Everyone is in action over the next two days and there are still many questions to be answered. Can Pitt rebound against Seton Hall? Will the desperate Irish be able to upset the Huskies, or will their season begin to slip away? Can DePaul move another step forward towards the ugly 0-18 they seem to crave? Will the Friars have a letdown at the RAC? How will Marquette react in Freedom Hall after losing their floor general and their possible hopes of a Big East regular season title? And perhaps most importantly, who will win the swing game of the weekend, as the Bearcats invade the Carrier Dome?
BE Tournament byes are on the line. A regular season title is still up for grabs. And NCAA bids are still totally up in the air for almost half a dozen teams. I hope you’re ready for it.
I’m taking my 26-8 record into the stretch run. Here’s what I’m looking for this weekend:
Villanova will beat the Hoyas at home. Something’s telling me that Georgetown will keep it close and make a run at a victory though. Perhaps it’s that like most others around the country, I still can’t seem to give the Wildcats the respect they’ve earned. I don’t know why that is.
I’m taking the Blue Demons to defeat St. John’s. All 180 in attendance will rejoice.
UConn will defeat Notre Dame by 10-15, and the Irish faithful will begin to understand an NIT birth is the postseason path their team will be taking.
Pitt will demolish Seton Hall. The Pirates are getting the Panthers at the worst possible time.
Louisville will dominate Marquette at home, but the Golden Eagles will hang around. Marquette’s ability to hang in games is amazing, and their will, will keep them in this one. But like their last game against UConn, Louisville will prove to be the stronger team and prevail.
The Friars will win a nail-biter against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has been playing better of late and a victory over Providence wouldn’t shock me.
Syracuse will defeat Cincinnati at home. This is arguably the biggest game of the weekend. The winner should have a huge advantage towards moving forward into the NCAAs. I think the Orange will pull this one out in a great game.
West Virginia will win in Tampa against a fading USF squad.
Cracked Sidewalks: “I don’t know what to say here. I’m not sure the Bradley Center has ever been louder. And ever been more sad, as news quietly spread from person to person, that Dominic James career was likely over. … When the clock wound down, the sadness was palpable, as fans realized they’d seen the last of James on the court, what that means to him and his family, the team, and the immediate future. … Fate has been so cruel to Marquette at the end of the past few seasons. Travis Diener, Jerel McNeal, now Dominic James, cut down before they could complete the year — likely aborting a chance at a deep run in March once more.”
How can you feel anything but sadness for Marquette and Dominic James at this point? Having been doubted all year long (I’m sure Marquette fans are tired of the words: “but your last five games”), Marquette loses a close game against UConn, but more importantly, loses Dominic James. Marquette and its fans might unfortunately never be able to tell the rest of the country that they were wrong (and that Marquette is for real). I feel worst for Dominic James, who probably should have left for the NBA after his freshman or sophomore season. We, as college fans, always remind collegians of (a) the players who stayed and for whom it paid off, and (b) the players who went and made the wrong decisions. But I think to the athletes themselves, they probably think more regularly of (c) the players who didn’t go at the right time. Just a sad story around.
Villanova Viewpoint: “Nobody would wish a winless Big East slate on anyone, particularly when it hasn’t happened in 15 years. Unfortunately, the #10 Wildcats came unpleasantly close to permitting DePaul from escaping that ignoble record on Wednesday, February 25, in Rosemont, Illinois. The Wildcats were down eight at halftime and still down by one with as late as the 12:23 mark in the second half, prior to escaping Chicagoland with a far-too-suspenseful victory over woeful, winless DePaul. The Blue Demons entered the game trapped in the Hades of the Big East, with a 0-14 conference slate, 8-19 record overall.”
Question: If DePaul had won that game, would the fans rush the court? An upset the size of DePaul over Villanova is much bigger than it sounds (DePaul is a team that lost earlier this year to Northwestern to the tune of 63-36). But it would be a bit weird to storm the court, because an equally good reason (besides beating Villanova, #10 in the country) is your lone win in the Big East. And that sounds like something rather pathetic to storm the court over.
Matt’s UConn blog: “Need to mention Price again. When the senior wasn’t scoring tonight (12-for-20 from the field overall), he was screaming. After 3s, after jumpers, after big plays — he made a habit of silencing the 19,000-plus at the Bradley Center and then filling that void with a battle cry. Price is very humble when he speaks with the media, but he plays with a noticeable swagger and confidence. When he took Jerel McNeal off the dribble midway through the second half, dropping the Marquette guard to his back-side, Price made sure to look him off before nailing a 15-foot jumper from the wing. Some may call that cockiness. A New York point guard will call that necessary.”
All the press has gone to Hasheem Thabeet and how he’s a game changer. Let me tell you: if UConn didn’t have AJ Price, they would have many, many fewer victories. That said, Kemba Walker will be an absolute star at UConn in years to come.
Pitt Blather: “If you know your Pitt basketball, then you know that Pitt has never won more than two games in the NCAA Tournament. In modern parlance that has meant not getting past the Sweet 16. In the early-70s, Pitt couldn’t get past the Elite 8. … Well, Pitt Blather made it into the Elite Eight of the Pittsburgh Sports Blog Tournament. I’m not optimistic as Blather goes against the strongest #1 seed out there in Mondesi’s House.”
And last but not least…
Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Addendum: A reader writes in to ask what would happen if Marquette and Villanova end up with identical records — who would win the tie break and receive the 1st round bye. Well, dear reader, I refer you to my seminal blog post in 2007: Big East Tiebreaker. In this case, Marquette and Villanova would have (a) equal records, and (b) equal records against each other. Now, basically, you’d have to go down the list of top teams in the Big East and see if Marquette or Villanova had a better record. It’s still too preliminary to tell what’s going on there, though — Marquette still plays Louisville and Pitt, and Pitt still plays UConn and Marquette. If Marquette can pull out a victory against Louisville and Louisville is ranked higher than Pitt at the end of the season, it looks like Marquette will win the tie break, because Marquette will have a better record against Louisville than Villanova. But honestly, it’s still too early to tell, given the rules for tiebreaking. We’ll keep you updated, though.
There’s been a lot of League MVP talk surrounding DeJuan Blair after his performance last Monday against UConn, and rightfully so. He is very worthy, but I think that Jerel McNeal of Marquette deserves a look as well. He’s been tremendous all year, as he has the past few years. He also has been the difference maker in several of Marquette’s biggest games, including today’s victory at Georgetown. I know he’s part of a posse of Senior guards, however, he always seems to standout to me. Marquette’s remaining schedule in the Big East is a killer. McNeal will be on the national stage in every game, and we’ll all get to see how he fares. If he excels, I think he’s got a great case for MVP, especially if Marquette finishes atop the conference.
Sorry about that downtime. It took a little while for us to locate Marcus Williams and, shortly thereafter, the laptops he stole from us that control the massive data centers that power Big East Hoops. We’re back up and running now, though. Thanks for the “assist”, Marcus.