Big East Preview

Thanks to Louisville advancing to the Final Four last season the Big East has had a presence during the final weekend six of the last seven seasons, you can probably go on and pencil them in for seven out of eight, Louisville fans and the media seem to think that the Cardinals will be there.

Realignment will begin to take its toll on the Big East as West Virginia is gone and Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to follow in the years to come. Jim Calhoun has retired from his post at UConn leading the way for Kevin Ollie to take over. Steve Lavin is set to return to the sidelines after taking last season off due to prostate cancer.

Big East Preseason Rankings

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Will it be all smiles in Louisville? (Google Images)

1. Louisville hard not to buy into the national hype. 3 starters return for Coach Pitino, as Peyton Siva guides the offense in his Senior season with help from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng, and don’t forget about Russ Smith (11.5 ppg, 2.2 steals in 21 mpg). The problem could be injuries, it seems every year the Cardinals have more players in the training room than the bench early in the year, and have already lost Mike Marra who torn his ACL for the 2nd time in as many years.

2. Notre Dame – for the past two years the Irish have exceeded expectationsso maybe I am a little too high on the Irish. However with all of the starters back for Coach Brey it’s hard not to like the Irish especially when in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion where they went 16-1 last season.

3. CincinnatiMick Cronin seems to have the Bearcats back on the national radar. Yancy Gates is gone but Cronin has Sean Kilpatrick who led the Big East with 92 3-pointers. Cashmere Wright also returns after averaging 10.9 ppg.

4. Pittsburgh – Sure Pitt missed the NCAA Tournament last year, they ended the year poorly but capped it off with a CBI Championship (a win is a win).Tray Woodall will lead the Panther’s who return five of their top seven scorers from last season.

5. Syrcasue – Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo have all departed but Syracuse has been so deep that they have players that return with experience. Brandon Triche will be ready to lead the Orange to what fans hope is a trip to Atlanta.

6. Marquette

7. USF

8. Georgetown

9. St. John’s

10. Rutgers

11. UConn

12. Providecne

13. Villanova

14. Seton Hall

15. DePaul

All Conference Team

Shabazz Napier – taking control for the new reign of the Huskies.

Sean Kilpatrick – if teams don’t shut him down behind the arc the Bearcats may do better than expected.

Gorgui Diend – let’s see a guy that can rebound, score and block shots, yeah I will give him a All Conference nod.

Tray Woodall – a healthy Woodall should do better than last seasons 11.7 ppg

Jack Cooley – after voted Most Improved last season, the Irish have high hopes for Cooley who average 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.

Most Underrated Team – Cincinnati, Cronin has his team bonding.

Most Overrated Team – Notre Dame, could the Irish just be riding a wave of recent success?

Player of the Year – Peyton Siva, last years MOP at the Big East Championship should win if the Cardinals run the conference.

Coach of the Year – Heart wants to say Steve Lavin, but my mind says Rick Pitino with Cronin in 2nd.

Sleeper Impact Player – 1a Cleveland Melvin, was the leading scorer in the league last season. I am going to say D’Andelo Harrison is 1b especially if Lavin has the Red Storm on upset mode.


Cincinnati, low to high this season

December 10, 2011 marked a day that many college basketball fans in Cincinnati want to forget. With 9.4 seconds left in the game in the Crosstown Shootout a fight broke out causing the officials to end the game. The video that everyone viewed many times was one that showed a few punches being thrown by Yancy Gates.

It would have been easy for Mick Cronin to kick Gates off the team as well as others involved in the brawl. Instead Gates received a six game suspension, and the Bearcats were thought to be in trouble, pretty much left for dead with non-conference losses to Presbyterian, Marshall (in OT) and Xavier, most of those fears were valid.

Yancy Gates shows his emotions after serving his six game suspension (Google Images)

A quote from Cronin that sticks out to me from the fight is one that should have foreshadowed the support he was going to give his players: “I understand there is media and people asking for autographs. It’s a prime example of you guys thinking they are too important. I’m talking about everybody involved. There’s too much glorification of all of sports in our society. The fact is guys are here the get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We’re trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that’s more important than who wins a basketball game. And our guys need to have appreciation for the fact that they are there on a full scholarship and they better represent institutions with class and integrity.”

