Big East Roundup — Jan. 3

T-1. No. 1/1 Syracuse (15-0, 2-0)

Last week: Win vs. Seton Hall 75-49; Win at DePaul 87-68
Next week: 1/4 at Providence; 1/7 vs. No. 20 Marquette

Roundup: The Orange remain perfect after two blowout wins to begin the Big East season. After a rocky freshman season, center Fab Melo has come on strong in 2011 and recorded 12 points, 10 blocks and seven rebounds in the win over Seton Hall. Four days later, he had 12 points, five rebounds and six blocks in the win over DePaul. If he can keep up this production, the Orange will have no problem retaining their top spot in the polls.

Syracuse lost twice to Marquette last year, at Marquette and on a neutral site in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The Orange surely will be looking for revenge but Marquette’s strong back court could give them issues. This will be one to watch.

T-1. No. 8/8 Connecticut (12-1, 2-0)

Last week: Win over South Florida 60-57, win over St. John’s 83-69
This week: 1/3 at Seton Hall, 1/7 at Rutgers, 1/9 vs. West Virginia

In an unimpressive 60-57 win over South Florida, Connecticut relied on its offensive leader, sophomore forward Jeremy Lamb (18.9 points per game), as the only player in double figures (23). It was a game in which South Florida shot 41.2 percent (7-of-17), when Connecticut opponents average 34.9 percent from beyond the arc.

After the off-performance, Connecticut played back to the ways that have made it a top-10 team and dominated St. John’s owning a 23-point lead with 7:13 left in regulation. The Huskies had four players in double-figures, right on par with the season averages, and that balance makes Connecticut a tough team to beat.

T-1. No. 9/9 Georgetown (12-1, 2-0)

Last week: Win at Louisville 71-68; win vs. Providence 49-40
This week: 1/4 vs. No. 20 Marquette, 1/7 at West Virginia

Roundup: If the Hoyas weren’t legitimate entering last week, they sure are now. An impressive win at Louisville behind a huge double-double from freshman forward Otto Porter (14 points, 14 rebounds) and 20 points from sophomore guard Markel Starks. The Hoyas then gutted out a win over Providence, pulling away in the final minutes.

A well-rested Hoyas team should be able to use their length and size against a Marquette team without redshirt junior center Chris Otule. The match-up against West Virginia will be a true test, pitting two of the conference’s best front courts in the nation against each other.

T-4. No. 20/20 Marquette (12-2, 1-0)

Last week: Loss vs. Vanderbilt 74-57, win vs. Villanova 81-77
This week: 1/4 at Georgetown, 1/7 at Syracuse

Roundup: After getting thrashed at home by Vanderbilt midweek, the Golden Eagles righted the ship to start the new year by holding on late to take down Nova. One troubling aspect has been the horrid free throw shooting in both games. Marquette had no problem getting to the line (30 times against Vandy and 37 against Nova), yet shot only 58 percent  once there.

With field trips to Syracuse and Georgetown, both top ten teams, on the agenda for the week, missing boatloads of of freebies will be a recipe for disaster. A 1-1 week has to be considered a success given the quality of the opponents.

T-4. Cincinnati (11-3, 1-0)

Last week: Win vs. Oklahoma 56-55, win vs. Pittsburgh 66-63
This week: 1/4 vs. Notre Dame, 1/7 vs. St. John’s, 1/9 at Georgetown

Since brawling with Xavier on Dec. 10 the Cincinnati Bearcats are on a six-game winning streak, after adding two more victories this past week, beating Oklahoma 56-55 on Dec. 29 and Pittsburgh 66-63. Sophomore forward Sean Kilpatrick and junior guard Jaquon Parker had big performances inside averaging 18 points and 8.0 rebounds and 16 points and 8.0 rebounds respectively. But the Bearcats were outrebounded 46-37 against Oklahoma and 44-30 against Pittsburgh. If that trend continues then the Bearcats shouldn’t expect to win many contests.

