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I believe an NCAA mega conference expansion is inevitable.  I’ve also written that when everything shakes out I’d prefer that Syracuse become a member of the ACC.  I’ve been thinking through what I think will actually happen and now have predictions for the full mega conference expansion.  Because I think it is going to happen in phases, I am going to post it in phases.  I believe phase one will be the initial Big Ten expansion. 

As others have written, the Big Ten expansion is mostly about television markets.  Because of the Big Ten Network, universities that are featured in major televison markets stand to bring in a substantial amount of revenue for the existing programs in the conference.  The Big Ten can add a program that on its face doesn’t seem to bring a lot from a competitive standpoint, but because of the market that university operates in, can still bring in enough revenue to supplement the current annual Big Ten pay out per school of $20-22 million through new advertising and subscriptions.

The ultimate prize in the conference expansion is Notre Dame.  The huge NBC television contract and national popularity would greatly enhance revenue for any conference Notre Dame would join.  That impact would be even more substantial if the Big Ten can secure the Irish because of the Big Ten Network.  While I think Notre Dame will still resist this initial Big Ten expansion, I don’t think they’ll be able to stay away for long.  Their athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, has expressed the school’s desire to remain an independent.  However, he said in March, “You each could invent a scenario that would force our hand. It’s not hard to do.”  Swarbrick also said, “The only things that could make it happen are the sorts of radical change in the industry that would cause upheaval and impact a lot more (schools) than Notre Dame.”

To me that means that if major programs start leaving the Big East, Notre Dame will likely be forced to follow suit.  So what does the Big Ten do to force Notre Dame’s hand?

I think the Big Ten will not jump directly to 16, although they would if Notre Dame was ready to join the conference.  I think the Big Ten will likely expand to 14 programs and invite three Big East schools – Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh.  The Big Ten will add these three schools because:

  1. Each matches the academic profile of the conference.  Academic fit is extremely important to the Big Ten.
  2. They open up bigger television markets (New York, New Jersey and Pittsburgh).
  3. Their exit from the Big East will essentially cripple the conference and force each current member, especially Notre Dame, to make major decisions.

So what happens next?  Which conference will make the next move?  Look for my next post in a couple of days.

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The first weekend of the 2010 NCAA Tournament was not a pretty one for the Big East.  Based on seeding alone, the conference should have had five teams heading to the Sweet Sixteen.  But after some monumental collapses only two will be continuing play this week.  Syracuse and West Virginia both had a pair of excellent wins to advance in the big dance.  But before we get to the positives, let’s address the negatives, or as I like to call them – the six levels of disappointment:

Georgetown Hoyas – Unbelievably Disappointing

Wow…what can you say about this one.  Georgetown got run off the court by an Ohio team that was 7-9 in the Mid-American Conference.  After the first 10 minutes the game was essentially over.  Georgetown had the sixth best scoring defense in the Big East but gave up 97 points and allowed the Bobcats to shoot 58% from the floor.  As a 3 seed the Hoyas lost by more points to a 14 seed than any other 3 seed in history.  This was basically a complete no show.  But in hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised.  The Hoyas had a trio of bad losses during the regular season – at home against Old Dominion and South Florida, as well as at Rutgers. 

Villanova Wildcats – Incredibly Disappointing

Maybe it was the 2 seed that the committee saw fit to give the Wildcats that blinded us.  After starting the season 20-1 Villanova sputtered to a 4-5 regular season finish.  Then they lost to Marquette in the first round of the Big East tournament.  But Villanova is a tourney team and Jay Wright is a tourney coach so they earned back faith as more college basketball fans picked them to win the South region than any other team.  Those that did, myself included, had to sweat out a first round win over Robert Morris.  They would not be able to come back against St. Mary’s, as poor shooting (less than 37% FG in both NCAA tournament games) and the inability to stop St. Mary’s big man Omar Samhan doomed them.

