***Game of the Weeknd: Syracuse (15-5, 4-2) at Louisville (14-6, 4-2). In a weekend where no ranked conference teams play each other, this battle will have a lot to do with the league pecking order. The Orange have had a week off after last weekend's loss at St. John's and now will travel to Freedom Hall to face the Cardinals. The winner of the contest moves to 5-2 in the conference and within striking distance of not only current leader Pittsburgh but also one of the top four spots. Remember, the best four teams in league play get a bye in the Big East Tournament in New York City. Tip-off for the game is at 7 PM and ESPN will have the television coverage.
The Orange have the fifth highest scoring offense in the league, led by Demetris Nichols's 18.7 PPG, which is tops in the conference. Another strong feature is Syracuse's second best field goal percentage defense in the Big East. For Louisville, 6-8 junior forward Juan Palacios has been coming on strong, averaging 18.5 PPG in the last two contests. The Cardinals have won four of five but aren't a lock at home. They've lost four times this year at Freedom Hall.
***Player to Watch: Villanova's Scottie Reynolds. The 6-2 freshman point guard is finding his groove. Reynolds, averaging 12 PPG and four assists a contest, has been tearing it up lately. He's hit double digits in eight of nine games. Reynolds has scored 20-plus points in the last three contests. His high was a 27-point effort in a 102-87 home win over No. 21 Notre Dame (16-4, 4-3). Coincidentally, the Wildcats go on the road to face the Irish on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 PM and ESPN will have the national television coverage.
In addition to Reynolds's stellar play, Villanova (14-5, 3-3) has won four of five after a 0-2 Big East start to get back to .500 in the league. One of those victories was a 76-69 win over Texas. The remarkable aspect of the contest is that the Wildcats were without their best player, senior Curtis Sumpter and his 18.3 PPG average. Reynolds's filled the scoring void. He went for 26 points against the Longhorns, including 12-of-13 from the free throw line. His penetration and speed killed Notre Dame a few weeks back and someone on the Irish defense will have to step up to contain Reynolds. If Villanova wins on Saturday, they'll move to 4-3 in the league and own the tiebreaker over Notre Dame at the end of the season.
*Other storylines to watch:
***When is Connecticut going to get it? To say the Huskies are in a tailspin would be an understatement. They've lost six of eight since an 11-0 start, including a 68-54 defeat last Monday at Louisville. UCONN is 13-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big East. They host Providence on Saturday and tip-off is scheduled for noon. One major reason for the struggles is the young nature of the team. The top 12 players, minute-wise, are either freshmen or sophomores. Eventually, one would think the overriding talent would overcome the inexperience.
Not the case so far. UCONN has won one road game in 2006-07. Also, the 13-6 overall mark might be worse if the non-conference schedule wasn't such a cakewalk. They beat four teams ranked between 101-200 in the PRI and seven teams between 201-300. A tougher start of the schedule might have made this season a comple headache for head coach Jim Calhoun. There is hope for the young squad to make a furious final run. The Huskies don't play a ranked team the rest of the year and the chips could fall into place. The talent is there. We're just waiting to see it translate into victories on the court.***Is Marquette ready to take the top spot from Pittsburgh? The Golden Eagles' 77-74 overtime win on the road against the Panthers was big on several levels. First, it put them within a game of Pittsburgh in the Big East standings. Secondly, they are the only team to beat the Panthers on their home court. At the end of the season, Pittsburgh comes to Milwaukee to close out the regular season. After a 0-2 start, Marquette was looking up at the entire league. Five games and five wins later, they're sitting pretty. This weekend, they'll travel to face South Florida on Sunday. Tip-off is at 2 PM.
The 20th ranked Golden Eagles (18-4, 5-2) do have road games at Georgetown and at Notre Dame. The Irish haven't lost this year at home and both teams could be positioning themselves for one of those top four seeds to earn a bye in the league tournament. Everyone talks about Dominic James and for good reason. The super sophomore averages 16.5 PPG. But his classmate, Jerel McNeal, is turning in quite the season. The 6-3 guard averages 14 PPG and in a win over Seton Hall on Wednesday, McNeal scored 22 points, dished out 10 assists, pulled down seven rebounds and contributed four steals.