Cronin understands the college basketball concept, they are called student-athletes for a reason, and they are there to learn. They learn not only for basketball but for a career off the court and to learn about life. Gates learned that his actions were not appropriate; he suffered the consequences and learned that he has the support of his coach.

The team pulled together, won seven in a row before dropping a road contest at St. John’s then pulled another three victories. Since the fight the Bearcats are 19-6, just pulled off the biggest win of the season vs Syracuse and are one win away from claiming the Big East Tournament Championship. Let me say that again, Cincinnati can win the Big East Tournament, after those early losses and the fight most Bearcat fans would have laughed at you if you told back in December that they would be in this position in March.

Coming into tonight’s game Gates is averaging 12.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in 32 minutes, with 9 double-doubles. In the double OT win over Georgetown he played 46 minutes, put up 23 points and grabbed 8 boards. In the opener against Villanova he had 16 points and 9 off the glass. Tonight Yates went for 18 points and 7 rebounds.

The Bearcats stuck with Gates, and Gates has stepped up to the plate and has become the type of player Cincinnati needs to advance in the tournament.


On the Edge (2-29)

Since last week it is safe to say that Kansas State, Purdue, Iowa State and Mississippi State are virtual locks to make it into the NCAA Tournament. With just one regular-season game left for most of the power conference teams, who is close to making themselves a lock for the tournament?

Northwestern: They missed their chance, two of them in fact. In the past eight days the Wildcats have dropped two gut-wrenching games to some top Big Ten competition. First came a 67-55 overtime loss to Michigan State last Tuesday, and then tonight they lost a 75-73 heartbreaker to Ohio State. Just one of those losses may have been Northwestern over the top. To make it even worse, both of those games were at home, and the committee won’t give them many excuses for those games. There is still some hope left, however. Their regular-season finale is at Iowa, and that is obviously a must-win. Then they need to win a couple games in the Big Ten tournament, with hopefully one of them being against one of the five ranked Big Ten teams. This is a team everyone wants in the tournament, but at just 7-10 in conference right now, they are about out of chances. Feb. 29 status: Out

A couple close late season losses have done Northwestern no favors in their hopes to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

Miami: The Hurricanes got lucky. Their starting center Reggie Johnson only had to miss one game after NCAA violations. This puts Miami in a good position. They beat Florida State on Sunday, but a loss to NC State did them no favors. Miami now needs to beat Boston College this weekend, and then not get upset in the ACC Tournament. One upset and they are out. That’s how much Miami is on the bubble right now. Feb. 29 status: In

Connecticut: I definitely can’t figure out the Huskies. At this point I would say their resume doesn’t warrant an at-large bid. After that buzzer-beater win at Villanova, I thought the Huskies had a shot at turning things around. They lost a close one against Syracuse, and came back from that with a loss at Providence. No really, Providence. They have now lost nine out of 12 games, and the committee certainly won’t like that. They play a Pitt team this weekend that is playing better ball than them at the moment. A couple wins in the Big East tournament will be a must, but they don’t have a Kemba Walker to save them this year. Feb. 29 status: Out

Texas: Simply put, the Longhorns are hanging on by a thread. They continue to beat the teams they should beat (Texas Tech and Oklahoma most recently). A win at Kansas this weekend will make them a lock, but that will be a tough one. Assuming they lose that one, they will be 19-9 with a similar situation as Miami — right on the edge. There will be no room for error in the Big 12 tournament. A loss early on and there bubble will be burst. Feb. 29 status: In

South Florida: Their win over Louisville tonight may have put them over the top. Now they need to just not lose early on in the Big East tournament. But even with a first or second round loss, it will be hard for the committee to not give the fifth place team in the Big East an at-large bid. They have played arguably the easiest schedule in conference, but with wins over tourney teams Cinci and Louisville within the past three days, they seem to be in good shape. Feb. 29 Status: In

Colorado and Oregon: These two teams play each other tomorrow in what may be the biggest Pac-12 game of the year. Both teams look to be out at the moment, so whichever team loses will likely not have a shot at the NCAA’s. The winner may just be able to position itself as one of the last teams in to make it. The Pac-12 should get four times in the tournament — California, Arizona and Washington all seem like good bets to make it. No chance this conference gets five teams in, so that’s why the Colorado-Oregon game tomorrow is a must-win on both sides.