Louisville Cardinals – Awfully Disappointing

It wasn’t the fact that Louisville lost to California that was a huge letdown, after all they were the 8 seed and Cal the 9 seed.  It was the way they lost.  They were down 12-0 immediately and never could recover.  They barely challenged the Golden Bears.  They shot horribly from three point range (26%) and Samardo Samuels was the only starter in double figures.  Hard to believe that this is the same team that beat Syracuse twice.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish – Wastefully Disappointing

Heading into the NCAA Tournament Notre Dame was going in the opposite direction of Villanova – they had strong positive momentum.  With their backs absolutely against the wall they rallied to win their last four regular season games and then two important Big East Tournament games.  They lost by only two in the Garden to West Virginia in the Big East semis.  But their luck ran out on the day after St. Patrick’s Day as a couple of last second attempts bounced out of the basket and they lost to Old Dominion 51-50.  Don’t cry for the Irish though – Luke Harangody was spotted in the Cat’s Meow on Bourbon Street after the game.

Marquette Golden Eagles – Marginally Disappointing

After losing to a much improved Washington Huskies squad on a shot with 1.7 seconds left the Golden Eagles have nothing to be ashamed of.  The athletically-gifted Huskies are exactly the type of team that Marquette had trouble with this year.  Not to mention that Washington did go on to dominate New Mexico.  Nonetheless the season did end on a disappointing note for a team that showed a lot of heart throughout.  Some times the matchup just doesn’t work out your way.

Pittsburgh Panthers – Mildly Disappointing

Sure Pitt was the higher seed against Xavier, but they gave an excellent effort two days after dominating Oakland.  In the last 10 minutes the Panthers continued to rally but every time they closed the lead down the Musketeers would answer.  When it came down to it Pittsburgh just could not make enough shots to win.

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If the Big East Tournament has half of the drama, surprises and excitement of the regular season we will all be in for quite a treat.  The top two seeds (Syracuse and Pittsburgh) were expected to be in the middle of the pack at best.  Also outperforming expectactions were Marquette and South Florida.  Ultimately, disappointing seasons were turned in by Georgetown and Connecticut.  The good news for the Hoyas is that they will have a good chance to make things right in this tournament and the big dance.

This should be a really fun five days, so buckle up and get ready to go.  Here are my predictions:

First Round – Tuesday, March 9

#9 USF v. #16 DePaul – Noon
Impressively USF posted a 9-9 record in league play.  They also beat DePaul 63-59 last week in the teams’ only matchup.  No reason to think this game won’t end the same way
Winner – USF

#12 UConn v. #13 St. John’s – 2:00 pm
Historically two of the prouder programs in the Big East meet in this first day matchup.  The Huskies still have very faint hopes of making the NCAA tournament, while the Red Storm’s hopes ended about as soon as league play started.  Connecticut won at home in the regular season 75-59.  I think their talent will get them one more win
Winner – UConn

 #10 Seton Hall v. #15 Providence – 7:00 pm
While their record gives them the #15 seed, Providence is not the 2nd worst team in the conference.  Seton Hall did just beat them on their home floor this weekend and I expect the same result in this game.
Winner – Seton Hall

#11 Cincinnati v. #14 Rutgers – 9:00 pm
Rutgers does have a few nice wins, but they were at home.  The Scarlet Knights only have one win on the road, and that was at DePaul.  As unsteady as the Bearcats can be, they’ll get the win in this one.
Winner – Cincinnati

 Second Round – Wednesday, March 10

#8 Georgetown v. #9 USF – Noon
It was South Florida’s huge win at Georgetown that really started to get people’s attention.  Unfortunately for them they proceeded to lose four of their next five after that game.  Georgetown will come into this game having lost four of their last six.  But, they looked very impressive this past weekend, stomping Cincinnati 74-47 in Austin Freeman’s first game since being diagnosed with diabetes.  They Hoyas certainly have the talent to make a deep run in this tournament.  I think they’ll also have the focus and motivation, especially to get some revenge on the Bulls.
Winner – Georgetown

