Inside the College Game

Fri, 02/27/2009 - 8:32pm

By Brian Cerone


The Kiss

Friars Not Done

If we have learned one thing about the Big East this year, it’s that you can’t count out anyone. Never have we been reminded by this more than on Tuesday night when the top ranked team in the nation, the Pittsburgh Panthers, strolled into the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and took a licking from the Friars of Providence, 81-73. Senior Weyinmi Efejuku led the way with 16 points, and Sharaud Curry added 15 points in the win.

Pittsburgh big man Dejuan Blair was in foul trouble all night and could not get into a rhythm for the Panthers, despite putting up 17 points and 8 rebounds. Blair, the most recent Big East player of the week, had five turnovers and eventually fouled out of the game. The loss marks the 6th time this year that the #1 ranked team has been knocked off, twice being Pittsburgh.

The Providence Friars were off to a surprisingly great start in the Big East this year, opening up 6-2 in conference play. They were gaining recognition as a team that might be able to compete in the nation’s top conference. Then came the inevitable fall back down to earth as the Friars dropped five of their next seven games, unable to dig up that ‘signature win’ that the selection committee will be looking come Selection Sunday.

Well, not anymore. After taking down the top ranked team in the country, the Friars are right back in the discussion of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament. Had Providence lost, they would’ve been looking at a Cinderella run in the Big East tournament as their only shot of receiving a bid.

With the Providence right back in the thick of things, it begs to ask the question: How many teams will the Big East actually get into the NCAA tournament?

Five teams are locks to receive bids:

UConn (26-2)

Pittsburgh (25-3)

Louisville (22-5)

Marquette (23-5)

Villanova (23-5)

Two teams are locks to receive bids, pending a monumental collapse:

Syracuse (20-8)

West Virginia (19-9)

Four other teams have a shot at receiving a bid if they finish up strong:

Cincinnati (18-10, 8-7 in Big East) – the Bearcats got a much needed win over West Virginia at home on Thursday night, but they might need another win on Sunday at Syracuse to beef up their resume in order to be a participant in March madness. Where the Bearcats do not look impressive is versus the top 25, where they are 1-6 on the year. They still have work to do, but by no means is the big dance out of the question.

Notre Dame (16-11, 7-8 in the Big East) – Their RPI ranking isn’t very good (73rd) but the Fighting Irish do have some big time wins that could help them get in: wins over #7 Texas, #10 Georgetown, and most recently a 33 points win over #7 Louisville. What is going to hurt them is their 7-game losing streak that started on January 12t and didn’t end until February 12. They play at #2 Uconn on Saturday and then home versus #12 Villanova on Monday. The Irish cannot afford to drop both games, and might need both to be considered on Selection Sunday.

Georgetown (14-12, 5-10 in Big East) – The Hoyas are young, so if they don’t end up getting into the tourney, it won’t mean their program is done. That being said, John Thompson III is still fighting for the present day. His team isn’t dead yet. Despite having only 14 wins, their RPI ranking is higher than that of 20-win Boston College, 20-win UNLV, and 19-win Kentucky. The reason behind that is because of the big wins they have had this season: #15 Memphis, #8 Syracuse, and most impressively traveling to #2 UConn and giving the Huskies their first loss of the season. With 3 games remaining, the Hoyas will most likely need to win out and get another couple games in the Big East tourney to have a shot.

Providence (17-11, 9-7 in Big East) – Providence did not get themselves into the tournament with a win over #1 Pittsburgh, they only put themselves back into the race, so their work cannot be done if they want to dance in March. With two road games (Rutgers & #12 Villanova) left before the Big East tourney, the Friars must continue to play well, and then do some damage in the conference tournament.

5 Coach of the Year Candidates:

1. Dino Gaudio – Wake Forest: Taking over for his friend and the late Skip Prosser, Gaudio has brought Wake back to its glory days. Despite the Demon Deacons cooling off a bit from the fast start they had which had them ranked the top team in the country at one point, Gaudio is probably still the front-runner for the Coach of the Year Award. His team has beaten both ACC giants, North Carolina and Duke. Currently ranked 14th in the nation with nearly the whole core of the team being underclassmen. If he can convince his stars to return for another year, Gaudio would be atop the college basketball world for a substantial amount of time.

2. Bill Self – Kansas: The defending National Champions weren’t supposed to be contenders this year, and it’s not quite certain that they are at this point yet. But, the Jayhawks lost all 5 starters from last year’s champions and started the season ranked 23rd in the nation. After taking a few lumps earlier in the year, Self has his team atop the Big 12 conference once again. Starting the season at 11-4, including a loss to sub .500 UMass, some thought that this would be a rebuilding year for the Jayhawks. But, they turned it up a notch when conference play started, winning 12 of 13 league games. A win Monday at 3rd ranked Oklahoma put Kansas in the drivers seat for the Big 12 title, setting up a match-up vs. 8th ranked Missouri that will most likely decide the conference champion.

3. Mike Anderson – Missouri: In just his 3rd year at the helm in Missouri, Coach Anderson has his team ranked 8th in the nation after taking over a program that had a 12-16 overall record in 2005-2006. The Tigers did not receive a single vote for the preseason top 25, but Anderson has his crew all set to battle for the conference title this Sunday when they travel to Kansas.

4. John Calipari – Memphis: There were questions entering the season, for sure. Losing three players to the NBA will do that, especially when it includes the top pick in the draft (Derrick Rose), the leading scorer on the team (Chris Douglas-Roberts) and the heart and soul leader (Joey Dorsey). But, with two starters returning from a team that played in the National Championship game, along with high profile freshman Tyreke Evans, the Tigers were still ranked 15th coming into this season. It looked ugly at first, starting 6-3 with a chaotic and disorganized offense. In the 10th game of the year, Calipari moved Evans to the point, and the Tigers have won 19 straight since, which runs the tally up to 55 in a row in Conference USA play. The Tigers are all the way back up to being ranked 4th in the nation and look like a team ready to make another run at the National title.

5. Brad Stevens – Butler: This was supposed to be a down year for the Bulldogs. They lost their two best players from a team that won 59 games in the past 3 years and were regulars in the top 25. Picked to finish 5th in the Horizon League, the Butler Bulldogs are once again sitting atop the league standings. This year, Stevens top two guys are Sophomore Matt Howard (14.4 ppg) and freshman Gordon Hayward (13.9 ppg) so don’t expect the dominance to come to a halt anytime soon.

Games Notes:

Greivis Vasquez of Maryland put on quite the show last Saturday when his Terps came storming back from 16 points down to beat the 3rd ranked North Carolina Tarheels in overtime 88-85. Vasquez put up a triple-double, 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, including 5 three-pointers. The Venezuluan native became the first player to record a triple-double for Maryland since 1987… Robert Vaden of UAB is a good player, and the leader of his team. But, his struggles were monumental on Thursday night when the Memphis Tigers visited. Vaden was 0/17 from the field, including all of his 3-point attempts. He is averaging 18.3 ppg, and leads the conference ni 3-pointers made. The Tigers once again showed their dominance on the defensive end… The 7th annual Bracket Busters gave us some competitive games once again… 22nd ranked Butler beat Davidson 75-63 in Steph Curry’s return, where he was visible rusty. Saint Mary’s got a quality win without their star Patty Mills, winning 75-64 over 23rd ranked Utah State. America East’s best, Vermont took down MAC leader Buffalo, 78-70 for their 22nd win of the year, giving the Catamounts a chance at getting into the NCAA tournament, should they have a slip up in the conference tournament.

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