Xavier: The Musketeers have not played up to potential all year, going just 9-6 in the Atlantic-10. Non-conference wins against Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinatti are all solid, but they are 0-3 against the top two teams in the conference (Temple and Saint Louis). They have swapped between wins and losses there last 8 games, but those non-conference wins still hold. As long as they don’t lose early in the conference tournament they should be in a position to grab one of the last at-larges. Feb. 29 Status: In

St Joseph’s: I’m not sure if both the Hawks and Musketeers can both make it in. St. Joes had a big win vs. Temple over the weekend, but still will need a little help to get in. Their biggest non-conference win of the year game against Creighton. They lost their only game of the year to Xavier, and a 9-7 conference record won’t go well with the committee. If they run into Xavier in the A-10 tournament, that could be a win-and-you’re-in game. Feb. 29 Status: Out

 


Last what to watch for, don’t cry, at least publicly.

We are in the Final Countdown of the regular season, so that means the final what to watch for because if you don’t know what you’re watching next week, well you need to turn in your fan card.

Monday: Notre Dame @ Georgetown (7pm ESPN) – The last Big Monday game of the season, always hate to see this happen since they have one of the best announcing crews. Back to the game the 3rd place Irish and 4th place Hoyas have the coveted double-bye, for now, at Madison Square Garden but can still drop to a single-bye so expect this to be a great game. If you wanted to the Daytona 500 may be on (I really need to invent a tarp for NASCAR) to flip to during the media timeouts.

Tuesday: Michigan St at Indiana (7pm ESPN) – Sparty comes to Bloomington where the Hoosiers have had some success (cue the Kentucky video) against ranked opponents.

Wednesday:The first conference tournament starts with the Atlantic Sun on ESPN3. Marquette visits Cincinnati (7pm ESPN), the Bearcats have played well ever since the fight vs Xavier earlier this season including wins over Louisville, Connecticut, Pitt and Georgetown. USF will be looking for a resume building win as they visit the KFC Yum! Center (can’t forget the !) to take on Louisville (7pm Big East Network). 8pm Iowa State travels to Missouri (Big 12 Network).

Everyone wants to cut down the nets at least once (Google Images)

Thursday: Michigan takes on Illinois (7pm ESPN), in what could be Bruce Weber’s last game as head coach of the Fighting Illini. The Missouri Valley and the West Coast Conference tournaments appear on the screen.

Friday: Murray State is playing in the Semifinals of the OVC Tournament (7pm ESPNU). If you want to find me I’ll be watching a great college baseball series of Pepperdine vs Louisville (two weeks in a row with a baseball plug, sue me).

Saturday: The first tickets are punched as the Big South, OVC and Atlantic Sun all determine a champion. Memphis @ Tulsa (Noon CBS) in a C-USA match-up of the top teams in the league, Louisville travels to Syracuse (4pm CBS), who knows what Louisville team will show up.

Sunday: The last day of games for the regular season and Kentucky travels to Florida (Noon CBS) and in state rivals Purdue @ Indiana (6pm Big Ten Net). A champion will be crowned for the MVC (2pm CBS).


What to watch this week

With Conference Tournament games just over a week away here is a look at some of the games that you should keep an eye on this week.

Monday: Connecticut @ Villanova (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday has a double-header worth watching. UConn and Nova both are in need of a confidence boost before they head to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. If you want a second game tonight, Baylor is at Texas at 9pm on ESPN

Tuesday: Kansas St at Missouri (7pm ESPN2) – The Big 12 leader host 5th place Wildcats. This games kicks off a tough week for both teams.

Wednesday: So many games to pick this week but a few to keep an eye on include West Virginia @ Notre Dame (7pm ESPN2), USF at Syracuse (7pm Big East Net.), Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (8pm Big 12 Net.).

Thursday: Duke @ Florida State (7pm ESPN) – Two of the three teams at the top of the ACC meet in Durham. Murray State @ Tennessee State (8pm ESPNU), the top two in the OVC will battle it out, the Racers are coming off the win over St. Mary’s. Louisville @ Cincinnati (9pm ESPN) the long time conference rivals meet at Fifth Third Arena, both teams are currently at 9-5 in conference play.

