Big East Basketball Report

As conference play heats up, the network takes us around the Big East basketball conference.


Many teams shrink their playing rotations once February rolls around. If Al Skinner does the same thing, more than half the team won't need to put any shorts on under their warm-ups. With backup point guard Steve Hailey sidelined with a sprained ankle, Skinner has gone with a seven-man rotation. Besides center Nate Doornekamp, every starter sees more than 30 minutes of action, with Craig Smith, Jared Dudley and Louis Hinnant rarely leaving the court at all.

Essentially, Skinner uses six starters. Sixth man Jermaine Watson plays big minutes off the bench, providing a spark of energy at a time the team generally needs one. Sean Williams subs for the big men, and that's pretty much it as far as reserves go. Apart from those seven and Hailey, no Eagle has played in more than eight games this season. It seems to be working so far; the Eagles enter the week as one of the final three undefeated teams in the country. But it will be interesting to see how well everyone holds up down the stretch.

One thing's for sure; Boston College has been remarkably resilient in battling those game-to-game troubles that trip up almost everyone now and then, and have proven not to be the Craig Smith Show like it was last season. Jared Dudley has upped his scoring average to 16.2 points per game, and Sean Marshall and Jermaine Watson are also averaging double figures.

Craig Smith was held to a season-low 10 points by St. John's, but four other Eagles finished the game in double figures. Jared Dudley had 19 points, Jermaine Watson 16, Louis Hinnant 12 and Sean Marshall 10. Boston College is 22-13 on the road in Big East play since 2000-2001. That's the best record in the Big East.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Louis Hinnant, shooting guard Sean Marshall, center Nate Doornekamp, forward Jared Dudley, forward Craig Smith.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was his kind of game, a little 1-on-1, a lot of up and down. He took it as a challenge. Those are the kind of challenges he likes and he was obviously very effective." -- Boston College coach Al Skinner on Jermaine Watson's performance against St. John's.

UPCOMING GAMES: at Providence, Jan. 26; vs. Georgetown, Jan. 29.

KEYS: Providence played the Eagles tough early in the season, and will be playing some desperate basketball, It's important for Boston College to jump on top of the Friars early and take the crowd out of the game, and important to make someone besides Ryan Gomes beat them. Georgetown is a dangerous foe that gets more confident every game, and Al Skinner will need to make sure his squad plays hard for 40 minutes against the Hoyas. Despite its record, teams have been looking past the Hoyas all season, and Georgetown has proven more than capable of taking advantage of such laxity.

ROSTER REPORT: Jared Dudley shared Big East Player of the Week honors for his performances against Villanova and St. John's. He averaged 27.5 points and seven rebounds in the two wins.

-- Jermaine Watson came up huge off the bench against St. John's. Not only did he score 16 points, he made seven of his eight shots and added four rebounds and three steals.

-- Steve Hailey has missed two games with a sprained right ankle. It's unclear when he'll be ready to return to action.


Suddenly, this Connecticut team may have more questions than answers. It's nearly February, and the Huskies sit at 3-2 in conference play entering the week, tied for fifth place. What's more worrisome is that the defending NCAA champions haven't really beaten a top team all year, and aren't showing signs that the team will be much of a threat to defend its title.

This past weekend represented a real opportunity, as the Huskies hosted a struggling Pitt squad that had to change its travel plans because of a snowstorm just to make it there. The crowd, filled with fans who ordinarily can't get tickets to games but were beneficiaries of those who couldn't attend because of the weather, was raucous. And even late in the game, the Huskies had a chance to remain within a game of unbeaten Boston College and send the Panthers back home in need of a team psychiatrist.

But in the end, the Huskies couldn't make the key play. That's been a problem all season for a team that's been more paper tiger than powerhouse. The talent is there -- Charlie Villanueva and Rudy Gay were arguably the most highly-sought prizes in back-to-back freshman classes -- but except for Josh Boone there's no rock that the team can rely on when times are tough. This is still a young team, with a freshman and three sophomore starters, and Jim Calhoun figured there would be growing pains. All he can do now is hope for a growth spurt to come soon.