#5 Marquette v. #12 UConn – 2:00 pm
Connecticut needs this game desperately to keep their NCAA tournament chances alive.  Marquette should be in even with a loss.  The Golden Eagles won the only matchup between these two teams in late January in Connecticut 70-68.  I think the Huskies will rely on their rebounding advantage for a win in this battle.  My first upset pick of the tournament.
Winner – UConn

#7 Notre Dame v. #10 Seton Hall – 7:00 pm
The Irish will bring the Big East’s longest current win streak into this game while the Pirates will come into it knowing they need to continue to win to have any chance of an NCAA birth.   Seton Hall beat Notre Dame in New Jersey 90-87 behind Jeremy Hazell’s 35 points.  Of course that was the game in which Luke Harangody got hurt.  Since the Irish have learned to play without Harangody they have been very dangerous.  They’ll look good in this matchup and will get the win.
Winner – Notre Dame

#6 Louisville v. #11 Cincinnati – 9:00 pm
The Cardinals locked their way into the NCAA tournament with another win over Syracuse.  They’ll be looking to improve their seeding during these days in NYC.  Louisville won the only matchup between these old foes 68-60 in January at home.  They’ve won five of their last seven and will make it six of their last eight here.
Winner – Louisville

Quarterfinals – Thursday, March 11

#1 Syracuse v. #8 Georgetown – Noon
It’s not until the third day of the tournament that we have a matchup where the two teams met twice in the regular season.  The Orange dominated the first game 73-56 and then held on to barely win the second game 75-71.  Syracuse will be coming off a discouraging loss to Louisville and should be ready to make a statement.  However, it’s always difficult to beat a team three times in a season, especially when you factor in the history of these two programs.  I think Syracuse just has too much on offense for Georgetown.  Add in the Orange’s extra motivation after the loss to Louisville and it will all equal a win.
Winner – Syracuse

#4 Villanova v. #12 UConn – 2:00 pm
To this point Connecticut has made a nice run and put themselves back on the bubble with two wins.  The Huskies also beat the Wildcats in their only regular season matchup, 84-75 in Philadelphia.  Kemba Walker exploded for 29 points and nine rebounds in that game.  This one will be all about the guards with UConn’s Walker and Jerome Dyson, and Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Reggie Reading sure to make an impact.  I think the rest and an appetite for revenge will be enough for ‘Nova to get a needed win.
Winner – Villanova

#2 Pittsburgh v. #7 Notre Dame – 7:00 pm
It was a huge win over Pitt that started Notre Dame’s four game win streak at the end of the regular season and proved that they can play without Luke Harangody.  By this point he’s sure to be getting more normal minutes.  I’m not sure that’s a good thing for the Irish.  The Panthers will come into this game having won three in a row and eight of their last nine.  They usually bring their best to the Garden but something tells me that Notre Dame will win this game.  I think the other players on the team gained a good deal of confidence while Harangody was out.  As he works his way back, the team will be less reliant on him and will be much more well-rounded.
Winner – Notre Dame

#3 West Virginia v. #6 Louisville – 9:00 pm
The night cap on the third evening should be an excellent finale to an exciting day.  In January these teams met in Morgantown and it took a late second half West Virginia comeback for the home team to win.  Louisville shot 52% from the field but could not hold off the Mountaineers who were led by Da’Sean Butler’s 27 points and capitalized on a 22 shot discrepancy from the free throw line.  WVU will come into this game having won five of their last six.  I think the Mountaineers are a national title contender.  And while I think this will be a closely fought game, I believe they will leave with the W.
Winner – West Virginia

Semifinals – Friday, March 12

#1 Syracuse v. #4 Villanova – 7:00 pm
The anticipation for the regular season matchup between these two teams was very high when they met on February 27th.  A well-rounded effort and superb play off the bench by Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph put the Orange ahead late in the first half and they wouldn’t relent.  Likely Big East MVP Scottie Reynolds gave a valiant effort and finished with 16 points.  Surprisingly, Mouphtaou Yarou also had an excellent game for Villanova with 13 points and eight rebounds.  

