by Doug Potter
This year in College Basketball is shaping up to be a special year due to the fact that we could witness one of the most dominating college basketball teams in North Carolina that we’ve ever seen. With a highly qualified coach in Roy Williams and arguably the best player in college basketball, Tyler Hansbrough, the Tar Heels are poised to breeze through this season without a blemish since the 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
Now moving from the best team in college basketball to the best conference. The Big East began conference play earlier this week with a bang as a young but talented Georgetown team went on the road and thoroughly handled the pre-season Big East Champions UConn Huskies 74-63. Georgetown pretty much dominated in every aspect of the game according to UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. “I want to congratulate Coach Thompson for coming in here and giving us a lesson on how to play basketball with enthusiasm, execution and energy,” said Calhoun. “We got beat by a solid 20 points. I really want to thank our fans for trying to help bring it back into a game – they seemed to want it more than we did.”
The only other conference game saw the Syracuse Orange defeat Seton Hall at home 100-76. Syracuse was led by Andy Rautins, who has been shooting the ball very well as of late. Rautins was 7-for-10 from three-point range and had 26 points. This performance gives him 16 three’s in his last two games after he tied a school record with nine their last game. If he continues to shoot this way, the Orange could make a serious run at the Big East title. The recently reinstated Eric Devendorf also chipped in 20 points, as Syracuse is now 13-1 with their only loss coming at the hands of the Cleveland State ¾ court buzzer beater.
Come March, prior to the March Madness men’s college basketball tournament, we all spend hours on end researching teams and resumes on the field of 65 in order to fill out to perfection the one thing that we are most proud of: Our Bracket. Here are the current resumes for the Top 10 teams in the Big East conference in order of how I believe the conference will end up.
1) Pittsburgh Panthers (12-0)
Next Game: Today @ Rutgers (2 pm)
Key wins: @ Florida State (56-48)
Key Losses: None
Notes: This Pitt team is clearly the most experienced and most of their lineup seems like they’ve been on the team for 5 years. Sam Young had a very productive off-season and is averaging better than 20 PPG while they have the inside presence in sophomore DeJuan Blaire (14.7 PPG, 13 RPG) to get teams in foul trouble. They can beat you in too many ways and are the most versatile team in the Big East as they can beat you in an offensive shootout or a defensive grind. This team will win the Big East regular season title and it’s scary to think what they are capable of in the post-season tournaments because you know Jamie Dixon will have his bunch ready to go.
2) UConn Huskies (11-1)
Next Game: Jan. 3rd (vs. Rutgers)
Key Wins: vs. Gonzaga (88-83 OT), vs. Wisconsin (76-57)
Key Losses: vs. Georgetown (74-63)
Notes: This team is the most talented and most athletic team in the conference, but is still relatively young. They got hot last season at the right time when they ripped off 10 straight victories late in the year and there’s no reason why they can’t do it again this year, but with youth comes inconsistency and they proved that this year already in a nail-biter 68-64 win at Buffalo this year along with their poor effort on Monday night. They do have balance on the offensive end (five players averaging 10+ PPG) to go along with one of the most intimidating defensive shot-blockers in 7’2” Hasheem Thabeet.
3) Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-2)
Next Game: Today @ DePaul (8 pm)
Key Wins: Texas (81-80)
Key Losses: Ohio State (67-62)
Notes: This Notre Dame team has the defending Big East Player of the Year in Luke Harangody along with one of the nation’s best sharp-shooters, Kyle McAlarney. Tory Jackson is one of the quickest point guards in the nation and the junior is getting better at taking care of the ball as his Assist to Turnover ratio has gotten better each year (this year: 2:1). The Irish have a chance to win the conference but they lack the consistency to be a national title contender.
4) Georgetown Hoyas (10-1)
Next Game: Jan. 3rd vs. PITT
Key Wins: vs. Memphis (88-80 OT) vs. UConn (74-63)
Key Losses: vs. Tennessee (90-78)
Notes: This young Hoya team has only one senior on the roster who plays a significant amount of time (Jessie Sapp). This time next year could see Georgetown a legitimate contender for a top seed in the Tournament, but for now what are they? A young team who’s hot and clicking on all cylinders. It should come to an end soon, right? We shall see, they play Pitt, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Duke all within the next two and a half weeks.
