Big East Report Cards: Part I

As the snow melts (a wee bit) and signs that spring is just around the corner appear, we anxiously await a change in seasons. Such is the case in Big East basketball this year also. Teams have played just over half of their eighteen games in conference play and are coming down the stretch. It's less than a month until the conference tournament, so let's give out some midseason grades.

Marquette Golden Eagles (20-4, 9-2 BE)

Buzz Williams' squad couldn't have scripted it better, as it started off with nine wins in conference play.  That after a non-conference schedule that featured wins over Wisconsin, North Carolina State and Northern Iowa (by 30…and the Panthers are 11-2 in the MVC now, 17-7 overall).  Marquette did drop games to Dayton and Tennessee, the latter of which looks worse day by day as the Volunteers continue to struggle in the SEC.  

However, ‘Quette's nine wins to start the Big East was as big of a surprise as any we've seen in the conference thus far.  Included in those nine wins were wins at Providence and Notre Dame, along with home triumphs over Nova, Cincy (by 34), the Irish, the Hoyas (by double-digits) and West Virginia (by 22).  The Golden Eagles have cooled a bit as of late, dropping road games in St. Petersburg and Philadelphia.  They have two winnable ones at home against St. John's and Seton Hall before they conclude the season with a hellish five-game stretch.

Marquette has relied on its guard play, a usual staple, once again this season.  Forward Lazar Hayward provides the muscle on the team at 6'6", 225.  It will be interesting to see how Marquette fares down the stretch with looming matchups against Louisville, Pittsburgh and UConn (the conference's other three heavyweights…coincidentally, also loaded with big bodies).  But so far, you've gotta be impressed with the job Buzz Williams has done in his first season at the helm.

Grade:  A-  

   

Georgetown Hoyas (13-9, 4-7 BE) 

JTIII's normally steady squad has been on a roller-coaster ride this season, as Thompson has had to rely on younger players to carry the scoring burden.  Big man Greg Monroe has blossomed nicely and will be in contention for conference Rookie of the Year honors when it's all said and done.  But after a 10-1 start, the Hoyas have been the top dog no more.  G-Town was most impressive in 2008, notching wins over Maryland (by 27), Memphis and a marquee win over Connecticut on the road to open Big East play.  As the calendar turned to 2009, however, so did the Hoyas' luck.  They're just 3-8 in 2009, topping only Providence, Syracuse and Rutgers (all at home).

More tellingly, they've dropped both games against Cincinnati in conference play and only have ONE true road win:  over UConn.  And if you take away the frenetic first four minutes Georgetown played, it might have not even won that one.  Though the Hoyas have lost Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert in back-to-back years, the expectations were high this season, especially when they assumed a top-ten ranking in the polls.  However, they'll now likely find themselves clawing for a bid in the Big Dance.

With games still left against Louisville, Villanova and Marquette, it is imperative that G-Town cashes in at the Verizon Center and on their must-win road games against South Florida and St. John's.  Neither will be gimmes, but Georgetown still might need to win five of its final seven regular season games and two in the conference tournament to get them a tourney bid.  (That would put them at 20-12 on the season).

Grade:  C- 

  

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-14, 1-10 BE) 

Sure, Mike Rosario has lived up to the billing as a former McDonald's All-American.  While coach Fred Hill was able to convince him to stay in-state, Hill hasn't had nearly as much luck with the rest of the team this season.  Senior forward J.R. Inman has had the most marked decline this season.  He went from averaging nearly thirteen points per game as a junior, to now merely an afterthought in the offense.  He gets a little more than twenty minutes and six points per game.

And I dare you to go look at Rutgers' schedule and find a marquee win on it…you have to scratch and claw to find a decent one.  Is their best win a four-point victory over Rider (third in the MAAC) on the road, or is it a twenty point thrashing of DePaul, who's winless in Big East play?   

Give the team credit though.  It has not given up in the slightest.  From December 28 to January 21, Rutgers had one of the nastiest seven game stretches in college basketball history.  Don't let the final scores fool you; they hung tough with then-#1 North Carolina and played Big East powers Louisville, UConn and Pittsburgh tough.  All of those teams are currently in the top ten.  And the hits just keep on coming in the Big East…Rutgers has only one more game they realistically have much of a shot at winning in conference play:  their home finale against South Florida.  They still have two dates with Providence, along with games against Nova, the Mountaineers and a return date to the Carrier Dome.  While Rutgers has fought hard this season, wins and losses are what ultimately measure success.

Grade:  D 

 

Providence Friars (15-9, 7-5 BE)

The season didn't start pretty, as Provy was unseated by Northeastern (who has a shot at the CAA auto-bid) at home.  The Friars have no résumé-building win in the out of conference slate, merely close losses.  They lost two tough games against Boston College (road) and Saint Mary's (virtual road) and also hung around with Baylor on a neutral floor for much of the game.  

Since conference play has started, however, reigning National Coach of the Year Keno Davis has worked his magic.  Though he changed scenery from Drake to Providence, Davis has ignited a fire under his troops, who've picked up wins over Syracuse and Cincinnati at home.  However, Providence's 7-5 Big East record is the closest thing to a cream puff that you'll ever see in this conference.  They've only beaten three teams in conference play with records above .500 (Cincy twice and SU once). 

Despite the team's balanced scoring attack, they've come up short against quality foes both out-of-conference and in-conference (close losses to Villanova and Marquette).  And if Davis' squad has hopes of making the NCAA tourney, it's going to need to finish strong.  They'll likely need at least 21 or 22 wins for the NCAAs due to a shoddy 2008.  They'll have their chances, not only in MSG in March, but also as the season winds down; Providence faces Louisville and Villanova on the road, as well as Pittsburgh at home.

Grade:  B-  


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