This will be a battle of two classic Big East teams.  The first game was played at a very fast pace.  Typically Villanova likes to play at that pace but they seemed overwhelmed in the Carrier Dome.  It may be weird for them, but I think they may fare better if they slow down a bit against Syracuse.  They should also look to drive the ball into the paint with Reynolds and Corey Fisher.  I think the Orange’s big men and balanced attack will be the difference. 
Winner – Syracuse

#3 West Virginia v. #7 Notre Dame – 9:00 pm
Before they went on their late season run, a home victory over West Virginia was the only strong win Notre Dame had on their resume.  The Irish stormed out to an early lead before a furious comeback by the Mountaineers made it tight at the end.  Da’Sean Butler’s three pointer at the buzzer was in and out as the Irish won 70-68.  In reality, Kevin Jones, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds, was the only Mountaineer who played well.  The Irish will not be able to depend on that type of poor play for a win in this game.  To win, they will have to shoot the lights out from three point range.  Ultimately I think Notre Dame’s weak defense will hurt them as West Virginia just has too many ways to score.
Winner – West Virginia

Championship – Saturday, March 13

#1 Syracuse v. #3 West Virginia – 9:00 pm
The Saturday night championship game is always magical in Madison Square Garden.  The Orange will be playing in it for the second year in a row.  They lost to Louisville last year.  Before that game though, they beat West Virginia in the semis.  The only regular season meeting between these two teams was a back and forth battle that Syracuse almost gave away at the end.  They did hold on to win 72-71.  Oddly enough Brandon Triche led the Orange with 16 points and five assists.  Syracuse’s big men were not that effective. 

I believe the key to this game will be the Mountaineers’ three point shooting on offense and their ability to stop Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku on defense.  They are going to be willing to take the three so they are going to have to hit those shots.  The Orange must get the ball inside to Jackson and Onuaku and give them a chance to work down low.  They cannot settle for contested outside shots.  I think the Orange will patient on offense and will make the smart decisions that enable them to cut down the Garden nets
Your Big East Champion – Syracuse

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Going into the last weekend of the regular season, the Big East has 11 teams with legitimate hopes of getting an NCAA Tournament birth.  Five teams are considered locks.  I posted an article earlier this week on what I think the other six Big East bubble teams need to do to get into the Big Dance.  In his updated Bracketology, Joe Lunardi has nine Big East teams in the field of 65.

Many teams will go into their last regular season conference game looking to improve their seeding in the Big East Tournament.  A favorable draw and a couple of wins could easily seal the deal for a few of the bubble teams.  Here are my final regular season power rankings:

  1. Syracuse (15-2, 28-2) (W Vill 95-77, W St.J 85-66)
  2. Villanova (13-4, 24-5) (L @Syr 95-77, W @Cin 77-73)
  3. Pittsburgh (12-5, 23-7) (W @St.J 71-64, W Prov 73-71)
  4. West Virginia (12-5, 23-6) (W Cin 74-68, W Gtwn 81-68)
  5. Marquette (11-6, 20-9) (W @SH 84-83 OT, W Lou 69-48)
  6. Georgetown (9-8, 19-9) (L ND 78-64, L @WVU 81-68)
  7. Louisville (10-7, 19-11) (W @UConn 78-76, L @Marq 69-48)
  8. Notre Dame (9-8, 20-10) (W @Gtwn 78-64, W UConn 58-50)
  9. Connecticut (7-10, 17-13) (L Lou 78-76, L @ND 58-50)
  10.   Seton Hall (8-9, 17-11) (L Marq 84-83 OT, W @Rut 85-74)
  11.   Cincinnati (7-10, 16-13) (L @WVU 74-68, L Vill 77-73)
  12.   South Florida (8-9, 18-11) (W Prov 99-93, W @DeP 63-59)
  13.   St. John’s (5-12, 15-14) (L Pitt 71-64, L @Syr 85-66)
  14.   Rutgers (5-12, 15-15) (W DeP 71-62, L SH 85-74)
  15.   Providence (4-13, 12-17) (L @USF 99-93, L @Pitt 73-71)
  16.   DePaul (1-16, 8-21) (L @Rut 71-62, USF 63-59)

