Seven Big East teams on the bubble

Posted: February 13, 2010

1. Bubblicious Big East

Going into this weekend's action, the Big East has more teams on the bubble for the NCAA tournament than locks. You're familiar with the top four - Villanova and Syracuse are No. 1 seeds at present, and West Virginia and Georgetown are prime candidates to be seeded No. 2. But after that quartet and Pittsburgh, the league's NCAA roster is lacking. Louisville hurt itself with its loss Thursday night to St. John's, dropping the Cardinals on the bubble with Marquette, Notre Dame, South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Seton Hall. Should be a fun Big East tournament next month.

2. Beating up each other

The Big East hasn't had five or fewer teams in the NCAAs since 2003, when it qualified four in what was then a 12-team league. What's going on? "It's the same as it is every year, and the same as it's going to be every year as long as we have 16 teams," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "What our conference does is take tournament teams and put them on the bubble. You have 11 teams probably in our league that have played well enough in nonconference and had good enough teams to be NCAA tournament teams. But the reality is we're all not going to make it. It's a matter of just killing each other off."

3. Calhoun's return

The return of Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun from medical leave is sure to help Connecticut make a final push to March. The Huskies were 3-4 in Calhoun's absence, but those four losses have come in their last five games. "I'm happy for UConn but not for us," joked Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team hosts the Huskies on Monday night. "They're really not the same without Jim. I think having him [at the Wachovia Center] adds to the juice that's going to be in the arena. He's going to do his best to get them to the next level."

4. Meanwhile, in the Atlantic Ten . . .

. . . six teams roll along with RPI's of 17 (Temple) through 42 (Charlotte), according to collegerpi.com, while battling it out for the four first-round byes in the conference tournament. Richmond, Charlotte, and Xavier are 8-2 in the league, with Temple at 7-2, Rhode Island at 7-3, and Dayton and St. Louis tied at 6-3. The Owls, who lost at Richmond and at Charlotte, host Rhode Island today while Dayton heads to St. Louis, still trying to prove it can win on the road.

5. Now it's a party

A similar logjam exists in the Big Ten. Less than two weeks ago, Michigan State looked ready to run away with the regular-season title, but three consecutive losses by the Spartans (9-3 in the conference) have brought Illinois (9-3), Ohio State (9-3), Purdue (8-3), and Wisconsin (8-4) back in the hunt. To be fair, star guard Kalin Lucas of Michigan State was out for one full game and parts of two others due to a sprained right ankle. Spartans coach Tom Izzo, who predicted the Big Ten champ would have four or five league losses, said, "We're getting closer to that now - unfortunately."

6. Terps' time?

Doggedly hanging on in the race for first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland faces tough tests in the next three days, going to Duke today and hosting Virginia Monday. The Terrapins (6-2 in the ACC) are tied in the loss column with the Blue Devils. While Cameron Indoor Stadium isn't the easiest place for a road team to win, the experience and leadership of seniors Greivis Vasquez, Landon Milbourne, and Eric Hayes give Maryland a chance. The 6-foot-6 Vasquez has been outstanding in conference games, averaging 20.4 points and 6.2 assists.

7. The rebound machine

DeMarcus Cousins began the season not getting near the publicity of his more publicized Kentucky teammate, fellow freshman John Wall. But Cousins now receives nothing but headlines with the Wildcats, entering tonight's game against Tennessee with a run of seven straight double-doubles. Over that stretch, the 6-foot-11, 260-pound Cousins is averaging 19.0 points and 12.4 rebounds (5.9 offensive) while shooting 57.7 percent from the field. "I have never had a big man like him . . . I have never had a player come this far, this fast," Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

8. Mountain high

The Mountain West Conference made history by getting three teams - BYU, New Mexico, and UNLV - in the Top 25 for the first time ever, one more than the ACC. "We already felt our league has been at that point for a while now," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "It's good to start getting some national respect." You've probably never heard of these juniors - 6-2 guard Jimmer Fredette (BYU), 6-7 swing man Darington Hobson (New Mexico), 6-4 guard Tre'Von Willis (UNLV) - but you will come NCAA tournament time.

