The Big East in the Sweet 16: Surviving and Advancing

Hoop WritersContributor IMarch 26, 2009

Big East Notebook: The Five Sweet 16 Teams

Written by Todd Parmelee

The Big East, the top conference this year, has five teams left in the NCAA Tournament, but only one team has looked strong so far and that is UConn.

Pitt Panthers:  Can They Finally Get to the Elite Eight?

Pittsburgh is playing like a team that is scared by expectations. Against East Tennessee State, Pitt had to play from behind and as a team they committed 18 turnovers.

Can Pitt get by the Sweet 16? The answer to this question is yes, but they have a tough matchup vs. Xavier on Thursday.

Xavier coach Sean Miller, a former guard with Pitt, said Tuesday on the Mike Francesca radio show that his team is a strong defensive rebounding team.

Pitt is the top offensive rebounding team in the country. So what will win out here is the question?

Pitt guard Levance Fields does not look himself in the Tournament. He had a nearly four-to-one assist-to-turnover in the regular season, but in post-season games he is turning the ball over too frequently.

Against Oklahoma State, Fields looked more like himself finishing the game with nine assists on two turnovers.

DeJuan Blair was Co-Big East Player of the Year, but it is his teammate, Sam Young, who is look like the best player in the Big East. Young single-handedly got Pitt into the Sweet 16 scoring 23 first half points versus Oklahoma State.

Pitt also can not solely rely on Sam Young for offense, they need to find another player to score from the perimeter.

In reality East Tennessee State should have pulled off the improbable No. 16 vs. No.1 upset, as they were able to stay in the game despite not shooting the ball well. East Tennessee State shot just 30 percent from the field and 50 percent from the free throw line as Pitt was able to pull away late for a 72-62 victory.

I am liking Xavier, more and more to upset Pitt.  Xavier is the more experienced Tournament team and Pittsburgh has yet to put together a good showing. 

Villanova:  How Will They Fare Away From Philadelphia? 

Villanova is peaking in the Tournament, but they are playing Duke. Duke matches up well with Villanova and this looks to be the marquee game on Thursday.

Nova had a relatively easy road to the Sweet 16, playing the first two rounds in Philadelphia. American University, out of Patriot League gave ‘Nova a first round scare, but like all good teams Villanova rallied in the second half and won 80-67.

Surprisingly, ‘Nova did not have any problems with No.6 seed UCLA in the second round, Dante Cunningham led six ‘Nova players that scored in double-figures with 18 points. . This game was never really close as ‘Nova won in easy fashion 89-69.

With the impressive fashion in which ‘Nova won against UCLA, 'Nova upsetting Duke in the Sweet 16 has become a trendy pick. Personally, I believe Duke will get the job done, but this game could become a classic.

Duke got to the Sweet 16 by defeating Binghamton in the first round then by getting by Texas 74-69 in the second round. ‘Nova lost to Texas 67-58 on Dec. 9 at the Madison Square Garden. Duke went 2-0 versus Big East schools Georgetown and St. Johns. ‘Nova lost Georgetown 56-54 at home on Feb. 28.

Pitt and Xavier are potential tough matchups for eithier Duke/'Nova in the Elite Eight. It should be noted that ‘Nova defeated Pitt 67-57 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 28.

This game will most likely won by which team's guards are able to out play each other.

Dante Cunningham has looked good on the inside for 'Nova but how will fair against Kyle Singler? 

UConn Huskies:  The Nate Miles Distraction

UConn should roll over Purdue in the Sweet 16 and I am guessing this game could get out of hand in the second half. Purdue is a dominant first half team out scoring their opponents 1209-967, but their scoring margin is much lower in second half (1259-1167).

Purdue has not had an easy road to the Sweet 16 with close wins over Northerm Iowa (61-56) and Washington (76-74)

UConn will have to guard the perimeter and hope that Purdue struggles from the outside. In Purdue’s nine losses they have shot 53 for 184, good for 29 percent. When Purdue wins they shoot 185 for 497, good for 37 percent.

Robbie Hummel is Purdue’s leading three point shooter at almost 39 percent.