T-4. Notre Dame (9-5, 1-0)

Last week: 72-59 win over Pittsburgh
This week:
1/4 at Cincinnati, 1/7 at Louisville

Beating Pittsburgh is a big win for a Notre Dame squad expected to finish in the bottom of the Big East without forward Tim Abromaitis. As has been the case most of the season, the Fighting Irish were outrebounded 39-30 and have been out-rebounded by .3 rebounds per game on the season. Not a winning recipe.

But Pittsburgh has been a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of team this year. It’s tough to accurately judge a team for beating Pittsburgh. But Notre Dame will get a better opportunity to prove itself in a road contest against Louisville.

T-7. Seton Hall (12-2, 1-1)

Last week: Loss at Syracuse 75-49, win vs. West Virginia 67-48
This week: 1/3 vs. Connecticut; 1/7 at Providence

Roundup: It was a tale of two blowouts last week as the Pirates got a dose of reality traveling to Syracuse before laying the smackdown against the Mountaineers. Senior guard Jordan Theodore was the only consistent force in both tilts, notching double digit points in both games, averaging 16.0 points and 6.0 assists.  The opening week split is about as good a start as Hall fans could hope for considering the competition.

This upcoming week sees two more tough match-ups for the Pirates. Hosting Connecticut is never easy while traveling to Providence may not be as easy as it has been in the recent past. Another split will put Seton Hall in decent position to remain a fringe bubble team.

T-7. St. John’s (7-6, 1-1)

Last week: Win vs. Providence 91-67, loss at Connecticut 83-69
This week: 1/3 vs. Louisville, 1/7 at Cincinnati

Roundup: If last week was any indication, the name Moe Harkless will be heard all winter long. The freshman phenom forward averaged 24 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games this week, including a 32-points, 13-rebound outburst in the blowout win over Providence. Fellow freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison was excellent last week as well, averaging 21 points and 5.5 assists. The Red Storm have a foundation to build on in these two freshmen.

Louisville will be chomping at the bit to get back on track after its home loss to Georgetown and Cincinnati has won six straight games. A 1-1 week would be a huge win for the Red Storm, but 0-2 is more likely for the young squad.

T-7. West Virginia (10-4, 1-1)

Last week: Win vs. Villanova 83-69, loss at Seton Hall 67-48
This week: 1/4 at Rutgers, 1/7 vs Georgetown

Roundup: It was an up and down week for the Mountaineers kicking off the Big East with a commanding win over Villanova before being kicked in the gut at Seton Hall. While losing at the Hall may not be considered a bad loss come selection time, the 19 point thrashing isn’t a good result by any stretch of the imagination. This team will go as Darryl “Truck” Bryant goes. The senior guard scored 34 points in the victory yet shot 3-of-16 for 11 points in the loss to the Pirates.

West Virginia will have a chance to make up that loss to the Hall when Georgetown comes to Morgantown. A win against a top-10 opponent is just what the doctor ordered for a team that is beginning to rack up the L’s.

T-7. South Florida (8-7, 1-1)

Last week: Loss vs. Connecticut 70-67; Win vs. Rutgers 67-65
This week: 1/5 at Villanova

Roundup: The Bulls almost pulled off a major upset against the Huskies but had no answer for sophomore forward Jeremy Lamb down the stretch. USF’s front court of junior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (14 points, 12 rebounds) and senior forward Augustus Gilchrist (12 points, five rebounds) played well. Senior forward Ron Anderson Jr. had 15 points off the bench in the win over Rutgers, just days after the Scarlet Knights had defeated Florida at home.

With Villanova (7-7) struggling, the Bulls have a chance to pick up a nice road win over the Wildcats.

T-11. No. 11/10 Louisville (12-2, 0-1)

Last week: Loss vs. Georgetown 71-68, loss at Kentucky 69-62
This week: 1/3 at St. John’s, 1/7 vs. Notre Dame

Roundup: The Cardinals experienced their first loss of the season, falling at home to a surging Georgetown team, and followed that up with a tough loss against the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington. We had asked if Louisville was for real, and thus far, the answer has been a resounding “no.” One promising sign has been the arrival of an outstanding sixth man in Russ Smith. The sophomore guard dropped 14 against the Hoyas before going wild on Kentucky for 30 points and five boards.