UConn shot just 28 percent from the floor in the second half against Pittsburgh, after shooting 49 percent in the first half. A big culprit; the Huskies were 1-for-10 from three-point range in the final 20 minutes. Rashad Anderson found his stroke against Pitt, hitting five of his 1- three-point attempts. The rest of the team took the goose egg for long range, missing all 10 attempts. Rudy Gay and Marcus Williams each clanked three, Denham Brown two, and Antonio Kellogg and Charlie Villanueva one apiece.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Marcus Williams, shooting guard Rashad Anderson, center Josh Boone, forward Rudy Gay, forward Charlie Villanueva.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'd probably have to go back quite a ways, even with some of the Pittsburgh games that we've had, to think of a more disappointing loss. We're 15 games in. We're not young anymore." -- UConn coach Jim Calhoun, in the Hartford Courant, after Pittsburgh beat his Huskies last week.

UPCOMING GAMES: at West Virginia, Jan. 25; at Notre Dame, Jan. 30

KEYS: If the Huskies are going to be a threat to win the Big East instead of an NCAA Tournament bubble team, it has to start this week. Connecticut goes on the road to face two talented foes -- the Mountaineers were ranked earlier in the season, and the Irish have one of the best backcourts in the country. Both, however, have problems that UConn can exploit. If the Huskies can focus on the outside against West Virginia, the cold-shooting Mountaineers may continue their fade to the lower half of the league, and if Josh Boone can dominate the struggling Irish frontcourt, Notre Dame will probably have to go small in an attempt to force the tempo. Freshman point guard Marcus Williams will need a pair of big games, and fellow frosh Rudy Gay will need to emerge as the superstar-in-waiting that many are convinced he is. Gay should be able to exploit the defense in both games, if he can get the ball in position to shoot.

ROSTER REPORT: It's probably not a coincidence that the Huskies loss to Pittsburgh correlated with Josh Boone getting in foul trouble. He played just 13 minutes before fouling out, finishing with six points and four rebounds.

-- Marcus Williams had a good game at the point against Pitt, dishing out 11 assists. However, he again had a key turnover in the final minute that ended all chance at a UConn comeback.

-- Charlie Villanueva continues to chug along, recording a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double. It's his fifth double-double in a row.


There's an old saying that bad teams find a way to lose and good teams find a way to win. By that measure, not only are the Hoyas a good team, they're an inventive one. For three consecutive games, the Hoyas have raced down the court in the waning seconds needing a basket to avoid a loss. First came a fullcourt pass to Darrel Owens against Villanova that resulted in two free throws with 0.1 seconds left, and a Hoya win. Then came Brandon Bowman's basket with 2.7 seconds left against Syracuse, an inch or so away from being a game-winning three-pointer.

Against Notre Dame last weekend, it looked like the Hoyas would be the latest victim of a Fighting Irish circus three-pointer in the clutch. But Ashanti Cook raced down the court and found Roy Hibbert, whose slam dunk -- literally at the buzzer -- gave the Hoyas a 55-54 victory. The victory allowed Georgetown to start the week with a 4-2 record, tied for third with the Irish and a half-game ahead of Connecticut and Pittsburgh. That's rare air for a team that was 10-22 in league play over the past two seasons. It also makes an NCAA berth -- which seemed like a pipe dream in October -- seem a lot more of a reachable goal. The Hoyas have beaten Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Villanova, three possible companions on the Big East's bubble, already this season.

--Roy Hibbert's game-winning dunk against Notre Dame was an appropriate finish to a game the Georgetown big men dominated. The Hoyas outrebounded the Irish 34-27, had 13 offensive rebounds, and scored 24 points in the paint to Notre Dame's 10.

--Georgetown students stormed the court after the victory, probably because they're not used to having something to celebrate. The last time fans flooded the MCI Center floor was reportedly a Jan. 2002 victory over Syracuse.

