Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Big East Teams' NCAA Tournament Preview

Has Fab Melo cost the Orange a trip to the Final Four?
By Shane McCarthy on March 13, 2012

South Florida Bulls – 12 seed and playing in the first four game
Ceiling:  Win 2 games (1 being the play-in game) – Given how the Bulls like to muck up the flow of the game by playing slow and heavy, they can cause any opponent to get frustrated and unable to find a rhythm.    Both Cal and Temple depend on solid outside shooting to win games, so they may not be particularly fond of South Florida’s style of play.
Floor:  Lose first game – There is no question that the Bulls are physical and play solid defense, but they have had trouble scoring all year.  Cal underachieved most of the season, but they seem to be figuring it out lately and possibly making it difficult for South Florida to keep up on the scoreboard. 

West Virginia Mountaineers – 10 seed
Ceiling:  Elite 8 – Kevin Jones is one of the best players in the country, averaging a double-double, and will be a match-up problem for everyone they play.  If Deniz Kilicli and Truck Bryant can play at a high level there is no reason why they can’t make a run to the Elite 8.  I actually think they match-up well with Ohio St. and can upset them.  Also, their first round game is being played less than two hours from campus, making it a virtual home game for them while Gonzaga has to travel all the way across the country.
Floor:  Lose first game – Besides from Kevin Jones, Gonzaga is a more talented team than the Mountaineers.  West Virginia is solid on the offensive boards, but they play suspect defense and they have had trouble closing games in the last month or two.   

Connecticut Huskies – 9 seed
Ceiling:  Win 1 game – Royce White of Iowa St. is a tough match-up for any team in the country, given his size and versatility.  But beyond him, UConn is the much more talented team with loads of experience on the court.  It’s unfortunate that the Huskies drew the 8/9 game in Kentucky’s region, because I think they could have held their own against any other team in the tournament.  Could they beat Kentucky?  For sure, but they have lacked any leadership or enthusiasm all season and I don’t think they’ll suddenly discover it against the best team in the country.  If it was against anyone else, I would have given them a shot to make a deep run.
Floor:  Lose first game – The Huskies have been so volatile (they lost to Providence two weeks ago) that no one would be surprised if they got absolutely smoked by Iowa St. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish – 7 seed
Ceiling:  Win 1 game - The Irish play sound fundamental basketball and when they are hitting their shots they are difficult to beat.  But the problem is – they have not been making shots for about a month now, while Xavier has been playing well.  If Notre Dame finds their touch, they will beat Xavier, but they won’t be able to keep up with Duke in the game thereafter. 
Floor:  Lose first game – As was just stated, given their slow pace of play and lack of inside presence, it is a necessity for them to shoot well.  Xavier has struggled to play up to their talent level since the brawl they were in back in November, but they have been playing better and are the more talented team compared to the Irish.

Cincinnati Bearcats – 6 seed
Ceiling:  Final Four – The Bearcats have looked very good in the last month, even though they laid a dud in the Big East Championship game.  As long as they run their offense through Yancy Gates in the low post, they will be a tough out.  By focusing on Gates, it enables the rest of the team to get open shots and lanes to the basket.  This team just beat Syracuse, the #1 seed in their region, so I think they can handle other obstacles.
Floor:  Win 1 game – I believe Cincinnati will make quick work of Texas in the first round as the Longhorns are an average team across the board.  But a possible second round match-up with Florida St. could prove troublesome.  Not only are the Seminoles an excellent defensive team, but they are shooting the ball extremely well as of late, as displayed last week in which they beat both Duke and North Carolina.   

Louisville Cardinals – 4 seed
Ceiling:  Sweet Sixteen – Louisville has the coach (Rick Pitino) and the point guard (Peyton Siva) that is needed to enjoy success this time of the year; which was on display last week on their run to a Big East Championship.  The Cardinals will be looking to ride that momentum for a few more weeks.
Floor:  Lose first game – Louisville has struggled shooting the ball all year, and besides Marquette in the Big East Tournament, the Cardinals have not had a notable win in about two months.  Davidson is not flashy, but they were good enough to beat Kansas this year.  And let’s not forget Louisville’s early round struggles in recent years. 