 Friday:Baseball is back; go watch your college program play our national past-time. If you really want to watch some hoops Butler @ Valparaiso (7pm ESPNU) and Marquette @ West Virginia (9pm ESPN) should settle that craving.

This may be the last of the Border Wars (Google Images)

Saturday: Go on and clear your schedule it’s the last full Saturday of regular season basketball. The day starts with Vanderbilt @ Kentucky (Noon CBS), Iowa State @ Kansas State (1:30 Big 12 Net.), North Carolina @ Virginia (4pm ESPN), Creighton @ Indiana State (4pm ESPN2), and what could be the final meeting of Missouri @ Kansas (4pm CBS).

Sunday: It’s the Daytona 500 why do you want to watch basketball? Cincinnati @ USF (Noon Big East Net), Indiana @ Minnesota (1pm ESPN), Pittsburgh @ Louisville (2pm CBS), Florida State @ Miami (FL) (6pm ESPNU), Oregon @ Oregon State (7:30pm FSN).

If you can not find a game that peaks your interest this week then you might not be a college basketball fan.


On The Edge (2-14)

Every week leading up to the NCAA Tournament we will feature several bubble teams with their current chances of making the tournament and key games ahead for them.

Illinois: The Fighting Illini have had a free-fall as of late, losing six of their last seven conference games. This is a team that has a solid resume though, with wins over Michigan State and Ohio State heading it. They still have three more games against top-20 teams. If they take care of the games they should win (Nebraska, Iowa) and win one of those three games against ranked teams, they should be in. If they don’t, losses to Penn State as well as fellow-bubble teams Northwestern and Purdue could be crucial. They play Purdue again on Wednesday night — a loss to them for the second straight time this year could be detrimental, especially if bracket-builders are forced to decide between the two. Feb. 14 status: In

Illinois and Purdue will both be searching for a crucial when, as they face each other Wednesday night at Purdue.

Purdue: Speaking of the Boilermakers, they have a solid 6-6 conference record, but those six wins won’t impress many, as none of them have been against teams with winning records in the conference. They are 0-6 for the year against top-25 teams and aside from solid-but-not-astounding victories against Miami and Illinois, don’t have many wins to brag about. They face three more ranked Big Ten foes this year, which may be the difference for the Boilermakers. Feb. 14 status: Out

Texas: The Big 12 has been a very top-heavy conference, and surprisingly Texas has not been one of those teams at the top. They have lost to all of the teams at the top of the conference this year, the last three coming by a combined nine points. The Longhorns best victory this year is against Temple, but a win over the weekend against bubble-team Kansas State did help. They face both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this week on the road, and although those two teams are in the bottom tier of the conference, they would still be two quality and much-needed wins. Feb. 14 status: Out

Alabama: The Crimson Tide could be on the down slope, as coach Anthony Grant suspended four of his top players over the weekend due to a violation of team rules. The timing was bad, as they have a home date with Florida tonight. Alabama is in desperate need for a big one — they have some of the top teams close, but haven’t gotten that marquee win. If they don’t beat the Gators, a win over the suddenly surging Tennessee Volunteers this weekend will be necessary to keep their chances alive. Feb. 14 status: Out

Connecticut: The reigning champion Huskies surely still have some work to do. They sport the top strength of schedule in the nation and the No. 19 RPI, but are just 15-9 for the year and 5-7 in the Big East. They’ve beaten Florida State, Harvard and Notre Dame, but they have double-digit losses in their last three games against ranked foes. They are sitting in the bottom-half of a weakened Big East, but a win against Marquette this weekend may put them in for the time being. Feb. 14 status: Out

Notre Dame: The Irish are rolling right now, winning six straight games, including three over top-15 teams. Right now they should be in, especially since they sit third in the Big East at 9-3. Five of their last six games are against unranked teams, and although that might sound good, if they drop a couple of those this is suddenly a team that might need to win a couple of games in the Big East Tournament to get into the dance. They have the victories (Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, Marquette) but have also suffered conference losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers. They face Rutgers tonight, which will be a big revenge game for the Irish. Feb. 14 status: In

