a ton of natural ability, he just never could put it all together. That changed this year, as he has added a feathery jump shot to his repertoire. Now, instead of strictly being a rebounder and back-t0-the-basket guy, Cunningham can square you up and take you to the rim. He has turned himself into a guy that could go in the first round.
Defensive Player of the Year: Umm, Hasheem Thabeet. Are you kidding?
Freshman of the Year: Greg Monroe of Georgetown was the best freshman in the conference all season. Monroe has the kind of tools and ability that has NBA scouts drooling. He can handle the ball, pass, defend, shoot from the perimeter, and score in the post. On the season, he had numbers that would make fantasy nuts drool – 12.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.4 bpg. Oh, and it looks like he may be coming back for his sophomore year.
Player of the Year: It is an unenviable task to try and reduce the number of talented players in this conference down to just six first teamers, so try to imagine whttling away five more people to try and determine a player of the year. For me, it came down to four people – Jerel McNeal, DeJuan Blair, Hasheem Thabeet, and Terrence Williams. I am going with T-Will, for one simple reason – he is the best player on the league champion, and he doesn’t need to score to be effective. Williams got off to a bit of a sluggish start this year, but he was the key to the Louisville turnaround. He is the Cardinal’s playmaker, their best defender, and their leader. But more than that, he is one of the most fun players in the country to watch and seems like he enjoys every second he is out on the court. For the season, he averaged 12.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.3 spg and shot 38% from deep, but it was the last six games when he really showed what kind of player he is going to be. Over that span, T-Will exploded for 15.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 7.0 apg, 3.0 spg, while hitting 14-28 threes.
Jerel McNeal, Marquette
Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
Hasheem Thabeet, UConn
DeJuan Blair, Pitt
Sam Young, Pitt
Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
Levance Fields, Pitt
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Dante Cunningham, Villanova
Wesley Matthews, Marquette
AJ Price, UConn
Alex Ruoff, West Virginia
Earl Clark, Louisville
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
Jeff Adrien, UConn
Mike Rosario, Rutgers
Kemba Walker, UConn
Samardo Samuels, Louisville
Yancy Gates, Cincinnati
Devin Ebanks and Truck Bryant, West Virginia
Favorites: There are essentially three teams that you have to consider as the favorites – the three teams that all had a shot of winning the regular season crown on Saturday: UConn, Louisville, and Pitt. Of this group, I think Louisville is the most likely to win it because they have an easier road (possible date with Villanova in the semis while UConn would have to face Pitt). I also think the Cardinals are built for this time of year, with their defense, their transition game, their athletes, and T-Will. The biggest issue for them is they have no point guard. Pitt does, and he just so happens to be one of the best in the nation. I love Fields, and when you combine him with Blair, Young, and the rest of that team, you are looking at maybe the best team in the country. The problem with Pitt in years past has been the inability to score, meaning that if they played a tough defensive team in the dance, they would get knocked off. They are much better offensively this season, using a fast break that is new to their repertoire this season. This UConn bunch has still never won any sort of postseason game. I’ll consider them a serious threat when they win their first tournament games.
Contenders: Syracuse, West Virginia, Villanova, and Marquette are all excellent basketball teams, and it would not surprise me in the least if one of them got hot and made a run to the BET title. The most likely off this bunch would have to be Villanova, because they play just the three games. But Syracuse has one of the most talented starting fives in the country, and if those guys ever figure out how to play together and play with passion from the tip, this team may be good enough to make a run to Final Four, let alone a Big East title.
Sleepers: I’m going to say Notre Dame and Georgetown. I know that both teams were ranked during the season in the top 10, but the fact of the matter is that they both had long losing streaks that they couldn’t turn around. As a result, without an impressive run through the BET, neither of these teams will be dancing.
BIAH’s Pick: Pitt.