Monday, March 11, 2013

Previewing the Last Big East Tournament as We Know It

The Big East Tournament will kick off tomorrow and you can probably find hundreds of articles written in the past few days exclaiming that this will be the final Big East Tournament as we know it. And they will all be right. The conference is set to undergo a drastic makeover next year and there won’t be a Big East Tournament that goes by in the future without at least one reference to the power house this conference once was – even if the newly constructed conference becomes just as great one day.

While Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Syracuse were the founding members in 1979 that have stuck it out this long, it took multiple instances of additions and subtractions to build it up to where it is today. The most recent influx of teams took place in 2005 when Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida joined to make it the beast that it became. The Big East was always regarded as one of the better basketball conferences in the nation throughout the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, but it really became regarded as an all-time great in 2011 when the Big East sent a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament – with UConn capping the year off with a national championship. 

Conference realignment has always been a part of collegiate athletics and it will never go away. Who knows, these 15 teams could end up together in a super conference someday down the road.

But instead of crying over the past or worrying about the future, let’s just enjoy the 2013 Big East Tournament over the next five days like we’ve done each and every time over the years.

Here is a preview on what is to come and my predicted bracket…

The Favorites:

Louisville – The Cardinals haven’t lost in over a month as they are in the midst of a 7-game winning streak and don’t have a bad loss on their resume all season. They were the unanimous pick to win the conference and ended up in a three-way share of it, but given the pieces on this team and the run these same guys made last year, I’m going to label them as the favorite.

Georgetown – The Hoyas made a statement on Saturday by destroying Syracuse in the two schools final regular season meeting as conference rivals, to signal to the rest of the Big East that they are for real. A winner of their last 12 of 13 games, and with a player as hot as Otto Porter, this team clearly knows how to emerge victorious.

Under the Radar Team:

Pittsburgh – I know the Panthers earned a double-bye, but this team has gotten very little publicity all season. The advanced metrics are big believers in Pitt, but they have a tendency to go through prolonged scoring droughts. But given that they will likely see Syracuse followed by Georgetown (two teams also known for troubles on the offensive end) before reaching the finals, you have to like their chances. At least I do, anyway.

Dark Horse Teams:

None - I know the Big East has become known for teams making a run to the championship without the luxury of a double-bye, but I don’t think that will be the case this year. I know the obvious candidate here would be Syracuse, but the Orange’s offense has been so consistently awful over the past month that it seems impossible to fix in such short notice. Notre Dame hasn’t impressed me at all on the road, and unfortunately the winner of the St. John’s vs. Villanova game on Wednesday has to see a well rest Louisville the next day.  Marquette, who shared the Big East regular season crown with Louisville and Georgetown and who also earned a double-bye, is another team that I find difficult to get excited about away from their home court.  And the four teams that play on Tuesday night – Rutgers, Seton Hall, South Florida and DePaul – are all atrocious and have absolutely no shot.

Players to Watch:

Otto Porter – He is going to be the unanimous selection for Big East Player of the Year, and rightfully so -  he can take over a game and put the entire team on his back en route to a victory.  He may be the best stretch four in the country and look for him to impose his will on opponents as needed.

Peyton Siva – While his season was rather disappointing given that he was selected as the pre-season player of the year, he is still the floor general of the Cardinals. Look for the senior point guard to pick up his play as it matters most and reemerge as one of the better distributing point guards in the country.  He just needs to be sure to not get into foul trouble – an area he struggled with throughout the season.

Steven Adams – The freshman big might be the only player in the Big East that can match up with Gorgui Dieng and not be outmatched from a physical standpoint. However, Adams isn’t as skilled or experienced, but if he can stay on the floor his presence alone could be effective enough for the Panthers to make a run at it.

Jack Cooley – If you could somehow quantify hardest working player in the conference, Cooley is probably it. There is no question that he is one of if not the best rebounder in the Big East, but he will need to step it up defensively if the Irish are to have a chance.  Offense isn’t the problem for the Irish, it’s their defense.  Look for Cooley to turn it up a notch and own the paint. 

My Bracket Prediction:

Let me know who you guys think will win and why.


Twitter:  @ShaneInBigEast

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Final Stretch of the Big East Season

The 18-game Big East season comes to a conclusion this Saturday, and who is to be league champion is a three horse race heading into the finish line.  Georgetown, Louisville and Marquette are the contenders, and this could be a race that isn’t decided until the last day of the season.