This is a crucial week for the Cardinals who have two very winnable games at a very young Johnnies team and against a feisty Notre Dame squad. Being winnable does not mean the W’s are guaranteed though, and anything less than a 2-0 week will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Louisville faithful.

T-11. DePaul (9-4, 0-1)

Last week: 87-68 loss vs. Syracuse
This week:
1/5 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/8 at Villanova

After a strong showing in their nonconference schedule the Blue Demons were rudely awakened in their Big East opener in an 87-68 loss to No. 1/1 Syracuse (15-0, 1-0 Big East). Sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin continued to lead the way for DePaul, leading it in points (23), rebounds (eight), and blocks (two). But with sophomore forward Donavan Kirk as the only other Blue Demon in double-figures (14) and sophomore guard Brandon Young held scoreless for the first time in his college career, the offense needed a little bit more to keep up with the Orange.

T-11. Rutgers (8-6, 0-1)

Last week: 85-83 2OT win over Florida, 67-65 loss at South Florida
This week:
1/4 vs. West Virginia, 1/7 vs. Connecticut

The student section stormed the floor after Rutgers knocked off Florida but had to be disheartened after Rutgers’ inability to knock off South Florida. Freshman guard Eli Carter was named Big East Rookie of the Week after averaging 27 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.0 steals during the week.

With 10 of the 16 players on the roster as freshmen or sophomores and the team’s two leading scorers as freshmen (Carter, guard Myles Mack) the Scarlet Knights are a young and inexperienced team. It will have games like it did against Florida and others where it comes up short on the road in a very winnable game against South Florida.

T-14. Pittsburgh (11-4, 0-2)

Last week: Loss at Notre Dame 72-59; Loss vs. Cincinnati 66-63
This week: 1/5 vs. DePaul

Roundup: There are bad weeks, then there’s what Pitt had. Having two relatively simple games to bounce back after a bad home loss to Wagner, the Panthers laid an egg. A big fat egg. They went into South Bend and fell to a bad Notre Dame team and followed that up with their second straight home loss, this time to a Yancy Gates-less Cincy squad. The Panther’s three point shooting has been woeful, hitting on only 6-of-33 attempts.

It’s silly to describe early January games as must wins, yet that’s exactly what the tilt against the Blue Demons is. Should Pitt fall for the fourth consecutive game, and third straight at home, the NIT will be calling its name come march.

T-14. Providence (11-4, 0-2)

Last week: Loss at St. John’s 91-67; Loss at Georgetown 49-40
This week: 1/4 vs. Syracuse, 1/7 vs Seton Hall

Roundup: Last week was meant to be a reality check for Providence and the Friars were unable to answer the bell. They got blown out against St. John’s and although they were in it against a tough Hoya squad with five minutes to go, they were not able to pull off the upset. Freshman forward LaDontae Henton had the most consistent week, scoring 28 points and grabbing 20 boards combined in the two games.

It doesn’t get any easier this week with visits from ‘Cuse and Seton Hall on the agenda. Realistically speaking, a result against Syracuse is a long shot so

T-14. Villanova (7-7, 0-2)

Last week: Loss at West Virginia 83-69, loss at Marquette 81-77
This week: 1/5 vs. South Florida, 1/8 vs. DePaul

Roundup: Coach Jay Wright’s group might not go dancing this March, but there’s plenty to like about this team. Outside of the final four minutes against West Virginia and the opening minutes of both halves against Marquette, Villanova hung with a couple of tournament-bound teams on the road. Junior guard Maalik Wayns continues to impress and some of the younger players, notably freshman forward Markus Kennedy and freshman guard Darrun Hilliard, are coming on strong.

This week’s games are both winnable and if Villanova wants to have a shot to be dancing, both South Florida and DePaul need to be wins at home.

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