Weekend Preview

Main Event
West Virginia @ Villanova, Saturday, 12:00 PM
The Mountaineers and Wildcats will be battling for the 2nd seed in the Big East tournament early Saturday afternoon.  Even more may be at stake for Villanova, namely a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  In reality both teams have a shot at that big prize.  If whoever wins this game can go to New York and win the Big East tournament they will have an excellent case for a #1 seed.  These two teams met about a month ago in Morgantown and it was the Wildcats who came away with the 82-75 victory behind Scottie Reynolds’ 21 points and Corey Fisher’s 17.  In that game Villanova shot 57% from the field while West Virginia struggled at 41%.  It will be Reynolds last game at home and I expect the rest of the team to send him off in style with a big win.

Best Matchup
Notre Dame @ Marquette, Saturday, 2:00 PM
The only meeting between these two programs will take place on the last day of the Big East regular season.  After suffering through three tough losses by a total of six points the Irish have really turned it on lately scoring huges wins over Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Connecticut.  Marquette continues to be one of the hottest teams in the conference having won nine of their last 10 games.  While Marquette would cement their place in the NCAA tournament with this win, it’s Notre Dame that needs the victory more.  However, I think their luck will run out and the Golden Eagles will win this one at home.

Upset Alert
Syracuse @ Louisville, Saturday, 2:00 PM
The Cardinals should be highly motivated to win this game.  They need the victory for their tournament hopes; they’ll want to send their seniors off on a good note; and it will be the final game in Freedom Hall.  Meanwhile the Orange may choose to give Wesley Johnson a lot more time off than he would normally get during a game to rest his many injuries.  They don’t have a lot to gain from this matchup other than revenge on Louisville for giving them one of their two losses.  I think that with all the motivation they will have, the Cardinals will win this one, if you can call that an upset.

Rest of the Slate (in chronological order)
Cincinnati @ Georgetown, Saturday, 12:00 PM
There is a lot of uncertainty for Georgetown with Austin Freeman’s recent diabetes diagnosis.  It is unknown when he will return to the lineup, although he did practice some this week.  Without Freeman the Hoyas, who have been considered a championship contender, will likely quietly fade away.  Both of these teams are coming into this game having lost four of their last five.  Even with a 7-10 Big East record and a 16-13 overall record the Bearcats are still on the bubble.  Although, they certainly have to win this game and make a run in the Big East tournament to get the nod.  My hunch is that Georgetown will find a way to win this one.

Connecticut @ South Florida, Saturday, 2:00 PM
After playing their way into the tournament with huge wins over Villanova and West Virginia, the Huskies have possibly played their way back out with losses to Louisville and Notre Dame.  In the Notre Dame matchup their offense was absolutely atrocious.  They are 2-7 on the road but they really need this win over USF.  Hard to believe, but a Bulls win will get them to .500 on the season in the Big East.  Some prognosticators even think they still have a chance to sneak into the tournament.  I’ve got to believe that UConn will win this game with so much at stake.

Rutgers @ Pittsburgh, Saturday, 4:30 PM
Pitt is coming off a buzzer beater win over Providence while Rutgers comes into the game having lost two of their last three games to their New Jersey rival Seton Hall.  The Panthers still have a shot at the #2 seed in the Big East tourney.  They should handle the Scarlet Knights easily.

Seton Hall @ Providence, Saturday, 7:00 PM
Just like South Florida, Seton Hall is a team with a faint chance for an NCAA tournament birth who can achieve a .500 conference record with a win.  Meanwhile, Providence has lost nine in a row.  The Friars are not as bad as their 4-13 league record indicates though.  I would not be surprised to see them pull off the upset in this game and ruin the Pirates’ NCAA hopes.