--The Hoyas beat the Irish despite a subpar performance from the outside. Georgetown made just 4 of its 18 three-point attempts.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Ashanti Cook, shooting guard Jonathan Wallace, center Roy Hibbert, forward Brandon Bowman, forward Jeff Green.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We told the guys before, in those situations ... just get it and go. A lot of times you call timeout and defenses get a chance to set, so they know to get it and go. I don't think [Hibbert] has ever moved that fast in his life." -- Georgetown coach John Thompson III, in the Washington Post, on the last-second shot that beat Notre Dame.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. St. John's, Jan. 25; at Boston College, Jan. 29.

KEYS: The St. John's game will tell a lot about how well Thompson is able to keep this team focused. It's a classic lookahead game, with unbeaten Boston College awaiting over the weekend, but the only reason the Red Storm and the Hoyas aren't together in the league standings is because the Hoyas have been very good at executing their offense in the final seconds, and the Johnnies haven't had that kind of luck. St. John's is very capable of pulling the upset if the Hoyas can't find a way to stop Darryl Hill and Lamont Hamilton. Boston College presents a different challenge -- a balanced attack where any of the seven men in the rotation can hurt you. Craig Smith is the key matchup problem, followed by Jared Dudley and then Jermaine Watson off the bench.

ROSTER REPORT: Jeff Green has gone to the free throw line more than anyone else on the team, taking 89 shots from the stripe. However, at 65.2 percent, he's the worst free throw shooter among the regulars. -- Darrel Owens is struggling to reclaim his touch from outside. He enters the week at 1-11 from three-point range over his last two games. -- Roy Hibbert continues to develop into a solid man in the middle. He had a double-double against Syracuse, with 12 points and 14 rebounds, and added 11 points and 7 boards against the Irish.


If you were going to make a movie of the Notre Dame season thus far, the natural title would be "The Year of Living Dangerously." Too bad that one's already been taken, because the Fighting Irish seem determined to have every game come down to a last-second shot. It came back to bite them over the weekend. Colin Falls thought he'd won the game for the Irish with an off-balance, partially-deflected three-pointer with five seconds left. But five seconds was just a fraction too long, as Georgetown drove the length of the court to win on a Roy Hibbert dunk at the buzzer.

The Irish seemed shocked, and with good reason -- normally they're the ones celebrating at the buzzer. Notre Dame has used baskets or key stops in the final seconds to beat St. John's and Seton Hall already this season. The team has also dropped an early-season nailbiter to Michigan.

A bigger concern than the heartbreaking defeat for coach Mike Brey is that even after that trip to Georgetown, the Irish still play five of their next eight games on the road -- including games at Connecticut, at Pittsburgh and at Syracuse. Though his team entered the week tied with the Hoyas for third in the Big East, Pittsburgh and Connecticut are just a half-game behind, and the yearly quota of miracle late-game three-pointers may be ready to run out.

Notre Dame scored only nine baskets from the floor in the second half against Georgetown, but stayed in the game because six of them were three-pointers. The victory over West Virginia on Jan. 19 marked the Irish's 12th win of the season. Last year, win No. 12 didn't come until Feb. 14. Notre Dame's four losses this season have come by a total of 22 points.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Chris Thomas, shooting guard Chris Quinn, wing guard Colin Falls, center Torin Francis, forward Jordan Cornette,

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a tough loss. It's really tough to make a big play like that, have them come down and really match you." -- Colin Falls, in the South Bend Tribune, after the last-second loss to Georgetown.

UPCOMING GAMES: at Villanova, Jan. 26; vs. Connecticut, Jan. 30

KEYS: It's a big week for the Irish, who face a couple of prime competitors for NCAA bids in Villanova and UConn. Villanova is very similar to Notre Dame in its use of a smaller lineup, though the absence of Kyle Lowry will hinder the Wildcats depth in the backcourt. Torin Francis and Dennis Latimore should be able to dominate the paint; if they can't, it'll all come down to who's shooting the ball well on that particular day. Against UConn, Francis will have to contain Josh Boone, and Chris Thomas has a key matchup against young Marcus Williams at the point.

