The College Basketball Notebook

March 10, 2010 11:00 AM

Big East Blasts Off

My own college roots are in the Big Ten, and it’s my favorite conference. But during Championship Week, I’ll admit that no conference tournament turns my juices more than that of the Big East. I think it has the best tournament of any conference, primarily because of its tradition-laden locale in Madison Square Garden, and the fact the Big East plays its tournament every year at MSG, further strengthening the tradition. One day I hope to attend at least the last 2-3 days of the event, enjoying the Big Apple, eating a good ethnic meal and then taking in hoops at the Garden.

The Big East got underway yesterday, with the bottom eight teams of the 16-team conglomerate in action. Seton Hall nipped Providence in a wild 109-106 game, that was done entirely in regulation. Free-throw scoring was the principal reason for the triple-digit affair, with the teams combining for 57 at the line. Games with more impact on the postseason picture were UConn-St. John and Rutgers-Cincy. The Huskies played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament by turning the ball over 19 times. The Notebook has commented throughout the year on Jerome Dyson’s tendency to be careless with the basketball and he had nine turnovers by himself in the 73-51 loss. Rutgers was trying to get to .500 and keep itself alive for the NIT, but suffered a one-point loss to the Bearcats.

Four more games go in the Big East today, as yesterday’s winners draw the teams seeded 5-8 (the top four are automatically seeded into Thursday’s quarterfinals). The Big 12 swings in action with four games involving seeds 5-12. And the Pac-10 will have a play-in game between Oregon and Washington State. Normally there’d be two games tonight out west, but USC is ineligible for the tournament because of NCAA sanctions.

The early Noon EST window features South Florida-Georgetown and Colorado-Texas Tech. The latter is a rematch of a shootout just this past weekend won by the Buffaloes. Tech is getting a spark from Nick Okorie, but needs to find some defense. I’ll be rooting for Pat Knight in this one, but the consistency just hasn’t been there for the Red Raiders. And South Florida-Georgetown offers the prospect of Dominique Jones trying to carry the Bulls past the more powerful Hoyas. I like G’town to be ready and motivated to take care of business and get on for a revenge date with Syracuse.

Mid-afternoon is pretty quiet, with Marquette-St. John’s and Missouri-Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are punchless, and St. John’s is the same, in spite of yesterday’s win. Although the Red Storm do now have a better overall record than UConn, at 17-14.

Early evening offers Seton Hall-Notre Dame. The Irish have started to play defense since Luke Harangody went out. Whether desperation motivated them or Harangody was a defensive liability is the question and I’d imagine it’s a little of both. I do like the Pirates to continue their run and win a second straight game. Over in the Big 12 Oklahoma State plays Oklahoma, and I’m looking for a show from James Anderson, in honor of his being selected the Notebook’s National Player of the Year on Monday.

Finally we wrap it up with Louisville-Cincinnati. If the Bearcats spring an upset, they draw West Virginia, giving them a chance to play their old coach Bob Huggins. Given Louisville’s inconsistency all year, and the fact they just had a tournament-locking win over Syracuse on Sunday, I expect Cincy to do just that. Texas plays Iowa State, a 6 vs. 11 game that has upset written all over it. The Longhorns are collapsing, and the Cyclones duo of Marquis Gilstrap and Craig Brackin will each have big games. The night ends with Oregon-Washington State at 11 EST.

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