Big East : Inconsistent play early on makes Big East appear like confused conference
Five games into the Big East schedule and the conference looks more like a sandwich than anything else.
Pittsburgh is on top and undefeated, and Cincinnati is on the bottom and winless.
Everybody else is just sandwiched in the middle.
In November and December many Big East teams left people wondering how strong the conference actually was. Big East teams lost to Ohio, North Dakota State, Brown, Jackson State, Miami (Ohio) and Fairleigh Dickinson, among others.
But the best example may be Wofford’s win at Cincinnati early in the season. The Terriers are just 5-13 (0-7) on the season and have only one other Division I victory: an 82-80 win over Jacksonville State.
Like Cincinnati, many Big East teams are rebuilding after losing key players.
‘We have had a total turnover of personnel and really only returned one player that was in the rotation last year,’ Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said. ‘It is a unique situation but I knew what I was getting into.’
Other coaches in the Big East have chalked these losses up to the increasing parity in college basketball.
‘The term ‘mid-majors’ is becoming diluted,’ Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. ‘There are so many good players, there are so many good coaches, basketball is becoming important at every university now, the game has become just such a bigger part of our culture and everybody means to be good.’
The Big East has its share of parity to go around. Few people doubt the conference will once again see a healthy group of teams make the NCAA Tournament, but many analysts wonder how high the teams will be seeded with so many competitive teams beating each other.
Providence head coach Tim Welsh is more optimistic than worried.
‘Usually you see teams, the top two or three teams, jump out in the first three weeks to 4-0, 5-0 starts,’ Welsh said. ‘But you haven’t seen that yet and I think the bottom has moved up toward the middle and maybe the top has moved toward the middle as well. That will make for an outstanding balance this year.’
Hottest Team: Marquette
Marquette looked like it was on its way to a possible Big East meltdown after falling to 0-2 in the conference. But Tom Crean’s Golden Eagles have responded with three straight wins at No. 24 Connecticut, at home over No. 21 West Virginia and another road win over Louisville. With those victories, Marquette jumped back into the polls this week at No. 24.
Dominic James was crowned Big East player of the week after averaging 19 points, five assists, four rebounds, and four steals in Marquette’s wins over UConn and West Virginia.
‘He has really improved as a catch-and-shoot shooter,’ Crean said. ‘I think there are times that he has been his own worst enemy, but he is getting better defensively. He is such a unique player that he is never going to be just a conventional guard and I think that’s what’s going to give him the opportunity to be a very good player at the next level someday.’
Biggest Surprise: Providence
While many expected Providence to improve on last year’s 12-15 record, few could have foreseen that Providence would already be 12-5 and 2-2 in the conference at this point in the season. The Friars lost a lot when Donnie McGrath, the school’s all-time leader in minutes played, graduated last year.
‘You take away your leading scorer, your leading assists guy, your best three point shooter, your player that plays the most minutes and you jump right into the fray and you win both (of the first two Big East) games by double digits, shows a lot of character and maturity by our group,’ Providence head coach Tim Welsh said.
Senior Herbert Hill leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game. Sophomores Weyinmi Efejuku and Sharaud Curry, who recently returned to the team after being suspended for violating team policy, have been strong but inconsistent. The pair combined for 15 points and 12 turnovers in the loss to Louisville. Geoff McDermott, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, has stepped up to fill the void and also provides a strong presence on the boards.
‘Geoff has been outstanding,’ Welsh said. ‘Now that he is feeling good about his health, he is showing his true game not only on the floor but in the locker room. He is such a winner, the way he carries himself, and I think everyone feeds off his energy and his total commitment to winning.’
Biggest Disappointment: Georgetown
In the preseason Big East coaches’ poll the Hoyas were picked to finish second in the Big East. Georgetown currently is 2-2 in the Big East, 12-5 overall.
‘Overall I think we have played well lately,’ Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. ‘We did not play well (last) Monday (against Villanova). That’s clear and now we go through a road game stretch here … but we are just looking to bounce back.’
Georgetown’s woes began early in the season with a loss at home to Old Dominion on Nov. 19. After tune-ups against Fairfield and Ball State, Georgetown then fell to the only strong opponents on its non-conference schedule, losing back-to-back games to Oregon and Duke.
The Hoyas got a big win over Notre Dame to start the Big East schedule, before losing back-to-back games to Villanova and Pittsburgh by a combined nine points.
Georgetown plays a struggling Seton Hall team tonight, and has the chance to get its second straight conference win. The Hoyas’ biggest test will come when they play Pittsburgh, Syracuse and UConn all in a row to end the season.
Game of the week:
No. 24 Marquette (16-4, 3-2) at No. 6 Pittsburgh (17-2, 5-0)Sunday, 7:00 p.m. (CBS)
Marquette has bounced back from a disappointing Big East start with three straight wins over UConn, West Virginia and Louisville since losing to Syracuse. Pitt is looking to keep rolling and add to its 5-0 start in the Big East. The game looks to be a showdown between Marquette’s trio of sophomore guards, Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews, against the inside game of Aaron Gray and Pitt.
Around the Big East:
Pittsburgh beat Georgetown despite allowing the Hoyas to shoot 60 percent, the best an opponent has ever shot in the Petersen Events Center. It broke a streak of 68 games in which the Panthers hadn’t allowed an opponent to shoot over 50 percent … Cincinnati is shooting just 19.8 percent from beyond the arc over its last seven games and is in the midst of its longest losing streak in 19 seasons … Notre Dame reached 14 wins with a victory over West Virginia on Jan. 9, the fastest it has reached that win total in the 102-year history of the program.
Thomas Wolfe is leaving his position as senior vice president and dean of student affairs to become the new president of Iliff School of Theology… Read more »
UPDATED: MAY 15, 4:35 p.m. Syracuse University students will soon see new living options in downtown Syracuse, after a new construction company revamps a vacant… Read more »
THEY'RE BACK: Syracuse pulls off furious comeback win against Yale to return to final four after longest absence since 1979
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Brian Megill sprinted over to Dominic Lamolinara and catapulted into his arms. The game was over. The unthinkable was no longer… Read more »