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With one week, and two games each, left in the Big East regular season schedule, the conference still has an almost unbelievable 11 teams in the running for an NCAA tournament birth.  Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Georgetown are definites in the field.  In Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology on ESPN he adds Marquette, Louisville and Connecticut to that group for a total of eight Big East teams.  He also includes Notre Dame in the first four out and Seton Hall and Cincinnati in the next four out.

Last week I assessed what each Big East bubble team needed to do to be invited to the NCAA tournament.  Here’s an updated analysis (South Florida has dropped out of contention):

Louisville – 19-10 (10-6), RPI: 32, SOS: 5

Remaining Schedule: @Marquette, Syracuse
The Cardinals still have the best RPI of the Big East bubble teams.  They split their games last week, losing a tough one at home to Georgetown and then scoring a big win at Connecticut.  One more win in their last two games and a first round Big East tournament victory will guarantee a spot in the big dance.  I think they still get in with a first round tourney win even if they lose their last two regular season games.   
Bottom Line – In

Marquette – 19-9 (10-6), RPI: 49, SOS: 67

Remaining Schedule: Louisville, Notre Dame
Marquette is one of the hottest teams in the conference having won eight out of their last nine and their last three on the road in overtime.  A weak RPI and bad losses to DePaul and N.C. State are the things holding them back.  A win against either Louisville or Notre Dame will guarantee them a spot in the Big Dance.
Bottom Line – In

Connecticut – 17-12 (7-9), RPI: 44, SOS: 2

Remaining Schedule: @Notre Dame, @USF
The Huskies lost in a battle against Louisville.  Now they need to win their last two games on the road to reach .500 in conference play.  I think they still need some combination of three wins during the rest of the regular season and the Big East tournament to guarantee a spot.
Bottom Line – In

Notre Dame – 19-10 (8-8), RPI: 68, SOS: 60

Remaining Schedule: Connecticut, @Marquette
Nobody helped themselves more last week than the Irish.  They picked up two big wins, one at home against Pittsburgh and another at Georgetown.  Even more impressively they won without Luke Harangody, who looks likely to miss the rest of the season.  As I said last week, their remaining schedule gives them a chance to play their way in.  If they can get two more wins this week they will solidify their spot in the NCAA tournment.  If they lose one they will still have a chance if they can look impressive in a win or two in the Big East tournament.
Bottom Line – Out

Cincinnati – 16-12 (7-9), RPI: 58, SOS: 17

Remaining Schedule: Villanova, @Georgetown
The Bearcats are on their last legs.  They have big opportunities to score a strong victory in the last week of regular season play.  Two wins this week and one in the Big East tournament would secure their spot in the NCAA tourney.  Otherwise they are going to need to make a deep run in the Garden.
Bottom Line – Out

Seton Hall – 16-11 (7-9), RPI: 63, SOS: 16

Remaining Schedule: @Rutgers, @Providence
The Pirates lost a real tough game at the end of last week at home against Marquette in overtime.  That win would have really helped their chances.  They are going to need a lot of help to get into the NCAA tournament.  They absolutely have to win their last two games and then probably two more at Madison Square Garden to get a spot in the Big Dance.
Bottom Line – Out

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As we head into the closing stretch of the regular season some of the Big East teams are starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack in the middle of the conference standings (Connecticut and Marquette), while others are struggling at just the wrong time (Cincinnati and South Florida).  Earlier in the week I posted my thoughts on what all of the Big East bubble teams have to do to earn a birth to the big dance.  Going into the second to last weekend of conference play here are my updated power rankings:

