Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Conference Tournament Preview: Big East

Big East Tournament - New York City - Wednesday-Sunday

Storylines: You seriously may never see a better conference tournament than the one taking place at the Garden. Any one of nine teams is capable of winning it. Wednesday's first round has four games that are all worth watching. You can't say that about any other conference quarterfinals let alone first round. Thursday's quarterfinals will have four games where any team can win. There are great coaches, great traditions, and great players. Plus, it all takes place in the world's mot famous arena. We can honestly say we will be glued to the TV watching this event.

Wednesday's first game between #8 Villanova and #9 Syracuse is an elimination game for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. They both finished at 9-9 in conference and split their two games, each winning on the other's home floor. You know Jim Boeheim's club will be in their trademark 2-3 zone attempting to slow down 'Nova guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher while trying to stay fresh. They only play six guys and PG Jonny Flynn, SF Paul Harris, and PF Donte Greene never come out. The question for the Cuse will be can they finish. They have choked away several games this year which would have already put them in, instead, for like the 90th year in a row, they are America's bubble team. The loser of this one heads for the NIT.

Awaiting either Villanova or Syracuse in the quarters is #1 Georgetown. The Hoyas come in after their last second win over Louisville where they captured the Big East crown. Unlike the Cuse, Georgetown has the knack for finding ways to win in the end. Whether it's the veteran smarts of Jonathan Wallace, Roy Hibbert, and Jesse Sapp, or the youthful exuberance of DaJuan Summers and Vernon Macklin, JT3's club always seems to be there in the end. Interestingly, the Hoyas lost just three games in conference play, one was to Syracuse. They beat Villanova on a controversial call with less than a second remaining, 70 feet from the basket.

Game two Wednesday features Bob Huggins #5 West Virginia team and the #12 seeded Providence Friars. West Virginia has locked in an NCAA bid with 11 Big East wins and a 22-9 record overall. They are a vintage, tough minded Huggins club. They don't shoot it extremely well, but have three capable scorers in Joe Alexander, Alex Ruoff, and Da'Sean Butler. Through in the Senior who drives the bus, Darris Nichols, and you've got a dangerous team. Watch out for Joe Mazzulla, the Football team's backup QB is one heck of an athlete. The Friars on the other hand don't feature any household names, but they are extremely capable. They have five players that average in double figures, led by Guard Jeff Xavier, but are very streaky. They were swept this year by West Virginia, but strangely, they beat UConn twice.

Waiting for the winner of this game on the other side are those #4 Connecticut Huskies. After a slow start, the Huskies won 10 straight in January and February and really hit their stride. They dominate the post thanks to the duo of PF Jeff Adrien and C Hasheem Thabeet. Adrien is a double-double machine and ultra-strong. Thabeet is a one-man zone. You flat out cannot drive the lane against home without him blocking or severely altering your shot. PG A.J. Price has made this team his own and could be first team all-Big East. Glue guy Stanley Robinson averages 10 and six and defends the other team's best player. Veterans Doug Wiggins and Craig Austrie coming up big when they need it. We flat out love this team.

As loaded as the top half of the Big East draw is, the bottom ain't to shabby either. The evening session starts with #7 Pittsburgh facing off again Mick Cronin's #10 Cincinnati Bearcats. We were big Pitt fans early in the year, but injuries derailed them. Remember, a healthy Panthers club beat Duke in this same building. Big man Dejuan Blair is an absolute stud in the post and when he gets going, he can be unstoppable. PG Levance Fields, the heart and soul of the team, has returned from the foot injury that sidelined him for the first 11 conference games. Ronald Ramon got valuable time running the team, sliding over from the SG position and opening up minutes for Keith Benjamin. The guy to watch on the Panthers is Sam Young. If he gets on a role, the Panthers could end up playing into Saturday. The Bearcats come in on a five game losing streak including the weather delayed debacle against UConn where they were smoked by 45 and at one point had a 30-0 run dropped on them. Deonta Vaughn and John Williamson must get the inside/outside game going or their season will end. At 13-17, they are not eligible for the NIT.