9. KU comparable to '08?

The experts say this could be the most competitive NCAA tournament in years. But no one has told Kansas, which continues unbeaten through the Big Twelve, a conference that many feel is the nation's best. At this pace, the Jayhawks could be on their way to their second national championship in the last three seasons. "We don't look as pretty when we play well as the '08 team did," coach Bill Self told Sporting News Today. "It's not quite as fluid. But the results have been comparable. I think we've done a better job of late of winning ugly games."

10. Local numbers

Speaking of Kansas, Prep Charter graduate Marcus Morris has blossomed in Big 12 games, averaging 17.8 points (sixth in the league) and 8.4 rebounds (seventh). Scoop Jardine (Neumann-Goretti) of Syracuse is in the top 10 in Big East Conference games in assists (4.3) and assist-turnover ratio (2.3). So is Pitt's Brad Wanamaker (Roman Catholic), averaging 4.8 assists and a 2.2 assist-turnover ratio. Plymouth Whitemarsh High grad Ronald Moore of Siena entered last night's game against Niagara leading the nation in assists, averaging 8.0 a game.


Games of the Week

Today

Michigan State at Penn State, noon, ESPN, WNTP-AM (990): The Nittany Lions upset the then-No. 9 Spartans in East Lansing last season and hope to summon that mojo amid a Bryce Jordan Center "White Out."

Maryland at Duke, 1 p.m., CBS3: The Terrapins have been lurking around first place all season; this is their chance to stand out with a marquee victory in a tough venue.

Providence at Villanova (Wachovia Center), 2 p.m., ESPNU, ESPN-AM (950): Jay Wright has had all week to drum into his guys that there's no such thing as an easy Big East game, no matter the opponent's record.

Rhode Island at Temple, 4 p.m., Comcast SportsNet: The Owls had a full week to stew over their loss at Richmond, while the Rams have had five weeks to ponder what they need to avenge a home loss to Temple.

Bloomfield at Philadelphia U., 4 p.m.: Rams coach Herb Magee, the ageless wonder, approaches his latest milestone - his 900th career victory, a mark that has been attained by only two coaches in college basketball history.

Tennessee at Kentucky, 9 p.m., ESPN: The Wildcats' two outstanding freshmen, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, seem to play best when the spotlight shines its brightest.

Tomorrow

Ohio State at Illinois, 1 p.m., CBS3: The Fighting Illini are a late arrival to the dance for the Big Ten title, but must play four ranked teams in their last six regular-season games.

Louisville at Syracuse, 1 p.m., ESPN: The Cardinals have slipped into desperation mode given the jam-packed middle of the Big East standings, and could slip even more at the Carrier Dome.

Monday

Connecticut at Villanova (Wachovia Center), 7 p.m., ESPN, ESPN-AM (950): Huskies coach Jim Calhoun coaches on the road for the first time since returning from his personal and medical leave.

Kansas at Texas A&M, 9 p.m., ESPN: The Big Twelve may be the strongest conference in the nation, but the Jayhawks are making their trip to a title look easy.

Tuesday

Princeton at Penn, 7 p.m., ESPN-FM (97.5): The Quakers certainly need a pick-me-up this disappointing season, and what better way to get one than defeat their archrivals.

Wednesday

Purdue at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: Can the Boilermakers duplicate the success they had at Michigan State one week earlier against the surging Buckeyes?

Temple at St. Bonaventure, 7 p.m., WPHT-AM (1210): You know it's a strange winter when you have to go to Olean, N.Y., to escape deep snow.

Thursday

Syracuse at Georgetown, 7 p.m., ESPN2: The Orange have impressed in getting this far without having lost on the road all season, but the Hoyas will put this run in jeopardy.

- Joe Juliano


The Real Top 10

1. Kansas

2. Syracuse

3. Kentucky

4. Villanova

5. Georgetown

6. Purdue

7. West Virginia

8. Duke

9. Kansas St.

10. Ohio St.


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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