  1. Syracuse (13-2, 26-2) (W @Prov 99-85)
  2. Villanova (12-3, 23-4) (L @Pitt 70-65, W USF 74-49)
  3. Pittsburgh (10-5, 21-7) (W Vill 70-65, L @ND 68-53)
  4. West Virginia (10-5, 21-6) (W SH 75-63, L @Conn 73-62)
  5. Georgetown (9-6, 19-7) (W @Lou 70-60)
  6. Louisville (9-6, 18-10) (W @DeP 68-59, L Gtwn 70-60)
  7. Marquette (9-6, 18-9) (W @Cin 79-76 OT, W @St.J 63-61 OT)
  8. Connecticut (7-8, 17-11) (W @Rut 76-58, W WVU 73-62)
  9. Notre Dame (7-8, 18-10) (W Pitt 68-53)
  10.   Seton Hall (7-8, 16-10) (L @WVU 75-63, W Rut 76-70)
  11.   Cincinnati (7-8, 16-11) (L Marq 79-76 OT, W DeP 74-69)
  12.   South Florida (6-9, 16-11) (L St.J 74-58, L @Vill 74-49)
  13.   St. John’s (5-10, 15-12) (W @USF 74-58, L Marq 63-61 OT)
  14.   Providence (4-11, 12-15) (L Syr 99-85)
  15.   Rutgers (4-11, 14-14) (L Conn 76-58, L @SH 76-70)
  16.   DePaul (1-14, 8-19) (L Lou 68-59, L @Cin 74-69)

Weekend Preview

Main Event
Villanova @ Syracuse, Saturday, 9:00 PM
This is the game Syracuse and Villanova fans have been waiting for…the matchup between the two teams that have sat on top of the Big East all season.  More than 34,000 will pile into the Carrier Dome to witness the battle.  Both teams have had to scrap their way through some tough games lately.  The Wildcats lost to Connecticut and Pittsburgh before beating USF most recently.  The Orange had a tough home loss to Louisville, but have rallied with consecutive wins against Georgetown and Providence.  A key to this game will be Syracuse’s defensive intensity.  They are willing to give up the three in the zone, but they need to be aggressive out front.  They need to make Villanova uncomfortable and to start their transition offense through forced turnovers.  I think the Orange will be focused and motivated and will win this one.  Although, a hot night from Big East Player of the Year candidate Scottie Reynolds could ruin the evening for the mass of Orange fans.

Best Matchup
Louisville @ Connecticut, Sunday, 2:00 PM
A classic matchup of legendary coaches, this game brings together two teams that are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives.  After being written off upon Coach Jim Calhoun’s return and a bad loss to Cincinnati, Connecticut has won three in a row.  Louisville had also been playing well until they failed this week to capitalize on a big opportunity by losing to Georgetown at home.  Louisville won the first matchup of these two teams handily on February 1st, 82-69.  That was before Calhoun’s return.  The Cardinals shot well and forced the Huskies into 17 turnovers.  I think Connecticut has rediscovered their swagger and will get an important win in this one.

Upset Alert
Providence @ South Florida, Saturday, 7:00 PM
The first matchup between the Friars and the Bulls was an overtime barn-burner that South Florida pulled out 109-105.  That was the big coming out party for Dominique Jones in which he scored 46 points.  While Providence has lost seven games in a row I keep expecting them to pull out an upset win.  South Florida may give them a good chance to do it, having lost four of their last five games.  Of course if Jones goes off for 40+ again they’ll have no chance.

Rest of the Slate (in chronological order)
Notre Dame @ Georgetown, Saturday, 12:00 PM
As good as Georgetown is, they’ve certainly been uneven.  They’ve easily won at Pittsburgh and at Louisville, but also have losses to USF at home and at Rutgers.  Notre Dame was expected to just play out the season after Luke Harangody’s injury, but they scored a dominant win over Pittsburgh this week.  I expect the Hoyas to come out strong in this game and handle the Irish.

