Monday, December 27, 2010

Conference Play Primer: The Big East

Favorite: Georgetown Hoyas

Coming into the season, Pitt and Villanova were the two teams everyone expected to be competing for the Big East title. While that hasn't exactly changed in the last two months, in this blogger's humble opinion the best team in the Big East is Georgetown. The Hoyas are an experienced team led by the best back court in the country in Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark. Their front court has been better than expected, especially junior Henry Sims, who has developed into a homeless man's Greg Monroe. (The old Henry Sims was a homeless man's version of the new Henry Sims, so that last sentence should be taken as a complement.) They defend, they run a disciplined offense, and John Thompson III has allowed this team to take advantage of their guards and play at a faster pace this season. No team in the country has a better resume than the Hoyas do right now, as this team has emerged as a Final Four favorite seemingly out of nowhere. You aren't supposed to get better when you lose a lottery pick to early entry.

Player of the Year: Kemba Walker, UConn

This is obvious, isn't it? Walker has posted ridiculous numbers (26.5 ppg, 4.0 apg, 4.8 rpg, 2.1 spg, 42.1% 3PT) and carried an extremely young UConn team to a Maui Invitational title and a No. 4 ranking nationally. This team was picked 10th in the league to start the season and is now legitimately being discussed as a conference contender, and it is almost all a result of Walker's play.

All-Conference Team:

  • G: Ashton Gibbs, Pitt: 16.5 ppg, 44.4% 3PT, 3.4 apg
  • G: Austin Freeman, Georgetown: 18.9 ppg, 49.2% 3PT
  • G: Corey Stokes, Villanova: 15.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg
  • F: Marshon Brooks, Providence: 23.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg
  • C: Rick Jackson, Syracuse: 13.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 2.0 bpg
Biggest Surprise: Cincinnati Bearcats

UConn is the biggest surprise of the season, but we've already talked about the Huskies here. And with Cincinnati on the brink of being one of just eight teams nationally to head into the new year undefeated, they deserve mention here. To be fair, Cincinnati hasn't exactly beaten anyone this season. Their 68-34 win over Dayton is nice, but it came at a time when the Flyers were playing some horrendous basketball. They also beat Oklahoma in Oklahoma, but the Sooners are no where near the same team as they were when Blake Griffin was in uniform. The Bearcats have been bolstered by better-than-expected play on their perimeter, led by Dion Dixon, Sean Kilpatrick, and Cashmere Wright. I'm reserving judgement on this team until after they are truly tested -- which will come early in Big East play -- but this start by Cinci deserves some praise. Also deserving mention here are the Louisville Cardinals and Providence Friars.

Biggest Disappointment: Villanova's back court

Corey Fisher was supposed to be the heir apparent to Scottie Fisher as Villanova's leading man. Maalik Wayns was supposed to be the next Kyle Lowry. Combined, they are shooting just 38% from the floor and 22% from three. They are still compiling some impressive assist numbers, but the stats don't tell the whole story. Villanova has struggled this season with a lack of leadership. They have struggled to beat teams they should be blowing out, and they lost to Tennessee in Madison Square Garden in a game where both players disappeared down the stretch. That said, Nova has just the one loss this season, and Fisher did appear as if he turned a corner against Monmouth in Nova's last game. I like the roster make up of this Villanova team, always have, but until there is consistently great play coming out of Wayns and Fisher, the Wildcat's don't look like a team that can challenge for a Big East regular season title.

Teams to keep an eye on:
  • Notre Dame: The Irish have just one loss on the season -- which came at Kentucky -- and won the Old Spice Classic in impressive fashion, knocking off Wisconsin, Georgia, and Cal.
  • Louisville: There is no star on this Louisville team, but they run a system that doesn't require a star. If the Cardinals can control tempo -- meaning they are playing fast -- and are knocking down shots from the perimeter, this will be a tough team to beat. And that no star comment? That could change if Peyton Siva continues to play the way he has of late.
  • Marquette: I feel like I say it every year, but don't write off the Golden Eagles just yet. This is a scrappy team with a lot of talent on the perimeter.
  • West Virginia: Bobby Huggins is still trying to get this team to play his way, but once he does, don't be surprised if this team makes a run in conference play. They have size, they defend, and Casey Mitchell has the potential to be a big time scorer.
  • Providence: Seriously. There is talent on this team. Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon are above-average Big East players, and Marshon Brooks is playing as well as anyone in the country.
Teams to forget about:
  • Seton Hall: I feel for the kids at Seton Hall. This was supposed to be their year. But between Herb Pope's near-death experience and subsequent struggles coming back and Jeremy Hazell's injuries (broken wrist, getting shot on christmas), this is not the team we expected at the start of the season.
  • St. John's: The recent win to Northwestern aside, it seems as if experience hasn't helped this Johnnies team. They've lost to Fordham and St. Bonaventure already this year.

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