ROSTER REPORT: Dennis Latimore scored 10 points against the Hoyas, but he was the only member of the Notre Dame frontcourt to have an impact. Torin Francis had two points and three rebounds in 21 minutes, while Jordan Cornette had three points and three rebounds in his 22 minutes.

-- Colin Falls is all but automatic on the line. He's made 25 of his last 27 free throws, and is shooting 93.2 percent on the season (41-44).


It didn't start off as a great week for the Panthers, who many in college basketball were beginning to look at with a more critical eye. Sure, Pitt was still in the Top 25, but with losses to Bucknell and Georgetown, the Panthers weren't exactly wowing everybody with their performance on the court. Unimpressive wins over Seton Hall and Rutgers stopped the bleeding, but then came a 65-62 loss to St. John's.

The defeat at the hands of the Red Storm may wind up as the nadir of the season for this team, but if not it at least proved to be a spark for some needed change. The Panthers held a three-hour team meeting afterward, and got all the issues and tensions of the previous three months on the table. Everyone stepped up and addressed their concerns, and the team said it left with a new purpose and focus for the rest of the season. Of course, all teams say that after those kind of meetings, and the ultimate proof is always on the court. The next game wasn't exactly a cakewalk, as at trip to Storrs, Conn. awaited to meet the Huskies. And it didn't look good at all when the Panthers found themselves down 14 early in the second half.

But Chevon Troutman was a man among boys against Connecticut, with 29 points and 12 boards. He had 21 of the team's final 28 points, and the Panthers emerged with a 76-66 victory on the defending NCAA champions' home floor, as well as some newfound confidence heading into the rest of the Big East schedule. The trip back to Pittsburgh likely took longer than three hours, but rest assured that any meetings that took place then were a lot more fun than the one after the St. John's game. But, perhaps, not as important.

The Connecticut fans taunted Chevon Troutman at halftime, when he had only four points and three turnovers. Troutman then scored 25 points over the final 20 minutes, proving that it's often better to simply let sleeping dogs lie. -- Whether it was because of the weather or the crowd, it took Pitt a long time to get on track against UConn. The Panthers made just 11 of their first 30 shots.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Carl Krauser, shooting guard Antonio Graves, center Chris Taft, forward Mark McCarroll, forward Chevon Troutman.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was about how teams always separate after a loss and how the season can go the opposite way that we want it to go. We came together as a family. It was about sticking together and being friends." -- Carl Krauser, on the team meeting Pitt held after losing to St. John's early last week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Syracuse, Jan. 29

KEYS: This is a huge game for the Panthers, who have a chance to contend for the league title with a win but are a middle-of-the-pack team if they lose. The secret to stopping Syracuse is not rocket science; Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara make that team go, so shut them down and make someone else beat you. Many have tried, however, and few have succeeded. Chris Taft will need to dominate the paint against the taller Craig Forth. The Pitt guards will need to knock down some outside shots early to extend the vaunted Syracuse zone, but can't get so focused on the three that they forget about the matchups inside. This hasn't been a problem for Pitt this season, but it's an easy trap to fall into against the Orangemen.

ROSTER REPORT: Redshirt freshman Dante Milligan left the team and has decided to transfer. He had not gotten into a game since Dec. 18, and was battling a thumb injury for much of the season.

-- In addition to Troutman's 29 points, Carl Krauser (15 points) and Chris Taft (10) finished in double figures against the Huskies. Nobody else scored more than seven points.


This week has to be Providence's line in the sand, or it's officially a lost season. Providence enters the week as the only winless team in the league. Despite Ryan Gomes' impressive stats and status as the lone focus of most opponent's gameplans, the Friars haven't found a second consistent go-to-guy on offense, and can't stop anyone on defense. Coach Tim Welsh has tried everything short of aromatherapy to get this team out of its slump, with no success. The quirks of the Big East schedule may be working in the team's favor. Providence enters the week having played just four league games, meaning there are 12 more -- plus a home game with Virginia -- to right the ship. But at 9-8, the team is in the unenviable position of having to play well down the stretch just to make the NIT.

