Never before has the Big East, the original couch potato
conference, had so many teams that are actually good enough to make it
to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. Anyone who follows college
hoops knows that the Big East Conference is having a strong year on the
national scene and figures to place many teams deep into the 2009
With 16 total teams, the Big East may
get as many as nine teams into the tournament; that’s roughly one-sixth
of the overall field. This is an amazing feat to say the least. In
fact, Pittsburgh and Connecticut may each receive a No. 1 seed. The
upcoming Big East Tournament, Tuesday, March 10, to Saturday, March 14,
at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, will help decide who else
gets in and where they will be seeded.
After a 2007 change to the format that
had welcomed only 12 teams to the tournament, this year all 16 beasts
of the East get a chance to play for the title. The process is wild:
Tuesday, March 10: The eight lowest seeds play. The four winners advance.
Wednesday, March 11: The winners of the first round play against seeds 5 through 8. The four winners advance.
Thursday, March 12: The winners of Wednesday’s games play the top four seeds. The four winners advance to the semifinals.
Friday, March 13: The semifinals; two games, two winners advance to the finals.
Saturday, March 14: Finally, the finals!
This event is longer than Woodstock and,
like Woodstock, almost 100,000 tickets will be sold; who knows how many
beers and hot dogs.
This is fun but reality paints a
slightly different picture. To win it all from the bottom tier, a team
would have to win five games in five days, which would be possible only
if a team had two Gerry McNamaras, but that just isn’t the case.
Here is breakdown of the teams with a chance and their odds of making it to the finals next week:
Pittsburgh: 2-1. This team is
deep and very physical and they have everything to make it all the way.
They have been ranked No. 1 in both national polls for a reason. They
have run the gauntlet and have lost only to Louisville and Villanova.
They play fast, hard and are a team deep in experience. Forward Sam
Young has stepped up and finally is living up to his hype, averaging 18
points and 6 rebounds per game. Guard Levance Fields averages 11
points, 6 assists and 1 steal per game. In fact, the Panthers have six
players averaging more than 10 points per game. The real threat here is
forward DeJuan Blair, who can score, rebound and body block a player
with serious force. Anyone who saw the UConn/Pitt contest saw how Blair
pushed around Hasheem Thabeet like he was a little kid. Pittsburgh just
has to make it to the finals to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs and it
should be able to: Pitt is fast, furious, deep and relentless.
Connecticut: 1-1. Here is another
deep and powerful team. At 7-foot-3, Hasheem Thabeet has presence,
which by itself is intimidating. All he has to do is patrol the
baseline and opponents have no choice but to adjust their shot. His
silky smooth, fluid style shows grace, not just power, which is very
unusual for a big man. UConn has had few problems with their Big East
opponents—their only loss is a 76-68 disappointment against Pitt—and
have reclaimed the national No. 1 ranking this week in both the
Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN coaches polls after Providence
upset Pitt on Feb. 24. Loaded
down low, the Huskies’ backcourt of A.J. Price and Craig Austrie is
equally impressive. Power-threat forward Jeff Adrien can score in
bunches. The Huskies have all of the answers.
Pitt and UConn will most likely meet in
the final game next week. If they don’t it probably won’t negatively
affect their seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
Louisville: 2-1. The Cardinals
have an aerial assault and blinding speed that confuse their prey.
Coach Rick Pitino has this team shooting threes all game long. Veterans
Edgar Sosa, Terrence Williams, Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels kick this
team into warp speed, making them a threat to any team at any time.
Their transition game is a real concern for their opponents because the
ensuing chaos puts them at a disadvantage. Teams that live by the
three-pointer can also die by the three-pointer, however, so the
Cardinals are not flawless.
Villanova: 3-1. This team is
peaking at just the right time. They play only eight players (hey,
that’s one more than Boeheim has healthy) but they show an uptempo
style with a stifling, smothering man-to-man defense. Scottie Reynolds
seems to be everywhere. Graceful forward Dante Cunningham seems to find
a seam where none is and he can score at will. Depth is the Wildcats’
only weakness, which will be critical if they are seeded in the second
Marquette: 4-1. Guards Jerel
McNeal and Wes Matthews are scoring machines who, along with big
rebounder Lazar Hayward, makes this team very dangerous. But they
aren’t as deep as they need to be to get very far.
West Virginia: 10-1. This is a
good team that plays a very solid style, and they could be dangerous,
but to advance, they need to be lucky. They lack the depth and the big
players, and sharpshooter Alex Ruoff and power man D’Sean Butler need
more help to take it to the next level.
Syracuse: 20-1. This team has at
times shown good balance and they can flourish in the transition game.
They can easily pull an upset but at times the Orangemen hit the court
seemingly in a fog and usually take awhile to find a productive rhythm.
The Orangemen have had one big problem these last few years: They seem
to be unable to maintain a deep or healthy bench. This has cost them
more than a few games.
Most Valuable Player: DeJuan Blair.
Orange rush: The team includes: Andy Rautins; Kristof Ongenaert; Jonny Flynn; coaches Mike
Hopkins, Jim Boeheim and Bernie Fine; Eric Devendorf (23) strutting his
stuff; Paul Harris; Devendorf; Rick Jackson; and Arinze Onuaku.