Georgetown Hoyas – 3 seed
Ceiling:  Elite Eight – It is no secret that Belmont over Georgetown in the first round has become a pretty popular upset pick.  It’s surely possible, but I have been of the belief that Georgetown will significantly benefit by getting out of the Big East.  Their only non-conference loss was to Kansas, and their defense has vastly improved over the course of the season.  They will no doubt be tested as they are in a tough region, but a meeting with North Carolina would not surprise me. 
Floor:  Lose first game – Not only can Belmont score, but they may have the ideal style of play to handle Georgetown’s effective defense.  They will look to speed up the Hoyas and make them uncomfortable. 

Marquette Golden Eagles – 3 seed
Ceiling:  Final Four – Marquette plays extremely hard on both ends of the court and thrive in transition.  As long as Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom stay out of foul trouble, this team can keep up with anyone.  They have lost two of three, but I believe their first two match-ups are favorable draws before they will have a layoff to prepare for Missouri.  Marquette vs. Missouri would be one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, and I like the fact that the Golden Eagles would be the more physical team. 
Floor:  Sweet Sixteen – I don’t believe there is a match-up that Marquette can’t adjust to, but Missouri’s four guard system may prove to be too much to handle for the Golden Eagles, especially if Mizzou is hitting their 3’s. 

Syracuse Orange – 1 seed
Ceiling:  Final Four – First off, if you are an Orange fan, you have to be absolutely livid at Fab Melo for acting so selfishly throughout the course of the season.  As a student/athlete, it is your responsibility to attend class and complete whatever work/tests that are asked of you.  I was never a D-1 athlete during my tenure in college, but it is my understanding that it is not very hard to attend class/study sessions a few times a month and maintain a gaudy 1.8 GPA.  I understand that he has NBA aspirations, but show your respect/loyalty/commitment to the team you’re currently on.

 Secondly, this team is still talented enough and is in a favorable region to make a Final Four run.  Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph will probably be the best two players on the floor in their first three games.  And speaking of Waiters, it seems obvious that he will be leaving college early to head to the NBA after this year.  If that is the case, I can see him blowing up and singlehandedly taking the Orange to New Orleans for the benefit of his draft position. 
Floor:  Win 1 game – A #16 seed has never beaten a #1 seed and it is not going to happen in this game.  However, if Syracuse lacks the motivation and plays flat against Kansas St. in the second round, they could be beat.  Syracuse struggles in the rebounding department, while Kansas St. excels in it.  Even though Syracuse’s talent should prevail, it could be an ugly game that the Wildcats sneak away with.  

Twitter --> @shane_t_mac

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Third Round Games In Two Sentences Each

By Shane McCarthy on March 8, 2012

#9 Connecticut vs. #1 Syracuse
This was the third time these two teams played this season and it was the third time UConn looked as good as Syracuse for long periods of the game.  Powered by Dion Waiters and James Southerland with some supporting help from Shabazz Napier, the Orange were able to grind out the victory.
Final Score:  Syracuse 58 Connecticut 55

#5 Georgetown vs. #4 Cincinnati
For two teams that were very similar on many metrics entering the game, it was only fitting that it took double overtime to decide it.  Yancy Gates went off for 23 points and powered the Bearcats past the Hoyas.
Final Score:  Cincinnati 72 Georgetown 70 2OT

#7 Louisville vs. #2 Marquette
It was the defensive performance by the Louisville Cardinals that paved the way for their relatively easy victory over Marquette.  Marquette, who did not shoot well all night, was never able to get it going and did not have an answer for Peyton Siva at all.
Final Score:  Louisville 84 Marquette 71

#6 South Florida vs. #3 Notre Dame
South Florida played their style of basketball to perfection, slow and ugly, and they had the game in hand until they choked it away in the final moments.  Bad fouls, poor turnovers, missed foul shots and shot clock violations all contributed to their demise, and now they’ll be sweating it out till Sunday.    
Final Score:  Notre Dame 57 South Florida 53 OT

Twitter --> @shane_t_mac

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The South Florida Bulls Right Now

By Shane McCarthy on March 7, 2012


RPI:  44
SOS:  27
BPI:   59
Kenpom:  67
Sagarin:  69
LRMC:  73
Solid wins (RPI):  @Louisville(28), Seton Hall(54), Cincinnati(68)
Bad losses (RPI):  neutral court vs. Penn St.(157), @Auburn(138)
Notable tidbits:  0-5 vs. RPI top 25 teams, nine of their 12 Big East wins were against teams with 12 or more losses, 7-3 in their last six games and have held opponents to under 60 points in nine straight.

