Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Conference Catch-ups: The Big East

Over the course of this week, we will spend a few minutes catching you up on how some of the best conferences in the country currently look. With conference play starting up, its time to get into the basketball spirit.

You can find the rest of the Conference Catch-ups here.

Favorite: Syracuse

There is a reason that the Orange are currently sitting at the top of both national polls right now. Heading into Big East play, this group is still undefeated and has as deep of a roster as we have seen in Upstate NY in a long time. Their back court is absolutely lethal with Dion Waiters coming off the bench behind Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. Their front court is loaded with size and versatility. If this team can stay focused with everything surrounding the allegations against Bernie Fine, Jim Boeheim has a group capable of winning a national title.

- And-1: Its tough not to like the UConn Huskies here. They may have the best back court in the country in Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb and Ryan Boatright. Andre Drummond is finally starting to some into his own and make folks forget about the struggles of Alex Oriakhi. UConn's role players embrace their roles. The biggest issue for UConn? Focus. The Huskies have a tendency to build a big lead against an overmatched opponent and allow them back into the game.

Biggest Surprise: Georgetown

The Hoyas were not expected to do much of anything in the Big East this season, but here they are sitting at 10-1 as they get ready to start league play. Much of that credit must go to Henry Sims, Georgetown's senior center that has exploded to become one of the best all-around big men in the Big East. But he's not alone by any stretch of the imagination. Jason Clark has become a lethal three-point shooter and a guy that you don't want to get a clean look in a crucial situation. The same can be said for Hollis Thompson, who has looked like a first-round pick the way he has played early in the year. Perhaps the biggest surprise for the Hoyas this season has been their defense. They are a young team with length and athleticism for days, and its showing as John Thompson III is utilizing his team's gifts by playing what has been a very effective 2-3 zone.

- And-1: You have to love what is going on at Seton Hall this year. The Pirates are sitting at 11-1 with trip to Syracuse looming on Wednesday. Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope have been arguably the best one-two punch in the conference. Perhaps more impressive than those two is that Seton Hall's schedule is far from fluff -- they've beaten VCU, St. Joe's and Dayton already this season.

Biggest Disappointment: Villanova

Maybe I just expected too much out of this team, but they have not been good early this season. The Wildcats have one notable win (La Salle) and have struggled against every other relevant team that they have played this season. It starts with the play of Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, neither of whom have become the kind of star that many had speculated was possible back in October, but it continues with their role players. Dominic Cheek and James Bell have been inconsistent, JayVaughn Pinkston is not yet ready to be an impact player at this level, and the rest of the Villanova roster is young.

- And-1: So much for the Panthers being a contender in this league. Pitt has now lost twice this season in non-conference games at the Peterson Events Center, which doubles the number of non-conference games they lost at home ... ever. Pitt's always been an above-average defense team that doesn't turn the ball over but forces you into tough shots. Well, this season they are one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers and allowing teams to shoot lights out. Not a good combination.

Something left to prove: Louisville

I like this team. I really do. I think they have so many weapons and play a style that is very difficult to prepare for; no team in the country is as comfortable playing a game that is completely out of control than Louisville. They force turnovers, they push tempo and they turn it into, more or less, a pick-up basketball game. You know about all the big names on this team already, but the two guys that I love are point guard Russ Smith and defensive force Gorgui Dieng. That said, the Cardinals have not looked overpowering early in the year. As good as Ohio and Charleston are this season, struggling to beat them at home does not exactly make a team look like a title contender.

- And-1: Cincinnati has been playing some terrific basketball of late, winning four straight since the brawl and scoring more than 95 points in three of those games. Here's the thing: the competition they have done that against is terrible, and it remains to be seen what happens when Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj are inserted back into the lineup.

Who's dancing?: Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pitt, Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall, West Virginia

Wrong side of the bubble?: Cincinnati, Villanova.

Player of the Year: Kevin Jones, West Virginia

Jones is currently averaging 21.0 ppg and 11.9 rpg. That's impressive all by itself. Now think about this -- he had 30 points and 12 boards in a double-overtime win against Kansas State. He went for 28 points and 17 boards while completely out-playing Perry Jones III as West Virginia rallied from a double-digit deficit to force overtime against Baylor. This is the KJ we all expected to see last season.

All-conference team:

POY: Kevin Jones, West Virginia
G: Dion Waiters, Syracuse
G: Jeremy Lamb, UConn
F: Jae Crowder, Marquette
F: Herb Pope, Seton Hall
C: Henry Sims, Georgetown

Power Rankings:

1. Syracuse
2. UConn
3. Louisville
4. Georgetown
5. Marquette
6. West Virginia
7. Pitt
8. Seton Hall
9. Cincinnati
10. Villanova
11. Notre Dame
12. Providence
13. Rutgers
14. DePaul
15. South Florida
16. St. John's

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