Thursday, March 10, 2011

Big East Quarters: An Insider's Guide

Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough leads Notre Dame into action against Cincinnati tonight in Big East tournament quarterfinals. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

So we've reached day three of the Big East tournament; and if you're keeping track of our predictions, you'll see a 7-1 record. The quarters mark the debuts of the four double-bye recipients on the Madison Square Garden floor this week as the strongest conference in the country draws closer to crowning a new champion, which is now guaranteed following last night's Marquette win over reigning titleholder West Virginia.

#9 Seed UConn vs. #1 Seed Pitt - The Huskies proved their DePaul win was no fluke with a decisive 17-point victory over Georgetown yesterday, but that victory has been downgraded in the absence of Hoya guard Chris Wright, who is still out with a broken hand. On the other bench, the Panthers have been the class of the Big East all season thanks to impressive campaigns from Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. While Kemba Walker alone changes the complexion of any game, the matchup to watch will be the inside battle between UConn's Alex Oriakhi and Gary McGhee of Pitt.

#5 Seed St. John's vs. #4 Seed Syracuse - The Johnnies make their return to the final eight for the first time since 2003 against a Syracuse team that handed them their only loss at the Garden this season. In what will be a battle in every sense of the word, the winner of this game will be the team that exhibits the most versatility. Syracuse has four players averaging double figures in points per game; and when St. John's gets four to score at least ten, they're 11-0. Adding to the already thick plot is the fact that the Orange are the one Big East team that St. John's ten-man senior class has yet to beat.

#7 Seed Cincinnati vs. #2 Seed Notre Dame - It was said on last night's ESPN broadcast that Bearcats coach Mick Cronin told his team that they weren't getting any respect. Unfortunately, it's true; and for a coach like Cronin that deserves every bit of success he gets as much as the players do, it's a shame. Notre Dame is on the inside track to a top seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can get the chips to fall in the right places this week, and all eyes will be on conference player of the year Ben Hansbrough against a lightly regarded Cincinnati backcourt.

#11 Seed Marquette vs. #3 Seed Louisville - The Golden Eagles all but sealed an NCAA Tournament appearance with last night's victory against West Virginia. Next up for Buzz Williams and Marquette is a Louisville team that has overachieved despite injuries to almost everyone on the squad to the point where coach Rick Pitino had to practice with team managers. The guard play will take center stage here, as a banged-up Cardinal frontcourt and undersized Marquette inside game will yield to the backcourts.

The Way I See It: Predictions
UConn defeats Pitt
St. John's defeats Syracuse
Cincinnati defeats Notre Dame
Louisville defeats Marquette

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