No matter what your feelings are for the plethora of metrics out there, they are here to stay and they all say the same thing about the South Florida Bulls - they are a mediocre team that is floating on the bubble.

Finishing 12-6 in the Big East seems impressive, until of course you look more closely.  They played Pittsburgh, Villanova and Providence each twice, who went a combined 14-40 in the conference.  Now, this is by no means the fault of South Florida, as they did not make the schedule nor is it their fault that Nova and Pitt had exceptionally poor years compared to their recent history.  But the hypothetical fact of the matter is... if Nova and Pitt have normal Nova and Pitt seasons, USF probably does not go 4-0 against them.  But, in the end, these victories do not count as 'good' wins anyway.

The Big East has had a down year relative to its history that South Florida to their credit was able to benefit from, but what about their non-conference slate of games.  Is South Florida more accomplished outside the conference compared to say, Seton Hall?  Does not look like it.  USF's best non-conference win is against Cleveland St. and that's about it; while Seton Hall beat VCU, St. Joseph's and Dayton.

It is not that USF is a bad team, because they have improved as the year has gone on, especially on the defensive end.  They take pride in themselves being disciplined, playing physical, and being the tougher team on the court.  Their slow paced offense may not be very efficient, but it actually helps them on defense.  Opponents become frustrated after devoting their attention to 35 seconds of defense which can lead to out of control, impatient possessions on the offensive end.  In a way, they force their opponents to play the same slow and ugly style that they are comfortable with.

Tomorrow the Bulls will get Notre Dame in the third round of the Big East Tournament.  In their only meeting this year they lost 60-49 at Notre Dame two months ago.  The Fighting Irish play this same slow-paced tempo that USF runs, but they are a much better shooting team than USF and they do not turn the ball over nearly as much.

In the end, I will be rooting for South Florida because I want them to make the NCAA Tournament and I actually do think they can beat Notre Dame.  The Fighting Irish have not shot the ball particularly well of late and they do not have the big bodies down low to match the toughness of the Bulls.  This could end up being a very ugly game with bricks galore being chucked around.  For South Florida, this will be their biggest game of the season because it is about 'who did you play and who did you beat' and now is the time for USF to prove that they can beat someone.  Beating Notre Dame tomorrow night would be their second best win of the year.

Twitter --> @shane_t_mac

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Breaking Down Seton Hall vs. Providence

The Pirates sailed past Providence in Round 1

By Shane McCarthy on March 6, 2012

Let's breakdown Seton Hall vs. Providence into ten four-minute segments and see what went down.

1st Half

20 Minute Mark:
It is tough to play much worse to start the game than these two teams managed to do in the first four minutes.  The sloppy play was filled with moving screens, passes into teammates' backs, and two travelling violations before a point was even scored.  It took 2 minutes and 37 seconds before Providence broke the scoreless drought and they actually prevented Seton Hall from scoring in the first four minutes of the game.  Score: 6-0 Providence.  At this points, the Friars were on pace to win the game 48-0.

16 Minute Mark:
Providence continued to use their speed to push the pace of the game to go up 9-0.  At this point, Seton Hall had not even come close to scoring.  But that did not last as Fuquan Edwin drained a three for the Pirate's first points five minutes into the game.  This got the ball rolling as they hit two more three pointers (Brandon Mobley and Aaron Cosby) and quickly got the Pirates back in the game.  Score: 11-11 Tie

12 Minute Mark:
What once looked like a shut-out in the making, eventually began to spiral out of control for Providence.  After the Pirates converted an old-school three point play, the Friars put together this dandy of a possession:  air-ball, but the Friars come up with it under the basket, the put-back hits the bottom edge of the backboard and comes back down in the shooters face, he then kicks it out, but only for that player to immediately travel with the ball.  Not exactly a high quality possession.  Providence's next possession ended with another air-ball and the one after that ended with another travelling violation.  This entire sequence seemed to deject the Friars as they practically quit on defense and watched Seton Hall stay hot with all the open looks they were getting.  Score:  21-14 Seton Hall

8 Minute Mark:
At this point the Friars were approximately 0 of a trillion from three, and it actually looked like they were attempting to bank their long jumpers in.  That did not work.  In the meantime, Jordan Theodore and Mobley gave them a shooting lesson at the other end.  Score:  30-16 Seton Hall

4 Minute Mark:
The law of averages eventually prevails as Providence finally makes a three, ending a stretch in which they missed 14 of 15 shots from the floor.  Score:  36-23 Seton Hall


