Conference Call: Big East Basketball Contenders and Pretenders
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Going into the basketball season Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova figured to rule the Big East Conference. As conference play enters the second week, these four teams should indeed battle it out for the top spots. What about the rest of the league? Can anyone else contend or is the rest of the Big East full of pretenders? Let’s take a look.
Connecticut (11-1, 1-1)
UConn was predicted to finish 10th in the Big East in the Preseason Coaches Poll. All the Huskies have done is start the season 11-1 with wins over Michigan St. and Kentucky and have been ranked in the Top Five.
So why are the Huskies here? Connecticut has struggled in their last couple of games; a loss to Pittsburgh and an overtime win at home over a weak South Florida team. UConn goes on the road this week with games at Notre Dame and a non-conference matchup with Texas. Kemba Walker has been a beast but the Huskies need consistency from a couple of others if they are going to contend.
Notre Dame (12-2, 1-1)
Notre Dame has been a nice surprise in the Big East. The Irish opened some eyes during their non-conference schedule with wins against Wisconsin and Gonzaga. They shut down Georgetown in their Big East opener to win 69-55 before dropping a game at Syracuse on New Year’s Day.
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Led by Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough, the Irish may not have the individual talent of last year’s team but they make up for it in team chemistry. They have played unselfishly and have improved defensively. The key question: Can the Irish win on the road?
Louisville (11-2, 0-0)
The Cardinals have been up and down during their pre-conference schedule, beating both UNLV and Butler but dropping a home game against Drexel. Louisville needs to get more consistent play from Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva, as well as rebound better if they want to contend for a Big East title. Louisville will continue to play the uptempo style that Rick Pitino loves to play and therefore makes them hard to prepare for.
St. John’s (9-3, 2-0)
It’s nice to see the Red Storm relevant in the Big East again. Consistency has been the problem for St. John’s and new head coach Steve Lavin. Losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham in early December were head-scratchers. However, they rebounded to post a couple of nice wins on the road over West Virginia and Providence to open Big East play.
With an abundance of upperclassmen, look for the Red Storm to get more comfortable with Lavin as the season progresses. With Georgetown, Notre Dame and Syracuse in the next 10 days we’ll find out where St. John’s fits in. Make no doubt about it, though, this will be a very dangerous team when the Big East tournament rolls around.
Cincinnati (14-0, 2-0)
The Bearcats have played a very weak non-conference schedule, not to mention only two road games. The only win worthy of mentioning is a blowout victory over Dayton in Cincinnati. They have also eased into Big East play with a pair of home wins over struggling DePaul and Seton Hall.
Coach Mick Cronin feels his team isn't getting any respect. Sure, Dion Dixon has been a nice surprise but the Bearcats still have a lot of question marks. With a non-conference game against crosstown rival Xavier on Thursday and a road game at Villanova on Sunday we should get some answers.
Marquette (10-4, 1-0)
Marquette is talented enough to play with anyone in the country. Finding a way to win the big game seems to be the trouble for the Golden Eagles. Marquette had opportunities to pull out games against Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt but failed to get it done. Rebounding seems to be a common factor in the four losses. Their opening Big East win against West Virginia provides some hope but the Golden Eagles will definitely struggle against the bigger teams in the conference.
West Virginia (8-4, 0-2)
The fact that the Mountaineers have opened Big East play by going 0-2, not to mention losing to St. John’s at home, is a sign that it may be a difficult year for Bob Huggins and all but ensures they will finish no better than middle of the pack. Still, on any given night Joe Mazzulla and Casey Mitchell are good enough to upset anyone in the Big East.
Providence (11-4, 0-2)
The Fryers are a young team that will continue to get better as the season progresses. However, as of now they just aren’t at the level they need to be to compete for a Big East championship.
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