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
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. Cincinnati – Mick 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.
9. St. John’s
14. Seton Hall
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.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us a lot of surprises, but will the Final Four teams be a surprise? We will find out by Sunday, but first let me preview the four match-ups I’m most excited for.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 3 Marquette: These two teams are probably the best two teams nobody has been talking about during the tournament. I didn’t have either of these squads getting this far, but they have really impressed thus far. Jae Crowder put up 25 points and 16 rebounds one game and 17 points and 13 rebounds the next for Marquette — he has officially reached beast mode status. Florida hasn’t played the same type of competition as Marquette has, as they have blown out Virginia and Norfolk State, but in the NCAA Tournament you have to respect any blowout win. I think Crowder will be too much for the Gators though, and the Golden Eagles make the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Michigan State: This is perhaps the best coaching battle of the round, as we have Rick Pitno and Tom Izzo going up against each other. The two have combined for 11 Final Four appearances, and I think the winner of this game will be able to beat the Florida-Marquette winner. Both teams have peaked at the right time, but I think the Cardinals still have too many question marks. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble again or if Peyton Siva is inconsistent with his shot again, then the Spartans should win this one easily.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The rematch everyone has been waiting for will be here Friday night. Kentucky has cruised through their first two rounds, backed off of strong performances from Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Last time the Hoosiers were able to beat the Wildcats, they were able to get Anthony Davis in quick foul trouble, and Jones was basically nonexistent. Don’t expect that to happen again. Jones and Teague will be the wild-cards for UK — if they are playing to their full potential I’m not sure if anyone in the country can beat them.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Syracuse: This is the one I’m most excited for. I love match-ups with teams of contrasting styles, and that’s exactly what this is. The Orangemen are as fun and exciting as a team as there is to watch in college basketball, and the Badgers simply aren’t, but their defense can stifle opponents. I agree with my counterpart, David Harten, in thinking that the Wisconsin style of play will throw Syracuse off too much, giving them the upset.
Getting the March Madness itch? Selected members of the media gathered in Indianapolis Friday to get a feel for what it is like as a member of the selection committee. Let’s take a quick look at the simulated bracket that they released today.
The first round, which most know as the first four in Dayton include Alabama/Illinois and Seton Hall/Arizona as well as UTSA/Southeast Missouri State and Mississippi Valley/Stony Brook. The first two match-ups are the only two that seem like they would be good games.
Your number one seeds: Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri, Syracuse.
In the South Region Kentucky is on the top line. This is the region that would be one to watch if this was the actual bracket. Other teams in the region include Louisville, North Carolina, Baylor and Wisconsin. A Louisville/Davidson match-up makes for a fun start to this region.
Syracuse claims the one seed in the East Region. This region has some match-ups that could be some of the best in the entire tournament. 8 Memphis/9 Purdue, 6 Vanderbilt/11 Texas, 7 Murray State/10 Connecticut. Other teams in this region include Duke and Indiana.
Ohio State is the leader in the West Region. Some of the teams that would try to advance to New Orleans include West Virginia, Iowa State, Florida, UNLV, Georgetown and Kansas. The first match-up in this region would be a classic 8/9 seed battle between West Virginia and Iowa State.
Finally in the Midwest Region Missouri is on the top line. Some of the other teams in this region include St. Mary’s, Florida State, Michigan, Xavier, Marquette and Michigan State.
Yet again the Big East led all of the Conferences with 8 bids. The Big Ten had 7 teams and Big 12 had 6 in the dance.
Now we just have to wait for the real bracket to be revealed. 2012 Media Mock Bracket
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.
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.
No. 23 Louisville 77, West Virginia 74
-Wayne Blackshear made his debut (24 games in) four Louisville, and scored 13 points. While there was a lot to talk about in this game — we’ll get to it — that has to be the most encouraging part for Louisville fans. Blackshear obviously kept himself in basketball shape while rehabbing. The future is bright…. Now, talk about going in opposite directions. The Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 Big East) reached 20 wins and have won six straight now, while the loss is the Mountaineers’ (16-10, 6-7) have lost five of their last six. WVU led for most of the game until a Kyle Kuric 3-pointer and a steal-and-score by Russ Smith on the ensuing inbounds play gave Louisville a 73-71 lead with 2:17 left. Kyle Kuric would steal a Gary Browne pass inside to Kevin Jones with 10 seconds left, hit two free throws after being fouled, and Truck Bryant’s left wing 3 went begging as time expired.
Butler 52, Cleveland State 49
-A big win for the Bulldogs (15-12, 9-6 Horizon League), who really needed this just for confidence heading into crunch time and the Horizon League tournament. The Vikings (20-6, 10-4) had a shot at an at-large bid, but those hopes are dashed now. All a matter of who gets hot in the tourney. Butler held Cleveland State to 26.3 percent from 3-point range and forced 16 turnovers, all the while overcoming an 0-for-8 3-point day and shooting 38 percent on their own.