2nd Half

20 Minute Mark:
The Friars seemed to have made the necessary adjustments that needed to be made as they came out of halftime running actual offensive sets, moving the ball, getting open looks at the basket, and actually causing problems for the defense.  The two teams traded multiple baskets, before LaDontae Henton of Providence picked up three fouls in about a minute.  This managed to suck the wind out of the sails for the Friars and the Pirates pounced on the opportunity.  This stretch was capped off by a pick-n-roll to perfection between Theodore and Herb Pope that resulted in a three point play.  Score:  47-30 Seton Hall

16 Minute Mark:
The sloppy play by Providence endures, and Theodore continues to carve up the Friars.  He got his 10th and 11th assists on an alley-oop to Pope and then a behind the back pass in the lane to Pope for a bucket.  To end this segment of the game, Seton Hall fouled Bryce Cotton attempting a three pointer which resulted in him converting all three free throws.  Score:  56-35 Seton Hall

12 Minute Mark:
Jordan Theodore, a senior who has never been to the NCAA Tournament, continues to play desperate and hungry as you would expect.  He facilitates the offense, single-handedly breaks the press, and even manages to draw a charging violation with a beautiful flop.  You can tell that he wants to absolutely pummel the Friars to eliminate the bubble talk.  Score:  62-38 Seton Hall

8 Minute Mark:
At this point, the game was so out of hand that they decided to interview Rick Pitino with the camera on him while the game was going on.  Coach Pitino confirms that Seton Hall should be off the bubble with this win and he will be ready to put a hit on them tomorrow.  Score:  74-42 Seton Hall

4 Minute Mark:
With about two minutes remaining in the game, Seton Hall decided to put in their best bench-warmer, the Hammer, Peter Dill.  Peter has logged seven minutes on the season and has two total points.  But Peter does have a role on this team, and does he ever contribute.  Many have probably seen this, but it is worth another look...

Final Score:  79-47 Seton Hall

Twitter --> shane_t_mac

Monday, March 5, 2012

Previewing the Big East Tournament

By Shane McCarthy on March 5, 2012

In prime position to benefit the most:  South Florida
Neither Rutgers nor Villanova will be an easy out for USF, but if they can get by that second round game, they will get a Notre Dame team that has been a bit off lately.  When looking at possible 'good' wins that would boost their at-large hopes for the NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame seems the most feasible right now. 

Opportunity to prove their worth:  UConn, Seton Hall
Will UConn play like a rat trapped in a corner or will they quit the first time they find themselves down four at halftime?  UConn and West Virginia might already be safe for an at-large bid, but when they meet in the second round - both should play that game like they are far from it.  And if UConn does make it to the quarters, will they be able to take down Syracuse?  In each of their meetings this year the games were very close or tied with a few minutes left, but UConn could not find a way to prevail in either.  You would think that would build confidence and enthusiasm, but this team has not shown either all season long.  However, I want to remain optimistic and believe talent can prevail.  Maybe Coach Calhoun can be the leader they need from the bench, since no one in uniform has yet to step up. 

Seton Hall let a very good season turn into a train wreck with losses to Rutgers and DePaul to finish the season resulting in a missed opportunity for a first round bye.  This leads me to believe that Providence will be no cake-walk for them.  But if they can get out of the opening round, they will get a Louisville team that has been shooting the ball very poorly. 

Toughest draw with most to lose:  Cincinnati
Cincinnati finished strong by beating Marquette and Villanova, but their overall resume is very odd to say the least.  They lack a number of 'good' wins to offset their 'terrible' losses to Presbyterian and Marshall at home in the beginning of the year, but they have played well enough in the BE to earn a double bye.  The Bearcats will most likely see Georgetown in the quarterfinals, a tough matchup for sure. 

Easiest draw:  Marquette
Led by Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette has emerged as one of the best teams in the country.  Is there a team that can stop them from getting to the championship game?  Seems doubtful.  

Teams with nothing to lose and capable of playing spoiler:  Villanova, St. John's, Providence, Pittsburgh
Villanova – Maalik Wayns and the Wildcats are more than capable of getting hot and winning multiple games, and they are in the bracket to make it happen.
St. John’s – The fact that the BE Tournament is a home game for the Red Storm is enough to give them some sort of advantage.  Combine that with the talent of this team and the fact that they don’t know any better, and you have a team that could make a run.
Providence – The Friars were good enough to beat UConn last week and there is no reason why they can’t totally destroy Seton Hall’s season in the first round. 
Pittsburgh – Tray Woodall and Ashton Gibbs are good enough on their own to win a few games for the Panthers.  At the very least, their first round game with St. John’s should be entertaining. 