Georgetown Hoyas (13-3 / 0 games back)

Picked to finish 5th in the 2012-12 Coaches Poll

The Hoyas are the team in the driver’s seat.  They control their own destiny because they only need to win one of their two games left and the league title is theirs.  But that’s easier said than done, because of the five games remaining amongst the three teams in contention they easily have the two most difficult games.

                - At Villanova on Wednesday
                - Hosting Syracuse on Saturday

Georgetown will be getting a very desperate Wildcats team on Wednesday night who just blew a game at Pittsburgh over the weekend that would have almost assured them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  And Nova has been known to take down some giants (Louisville and Syracuse) on their home floor this year.  Then their home clash with the Syracuse Orange, the very last time these two will face off as Big East foes in the regular season, will obviously be a heavyweight fight.  Expect a lot of emotion and physical play in this game for a lot of reasons, but a Syracuse revenge game factor being the most prominent. 

However, as already stated above - all that the Hoyas need to do is win one of these games and they are crowned Big East champions.  They currently have a half game lead over the Louisville Cardinals, but they own the tiebreaker against them as they beat them in the two teams only meeting. 

Louisville Cardinals (13-4 / .5 game back)

Unanimous selection to finish 1st in the 2012-13 Coaches Poll

It’s very difficult to say that anyone is playing better than Georgetown currently considering they have rattled off 11 straight victories, but boy are the Louisville Cardinals playing good ball these days.  If the Hoyas and Cardinals were to square off on a neutral court today (or hopefully next week for real), I’d like the Cardinals.  But that’s not the topic at hand here, and Louisville already had their shot against Georgetown earlier in the season and failed (however, the game was away). 

                - Hosting Notre Dame on Saturday

I don’t expect the Cardinals to have much trouble with the Irish this weekend, but they will need assistance from Villanova and Syracuse if they are to accomplish what all the coaches expected of them in the preseason.  

Marquette Golden Eagles (12-4 / 1 game back)

Picked to finish 7th in the 2012-13 Coaches Poll

It’s amazing the job Buzz Williams does year after year.  Marquette didn’t play much of a non-conference schedule, but when they got smoked by Florida and lost to Wisconsin Green Bay, it looked as if a 7th place finish or even worse in the Big East was likely.  Now the Golden Eagles are sitting with four losses in the conference with two games to go.

                - At Rutgers on Tuesday
                - At St. John’s on Saturday

Marquette will be favored to win both of these games, but it won’t be easy.  Of their seven losses on the season, all seven have come on the road.  So this will be a good test for this team before heading into tournament season.  The Golden Eagles are a long shot to win the league as they need Georgetown and Louisville to lose their remaining games, but they can’t be complaining too much considered where they were picked to finish in the league and how their season began.  

Changed my Twitter handle - it is now @ShaneInBigEast

Monday, March 4, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 2/25 - 3/3]

The best of the best as these two have become familiar faces in this segment...

Player of the Week:
Otto Porter
The Georgetown Hoyas got more of the same from Otto Porter this past week – he was the team’s leading scorer in both of their victories, which included a game winning shot in double overtime on the road. He finished with 22 points and 5 rebounds in the aforementioned double overtime victory at UConn and 28 points and 8 rebounds in their home victory against Rutgers. I wrote last week that Porter was a lock for Big East Player of the Year, and his performances last week just added to his cushion. National Player of the Year is within grasp, but that would likely require further success for the Hoyas (given that they have only gained significant recognition as of late and haven’t been a national darling like some others over a longer time horizon). And given how he and the Hoyas have played as of late, that is certainly not out of the question. If the Hoyas victory at Syracuse was the official Otto Porter coming out party, then the Big East Tournament could be a full-fledged Otto Porter production.
Rookie of the Week:
JaKarr Sampson
Just as Otto Porter is a lock to be the conference’s Player of the Year, JaKarr Sampson is a lock to be Rookie of the Year. This is the seventh time this season he has earned Rookie of the Week honors. And while the Johnnies lost both of their games last week, it wasn’t due to the lack of production from Sampson. And with D’Angelo Harrison now suspended for the remainder of the season, Sampson has become the team’s leader in points and rebounds per game (15.0 and 6.6 respectively). Last week Sampson accumulated 14 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals against Pittsburgh and 22 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks at Providence.

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Friday, March 1, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 8

We have already arrived at the final week of the regular season.  It's not cool how fast it has flown by, but can't complain too much because it's March - a glorious month.  Hopefully this doesn't fly by that quickly. And there is still a lot to be decided in the Big East in this final week.  Enjoy.

