Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Big East Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big East Conference featured a great race for the league title, with four teams in the mix until the final couple of weeks. Furthermore, the regular-season championship was not decided until the last day of the season, when Georgetown knocked off Louisville to grab the title by one game. Notre Dame tied Louisville at 14-4, while Connecticut finished 13-5. West Virginia, Marquette and Pittsburgh all had double-figure wins, with Syracuse and Villanova going 9-9. It should be a great four days in New York.

Favorites: Georgetown won the league title for the second season in a row, winning its last five games of the season to finish in first-place. Roy Hibbert is one of the best big men in the country, and has the ability to carry the Hoyas in the postseason. DaJuan Summers is a very solid inside-outside threat, while Jessie Sapp is an underrated player at both ends of the floor. Jonathan Wallace can really shoot the ball from deep. Louisville is playing some of the best basketball of any team in the country. The Cardinals had won nine in a row before their aforementioned loss to Georgetown in the season finale. Terrence Williams and David Padgett are difficult match-ups in the frontcourt due to their playmaking ability, while Earl Clark is a budding star. If Edgar Sosa can play within himself and not try to do too much offensively, the Cardinals are going to be very tough to beat. Connecticut won ten in a row earlier in Big East play before dropping two of its last five. However, the Huskies head into the tourney with momentum after knocking off Cincinnati by 45 in the season finale. They have one of the best frontcourts in the country, with Hasheem Thabeet dominating defensively and Jeff Adrien controlling the boards. A.J. Price has developed into one of the best point guards in the country, and with Jerome Dyson back from his suspension, UConn is a threat.

Contenders: Notre Dame finished in third, but the Irish are generally thought of as a slight notch below the above three teams. They are just 1-3 against those squads, and have struggled slightly away from home at times this year. Still, they are very difficult to defend with their amount of options. Luke Harangody is one of the best players in the country, after being a role player last season. Kyle McAlarney and Tory Jackson form a very solid backcourt, while Rob Kurz is a good inside-outside threat. Marquette has a tremendous perimeter group and can beat anyone in the country when its guards are hitting its outside shots. Dominic James is fearless driving to the basket, while Jerel McNeal is one of the better two-way players in the nation. Lazar Hayward leads the way up front for the relatively undersized Golden Eagles.

Sleeper: Providence has shown the ability to play with anyone in the league, as the Friars have swept Connecticut already and played tough against some of the other top teams. Geoff McDermott is one of the most difficult match-ups in the conference, while Weyinmi Efejuku and Jeff Xavier lead a host of talented guards that can score the ball offensively. Randall Hanke needs to take control down low.

Prediction: I expect the Big East to have potentially the most competitive last couple of rounds of any conference tournament. The top three teams are hard to distinguish from each other when they are all playing at their peak, while Notre Dame and Marquette also have the weapons to make a run if they are knocking down their shots. In the end, I think Louisville should advance to the title game from the bottom of the bracket because it is playing the best basketball of anyone in the conference, and I think that Connecticut is going to upset Georgetown in the other semifinal. In the title game, Louisville has the frontcourt talent to hang with Connecticut and more playmakers throughout the roster. The Cardinals get the conference title.

First Round
#9 Syracuse over #8 Villanova
#5 West Virginia over #12 Providence
#6 Marquette over #11 Seton Hall
#7 Pittsburgh over #10 Cincinnati

#1 Georgetown over #9 Syracuse
#4 Connecticut over #5 West Virginia
#6 Marquette over #3 Notre Dame
#2 Louisville over #7 Pittsburgh

#4 Connecticut over #1 Georgetown
#2 Louisville over #6 Marquette

#2 Louisville over #4 Connecticut

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