No.5 North Carolina 70, No. 20 Virginia 52
-It was a game in the first half, with the Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2 ACC) leading just 35-32 at the half. The second half made a lot of people believe that the Cavaliers (19-5, 6-4) might not be the team everyone expected, what with Mike Scott getting completely owned and UNC showing no ill effects from that tough loss to Duke. Tyler Zeller had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Heels, with John Henson (10 and10) and Harrison Barnes (14 and 11) notching double-doubles. The bigs were obviously the difference in this one. Mike Scott has been carrying the Wahoos all season and had 18 in the loss.
No. 2 Syracuse 85, UConn 67
-I’m not saying that UConn (15-9, 5-7 Big East) can’t bounce back from a game that they basically quit in at Louisville, but they didn’t start with a loss at the ‘Cuse (25-1, 12-1). Four players finished in double-figures and Andre Drummond has 13 points and seven boards in the loss. But they never could match up athletically with the Orange, which if you’ve seen the Huskies, shouldn’t happen. They’ve got as much talent and athletic ability as any team in the nation.
No. 4 Missouri 72, No. 6 Baylor 57
-The Tigers (23-2, 9-2 Big 12) got the sweep over the Bears (21-4, 8-4) on the season, and wow, they did it quick. This team is guard-heavy, and they ran on Baylor’s athletic big men in the second half, using a 17-1 keyed by three 3-pointers midway through the second half to propel them to the W. Phil Pressey had 19 points and four three’s in the game and Mizzou shot 50 percent from 3-point range (14-for-28). They bombed it. Baylor still has to figure out it’s identity, which is scary considering it’s identity. They have long athletic forwards who play essentially like swingmen in Perry Jones III and the Quincy’s (Miller and Acy) but seem inept at finishing down low, though Acy has improved. Most telling stat? They out-rebounded Mizzou 35-22.
No. 17 Florida State 64, Miami 59
-The Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4 ACC) didn’t necessarily hurt their at-large hopes with this loss to the Seminoles (17-7, 8-2), but if they don’t get in, this is one game that Jim Larranaga will look at and shake his head. Reggie Johnson was held to four points (which can’t happen) to go with six rebounds, which really was the difference being that the game was never more than a three-possession game late. Bernard James ha 18 points, six boards and four blocks in the win.
Vanderbilt vs. No. 1 Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)
-A lot of folks taking Vandy (17-7, 6-4 SEC) in this one, especially being at home in Memorial Coliseum and the magic that seems to ensue in big games there for the Commodores. Kentucky (24-1, 10-0) is still Kentucky, they still have Anthony Davis and his Stretch Armstrong arms. It’s going to be tough for Festus Ezeli to be effective by himself, they’ll really need guys like Steve Tchiengang to show up down low and 6-8 Lance Gilbourne to provide a mid-range to draw out Davis and Kentucky’s other lengthy bigs.
No. 15 Creighton vs. Wichita State (5 p.m., ESPN2)
-Just another day in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton (21-4, 11-3 MVC) is somehow surviving in the Top-25 despite losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville on the road. Granted, they’ll fall come tomorrow, but a win over the Shockers (21-4, 12-2) would not only help them stay in the rankings, but also go a long way to help their confidence and steady their at-large hopes. Which to me, is the best a conference win can do, being that teams see these opponents automatically every year. Wichita State has won three in a row after a loss at Drake.
No. 16 UNLV vs. No. 14 San Diego State (4 p.m, The Mtn.)
-This one is set for a classic. The Rebels (21-4, 5-2 Mountain West Conference) losing at Wyoming in their last game took some luster off this game, but it’s still a battle of Top-20 teams. The Aztecs (20-3, 6-1) have only lost one game since Dec. 4, a bad one at Colorado State, but other than that have been soaring.
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Michigan State (6 p.m., ESPN)
-It seems like every week, the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) play the second-best team in the B1G. Whoever it is. This week, it’s Michigan State (19-5, 8-3). It’ll be Jared Sullinger vs. Draymond Green for the most part, but can any of the Spartan’s guards get past ball-hawking Aaron Craft? That will probably be a big reason if Tom Izzo’s bunch can get a win. Look for William Buford to have a big game for tOSU, he had a career-high 29 last game, a victory at Purdue.
Temple vs. Xavier (9 p.m., ESPN2)
-What do the Owls have to do to get some serious poll love? They’ve beaten Duke this season, have a KenPom rating of 30 and have won eight in a row after a bad loss to Richmond on the road. They’re 18-5 overall and 7-2 in the Atlantic 10 and also have wins over Wichita State and Penn, two teams deep in the NCAA Tournament conversation. They won’t help themselves that much with a win over the Musketeers (16-8, 7-3), but it would certainly make me look stupid if they took a loss. Chris Mack’s squad, on the other hand, desperately needs a confidence W, losing three of their last six.
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