Now to the Power Rankings...

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Has Otto Porter Run Away with Big East Player of the Year?

Last year’s Big East Player of the Year race was hard-fought by three players: Kevin Jones of West Virginia and Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom of Marquette. While Jones had the best statistical season of the three, it was Crowder’s well-rounded play and Marquette’s success that earned him the prize in the end.

This year, the Preseason Player of the Year Award went to Peyton Siva. And at the halfway mark of the season, or the transition from non-conference to conference play, it looked as if the player of the year recognition was going to be someone from the group of: Russ Smith, Michael Carter-Williams, Jack Cooley or Sean Kilpatrick.

But now, with a week and a half left in the regular season, it looks as if Otto Porter has already locked it up.

Russ Smith, Michael Carter-Williams and Sean Kilpatrick all had monster first halves, and while they all continue to play well and put up gaudy statistics from time to time, none have had the consistency or thrived in multiple big spots like Porter has. And Siva, whose presence on the court is invaluable, has underwhelmed when it comes to a statistical stand point.

And while you can still formulate an argument for the stated players above, the only player I would be okay with receiving the award over Porter is Jack Cooley. While Cooley’s rebounding prowess has cooled off a bit (he was the only player in the country pulling down more than 20% of both available offensive and defensive rebounds for a while, but his offensive rebounding has slipped to 18.6% - still second best in the nation), he still is the only player in the Big East averaging a double-double. And yet he still goes un-talked about and seen as underrated somehow.

But Cooley does not possess that one shining moment that Porter has. In Notre Dame’s biggest game of the year to date (their five overtime thriller vs. Louisville), Cooley fouled out with more than five minutes to go in regulation. The Irish almost played an entire game without him and still won. In Georgetown’s biggest game of the year to date, Porter dropped 33 points at Syracuse and singlehandedly willed the Hoyas to victory.

In the games leading up to the ‘Cuse showdown there were whispers beginning of Porter even creeping into the National Player of the Year race, and upon that performance he firmly cemented himself in that discussion. He further proved is worthy-ness last night when he converted the winning basket in double overtime at Connecticut – a strong but fluent drive to the rim that finished with a layup with 8 seconds remaining.

Porter is averaging 18 points and 7.5 rebounds in conference play and has Georgetown on a 10-game winning streak. The Hoyas, now 12-3 in the conference, who were picked to finish 5th in the preseason, now have a one game cushion with three to go. There are a bunch of factors that go into team success, and as a team Georgetown has become great defensively (currently second in the Big East behind Louisville), but if it weren’t for the play of Porter on the offensive end, this team would not be sitting at 22-4. And while the Syracuse game will likely be his defining moment, he has put the team on his back multiple times throughout the season and has been very successful doing so.

Otto Porter for Big East Player of the Year is a lock (but please vote to the left and leave a comment below for who you think it should/will be).

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Monday, February 25, 2013

Player and Rookie of the Week [week of 2/18 - 2/24]

The Georgetown Hoyas swept the individual awards this week, and rightfully so.  Each player finished with a career high in points in an individual game; a feat that one player accomplished in one game while his teammate did it in another.  One was just a little bit more important than the other…

Player of the Week:

Otto Porter

Otto Porter finished with 33 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 steals in the Hoyas enormous win at Syracuse on Saturday afternoon.  Porter played all 40 minutes and pretty much singlehandedly willed Georgetown to a 57-46 victory in their last conference game at the Carrier Dome.  Otto had been slowly creeping his way into the National Player of the Year discussion, and his performance over the weekend put him smack dab in the middle of it.

Porter also accumulated 11 points and 3 rebounds in an easy win over DePaul earlier in the week at home.  He banged his knee and ended up only playing 20 minutes, as the fate of the game was pretty much determined fairly early into the second half.

Rookie of the Week:

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera tallied a career high 33 points in Georgetown’s win over DePaul in the middle of last week.  That was the best freshman scoring performance for Georgetown in 17 years. He finished 10 of 12 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.  He also made 8 of his 10 free throw attempts while chipping in with 3 rebounds in the 34 minutes of playing time he got.  Georgetown tends to struggle from the field for longer than desired stretches (including Satruday – everyone but Porter struggled), but if Smith-Rivera can become more consistent the Hoyas will become less prone to erratic offensive performances.  

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts

Friday, February 22, 2013

Soup to Nuts: Vol. 7

The Big East power rankings took a week off last week for no good reason at all, but they are back.  Enjoy

Twitter:  @soupTOOnuts