Big East Basketball Report

The Big East Tournament has tipped off in Madison Square Garden, as the bottom half of the 16-team conference takes the floor in all-day action. TheSportsNotebook looks back on the season that was in America’s biggest conference, hands out some individual hardware and looks ahead to the coming five days at MSG. We can break the Big East down into seven groups. Here’s a brief summation…

Syracuse: The undisputed conference champ got there thanks to some outstanding coaching by Jim Boeheim. I don’t look at Syracuse and see a great team, one that should have decisively won an excellent conference and be a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but that’s exactly what the Orange are. The flip side is, that while Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph are a solid players, they’re not unbeatable, and the ‘Cuse needs Fab Melo to be a consistent force in the paint when the league’s top four teams take the court starting Thursday.

Marquette/Notre Dame: More great coaching done by Buzz Williams and Mike Brey. Williams took a Marquette team badly lacking in interior muscle and used the work of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder to hang with Syracuse longer than anyone. Brey’s Irish should have been dead in the water after Tim Abromaitis, only the team’s best player, was lost for the season in November. Instead, ND put together a team around Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins in the backcourt, and Jack Cooley and Scott Martin up front and finished third.

Cincinnati/Georgetown/Louisville: These three teams are all comfortably in the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats have played their way into the top four, getting the double-bye into the quarterfinals. Georgetown is the #5 seed and capable of going a long way, both at MSG this week and in the NCAA next week, thanks to the work of Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims down low, and Jason Clark on the perimeter. Louisville’s Kyle Kuric is a solid player on a team Rick Pitino has led through the ups and downs and I like them as a darkhorse to possibly win this tournament.

South Florida/West Virginia/UConn: It annoys me to have to drop South Florida to this level, which is teams that are probably in the NCAA Tournament, but could use one more win just to ensure the committee doesn’t get an excuse to keep them out. South Florida is 19-12 overall, 12-6 in the Big East and has played its best basketball down the stretch, yet still sits as a 12-seed in the projections of bracketologist Joe Lunardi, while UConn and WVA are 10-seeds.

Seton Hall: If you’re only interested in who’s going to make the NCAA Tournament, then this is the team to watch. I respect Lunardi’s work because I know he tries to use the NCAA’s actual formula and not just his own opinion, but if that formula says Seton Hall should get the same #12 seed as South Florida then the formula needs to change. The Pirates have lost nine of their last 13 and with a chance to play their way in last week, they lost at home to Rutgers and by nearly thirty points to DePaul!!! As far as I’m concerned they should need a big run this week to get back in the conversation. But if Lunardi’s right, it might not take nearly that much. The Hall’s power forward Herb Pope is one of the league’s best.

Pitt/Providence: Playing to nail down better NIT seeds.

Rutgers/Villanova/St. John’s/DePaul: Wanting to be put out of their misery. With DePaul playing UConn in that noon ET tip today, the Blue Demons’ suffering might be over by the time you read this.


Seton Hall plays Providence tonight in the 7 PM ET slot on ESPN, so that’s the big game of tonight. Presuming UConn wins this afternoon, they’d play West Virginia tomorrow and I can see either team going on a big run this week. The winner of that game would get Syracuse on Thursday and I have to wonder if the Orange will be totally focused this week. The #1 seed hasn’t always fared well in this tournament and I see Syracuse falling early.

The bottom half of the bracket offers a lot of intrigue. If Seton Hall can beat Providence, and then Louisville, I can see the case for them being back in the NCAA conversation. South Florida is at #6 and they start Wednesday with a very favorable draw with the Villanova-Rutgers winner and then a beatable Notre Dame team on Thursday. Marquette will draw the winner of the Louisville-Seton Hall-Providence sweepstakes, and this is another area I don’t think is going to go chalk. I think South Florida or Louisville will end up in the semis, and perhaps both.

Ultimately I’m calling for an upset-laden bracket, where the top four seeds (Syracuse, Marquette, Notre Dame, Cincy) all lose on Thursday, and the final game ends up being Georgetown-Louisville. I’ll take the Cards to win this tournament for the second time in four years.


There’s four candidates for Coach of the Year that I would not only be comfortable choosing at the Big East level, but on the national stage. Boeheim, Williams, Brey and South Florida’s Stan Heath all deserve consideration. I’m picking Heath for this reason–he’s got the least amount of basketball tradition in his program and he doesn’t have a single double-digit scorer in his lineup. Yes, Augustus Gilchrist is close at 9.9, but even allowing that, it underscores the point that the Bulls have no star, no raucous home atmosphere, but still won 12 conference games. I’ve never thought of Heath as a big-time coach and still don’t–but he did a big-time job in 2012.

For Player of the Year, I feel like I’m looking at roomful of Scottie Pippens–a lot of good players, but feeling like their should be someone a little bit better. Kevin Jones averaged 20 points/11 rebounds for West Virginia and based on the numbers deserves the choice. But he does have Darryl Bryant scoring 17 ppg to help him out and regular readers know that I prefer an MVP to be someone who really carried his team. But the same problem exists with Marquette’s Odom and Crowder. Seton Hall’s Pope is a 15/10 man, but has Jordan Theodore to loosen up the defenses. Jeremy Lamb for UConn is a little bit more of clear go-to guy, but as a pure guard, he doesn’t have the scoring/rebounding combo, nor is he a big assists man. So we’ve come full circle and I’m going to go with Jones, since there’s no clear-cut candidate elsewhere. Kind of like the Republican Party with Mitt Romney, although I don’t know that GOP voters see “Mittens”, as a Republican-leaning friend called him the other day, as the political equivalent of a 20/11 guy.