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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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This game really felt like three games in one.  The Orange got off to a hot start and were up 24-11 less than six minutes into the game.  Then the Friars got strong three point shooting and the Syracuse defensive intensity dropped, resulting in Providence charging ahead to an eight point lead just after halftime.  In the third, and final, stanza the Orange stepped it back up on both sides of the ball, got a big lead with 10 minutes left in the game and cruised from there until the end.  Some interesting tidbits from the box score:

  • Whether it was bad defense or the result of a few hot hands, both teams really tickled the twine from behind the three point line.  The Orange were 10-21.  Most of the credit goes to Andy Rautins who was 8 for 12 from three point range.  Providence was 14-33 or 42.4%.  As always, Syracuse showed that they can be susceptible to a hot three point shooting team.  That’s just the risk you take playing a 2-3 zone.
  • The Orange were impressive on the boards, winning the total battle 37-24, and pulling in 17 offensive rebounds to the Friars’ 8.
  • Syracuse took care of the ball better in this game with a reasonable 12 turnovers.
  • Besides Andy Rautins and his hot shooting, huge props go to stat sheet stuffer Rick Jackson who had 28 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.  He shot 13 of 17 from the field.

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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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It was another week of big battles in the Big East.  Right now it’s clear that the league has a handful of the best teams in the country.  In this week’s NCAA tournament selection practice exercise Syracuse and Villanova were one seeds while Georgetown and West Virginia were both two seeds.  Pittsburgh is pretty close to that top group, but below that level their eight teams that are squarely on the bubble.  Sports Illustrated addresses the Big East bubble teams in this weeks issue, as does the CollegeHoops.net blog.  These next few weeks should be a lot of fun.  Here are my updated power rankings:

  1. Syracuse (11-1, 24-1) (W @Cin 71-54, W Conn 72-67)
  2. Villanova (10-1, 21-2) (L @Gtwn 103-90, W @WVU 82-75)
  3. Georgetown (8-4, 18-5) (W Vill 103-90, W @Prov 79-70)
  4. West Virginia (8-4, 19-5) (W @St.J 79-60, L Vill 82-75, L @Pitt 98-95 3OT)
  5. Pittsburgh (8-4, 19-6) (W SH 83-58, W RobMorris 77-53, W WVU 98-95 3OT)
  6. Marquette (6-5, 15-8) (W @Prov 82-79)
  7. Notre Dame (6-6, 17-8) (W USF 65-62, L @SH 90-87)
  8. South Florida (5-6, 15-8) (L @ND 65-62)
  9. Louisville (6-5, 15-9) (W Rut 76-60, L @St.J 74-55)
  10.   Connecticut (4-7, 14-10) (W DeP 64-57, L @Syr 72-67)
  11.   Cincinnati (5-6, 14-9) (L Syr 71-54)
  12.   Seton Hall (4-7, 13-9) (L @Pitt 83-58, W ND 90-87)
  13.   Providence (4-8, 12-12) (L Marq 82-79, L Gtwn 79-70)
  14.   St. John’s (3-8, 13-10)  (L WVU 79-60, W Lou 74-55)
  15.   Rutgers (2-9, 12-12) (L @Lou 76-60, W Cald 70-62)
  16.   DePaul (1-10, 8-15) (L @Conn 64-57)

Weekend Preview

Main Event
Louisville @ Syracuse, Sunday, 1:00 PM
A week ago this looked like it may be a good matchup.  Then Louisville got trounced by St. John’s as rumors swirled about Rick Pitino lobbying for the Nets job.  Meanwhile Syracuse had two nice wins, one at Cincinnati by 17, and one in a rivalry game in the Dome against UConn.  Louisville is desparate for a good win, but it won’t come Sunday afternoon, as the very unselfish Orange beat back the Cardinals with Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins getting back on track.

Best Matchup
South Florida @ Marquette, Saturday, 8:30 PM
This is a key battle between two solid teams in the big middle group.  Interestingly, while Marquette’s record is just above .500 in conference play, they have the third best scoring margin in the league.  They battled through a very difficult early conference schedule and have won four in a row.  South Florida cooled off a little bit this past week, losing at Notre Dame.  But “do everything” guard Dominique Jones is always a threat to go off and lead the Bulls to a win.  I expect that the Golden Eagles’ always solid play will get them the W in this game.

Upset Alert
St. John’s @ Notre Dame, Sunday, 7:30 PM
The Red Storm are coming off an impressive home win over Louisville while the Irish will be looking to rebound from a tough three point loss at Seton Hall.  Notre Dame had a couple of open looks from three point range at the end of that game but could not put the ball in the basket.  Luke Harangody is out for this one and that is a big blow to the Irish.  While they do have other guys that can score, their offense relies so heavily on him that they are likely to struggle.  That may be the only weakness St. John’s needs to get the road win.

Rest of the Slate (in chronological order)
Cincinnati @ Connecticut, Saturday, 12:00 PM
The Bearcats got the home 71-69 win in the first matchup between these teams.  It was the Big East opener for both schools and Connecticut was still ranked #10 at the time.  A lot has happened since then.  Cincinnati is a hard team to read.  That may be because they rely so heavily on freshman Lance Stephenson.  This will be Huskies’ coach Jim Calhoun’s first game back from medical leave.  UConn played inspired ball in the second half against Syracuse.  I expect that to continue and the Huskies to get the win.

Providence @ Villanova, Saturday, 2:00 PM
Always giving a strong effort, Providence is not a team to sleep on.  They just don’t have the talent to win in the brutal Big East.  They’ve lost four in a row after jumping out to a 4-4 start in league play.  Villanova is one of the best teams in the country and is coming off a superb win at West Virginia.  They should safely win this one as well.

DePaul @ Seton Hall, Sunday, 12:00 PM
After pulling off the upset win over Marquette, DePaul has lost five in a row.  Seton Hall is coming off a tough win over Notre Dame and still has hopes for a big run and an NCAA tournament birth.  The enigmatic Jeremy Hazell had a stellar game against the Irish with 35 points on 12 of 16 shooting after being benched in an embarassing loss to Pittsburgh.  The Pirates should win big.

Georgetown@ Rutgers, Sunday, 4:00 PM
In the first meeting between these programs the Hoyas blew out the Scarlet Knights in D.C. 88-63.  It was over by the 10-minute mark.  Georgetown had two excellent wins this week and certainly won’t fall to Rutgers, who is coming back down to earth after two upset wins a couple of weeks ago.

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