Boston College and West Virginia come to town this week as the Friars get to avoid travelling through the snowy streets of the East Coast. The Eagles may be unbeaten, but trailed the Friars by four at the half before surging to a 69-60 victory at home earlier this season. West Virginia is witnessing a once-promising season starting to fall apart, and is having problems shooting the basketball. Both are opponents the Friars need to beat on its home court if it wants to have any prayer of returning to the NCAA Tournament. A 2-0 week will put Providence at 2-4 in the Big East with a chance to claw its way back to the middle of the bunched-up Big East pack. Anything less, and the Friars are leaving themselves an awfully tough road the rest of the way.

-- Providence lost the battle at the free throw line against Rutgers despite shooting 77.7 percent from the stripe. The Friars shot just nine free throws on the night, while the Scarlet Knights made 23 of their 30 attempts (76.9 percent). -- Ryan Gomes enters the week with back-to-back 14 point games, but did so in two totally different ways. Against Syracuse on Jan. 14, he was held to nine shots and made six of them, while going 0-for-3 from the line. Against Rutgers, he took 18 shots and made only four, hitting one of his two free throws.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Donnie McGrath, shooting guard Dwight Brewington, center Herbert Hill, forward Ryan Gomes, forward Tuukka Kotti.

QUOTE TO NOTE: I think right now our problem is defense. We really have no problems on offense. We have to stop teams in the last couple minutes of the games. It's very frustrating." -- Dwight Brewington, in the Providence Journal.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Boston College, Jan. 26; vs. West Virginia, Jan. 29

KEYS: It's do-or-die time for the Friars, who desperately need to make up some ground quickly. In the 69-60 loss to Boston College earlier in the season, the Eagles stymied the Friars in the second half with a zone defense. Hopefully Providence has thought of a way to solve the B.C. defense by now. West Virginia is dangerous but struggling, and hasn't seemed to find the range from beyond the arc. If Providence can play good defense on the perimeter and Nate Doornekamp can shut down D'or Fischer on the inside, the Friars have a good shot.

ROSTER REPORT: Tim Welsh tried a new lineup against Rutgers. DeSean White started in place of Donnie McGrath, and Randall Hanke returned to the starting five for Herbert Hill. He said the move was not for basketball-related reasons

-- DeSean White is taking advantage of his increased playing time to put up some impressive numbers. He had 14 points and four rebounds against Syracuse on Jan. 14, and had 10 points, five rebounds and six assists against Rutgers.


This could be a loss that ends the Scarlet Knights' season, or it could be the team hitting rock bottom before climbing back to respectability. Either way, Monday night's 86-84 loss to Syracuse will be a tough one for Rutgers to swallow for a long, long time. The Scarlet Knights blew the doors off the Rutgers Athletic Center in the first half, opening up a 18-point lead and sending Hakim Warrick, Terrence Roberts and Billy Edelin to the bench with three fouls apiece. Up 54-36, Rutgers could smell the upset that would give this team the burst it needed to reemerge as a legitimate force in the Big East.

And then...much like it has all season, it all came apart. Three turnovers led to a 9-0 Syracuse run to start the half, and it was a ballgame again. Nobody on the Orange fouled out except for center Craig Forth, and Roberts had the three-point play that capped the comeback and gave the Orange that 86-84 lead. Quincy Douby's three-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer, and the stunned crowd filed out along with the stunned team. There's no rest for the weary; Villanova awaits over the weekend. But for the Scarlet Knights, this week will be as much about psychological healing as it is figuring out the Wildcats' three-guard set.

-- Marquis Webb had a strong game handling the basketball against Syracuse, dishing out 11 assists to just four turnovers.

-- The loss was the sixth in seven games for the Scarlet Knights.

-- Freshman center Dan Waterstradt played well off the bench, with seven rebounds in his 17 minutes of action. He also had a nice pass to Douby to set up the final shot attempt.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Marquis Webb, shooting guard Quincy Douby, shooting guard Ricky Shields, center Byron Joynes, forward Ollie Bailey.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We were probably a little too happy. I'm not going to lie." -- Quincy Douby, on his team's state of mind at halftime of the Syracuse game.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Villanova, Jan. 29

KEYS: At this point, Rutgers needs to just go out there and have some fun. Nothing else appears to be working, and it probably can't get any worse than the blown lead against Syracuse. The frustration has been mounting all month, and the pesky Wildcats, who never let opponents rest on either end of the court, will likely only make those frustrations worsen. The Scarlet Knights will need a big game from Ollie Bailey, some clutch shooting from the outside, and a huge performance from the home crowd to have a shot.

ROSTER REPORT: Quincy Douby went 3-for-10 from three-point range against the Orangemen. Three of those misses came in the final two minutes, including the one at the buzzer.

-- Ricky Shields continues to shine in losing efforts. He led the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds against Syracuse.

-- While it's the first time they've met as Big East rivals, Gary Waters entered the season quite used to seeing John Thompson III on the opposing sideline. Rutgers had faced Thompson's Princeton team for the past four seasons, with Rutgers winning all four times.


The good news is that Seton Hall got out of the cellar with a victory over Rutgers last weekend, and had a week to relax and think about it before a scheduled meeting with St. John's. The bad news? Well, that comes with a look at the standings. At 1-4 in the Big East, the Pirates are definitely on the outside looking in as far as NCAA chances are concerned.

Moreover, this can't really be a rebuilding season for the Hall. John Allen and Andre Sweet, two key figures in the rotation, are seniors. Kelly Whitney, J.R. Morris and Donald Copeland are juniors. The only freshman getting major minutes is Justin Cerasoli at the point. Seton Hall has come back in the second half of the conference season to make an impact before -- in fact, it did so last year, and earned a trip to the NCAAs. Still, it's hard to know whether this team has that kind of a run in it. There's no consistency except for Kelly Whitney on the inside. But the Pirates are done with UConn, Pitt and Syracuse already. Two games against Boston College remain, and with a couple of wins there and some road victories against bubble teams ... well, at least the Pirates have a week to dream.

-- Andre Sweet scored nine points in his 31 minutes, but his biggest accomplishment was probably getting Marquis Webb tossed from the game by baiting the Rutgers point guard into throwing an elbow.

-- Grant Billimeir has played 27 minutes over the past three games without scoring a point.

-- Coach Louis Orr appears to be giving Justin Cerasoli a little more rest at the point as the season goes on. Both Donald Copeland and Jamar Nutter have been playing more minutes lately.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Justin Cerasoli, shooting guard John Allen, guard J.R. Morris, center Grant Billmeier, forward Kelly Whitney

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't know if they were the perfect team at the perfect time for us, because we just needed a win. But they do seem to bring out the best in us." -- Senior guard John Allen, in the Newark Star-Ledger, on the victory over Rutgers.

UPCOMING GAMES: at St. John's, Jan. 29

KEYS: The Red Storm are near the bottom of the league. Then again, so are the Pirates. Stopping Daryll Hill and Lamont Hamilton are critical, and Kelly Whitney and Grant Billmeier will have their hands full in the paint. The battle between freshman point guards Justin Cerasoli and Eugene Lawrence should be one to watch, both now and down the road, and John Allen and Andre Sweet will need to be on their offensive game to combat Hill's scoring ability.

ROSTER REPORT: Kelly Whitney finished the Rutgers game with 19 points and 9 rebounds. That lone missing rebound was all that prevented him from his fourth career double-double in five games against the Pirates' crosstown rivals.

-- Jamar Nutter scored 11 points against the Scarlet Knights in the first half. That not only dwarfed his season average of 2.1 points per game, it was a career-high.

-- Donald Copeland missed two games with flu-like symptoms, but was back in action by the weekend.


It was a banner week for the Red Storm, and the team nearly made it even bigger over the weekend. After weeks of coming oh-so-close to a Big East victory, St. John's finally broke through by beating then-No. 21 Pittsburgh 65-62. Moreover, it won despite getting just three points in the final 15 minutes from leading scorer Daryll Hill. Of course, those three points were the winning free throws down the stretch, and he did manage 26 for the game.

St. John's then hosted the then-No. 9 Eagles on campus at Carnesecca Arena, giving them a smaller, more raucous crowd than is often found at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm jumped out to an early lead, only to find themselves trailing by seven at the half. Still, the team didn't go away, and the Eagles had to hit their free throws down the stretch to earn its 79-73 victory. The Red Storm, along with arch-rival Georgetown, probably lead the league in platitudes from opposing coaches after games. This week was no exception, with both Jamie Dixon and Al Skinner saluting their opponent's performance. By the end, last season's team was earning those comments out of pity -- a squad where walk-ons played big minutes because of suspensions. This year, the comments come out of respect.

-- St. John's has now been in 10 games decided by 10 points or less, and the Red Storm has a 4-6 record in those games. Six straight games have been decided by six points or fewer.

-- The victory over Pittsburgh was the first time all season the Red Storm won despite losing the battle of the boards. Pitt outrebounded St. John's 32-30.

-- The Red Storm were betrayed at the free throw line against Boston College. Though the team entered shooting 70.9 percent from the line on the season, it made just seven of its 14 attempts against the Eagles.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Daryll Hill, guard Cedric Jackson, guard Eugene Lawrence, forward Lamont Hamilton, forward Dexter Gray.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They were pretty mean fans. It was still a New York atmosphere in a small building."- Boston College forward Craig Smith, in the New York Daily News, on playing the Red Storm in Carnesecca Arena

UPCOMING GAMES: at Georgetown, Jan. 25; vs. Seton Hall, Jan. 29

KEYS: Georgetown has shocked the league with its strong start, but the Hoyas don't blow anybody away and the Red Storm always play them tough. However, Georgetown has executed much better than St. John's in late-game situations, and have tended to win the very kind of games that the Johnnies have tended to lose. Seton Hall is is struggling as well, and may have problems scoring points if Lamont Hamilton can take Kelly Whitney out of the game with his defense. If Hamilton gets in foul trouble instead, however, it will be up to the backcourt to keep John Allen, Andre Sweet and freshman Justin Cerasoli from controlling the action.

ROSTER REPORT: Daryll Hill didn't start against Boston College for being late to a team meeting.

-- Eugene Lawrence set a career high with 18 points against Boston College. He's been a pleasant surprise as a freshman point guard, leading the team with 4.2 assists per game.


It was a classic letdown game, and for 20 minutes the Syracuse Orangemen let everyone down. Trailing 54-36 at Rutgers at the half, Jim Boeheim's club had the folks at ESPN worried that viewers would switch the channel to watch "Trading Spouses" on Fox. Instead, the Orangemen showed the heart of -- maybe -- a champion.

On the road, in a difficult venue to play, the Orangemen immediately took control of the tempo in the second half, forcing turnovers on the first three Rutgers possessions and scoring the first nine points of the stanza. Just like that, all the confidence and swagger that had been on the faces of the Scarlet Knights transferred to the Orange. Syracuse battled back, took the lead, and hung on with a late Terrence Roberts three-point play to beat the Scarlet Knights 86-84.

The victory, which followed a 72-64 win over West Virginia on Saturday, kept the Orange unbeaten in the league, joining Boston College atop the standings. Both have a two-game lead in the loss column over everyone else. Because of the unbalanced Big East schedule, the two teams meet only once this season; Feb. 19 at Boston College. Two games with Pittsburgh and a trip to Connecticut await in between, so it's a huge stretch to assume this team will still be unbeaten when it makes the trip to Boston. But with a performance like in the second half Monday night, it would be tough to bet against the Orange.

-- The victory over Rutgers was the 13th win in a row for the Orangemen, and the 20th of the season. It's the 27th time Jim Boeheim has won 20 or more games in his 29 years at Syracuse.

-- Syracuse took 15 three-pointers against Rutgers. Thirteen of those came from Gerry McNamara (he made five). Hakim Warrick and Louie McCroskey each shot one from long range; neither made it.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Gerry McNamara, shooting guard Josh Pace, wing guard Louie McCroskey, center Craig Forth, forward Hakim Warrick.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Great teams are going to have to accept criticism, and we all dished it out to each other. That's what it's all about. If you can still love each other and still care about each other after you've just screamed in each other's face, that's what makes a great team." -- Gerry McNamara, on what happened at halftime against Rutgers.

UPCOMING GAMES: at Pittsburgh, Jan. 29

KEYS: Pitt has not really been the Panthers team of the past couple of seasons, but it's still a tough, physical group that can cause problems. Hakim Warrick can expect 40 minutes of pushing and showing, and Gerry McNamara the same. But Pitt tends not to put many points on the board and, though the Panthers shoot the three-pointer fairly well, the Panthers don't take a lot of outside shots. The matchup zone could present the Panthers with real problems if Craig Forth can keep Chris Taft from doing too much damage on the inside.

ROSTER REPORT: Point guard Billy Edelin played his best game of the season against West Virginia, coming off the bench to score 12 points and dish off seven assists in his 30 minutes of action.

-- Hakim Warrick got his 10th double-double of the season with 22 points and 13 rebounds against West Virginia. However, he was held short of that plateau in the Rutgers game, with just seven rebounds to go with his 21 points.

-- Demetris Nichols only played one minute against Rutgers. The former starter has seen his minutes continue to decline as Jim Boeheim shortens his rotation.


These past few seasons, Villanova has finished a couple of wins short and a couple of injuries away from an NCAA Tournament berth. It looked like this season would be following a similar path before last weekend, especially with the team coming off a pair of tough losses to Georgetown and Boston College. Both games were decided when the opponents were fouled in the final seconds and made their free throws, one of the toughest ways to lose.

Add to that the injuries that sidelined Curtis Sumpter earlier in the month, and that have sidelined Jason Fraser now, and it looked like it was the same old story. But when the Wildcats not only beat Kansas, but embarrassed the Jayhawks in an 83-62 victory last weekend, it may have been a sign that things may change this season. The victory over the previously unbeaten Jayhawks is a win the team can point to all season as an example of what it can achieve when everything comes together. The Wildcats were deadly from the outside, were the first opponent to shoot better than 50 percent against the Jayhawks all season, dominated on defense, and overcame a Kansas surge at the end of the first half to put the game away early in the second. In short, the Wildcats were able to overcome adversity and not only win, but dominate a top five foe. That's something to show the world these aren't last year's Cats.

-- The Wildcats made 12 of their 19 attempts from three-point range against the Jayhawks. Allan Ray and Curtis Sumpter combined to go 9-12 from downtown.

-- Ray ended all doubt with a personal 11-0 run against Kansas. He knocked down an inside shot, hit a three-pointer, made three free throws and knocked down another trey to turn a 56-40 game into a 67-40 laugher.

-- Strong all season, the Villanova defense once again shone against Kansas, forcing 22 turnovers.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Mike Nardi, shooting guard Randy Foye, wing guard Allan Ray, forward Will Sheridan, forward Curtis Sumpter.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Obviously, I'm very happy for our players. I talk all of the time about their resiliency and character and that I believe in them, and I think today you can see why." -- Villanova coach Jay Wright after the Kansas victory, in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Notre Dame, Jan. 26; at Rutgers, Jan. 29.

KEYS: The win over Kansas has the Wildcats riding high, but slipups in Big East play would make that nonconference victory the highlight of the season, and everyone on the team has loftier goals than that. Both opponents this week have strong backcourts, with Notre Dame sending out three strong shooters in Chris Thomas, Chris Quinn and Colin Falls and Rutgers being led by Ricky Shields and Quincy Douby. Villanova's backcourt will have its work cut out for it in both games, and Curtis Sumpter will have to go against frontlines that are always strong but only sometimes offensively aware. Two wins would go a long way towards sending this team to the NCAAs, but the league is so bunched up that there isn't much room for error.

ROSTER REPORT: Kyle Lowry, who has provided a big spark for this team in a reserve role, will be sidelined for the Notre Dame game after he was ejected for throwing a punch against Kansas.

-- Jason Fraser will have his injured right hand reevaluated later this week. He's missed two weeks, and is expected to miss at least two more.

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