RTC’s 2012 Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on March 6th, 2012

The 2012 Big East Championship is upon us.  Whether you have followed the conference closely all season or are just getting to the party, here is your guide.

Favorite:

Syracuse.  It does not take an expert to figure this one out, so you are in the right place.  The Orange are the clear-cut class of the Big East this season. With their depth and talent, along with the double-bye, this is Syracuse’s tournament to lose.

Dark Horse: 

Let’s go way out on a limb here and say South Florida could pull this one off.  The Bulls give everyone fits with their defensive, plodding style, which by default keeps most of their games close and gives them a chance.  South Florida has a first round bye so it does not have to navigate a five-game run.  Further, they are on the opposite side of the bracket from Syracuse so would not run into the Orange, whom they played close at the Carrier Dome on February 22, until the tournament final.

Heath's Bulls Have Defied Expectations All Season. Why Stop Now?

Most Interesting Storyline:

The problem with this one is it could be very short-lived, but there will be plenty of talk about Connecticut repeating its improbable run of a year ago.  As was the case last season, the Huskies are the #9 seed and will meet DePaul in Tuesday’s noon affair thanks to a tiebreaker scenario that put Connecticut ahead of Seton Hall when Rutgers defeated St. John’s on Saturday night.  That is where the similarities end.  This season’s Huskies simply are not as good as last year’s version. Last year Connecticut was ranked (#21) coming into the tournament and finished .500 in what was arguably the strongest Big East ever.  Further, Connecticut currently does not have a go-to leader to fill Kemba Walker’s monster role during last year’s run.  Those who are asking will want to know if Jeremy Lamb can become that guy as he is certainly talented enough to be a difference-maker.  Head coach Jim Calhoun‘s health will be a major subplot in it all as well.  Will his back problem allow him to coach the team each day should they earn a couple of wins, and will his presence represent a rallying point for the team as it appeared to in the Huskies’ win over Pittsburgh on Saturday?  Prediction… if the Huskies get by West Virginia in the second round, their tournament ends on Thursday when they fall to Syracuse.

Five Players to Watch:

  • Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut):  For reasons stated above, Connecticut needs a big-time player to have big-time games if they are going to make a run through this tournament and beyond.
  • Fab Melo (Syracuse): Melo quieted his many doubters by getting into shape and having a breakout year for the Orange.  His presence in the back of Syracuse’s famed zone has contributed greatly to the dominant force that is Syracuse this year.  Not coincidentally, Syracuse’s only loss of the season came at Notre Dame back in January while Melo was out of the lineup.
  • Hollis Thompson (Georgetown):  With the type of defense Georgetown plays, it does not require a lot of scoring to earn wins but Thompson is the type of guy who can get hot in a hurry and, along with Jason Clark, help the Hoyas navigate a difficult draw.
  • Jack Cooley (Notre Dame):  Cooley has been a huge part of Notre Dame’s surprising success this season.  He is the only big man who plays significant minutes so it will be important for him to stay out of foul trouble.  It will be interesting to see how opposing teams attack Cooley in a knockout tournament situation.
  • Jae Crowder (Marquette): Not that you wouldn’t be watching him anyway but Crowder’s versatility should play well in a tournament format.  He is a tough guy to prepare for and one that Buzz Williams can insert into a number of scenarios to counter what an opposing team is trying to do.

Three Teams with the Most to Play For:

  • South Florida: The Bulls have received a lot of play on ESPN over the last few weeks as they have toggled between Joe Lunardi’s ‘Last Four In’ and ‘First Four Out.’  As Al Czervik would say, right now the Bulls are “on the good side,” but an early Big East Tournament exit could have them taking pictures in the NCAA Tournament parking lot.
  • Connecticut: Great strength of schedule, good RPI, bad record, horrible down the stretch.  The Huskies have lost nine of their last thirteen games. Beating DePaul is not going to do much for their case, so if Connecticut does not at least advance beyond West Virginia in round two, they should have reason to squirm on Selection Sunday.
  • Seton Hall: So what you do not want to do is lose to DePaul on the last day of the regular season to fall below .500 in the Big East.  Just saying.  The Pirates are not trending well, losing three of their last four and, like Connecticut, nine of their last thirteen.  Fortunately the lone recent win was against then-#9 Georgetown.  Providence is not going to be an easy out on Tuesday as the two teams match up evenly.  If Seton Hall fails to get by the Friars, they could be NIT-bound.

Predictions:

Champion:  SYRACUSE.  Boring right? To spice it up a bit, the Orange will defeat South Florida in the lowest scoring Big East final since the shot clock was implemented.

MVP:  Fab Melo.  Defense is going to play a big role for Syracuse with potential opponents like West Virginia, Connecticut, Georgetown, Cincinnati… and, of course, South Florida in the final.

Patrick Prendergast (74 Posts)

Twitter: @FriarFrenzy


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