I like the matchup between Hasheem Thabeet and JaJuan Johnson. Johnson is good shot blocker himself, recording 77 on the year.

If Purdue makes this a half court game, which will probably be case, they will be able to give UConn fits.

UConn is a team that thrives when they play in the open court, but their half court offense has struggled at times. If Jeff Adrien can continue to hit the 17-foot straightaway jumpers, though, it will not matter.

Purdue has 540 assists on the year compared to just 417 turnovers. Chris Kramer leads Purdue with 73 steals.

I like UConn because they are one of the top rebounding team's in the country, while Purdue struggles to rebound the ball (1238 to 1248 rebounds against).

One storyline to watch for in this one is how UConn will play after the alleged recruited violations of Nate Miles.

Louisville: Can They Take Care of the Ball? 

Louisville had no problems with Morehead State in the first round, wining the game 74-54, but they just scathed by an undaunted Siena team 79-72 to get to the Sweet 16.

Louisville is on quite the roll right now, winning 12 straight games, but their play in the first two rounds has not been overly impressive. Against Siena and Morehead State, Louisville turned the ball over a total of 37 times.

If Louisville wants to win the National Championship they are going to have to get the number down to around 10 to 12 per game.

Another concern I have is the fact that Louisville has hoisted up 44 three pointers, but they have made 19. They also do not get to the free throw line enough, as they are just 12 of 24 from the charity stripe in the first two rounds.

All-Big East First-Team selection, Terrence Williams had a monster game against Siena, recording 24 points and 15 rebounds.

Arizona is a team that is playing well and does not look anything like a team that just barely got into the Tournament with a 19-13 regular season record. Arizona also came into the Tournament losing five out of their last six games.

So far, though, Arizona has looked impressive with double-digit victories over No. 5 seed Utah (84-71) and a tough Cleveland State team in the second round (71-57).

Jordan Hill and Chase Buddinger are lottery picks and if they play well, their stock will surely rise in time for the June Draft.

Arizona guard Nic Wise has been the most impressive player for Arizona, totaling 50 points in the first two rounds. Against Louisville expect Wise to struggle against Louisville’s pressure defense.

What I like about Arizona is that they are averaging 28 free throw attempts per game during the tournament. They are also not turning the ball over as much (only 25 times through two games) as Louisville.

Do not be surprised if Arizona pulls off the upset in this one.

Syracuse Orange: Will the 2-3 Zone Contain Blake Griffin? 

Syracuse looks poised to beat Oklahoma. Oklahoma has the probable number one pick in this year's draft in Blake Griffin. How will Oklahoma get the ball inside to Griffin against Syracuse's 2-3 zone?

One reason I do not like Oklahoma is that they have lost four of their last eight games, granted Blake Griffin has been injured for part of this stretch.

Past Syracuse team's have shown that their bigs tend to get in foul trouble. Can Onuaku and Jackson stay out of foul trouble? Also will Oklahoma be able to extend Syracuse's 2-3 zone by making three point shots?

During postseason play, the Syracuse guards have done a good job getting the ball inside to their big men for easy baskets. Rick Jackson and Onuaku have each been averaging around 12 points per game in the Tournament.

Syracuse definitely has the edge in the back court with Rautins, Devendorf and Flynn. Devendorf has been shooting the ball very well.  

The Syracuse back court struggled shooting the ball in their first round win over Stephen F. Austin, shooting just 2 for 16 from three point range. In their second round 78-67 win over Arizona State, they shot 9 for 20. Rautins and Devendorf were a combined 8 for 18 in that game.

Paul Harris needs to step his game on the offensive end for Syracuse, as he has averaged just 6.5 points during the first two games of the Tournament.

Oklahoma has a very good freshman guard in Willie Warren. Warren has averaged 16 points per game through the first two rounds.

If Oklahoma wins this game they will have to shoot ball better from the perimeter than they did against Michigan when then went 6-19. In their first round win over Morgan State, Oklahoma was just 4-12 from beyond the arc.

These questions will be the storyline in Friday night's marquee matchup between the Orange and the Sooners.

I like Syracuse in this one, if they can force Oklahoma to take a lot of outside shots.

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