Favorites:  Syracuse, Marquette
The regular season conference champions, Syracuse Orange, lost one game all year and that was without Fab Melo, Defensive Player of the Year in the conference.  This team just ‘knows’ how to win, making them one of the best teams in the country.

Marquette’s relentless attack makes them a threat to anyone, and this team has gotten a lot better since they saw Syracuse two months ago. 

Championship game to most look forward to:  Syracuse vs. Marquette, Syracuse vs. Notre Dame
Syracuse vs. Marquette would be the most exciting for sure.  But, watching Notre Dame prove that their win over the Orange was no fluke, would be equally entertaining.  

Twitter -->  @shane_t_mac

Power Rankings / A Look Back & Ahead 3-4-12

By Shane McCarthy on March 5, 2012

1]  #2 Syracuse Orange (17-1/30-1)
Last week:  WON 58-49 vs Louisville
This week:  #1 seed in Big East Tournament and double bye
Impressive victory over Louisville on Saturday afternoon to close out the regular season.  Something tells me the Orange would like to see Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament to avenge their only loss on the season. 

2]  #9 Marquette Golden Eagles (14-4/25-6)
Last week:  LOST 72-61 @ Cincinnati, WON 83-69 vs Georgetown
This week:  #2 seed in Big East Tournament and double bye
The Golden Eagles had a bit of a slip-up at a desperate Cincinnati team in the middle of the week, but rebounded nicely with a decisive win at home over Georgetown.  Marquette will be looking to keep the momentum rolling into the NCAA Tournament and a showdown with Syracuse would be very entertaining in the BE Tournament.

3]  #14 Georgetown Hoyas (12-6/22-7)
Last week:  WON 59-41 vs Notre Dame, LOST 83-69 @ Marquette
This week:  #5 seed in Big East Tournament and single bye
No shame in losing on Senior night at a really good Marquette team for the Hoyas.  They are better than the #5 seed they got and a team that is more than capable of winning the BE Tournament. 

Yancy Gates and Jaquon Parker
4]  Cincinnati Bearcats (12-6/22-9)
Last week:  WON 72-61 vs Marquette, WON 72-68 @ Villanova
This week:  #4 seed in Big East Tournament and double bye
Excellent week for the Bearcats as they beat a #7 Marquette team and Villanova to creep up to the #4 seed and double bye in the BE Tournament.  Cincinnati is playing much better as of late, and the momentum seems to be building at the right time in the season.  

5]  Louisville Cardinals (10-8/22-9)
Last week:  LOST 58-51 vs South Florida, LOST 58-49 vs Syracuse
This week:  #7 seed in Big East Tournament and single bye
It was a tough week for the Cardinals, as they lost to both South Florida and Syracuse to conclude the regular season.  They have earned a single bye in the BE Tournament and hopefully use that extra day off to get back on track as they have lost four of their last six. 

6]  #23 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-5/21-10)
Last week:  LOST 59-41 @ Georgetown, WON 75-69 vs Providence
This week:  #3 seed in Big East Tournament and double bye
The Irish have been struggling a bit as of late, but their win over Providence could help carry some ‘mental’ momentum into the BE Tournament. 

7]  West Virginia Mountaineers (9-9/19-12)
Last week:  WON 92-75 vs DePaul, WON 50-44 @ South Florida
This week:  #8 seed in Big East Tournament and single bye
After going through a rough stretch, the Mountaineers took care of business last week by beating DePaul and South Florida.  Not necessarily impressive wins, but when a team is on the bubble it is important to beat fellow bubble teams (South Florida).  It will be important for Kevin Jones, and the magnificent season he just had, to lead and keep the Mountaineers motivated.    

8]  Connecticut Huskies (8-10/18-12)
Last week:  LOST 72-70 @ Providence, WON 74-65 vs Pittsburgh
This week:  #9 seed in Big East Tournament
With the Huskies loss at Providence during the week, their roller coaster of a season continues.  They probably need to win at least two games in the BE Tournament to feel safe as an at-large candidate.  This #9 seed is a talented bunch, and we all remember what happened last year as a #9 seed.  There is no reason why they can’t do it again. 

9]  South Florida Bulls (12-6/19-12)
Last week:  WON 58-51 @ Louisville, LOST 50-44 vs West Virginia
This week:  #6 seed in Big East Tournament and single bye
Great win for the Bulls’ at-large hopes at Louisville, and even though they earned a first round bye in the BE, they probably need to win at least one game in the tournament to help their case.  Still, they are a fun story to follow.

10]  Pittsburgh Panthers (5-13/16-15)
Last week:  WON 89-69 vs St. John’s, LOST 74-65 @ Connecticut
This week:  #13 seed in Big East Tournament
It has been a disappointing season for the Panthers to say the least.   The potential was there at the beginning of the season, but they have struggled mightily in conference play.  They will have to run the table in the BE Tournament to get into the NCAAs. 

11]  Seton Hall Pirates (8-10/19-11)
Last week:  LOST 86-58 @ DePaul
This week:  #10 seed in Big East Tournament
The last two games for the Pirates have been absolutely horrendous.  After beating Georgetown, the hopes of an at-large bid for Seton Hall skyrocketed.  But two bad losses to finish the season probably mean that the Pirates need to win at least two games in the BE Tournament.   

12]  Villanova Wildcats (5-13/12-18)
Last week:  WON 77-71 @ Rutgers, LOST 72-68 vs Cincinnati
This week:  #14 seed in Big East Tournament
You know it has been a tough season for the Wildcats when their best win in conference is against Seton Hall.  Seton Hall is a quality team this year, but ‘Nova is used to competing for regular season conference championship honors. 

13]  Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-12/14-17)
Last week:  LOST 77-71 vs Villanova, WON 61-58 vs St. John’s
This week:  #11 seed in Big East Tournament
The Scarlet Knights have proven that they are a tough out at home, but they just are not the same team on the road.  They will be looking to play spoiler in the BE Tournament.

14]  St. John’s Red Storm (6-12/13-18)
Last week:  LOST 89-69 @ Pittsburgh, LOST 61-58 @ Rutgers
This week:  #12 seed in Big East Tournament
The Red Storm have had a tough season as they have not been able to click, but that is expected of a team that is as young as this one.  This team is filled with talent and they are playing as if they have nothing to lose.  Combine that with the fact that the BE Tournament is a home game for them, and you have a team that can play a serious spoiler role. 

15]  Providence Friars (4-14/15-16)
Last week:  WON 72-70 vs Connecticut, LOST 75-69 @ Notre Dame
This week:  #15 seed in Big East Tournament
The Friars stunned UConn last week and they will be looking to spoil Seton Hall’s hopes on Tuesday.

16]  DePaul Blue Demons (3-15/12-18)
Last week:  LOST 92-75 @ West Virginia, WON 86-58 vs Seton Hall
This week:  #16 seed in Big East Tournament
The Blue Demons may have already ruined Seton Hall’s NCAA hopes, now they’ll have the chance to do the same to UConn in the first round of the BE Tournament. 

@shane_t_mac if you are into the Twitter thing

Friday, March 2, 2012

Previewing the Big East Player of the Year

By Shane McCarthy on March 2, 2012

Next week, before the Big East Tournament tips off at Madison Square Garden, the award for the most outstanding basketball player in the Big East Conference will be handed out. The award, currently held by the former Notre Dame guard Ben Hansbrough (who has since taken his talents and finances to the economic rattled European Union) will be going to a first time recipient as no former conqueror of this title remains in the conference or the NCAA for that matter.

It seems pretty obvious that there are only a select few that deserve to be in this discussion, but nonetheless, when the head coaches of the conference cast their ballot – they have a tough decision on their hands.

Here are the four players that deserve to be on the ballot accompanied with some key statistics…

Jae Crowder (Marquette Golden Eagles) – Of my four candidates, Jae Crowder is easily the most consistent, most well-rounded, and has the best hair. Even though Marquette has been able to creep into the top 10, this team still seems to be undervalued by the public, and Crowder epitomizes this. He does not specialize in any one aspect when on the court, which is to his benefit, because the fact that he excels at all portions of the game, it makes him a complete player and a match-up problem for opposing defenses. He is an extremely intelligent player who has a great knowledge of the game and he is able to use this to his advantage. He’s undersized but is able to play bigger than he is, and this allows him to out muscle opposing players down low (both offensively and defensively) or step out and guard the perimeter on defense and drain threes in peoples’ faces on offense. Crowder probably was not in this discussion until about two weeks ago, but he really cemented himself in the talks with his play at West Virginia last week when he had a huge game while some of his key teammates were suspended for a half. His ‘will’ to get it done and his persistent drive to out-work his opponent has helped lead Marquette to a 24-6 record with one game remaining in the regular season.

Darius Johnson-Odom (Marquette Golden Eagles) – Johnson-Odom is the most talented player on Marquette, more so than Crowder, and it is his play that opens up the offense and allows them to play at a fast pace. Marquette’s game style is to step up and bring it as hard as possible at their opponent , wreaking havoc, but always seem to be in control and comfortable. DJO has been terrific all year, when he is actually on the floor and not suspended that is, as he is not only a great scorer, but also a great leader. DJO and Dion Waiters of Syracuse are very similar players in terms of style and build. Both are strong bodied guards who are above average shooters, but excellent slashers to the basket. DJO just happens to get more playing time than Waiters as his supporting cast is not as deep, thus being more relied upon each and every game compared to Dion. Johnson-Odom is the main reason why Marquette is one of the best teams in transition and his presence on the floor is critical to Marquette’s success. Unlike other players around the country that post similar numbers, DJO’s statistics have done this team a lot of good this year.

Kevin Jones (West Virginia Mountaineers) – Jones had been the front-runner all season and it looked as if he was going to run away as Big East Player of the Year. That was until recently. Caught in a 3-7 slide, the Mountaineers have struggled mightily in the last month and they are at risk of not making the NCAA Tournament. While team success is obviously going to play a role in the decision-making, it is hard to argue with the production Jones has put forth over the entirety of the season. He leads the conference in both points per game and rebounds per game, which really is an amazing feat when you think how deep and talented the Big East Conference is. What is even more impressive is that he is not your prototypical dominant big man, a la DaJuan Blair of a few years ago, who is bigger, stronger and more talented than everyone else on the court and having the statistics come easy each and every night. His work ethic and tenacity are really exemplified in the fact that he also leads the conference in offensive rebounds. Jones, a senior and terrific leader, has been great all year long without much talent around him. A typical Kevin Jones game combined with a win at South Florida on Saturday (a must win as the Bulls are a competing bubble team) would vastly improve his chances of taking home the award.

Jordan Theodore (Seton Hall Pirates) – Jordan Theodore probably won’t receive a single vote for Big East Player of the Year, but I think he deserves to be considered and I for one will at least give him recognition. Slated to finish 12th in the conference based on preseason rankings, Theodore has led the Pirates to an 8-9 conference record (19-10 overall) which is currently 8th, with a very winnable, and must win game, at DePaul on Saturday. A win means they get a first round bye in the Big East Tournament starting next Tuesday and keeps hope alive for a NCAA Tournament berth. Theodore, a prototypical point guard and engine of this team who distributes the ball well (second in the conference in assists per game) has been forced to shoot more than usual this season as there is a lack of talent surrounding him. Still, he is a hard working player who leads by example and sets the tone for this team to get the best out of his teammates in each game. Without Theodore, the Pirates are probably a .500 team and not a team that is 10 games over .500. Odds are is that he is not going to win the award, but he has had an excellent season and his play has directly related to the success of Seton Hall, and should therefore at least be considered.

My Worthless Prediction – If you would have told me before the season that a Big East team was going to lose one total game combined between non-conference and conference play - I would have pointed out two or three teams capable of doing such a thing and picked the best player on each of those teams as my prediction for Big East Player of the Year. Well, that is not the case because the deep, talented and best team in the conference Syracuse Orange, play 10 guys in almost every game without one player standing out any more than the others. In essence, they cannibalize each other because they do have players capable of winning this award, but they have bought into Jim Boeheim’s style of play, which is great team basketball. That is just fine for the Orange though, as they have bigger aspirations than winning individual accomplishments.

OK, now for my prediction. Six times in Big East history there have been co-winners of the Big East Player of the Year award. I believe this year will be the seventh, but I also believe this will be the first time in the history of the award that those players are on the same team. With no disrespect to Kevin Jones who has had a tremendous season being one of two players in the conference to average a double-double (the other being Herb Pope), but Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom have Marquette playing at such a high level that they have become one of the best and most feared teams in the country. We will have to wait until next week to see what the Big East coaches decide on, but I’m going with the two guys who are directly responsible for their team’s outstanding success.