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February 16, 2007
Big East Breakdown: Cardinals flying high
Best matchup: Louisville at Marquette. After consecutive losses, the Golden Eagles suddenly find themselves tied with the Cardinals for third place in the conference at 8-4. Louisville is coming off a huge victory at Pittsburgh, one which greatly improved its chances at landing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Marquette isn't in danger of missing the tournament, but it will be interesting to see if point guard Dominic James and the Golden Eagles can get back on track. The Cardinals would have a chance to run the table in the Big East if they can spring another road upset, and a victory certainly would bolster their chances at a higher seed in the NCAAs.
Worst matchup: Seton Hall at West Virginia. The overlooked Mountaineers should be eager to get back on their home floor and erase the memory of being picked apart at Georgetown on Monday night. They'll find it much easier to shoot against the Pirates, who are last in the Big East in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. That's not a good combination against WVU, which leads the Big East by a mile in 3-pointers made, averaging 10 per game.
The pressure is on: Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. The Irish have lost four of seven after getting off to a surprisingly good start. As a matter of fact, they have won only one road game in the conference, at Syracuse on Jan. 30. Fortunately for Notre Dame (18-6, 6-5), it has only two road contests remaining. Those away games are against the teams with the worst records in the league, Cincinnati and Rutgers. Then again, South Florida was in the same boat and it beat the Irish in Tampa a few weeks ago. The Irish can't coast on anyone, and the Bearcats have shown heart if nothing else under first-year coach Mick Cronin. They may be 1-10 in league play, but four of those losses were by nine or fewer points.
Upset alert: Georgetown at Villanova. Are the Hoyas due for a letdown? They carry an eight-game winning streak and have won 15 of 17. One of the two losses during the run came at home to the Wildcats, 56-52. Roy Hibbert, Georgetown's 7-2 center, was held without a field goal by Villanova. He has been spectacular since, shooting 73.4 percent from the field and averaging 16.9 points and 7.5 rebounds. The Wildcats need a victory to boost their NCAA Tournament hopes, and they'll be dangerous playing at home.
Who's hot, Sophomore Edition: DePaul sophomore forward Wilson Chandler has double-doubles in his past three games, averaging 16.7 points and 12.7 rebounds. He had only three double-doubles all season before the streak. UConn sophomore forward Jeff Adrien has shot 10 of 14 over the past two games and had double-doubles in each game. Providence sophomore guard Sharaud Curry has shot 8-for-13 from 3-point range over the past two games and averaged 22 points.
Who's not, Sophomore Edition: Marquette sophomore point guard Dominic James, a preseason All-American, is in a prolonged slump. Since February began, James is shooting 21.1 percent (11 of 52) and averaging 8.8 points - down from 16.5 points per game when the slump began. Syracuse sophomore guard Eric Devendorf is shooting just 33.3 percent (10 of 30) over the past three games.
Must see TV: Washington at Pittsburgh, 2 p.m., ESPN. The Huskies (16-9, 6-8) have stockpiled some terrific young talent. Unfortunately for them, they're walking into the Panthers' den after Pitt was stunned at home 66-53 by Louisville. It will be interesting to watch 7-foot senior center Aaron Gray against former five-star prospect Spencer Hawes, who leads Washington in scoring as a freshman.
Key stat: Forward Joe Alexander is West Virginia's second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game. The sophomore scored 13 points last season.
Bench bonus: West Virginia freshman Da'Sean Butler is averaging 10.1 points per game for the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers despite not starting a game.
They said it: "No one was paying attention to us. We had to play a team like that. We weren't even getting mentioned." Louisville coach Rick Pitino after the victory at Pittsburgh
Worth noting: Connecticut blocked 14 shots in its victory over Seton Hall on Wednesday, including seven by 7-3 freshman center Hasheem Thabeet. The Huskies lead the nation in blocks at 8.7 per game UConn forward Jeff Adrien leads the Big East with 14 double-doubles. Huskies freshman Jerome Dyson had a career-high 22 points, 20 in the second half, in the victory over Seton Hall. Villanova had a 22-0 run in its victory over Cincinnati on Wednesday. Sammy Mejia, DePaul's second-leading scorer, led the Blue Demons in scoring for the first time in 10 games in the huge upset of Marquette. Golden Eagles junior forward Ousmane Barro was held scoreless for the first time all season. He was 0-for-4 from the field. Louisville had held its past two opponents to 19 points apiece at the half. The Cardinals led USF 49-19 and led Pittsburgh 36-19. They won both games. Pittsburgh's loss to Louisville broke a five-game winning streak. It was the largest margin of defeat for the home team at the Petersen Events Center, which opened in 2002-03. Pitt is 0-2 all time against Washington, its opponent on Saturday. The games occurred on consecutive days in December 1950. Syracuse forward Demetris Nichols had seven 3-pointers en route to a career-high 37 points against St. John's on Monday. He had only eight points in the next game, Wednesday night's victory over South Florida.
Freshman to watch: Louisville forward Derrick Caracter. Battling weight issues and coach Rick Pitino have caused Caracter to spend a lot of time on the bench. No one doubted the physical skills of the former five-star prospect whom Rivals listed as the No. 4 power forward in the nation. He may finally be ready to reach his potential, as evidenced by the fact he has played well in the past two games. Caracter played only 18 minutes against South Florida yet somehow managed 16 points and 10 rebounds. He gave Pitino a quality 13 minutes in the upset at Pittsburgh, scoring eight points, grabbing four rebounds and helping defend Aaron Gray.
Something you may have missed: Despite surrendering 103 points to Notre Dame, Syracuse is holding Big East opponents to just 38.6 percent shooting. That's a stat that means you're playing solid defense and it will keep you in a lot of games.
RPI watch: The league pushed its way up a spot to fifth in the latest RPI, ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference entering play Thursday night. Pittsburgh is the only Big East team in the top 18, sitting pretty at No. 5 - though that's two spots down from last week. The team making a meteoric rise is Georgetown. The Hoyas have moved 13 spots to 19th, a shocking move for the RPI in just a week. Villanova, Georgetown's opponent on Saturday, also is up to 15th from No. 18. The only other Big East team in the top 30 is Marquette at 27th. Notre Dame continues its freefall. The Irish were 38th just two weeks ago, but now find themselves at an uncomfortable 56th.