Miami: The Hurricanes will always have that win over Duke, but that’s their only marquee win. They missed out on a chance against Florida State over the weekend, but will get another chance this month to beat them. Miami faces the Tar Heels at home tomorrow night, hoping to avenge a 17-point loss to them last month. If they upset the Tar Heels, there shouldn’t be much doubt about letting the Hurricanes in, but if not, there won’t be many more chances to impress the committee. Feb. 14 status: Out

Virginia: The Cavaliers sport a solid 19-5 record, but just one win over a ranked team (Michigan). If they win their four games against teams with sub-500 ACC records and one of their games against Florida State and UNC, it will be hard to bypass Virginia. I don’t see both Miami and Virginia getting in, however, so their 52-51 win last month over the Hurricanes could be a deciding factor. Feb. 14 status: In


What to watch this week

Here is a quick look at a game each day this week that may catch your attention.

Monday: Syracuse @ Louisville (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday crew rolls into town with Louisville off a win at West Virginia, and Syracuse comes into the KFC Yum! Center with a five game winning streak.

Tuesday: Buffalo at Kent St. (7pm ESPN Full Court) – 2nd and 3rd place in the MAC East Division take the court in a Valentine’s Night game. The Bulls won by one point when these teams met January 7th.

Wednesday: Missouri St. at Wichita St. (8pm ESPN Full Court) – 1st place Shockers host 3rd place Missouri St., the Shockers took the previous match-up at the start of the month by seven.

Thursday: Wisconsin at Michigan St. (7pm ESPN) – 2nd and 3rdin the Big Ten, the Spartans won by three in Overtime last month in Madison.

Keith Appling (Left) and Draymond Green (Right) combine for 27.3 PPG and 14.1 RPG for Michigan State (Google Images)

Friday: Northern Iowa at VCU (7pm ESPN2) – The kickoff game of this years BracketBusters event, two teams that have been busting brackets in March make for a great start to the 10th year of the BracketBusters series.

Saturday: St. Mary’s at Murray State (6pm ESPN2) – The match-up that everyone wanted in BracketBusters. This game should still be a great game even without the Racers being undefeated, plus Dick Vitale is calling the game, should be a great atmosphere.

Sunday: Michigan State at Purdue (1pm CBS) – The Boilermakers get a shot to get a quality win over the Spartans under the lights of CBS.


Memphis: How their departure affects the Big East and C-USA

Just when you thought the Big East Conference was about to fall apart, they go and do something like this —and totally redeem themselves!

Since they are losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia after this season, the Big East had to do something big to stay at/near the top of the college basketball stratosphere. Enter Memphis. The Conference-USA powerhouse is set to join the Big East in 2013, adding a bit of life to a conference that needed a jolt.

They have already added Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist — but none of those teams can provide the star-power that the Tigers will provide. It is a great move for both sides, certainly as far as revenue is concerned. And Memphis will no longer have to beef up their non-conference schedule to impress the NCAA come March.

Memphis entering could be a big move in trying to keep Louisville from joining the Big 12 as well. Rick Pitino has publicly vouched for the Tigers entering the conference, and now the Louisville-Memphis rivalry can possibly get back to what it used to be in the mid-2000′s, when the Cardinals were a member of the C-USA. They played this year for the first time since Louisville defected, and this really has a chance to be one of the premier Big East rivalries.

With Connecticut, Georgetown and Villanova, the Big East was already going to be a top conference even with the departing teams, but it was likely that the Atlantic Coast Conference or Big 10 could have overtaken them. With Memphis coming in, they will still have a strong chance to be near the top still.

Right now, Memphis would not be a top-tier Big East school, but that’s no fault against the Tigers. The guys they have on their team were recruited to play in the C-USA. Think about the new, different recruiting pitches Josh Pastner and his staff can make with his team now being able to play at Madison Square Garden every year for the Big East Tournament. It’s a win-win for every party. They should be a top five team in the conference in the foreseeable future.

But what happens to the C-USA? They already had three schools leave, and now their most relevant school is on its way out. You’d think this would kill them, but with a scheduled merger with the Mountain West Conference on the way, this will still be one of, if not the top, mid-major conference. After the merger, their conference will span literally the whole country.

C-USA will lose much of its exposure in the key markets of Memphis, Houston, Orlando and Memphis — that’s why a merger is. necessary. Memphis leaving won’t be the end of the world for the C-USA, just as it was not when Louisville and Marquette left in 2005.


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