The #2 Louisville Cardinals will get the winner of Cinci/Pitt. The have to be smarting after the heartbreaking loss at Georgetown that cost them the Big East regular season title. You can be sure they will see a lot of zone the rest of the way, as it seems to be the best way to defend them. They have two legit post men in David Padgett and Derrick Caracter that keep the defenses honest, while opening up the perimeter for Andre McGee, Terrance Williams, Edgar Sosa, and Jerry Smith. The key guy is Williams. He is always the best athlete on the floor whenever he plays and at 6'8, is a tough matchup for opposing teams wing players. Padgett is their coach on the floor, despite being their Center. A Big East crown could put them in range for a 2-3 seed.

The late game Wednesday night should be a good one as #6 Marquette gets the #11 Seton Hall Pirates. The Golden Eagles are playing for seeding. A run to the finals could put them in the 4/5 line, especially if they are able to knock off Louisville and Notre Dame in the process. Tom Crean's team is guard-centric, with Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews making them go. Lazar Hayward has been inconsistent all year as their lone post threat and as he goes, so goes the team. He must play well or they can lose to the Pirates. Bobby Gonzalez's team can run with anyone, but have been banged up most of the year. Brian Laing leads four Pirates in double figures at 19 a game, but have lost eight of their last 10.

The surprise of the conference this season has to be #3 Notre Dame. Mike Brey should win coach of the year and PF Luke Harangody should be the Big East Player of the Year. We love the way Kyle McAlarney runs the point and Rob Kurz is a perfect compliment to Harangody in the post. They come in hot, winners of 11 of 13 and could win this tournament if they shoot it well.

Best First Round Matchup

#8 Villanova vs. #9 Syracuse - Probably the best first round game of any conference tournament. So much on the line. Scottie Reynolds vs. Jonny Flynn battling at the point. The Nova shooters against the Cuse 2-3 zone. The winner has a great shot to get in the big dance. The loser is 100% NIT bound.

Juiciest Potential Matchup

#3 Notre Dame vs. #2 Louisville, #4 Connecticut vs. #1 Georgetown - If these are the Big East Semifinals, we are all in for a big treat on Friday night.

Players To Watch

Donte Greene, Syracuse - The uber talented Freshman cannot spend his time camped out at the three point line if the Cuse is going to win a game or two. He must stay in the post and use his superior quickness to his advantage.

Edgar Sosa, Louisville - The single most important key to Louisville winning this tournament. If the up and down Sosa can find his game from last year's NCAA Tournament, the Cards are Final Four good. So far this year, that hasn't happened and he has been relegated to the bench.

Lazar Hayward, Marquette - The best big man Tom Crean has must play like it, or the Eagles could be one and done. When he plays big, Marquette can beat anyone.

Sam Young, Pittsburgh - While Dejuan Blair gets all the love in the post, it's Young who is the key guy. He can beat you inside and out. He has to be the man if the Panthers plan on playing this weekend in the Garden.

Jerome Dyson, Connecticut - When he was suspended for 30 days, he left the team as the leading scorer. He returned to a team who won 10 in a row without him and really hit their stride. As he has come back into the fold, he has yet to fit back in 100%. If he gets going, look out.


First Round

#9 Syracuse 80 #8 Villanova 77

#5 West Virginia 68 #12 Providence 56

#7 Pittsburgh 70 #10 Cincinnati 54

#6 Marquette 89 #11 Seton Hall 75


#1 Georgetown 65 #9 Syracuse 62

#4 Connecticut 74 #12 West Virginia 71

#2 Louisville 62 #7 Pittsburgh 60

#3 Notre Dame 90 #6 Marquette 78


#4 Connecticut 68 #1 Georgetown 65

#3 Notre Dame 71 #2 Louisville 68


#4 Connecticut 76 #3 Notre Dame 74

No comments: