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Big East: What a Conference!

   by Jim Feist - 02/17/2009

Once again the Big East is loaded with talented teams. Marquette, Cincinnati and Louisville came aboard three years ago, among others, joining powerhouses like UConn, Syracuse and Pitt to form a 16-team Super Big East conference. A Big East representative won college basketball's national championship five years ago (UConn, 2004) and several will be knocking on the door again.

UConn: Coach Jim Calhoun has another dominant Husky frontcourt. They lead the Big East in offensive rebounding, blocks and points allowed behind 6-7 senior Jeff Adrien (14 ppg, 9.9 rpg) and sophomore center 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet (13 ppg, 10 rpg). That duo accounts for 20 rebounds per game! UConn hasn't lost on the road and is a perfect 4-0 SU/ATS as a dog. That's in stark contrast to two years ago when a younger Husky squad went 2-8 SU/ATS on the road and 0-8 SU/ATS as a dog.
The backcourt has senior A.J. Price (12 ppg, 4.4 apg), a fine playmaker, but caught a bad break last week with a knee injury to 6-4 junior guard Jerome Dyson (13 ppg), the second leading scorer. The Huskies are on a 9-3 run under the total. With March around the corner, it's a good time to start turning up the 'D'.

Pitt: Panthers coach Jamie Dixon always seems to come up with dominant big men, be they Aaron Gray and Levon Kendall a few years ago, and now there is another powerful frontcourt behind 6-7 sophomore DeJuan Blair (15 ppg, 12.6 rpg) and 6-6 senior Sam Young (17.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg). Their defense is also terrific, allowing 62 ppg and 40% shooting, tops in the Big East in rebounding margin. The backcourt is also strong behind senior guard Levance Fields (11 ppg) and junior Jermaine Dixon, leading the conference in assists and three-point shooting.
With Blair in foul trouble last week against West Virginia, Pitt resorted to a lighter lineup against the Mountaineers' motion offense. The Panthers paired guards Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker with a combination of forwards Tyrell Biggs, Gilbert Brown, Nasir Robinson and Young, all ranging between 6-foot-5 and 6-8 in height. In a seven-minute span, Pitt forced three turnovers and trimmed a four-point deficit in half in an eventual 70-59 win. The Panthers want to finish stronger than the last four seasons: They are 6-4, 6-4, 5-5 and 5-5 the last four years over their final 10 regular season games. Pitt is the only Big East school to win 20 or more games and 10 or more league contests in each of the last eight seasons.

Louisville: The Cardinals have been ferocious defenders under Rick Pitino, battling UConn for the top spot in the Big East standings and in points allowed. The frontcourt is outstanding behind 6-9 junior Earl Clark (13 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and 6-6 senior Terrence Williams (13 ppg, 9 rpg). Williams does everything well, leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists (4.6 apg).
Louisville allows 38% shooting, second in the conference, and has been on a 6-3 run under the total. They started 9-1 SU, 8-2 ATS in Big East play. It's a big stretch for the Cardinals, playing back-to-back road games at Cincy and Georgetown. Louisville lost a humbling 68-51 against top-ranked Connecticut. They hope for a rematch in early March in the Big East tourney.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles have already hit the 20-win mark. Unlike other Big East powers, they are getting it done with spectacular guard play behind seniors Jerel McNeal (20 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.8 apg) and Wesley Matthews (18.8 ppg). Both lead the team in scoring and shoot over 40% from long range, with McNeal at 46% from beyond the arc.
Marquette is second in the Big East in scoring and tops in shooting percentage (48%). The offense sparked the Golden Eagles to a 9-0 start in the Big East, but last week they lost two straight on the road at South Florida (57-67) and Villanova (102-84). The Villanova loss was tough as Marquette made 11 of 23 threes and shot 51 percent from the floor...and still lost by 18, allowing 58% shooting! Games against Georgetown, UConn and Louisville are on deck -- all in a row.

Villanova: The Wildcats can beat you with any style. They lead the Big East in scoring and also allow 40% shooting by opponents, third best. They can pound the glass with 6-8 senior Dante Cunningham (17 ppg, 7 rpg), the leading scorer and rebounder.
Villanova also boasts a pair of electric guards in junior Scottie Reynolds (15.4 ppg) and sophomore Corey Fisher (10.7 ppg), who led the way as they topped 100 points in back-to-back blowouts of Syracuse and Marquette. Those were the exclamation points on a sizzling 7-1 SU, 8-0 ATS run. It's always nice to end the year hotter than when you started.

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