5) Syracuse Orange (13-1)
Next Game: Jan. 2nd @ South Florida
Key Wins: vs. Florida (89-83), vs. Kansas (89-81 OT), @ Memphis (72-65)
Key Losses: vs. Cleveland State (72-69)
Notes: If it wasn’t for Cedric Jackson’s miracle shot which gave Cleveland State a three point win at the Carrier Dome a couple weeks ago, the Orange would be sitting at 14-0 and in the top 10. That’s not the case. They are a very talented team with a lot of questions to be answered. One of those was answered this past weekend as Eric Devendorf was reinstated by the NCAA committee for the rest of the season. This gives the Orange much needed guard depth which could be a big role in their success. Another big part of their success will come from the shooting abilities of Andy Rautins. He’s starting to get hot and if he can continue to stretch opposing defenses, look for Syracuse to continue to rack up big wins.
6) Villanova Wildcats (12-1)
Next Game: Jan. 1st @ Marquette (2:30 pm)
Key Wins: vs. Temple (62-45)
Key Losses: vs. Texas (67-58)
Notes: This team has been untested with the exception of the Texas game, a game in which they failed to meet the challenge. They have tremendous guards in Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, and Scottie Reynolds, but I believe this year is the year that their guard-oriented lineup will catch up to them in the Big East. Their lack of size will hurt them down the stretch.
7) Louisville Cardinals (8-2)
Next Game: Today vs. UNLV (6 pm)
Key Wins: UAB (82-62)
Key Losses: Western Kentucky (68-54), Minnesota (70-64)
Notes: A combination of one of the most talented freshmen in the nation along with two of the better players in the Big East of a year ago in Terrence Williams and Earl Clark should result in a successful season for the Cardinals, but it hasn’t started out that way. This season will be very average for Louisville as this year we will find out just how valuable David Padgett was to this team.
8) Marquette Golden Eagles (11-2)
Next Game: Jan. 1st vs. Villanova (2:30 pm)
Key Wins: Wisconsin (61-58)
Key Losses: vs. Dayton (89-75)
Notes: This team is a lot like Louisville in the sense that the talent and experience is there but some of the performances scare you. A 14 point loss against Dayton? That’s not very impressive. At the same time, I feel confident in saying that they can beat anyone in the conference. This will be a head-scratching season for Buzz Williams to say the least.
9) West Virginia Mountaineers (10-2)
Next Game: Jan. 3rd @ Seton Hall
Key Wins: @ Ohio State (76-48)
Key Losses: @ Kentucky (54-43), vs. Davidson (68-65)
Notes: This Bib Huggins team has a great mixture of talented freshmen (Darryl “Truck” Bryant, Devin Ebanks, and Kevin Jones) and experienced veterans (Alex Ruoff and Wellington Smith), but there’s just one glaring problem, the Mountaineers have no height. Get this: West Virginia has three guys over 6’7” and nobody over 6’10”. The Mountaineers have evolved from a three-point shooting frenzy of an offense over passed years into a defensive, gritty team who crashes the offensive boards as well as anybody in the country (17.2 Off. RPG). Alex Ruoff is their best player and shooter, and a lot of their success this year will fall squarely on his shoulders.
10) Seton Hall Pirates (9-4)
Next Game: Jan. 3rd vs. West Virginia
Key Wins: vs. USC (63-61), vs. Virginia Tech (77-73)
Key Losses: vs. IUPUI (67-65), vs. James Madison (70-64)
Notes: This Pirates team started off the season very well but has been disappointing as of late. They have one of the best offensive players in Jeremy Hazell, but will need to win the games they are supposed to win against the lower half of their Big East Schedule. In my eyes, they are the best of the “Second-tier” teams in the Big East conference, but could rack up a couple impressive wins to possibly elevate themselves in NCAA Tournament talk come March. An upcoming schedule of West Virginia, Villanova, Notre Dame, and UConn will certainly give them that opportunity.