Pittsburgh @ St. John’s, Saturday, 12:00 PM
The Red Storm has proven they can be a dangerous team having scored upset road wins the past two weekends at Notre Dame and South Florida.  They can count on Pittsburgh coming to play in this one though.  The Panthers will be angry after losing, and really not being competitive, this week at Notre Dame.  Pitt rode a late game rally to win the first matchup of these teams at the end of January, 63-53.  Expect the Panthers to come out strong and win this one as well.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia, Saturday, 2:00 PM
Cincinnati is fighting for their season and really needs to win two of their last three games to even merit consideration for the NCAA tournament.  That’s much easier said than done considering they play at West Virginia, then home against Villanova before finishing their season at Georgetown.  Meanwhile West Virginia has looked like one of the best teams in the country at times.  They have struggled lately though, winning only two of their last five games and coming off a loss at Connecticut.  As much as they need this game, I don’t think the Bearcats can win it.  Expect Bob Huggins to get his first win over his former team.

DePaul @ Rutgers, Saturday, 4:00 PM
What can you really say about this game?  How about this…somebody’s got to win.

Marquette @ Seton Hall, Sunday, 12:00 PM
Seton Hall is holding on to a slight chance to play their way into the big dance while Marquette is looking to solidify their seeding.  Both of these teams have played well lately.  The Golden Eagles have won seven of their last eight games and the Pirates have won four of their past five.  Marquette will have to contain dangerous scorer Jeremy Hazell while generating good scoring opportunities when they have the ball.  I expect Marquette to find a way to win this game but I will not be surprised if Seton Hall is able to pull it out because they will feel that they need the victory more.

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The last week in the Big East started off with a bang as West Virginia and Pittsburgh played an epic three overtime barnburner that ended with the Panthers winning 98-95.  The excitement continued throughout the week.  Sunday was upset day with Louisville beating Syracuse, Rutgers taking down Georgetown and St. John’s stealing a win at Notre Dame.  Monday saw Connecticut jump out of their doldrums with a solid 84-75 defeat of Villanova.  Wednesday was highlighted by Louisville surviving a 91-89 double overtime battle with Notre Dame.  An old school Big East rivalry was showcased on Thursday as Syracuse outlasted Georgetown 75-71. 

Here are my updated power rankings:

  1. Syracuse (12-2, 25-2) (L Lou 66-60, W @Gtwn 75-71)
  2. Villanova (11-2, 22-3) (W Prov 92-81, L Conn 84-75)
  3. Pittsburgh (9-4, 20-6) (W @Marq 58-51)
  4. West Virginia (9-4, 20-5) (W @Prov 88-74)
  5. Georgetown (8-6, 18-7) (L @Rut 71-68, L Syr 75-71)
  6. Louisville (8-5, 17-9) (W @Syr 66-60, W ND 91-89 2OT)
  7. Marquette (7-6, 16-9) (W USF 63-52, L Pitt 58-51)
  8. South Florida (6-7, 16-9) (L @Marq 63-52, W Cin 65-57)
  9. Cincinnati (6-7, 15-10) (W @Con 60-48, L @USF 65-57)
  10.   Connecticut (5-8, 15-11) (L  Cin 60-48, W @Vil 84-75)
  11.   Seton Hall (6-7, 15-9) (W Dep 79-71, W @St.J 59-50)
  12.   Notre Dame (6-8, 17-10) (L St.J 69-68, L @Lou 91-89 2OT)
  13.   Providence (4-10, 12-14) (L @Vil 92-81, L WVU 88-74)
  14.   Rutgers (4-9, 14-12) (W Gtwn 71-68, W @DeP 68-64)
  15.   St. John’s (4-9, 14-11) (W @ND 69-68, L SH 59-50)
  16.   DePaul (1-12, 8-17) (L @SH 79-71, L Rut 68-64)

Weekend Preview

Main Event
Villanova @ Pittsburgh, Sunday, 12:00 PM

Best Matchup
Marquette @ Cincinnati, Sunday, 2:00 PM

Upset Alert
St. John’s @ South Florida, Saturday, 12:00 PM

Rest of the Slate (in chronological order)
Seton Hall @ West Virginia, Saturday, 12:00 PM
Louisville @ DePaul, Saturday, 2:00 PM
Connecticut @ Rutgers, Saturday, 4:00 PM

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