All about the Big East: Better than billed
And the Big East is supposed to be down in 2010-11?
Three weeks into the season, no conference can claim to have had a better all-around showing than the Big East – especially after Tuesday, when No. 16 Georgetown came from behind to post a 111-102 overtime victory against 11th-ranked Missouri at the Sprint Center.
“We want to enjoy the win,” Hoyas point guard Chris Wright said. “But we can’t make it out to be any bigger picture than it is.”
Fine, but let’s not downplay it, either.
The step the 7-0 Hoyas took against the Tigers was a massive one. Defeating a legitimate Top 15-caliber team is one thing, but doing it in front of a deafening, anything-but-neutral crowd of 14,647 is something else. It wasn’t just that Georgetown won, but the way it won that suggests the Hoyas have enough character and poise to challenge Pittsburgh and a handful of others for the Big East title.
We might not see a better game all season.
John Thompson III’s team appeared all but dead when Missouri guard Michael Dixon stepped to the free-throw line with his team leading 93-91 with 14 seconds remaining. Dixon, though, made the first foul shot but missed the second.
Georgetown grabbed the rebound and raced to the other end of the court, where Hollis Thompson shot a 3-pointer that was off the mark. Players from both teams fought for the ball under the basket and, just as it was about to go out of bounds, Missouri’s Kim English tipped it back toward the baseline and into the hands of Georgetown’s Jason Clark.
Clark passed to Wright, who squared up and swished a game-tying 3-pointer just before time expired. Deflated, Missouri ran out of gas in overtime as Clark scored nine points – all on treys – to propel his team to victory.
“It was two teams really going after it – like it was March,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “The thing that came back to haunt us … they’re veterans. Those older guys, they’ve been through wars.”
Indeed, seniors Wright (21 points and 10 assists) and Austin Freeman (31 points) played one of the best games of their careers. Clark added 26 points for a team that shot 71.4 percent in the first half and 56.5 percent for the game.
“It’s tough,” Dixon said. “We were out there trying to do what we were supposed to do as far as keeping people in front of us. But I guess everybody gets a night like they got tonight. Every time I looked up, it was just going in. I don’t know how to explain it. It felt like they made every shot.”
Perhaps, but Missouri made the same percentage of its shots from the field as Georgetown. The Hoyas were just tougher down the stretch after surrendering an 18-point lead in the first half.
“We have a tough team,” Thompson III said. “It doesn’t surprise us that we were able to bounce back.”
Georgetown lost standout center Greg Monroe from a squad that finished 23-11 in 2009-10, but every other key player returns. Even though the Hoyas’ strength is guard play, Georgetown’s post players and small forwards are more than serviceable.
Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims, Nate Lubick, Julian Vaughn and Jerrelle Benimon were all active Tuesday and seem to have a strong grasp of their roles.
The question now is whether Georgetown can continue to perform at this high of a level.
The Hoyas – who made all 18 of their free throws against Missouri – still have three tough non-conference games (at home against Utah State and on the road against Temple and Memphis) before league play begins Dec. 29.
“I think it’s important for this team to stay even keel,” Wright said. “We’ve been in situations where we’ve won big games early. We can either go up or down. We just need to get back to work. This was just another win.”
But it was huge for Georgetown – and for the Big East.
1. Pittsburgh (7-0) &nash; The Panthers’ seven wins have come by an average of 20.4 points. (1)
2. Georgetown (7-0) – Julian Vaughn and Hollis Thompson are stepping up in the paint. (4)
3. Connecticut (6-0) – The Huskies probably won’t be challenged until they play at Pitt on Dec. 27 (3)
4. Villanova (5-1) – Maalik Wayns is making a name for himself. (2)
5. West Virginia (4-1) – Truck Bryant needs to step on the accelerator. (5)
6. Notre Dame (8-0) – The Fighting Irish have proven they can win high-scoring games – and low-scoring ones, too. (8)
7. Syracuse (7-0) – The Orange are shooting just 42.6 percent from the field. (6)
9. Louisville (4-0) – Four players average between 11 and 12 points per game. (9)
10. St. John’s (4-1) – The Red Storm hardly froze up in Alaska. (10)
11. Cincinnati (5-0) – How in the world did this team beat Dayton by 34 points? (12)
12. Seton Hall (3-3) – Herb Pope continues to work off the rust. (11)
13. South Florida (4-3) – Gus Gilchrist leads the team in scoring, but he’s averaging only 11.7 points. (14)
14. Rutgers (3-2) – James Beatty is shooting 55.2 percent (16-of-28) from 3-point range. (14)
16. DePaul (1-4) – At least the Blue Demons have lost to quality opponents. (15)
South Florida – I’m not ready to say the Bulls are good enough to contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament. After losing Dominique Jones, they may not even make the NIT. Still, beating an experienced Texas Tech squad last weekend was an impressive feat – as was taking then-No. 23 BYU to overtime before losing 77-75.
Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott, Notre Dame – Even though it’s a collective effort, Nash and Scott are more than making up for the loss of Luke Harangody in the paint. The twosome is averaging 23 points and 14.7 rebounds for the Fighting Irish, whose 8-0 record includes victories over Wisconsin, Cal and Georgia.
Jim Boeheim’s postgame interviews – College basketball fans – and reporters, too – couldn’t be more appreciative of coaches who tell it like it is, which is why Boeheim’s candor after several less-than-impress victories this season has been so refreshing. Here are few remarks from Boeheim following a victory in the Legends Classic: “[Last year] we had six veteran guys out of seven. This year we don’t. We had two great 3-point shooters last year. This year we don’t. We’re not even close to playing good basketball. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Most people don’t make a judgment on what your team is until you lose. Coaches have to make that judgment long before that. We haven’t played well this year. That’s the reality. Period. We’re not playing good basketball.”
Connecticut’s “other” guys” – With a 30-point scoring average, Kemba Walker is getting most of the credit for the Huskies’ 6-0 start. And rightfully so. Also impressive, however, have been the contributions of the players surrounding Walker. Forward Alex Oriakhi is averaging 13.4 points and 12 rebounds. Freshmen such as Niels Giffey, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander and Roscoe Smith are playing significant minutes while former backups such as Charles Okwandu, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Donnell Beverly are finally getting a chance to shine.
Villanova – The Wildcats are solid, but shouldn’t an experienced, veteran team ranked No. 7 in the country be able to beat a Tennessee squad that, along with being short on depth, entered the season with loads of distractions? That was a disappointing loss for Villanova in the championship game of the Preseason NIT.
Jeremy Hazell’s wrist – Seton Hall’s leading scorer was slated to see a third specialist Wednesday about his broken wrist. Although the possibility of surgery exists, Pirates coach Kevin Willard remains hopeful that such a procedure won’t be required and that Hazell will be able to return the court in mid-January. With Hazell, Seton Hall is good enough to contend for an NCAA tournament berth. Without him the Pirates will struggle mightily in the Big East.
Louisville’s schedule – The Cardinals’ first 14 games of the season will all be the played in their home state. The first time Rick Pitino’s squad leaves Kentucky is Jan. 9, when it takes on South Florida in Tampa. Until that day, Louisville’s best chances at a loss will be at home against UNLV (Dec. 11) and Kentucky (Dec. 31) and on the road against Western Kentucky.
Kevin Jones, West Virginia – The 6-foot-8 junior forward certainly isn’t playing poorly. But considering all the hype around Jones entering the season – people were outraged when he was left off the Wooden preseason watch list – his production (12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds) has been a bit disappointing. Jones, who is shooting just 43.3 percent from the field, has scored more than 12 points just once thus far.
Rick Pitino had a great one-liner this week on the Big East now having 17 basketball teams thanks to the addition of TCU. “We should add MIT. That’s who it is going to take to figure this thing out.” … Kansas State transfer Ron Anderson continues to provide a huge boost for South Florida. Anderson scored 16 points in Saturday’s victory over Texas Tech and is averaging 10.1 points and 7.4 rebounds on the season … Cincinnati’s 34-point win over Dayton was a bit surprising considering the Flyers defeated the Bearcats by 15 points in last season’s NIT. And Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn are no longer on Cincinnati’s roster … Justin Brownlee is averaging a team-high 13.8 points for St. John’s … Six Big East teams are ranked in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Big 12 and Big Ten have five teams each.
THREE TO WATCH
Utah State at Georgetown, Saturday – This may look like an easy win on paper, but don’t be surprised if Stew Morrill and the Aggies – an NCAA tournament team last spring – give Georgetown a tough early test.
West Virginia at Miami, Saturday – The Mountaineers seem like a lock to win this one, but the Hurricanes are scary when Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant get hot.
Michigan State vs. Syracuse at MSG, Tuesday – The Spartans are still working through some issues – but so are the Orange, who appear to have been overrated entering the season.