***Game of the Weekend: No. 16 Georgetown (19-5, 9-2) at Villanova (18-7, 6-5). The Hoyas eight-game winning streak has pundits speculating on a possible Final Four run. A victory on Saturday in Philadelphia will push them into a first-place tie with current leader Pittsburgh. As for Villanova, they just want to make the NCAA Tournament. Tip-off for the contest is at noon and ESPN will have the television coverage.
Georgetown is clicking on all cylinders. They beat down No. 22 West Virginia this week by 18 points. What's impressive about the winning streak is the margin of victory. The closest win was by eight points over Louisville and seven of eight have been by 14 points or more. They have the offensive and defensive game to make a deep run in March. The Hoyas are first in the Big East in scoring defense. On offense, despite ranking 11th in scoring offense, it's the method in which they put the ball in the basket. The Princeton-style offense stresses patience and results in high quality shots. Stats guru Ken Pomeroy has Georgetown first in his adjusted offensive rankings.
It's tough to defend an offense that can beat teams from inside and out on the perimeter. Everyone knows about 7-2 Roy Hibbert. The junior center leads the team in scoring and has hit the 20-plus mark in three of the past four contests. Jeff Green is a match-up nightmare. The 6-9 junior can shoot from behind the arc, take defenders off the dribble and create open looks for his teammates. He's a big reason why the Hoyas are second in the nation in field goal shooting, hitting 52 percent of their shots from the field.
For Villanova, they're trying to rack up wins to help their NCAA Tournament resume. The Wildcats are on the bubble for the Big Dance and a win over the surging Hoyas would ease a lot of worries. They have a high RPI ranking at No. 15 and seem to be peaking at the right time. Villanova has won four games in a row and have nine guys playing 10 minutes or more a contest. Curtis Sumpter is having an excellent year. The 6-7 forward is third in the league at scoring at 17 PPG and pulls down seven rebounds a game.
Will Dante Cunningham and Will Sheridan be able to slow down Hibbert? How much will the home crowd affect Georgetown? Will desperation win out over talent on Saturday? Villanova won the earlier meeting and another high quality victory should firm up their March plans. This should be a back-and-forth affair. If the Hoyas win, circle February 24th on the calendar. That's when Pittsburgh comes to Washington, D.C. and the Big East regular season championship could be on the line.
***Other storyline to follow: Who needs to win the most this weekend? This is a long list. Providence's loss at Notre Dame makes a home date on Saturday against St. John's a must-win. Speaking of the Irish, they're dynamite at home but can they win on the road Sunday against the conference's worst team in Cincinnati? DePaul has beat Notre Dame and Marquette in back-to-back contests but it might be a little too late. The Blue Demons are at South Florida on Saturday. West Virginia should be able to beat Seton Hall in Morgantown on Saturday and help improve their resume. Louisville might be catching Marquette at the perfect time. The Golden Eagles have lost two in a row but both were on the road and Saturday's meeting will be in Milwaukee. The Cardinals already beat No. 7 Pittsburgh this week and another top-25 win away from Freedom Hall would do wonders for their March travel plans.
But Syracuse has the most to lose this weekend. The Orange are 18-8 overall and 7-5 in the Big East but have an RPI of 63. They host Connecticut on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off is at 3:30 PM and ABC will have the television coverage. Syracuse is usually a lock for the NCAA Tournament but some mid-season struggles has put this team on the bubble. The Orange have won two in a row but they were against St. John's and South Florida, both under .500 in league play. Tournament teams take care of business at home and this will be a challenge.
The young Huskies will be NIT-bound barring a Big East Tournament Championship. But UCONN is talented and have the pieces in place to pull the upset off at the Carrier Dome. The Huskies beat Syracuse by seven in Storrs back on February 5th and there's no reason they can't do it again. The Orange have the conference's leading scorer in Demetris Nichols at 18.9 PPG while UCONN's Jeff Adrien is averaging a double-double with 13 PPG and 10 rebounds a contest.
This topic underlines a point: a lot of Big East teams still have some work to do. Notre Dame helped their cause with the victory over the Friars but still have road games against Cincinnati and Rutgers. The Irish have only one true road win on the season. Villanova has a high RPI but have contests versus Georgetown, at Marquette, at Connecticut and home against Syracuse to end the year. West Virginia must still travel to Providence and Pittsburgh. It's a fluid situation. But all these teams can do something about their resumes. They can win basketball games and take the decision-making process out of the selection committee's hands.