2007 Big East Tournament Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 03/07/2007
The Colossus known as the Big East begins its super-sized conference tournament today on the hallowed ground of Madison Square Garden. The tournament tips off at noon with Villanova and Depaul squaring off and will end Saturday night after a four-day battle of wills.
There's been a lot of talk around the country that the Big East was "down" this year. And while the strength at the top of the league may not be good enough to produce two of the top four seeds as it did last year, the parity and the depth of the Big East is unsurpassed by any other major conference in the country. I mean, when the top overall seed in last year's tournament and winner of two of the past eight titles (Connecticut) is the No. 12 team in your conference I think you're pretty nasty.
I will confess that the star power may not be there in the conference, but they are currently ranked as the No. 5 conference in the RPI and the No. 6 conference in several league power rankings. In those same rankings the ACC is the No. 1 conference in both the RPI and the power rankings. However, the Beast is tied with the ACC for the most teams in the RPI Top 20 (three) and most teams in the RPI Top 65 (nine). However, if you expand both of those parameters just a touch then the Beast has more teams in both the RPI Top 25 and Top 70.
I'm a Northeast guy, and I'm damn proud of it. But don't think this is some kind of desperate plea for some validation for my home conference. Instead I'm just trying to point out that the Big East is a bit underrated right now. Underrated means undervalued. And I'm certain that if the fourth or fifth best team from Beast squares off with the third or fourth best team from the Big 10 or Big 12 I know where my money will be.
Anyway, here's a little insight into the major players in New York City this week and some tidbits on today's first-round match-ups:
Georgetown - With newly minted Player of the Year Jeff Green, one of the league's best big men in Roy Hibbert and the Big East's most suffocating defense, the Hoyas are the class of the league. If you throw out that loss at the Dome last week as an anomaly, the Hoyas are 19-2 since Dec. 5 and an absolutely astounding 12-1-2 against the spread in conference play. Needless to say, don't bet against them.
Louisville - I think that right now the Cardinals are playing the best of any team in the conference, boasting a six-game winning streak. They legitimately go nine-deep, and the emergence of big man Derrick Character has helped ease the burden inside on David Padgett. Juan Palacios probably won't be back for the tournament. He's sat the last three games, but the Cards have carried on fine without him.
Pittsburgh - Two tough road losses at Georgetown and at Marquette bumped the Panthers down to the No. 3 seed. But that actually works in their favor. They'll face either a beat up Marquette team or a beat up St. John's squad in the quarters as opposed to meeting either Providence or WVU. Pitt always plays well in The Garden, advancing to five of the last six Big East title games. I wouldn't be surprised if they're still playing on Saturday.
Notre Dame - The Irish are the top scoring squad in the Big East this year, managing over 81 points per game while allowing just 66. They rely heavily on the three-pointer, which makes them dangerous to bet on or against. They didn't shoot nearly as well on the road as they do at home, but can still score in waves. They hung 103 points on potential quarterfinal opponent Syracuse and while they didn't play UConn this year I think they would beat the Huskies by around 15 if they play.
Syracuse - The Orange are the defending champions and enter this year's tourney with slightly less pressure on them than they did last season. A win over UConn in the first round and they're in. A loss and they have to sweat it out. The Orange have won five of their last six games and nearly pulled out an improbable win at Villanova last weekend. They always play well at The Garden, but they need to be wary of getting off to a slow start.
Villanova vs. Depaul - Freshman Scottie Reynolds has reinvigorated the Wildcats and combined with their experience Nova should be a tough out. Depaul wants to grind one out, and if Nova is a step slow because of the noon start look for the Blue Demons to sneak away with one.
Syracuse vs. Connecticut - The Orange will be wearing new uniforms for this game; skin-tight spandex unis designed by Nike. I'm interested to see if that has any impact on the Orange's shooters. The Huskies are just 2-8 SU and ATS outside of Bristol this year.
Providence vs. West Virginia - I expect this to be the best game of the day. WVU is incredibly streaky, but when they hit their threes they're tough to beat. Providence is the No. 2 scoring team in the league and has beaten WVU once this year. The Mountaineers were just 2-6 SU and 1-6-1 ATS on the road in conference this year.
St. John's vs. Marquette - This is a battle of attrition. Jerel McNeal is out for the Golden Eagles and Dominic James is questionable. If neither plays it will be a short stay in the Big Apple for Marquette. But St. John's lost leading scorer and rebounder Lamont Hamilton in their regular season finale. With Hamilton I think this would be a great upset pick, but without their top gun I think the Johnnies' first trip back to the BE tourney since 2003 will be brief.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Big East Tournaments seem to follow a distinct pattern: either they are completely wild and unpredictable and a sleeper team will work its way to the finals, or the two biggest boys on the block are destined for a classic in the final. If the latter scenario goes down - and I think it will - then expect a rematch between Pitt and Georgetown. Remember, Aaron Gray was hobbled in the first meeting and Pitt still had a lead late in the second half. Also, watch out for Louisville. They're one of the three or four hottest teams in the country right now and I could see them running away with this thing. Other than that, I don't think anyone else has the depth to cut down the nets.
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