By Zack Cimini
All the attention is focused on whose going to be the number one seeds in the NCAA tournament. Does it really matter? The parity in college basketball may be at an all time high. Like we’ve seen in the NFL, seeding really doesn’t matter. Especially when games are played on a neutral court. What matters is whose playing hot and matchups.
No conference has had as many teams beat up on each other as the Big East. Teams are vastly superior to other conferences top to bottom. The way St. Johns and Cincinnati are playing down the stretch, there could be eleven Big East teams in the tournament. Think about that for a minute. Eleven of Sixty Eight college teams. Absolutely unbelievable.
Texas is likely to leap to number one in next week’s polls. They’ve had three losses this year, but what was their record versus Big East foes? That’s right…..0-2.
Tourney time is literally a month away. Key in on the Big East tournament though, because if one of these teams profiled below gets hot watch out. Vegas better adjust their lines now, because having Texas, Duke and Kansas as heavy favorites may need proper changes.
Notre Dame– An experienced team that manages both ends of the floor in great fashion. Ben Hansbrough has jumped out as their clear leader, but the Irish have seniors at every position. Their players can knock down open jump shots, and you have to like the experience factor going into March Madness.
Pittsburgh- A Jamie Dixon squad is always going to be tough. One thing about Pittsburgh is their not necessarily explosive offensively. They tend to get things done defensively and have been fantastic at finishing games. Ashton Gibbs is their lone lethal threat on a consistent basis. What worries you about Pittsburgh is if they face a player that gets hot in a tournament game. Will they be able to stave off a flurry of points? That could be a problem to look out for.
St. Johns- Just a few weeks ago it looked like St. Johns was heading for the NIT, under first year head coach Steve Lavin. They had ugly early season losses to the likes of Fordham and St. Josephs. Practicing under Lavin seems to have worked. They know their strengths and as athletes at all positions they get out and run with ease. Dwight Hardy has been scoring at a high rate lately, and knocking down the outside shot. That is their overall weakness, perimeter shooting. Just like Notre Dame though they have a roster filled with seniors, eight in total.
Uconn- This is one of my favorite teams to make a big run in the NCAA tournament. They have had a tough schedule all season, but it’s been in two different phases. The first part of the year the team lived and died based on Kemba Walker. Then when he hit a rut, others began to help lessen the burden. Freshman guards, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier have been emerging slowly. Lately it’s been Jamaal Coombs-McDaniel who is coming off back to back 20 plus point games. When you have a scorer such as Kemba Walker it boosts your teams chances exponentially in March. Factor in Alex Oriakhi inside and Uconn is going to be a team to beat.
Syracuse- The length of the zone isn’t what it was a year ago, and the nucleus of players has completely changed. Rick Jackson has been a beast inside, and Jim Boeheim is going to put the bulk of the Cuse’s interior defense on him. Fab Melo won’t play anymore, and Baye Mousse Keita likely will play 15-20 minutes a game. That means the zone becomes smaller on the wings, but can still be deadly if the others play aggressively and get to their spots. Keep in mind, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, and Kris Joseph either came off the bench or in Triche’s case played around 20 minutes a game last season. You can see them getting more and more comfortable with each other as the Big East games pass. They’ll all need to play together and well, and get some contributions from freshman CJ Fair and Dion Waiters. A third straight sweet sixteen appearance should be in Boeheim’s future, and could finally extend.
Villanova- Villanova is a hard team to figure out. They play well at times, but others just puzzle you. Just like a year ago, Villanova seems to be a team that can go down just to about anyone. They rely so much on their guard play, which is always a recipe for a disaster. Corey Fisher and Malik Wayns are smaller guards that just take a beating as the year goes on due to their style. A second round exit is my prediction, unless Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena return from being MIA.
Louisville- This team has got to the point they are at based on incredible play by Kyle Kuric, Preston Knowles, and Peyton Siva. It is also a team that has overachieved. They’re about a year away from being a legitimate threat. We see them fading down the stretch and in the Big East tournament. The rematch versus Uconn on Friday will be a truth teller. The plus to the Cardinals is they have great shooters. Like I stated though, I believe this team has peaked and will come back down to Earth.
Georgetown- The scariest team in the Big East and in the NCAA tournament from the Big East. Their Princeton style offense creates unorthodox sneaky backdoor cuts and layups for guards Chris Wright and Jason Clark. Austin Freeman is the most underrated pure scorer in the country that doesn’t get talked about. They get steady play from their big man Julian Vaughn, who will need to stay out of trouble. Depth is an issue for them, but if they stay out of foul trouble they don’t need to extend past seven players. Nate Lubick and Hollis Thompson play their roles well, and do the necessary dirty work for the Hoyas. Thompson is one of the leading three point shooters in the conference, knocking down 46%.
Favorites to have a big run: Uconn, Syracuse, and Georgetown
How many Sweet 16 Teams Will The Big East Have? Will say the three above for sure, and maybe four if Nova can get better play from their front line.
Head to Vegas now and put your money on the generous odds of Uconn 25-1, and Syracuse 30-1 to win the NCAA tournament.