January 11, 2008

Huskies have chance to make statement

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Upcoming Big East Games
DePaul at St. John's
Connecticut at Georgetown
Seton Hall at Pittsburgh
Notre Dame at Marquette
USF at Providence
Villanova at Cincinnati
Louisville at Rutgers
Syracuse at West Virginia
Georgetown at Pittsburgh
Cincinnati at Notre Dame
Rutgers at Syracuse
DePaul at Villanova
Marquette at Louisville
St. John's at West Virginia
Providence at Connecticut
USF at Seton Hall

Best matchup: Connecticut at Georgetown. One year after failing to reach the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies (11-3, 2-1) have won two of their first three Big East games and nearly prevented Notre Dame from extending its home winning streak to 30. Are the Huskies back? We should get a clue Saturday when Connecticut goes on the road to face the seventh-ranked Hoyas (12-1, 2-0), who will be playing their Big East home opener after winning by double-digit margins at Rutgers and DePaul. This game matches two of the conference's best big men, as Georgetown's Roy Hibbert battles Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet in the paint. Hibbert recorded a double-double in his last game with 17 points and 11 rebounds in 24 minutes against DePaul. Thabeet leads the Big East with 3.9 blocks per game and harassed Notre Dame star Luke Harangody into a 5-of-23 performance from the floor last weekend. Georgetown's 59-46 victory over Connecticut last season ended the Huskies' 10-game winning streak in this rivalry. Georgetown hasn't beaten Connecticut two consecutive times since the 1992-93 season.

The pressure is on: Marquette. The Golden Eagles (12-2, 2-1) have been ranked all season and are 15th in the current Associated Press poll, but they still could really use a win Saturday when Notre Dame (12-2, 2-0) comes to town. A loss to the Irish would drop Marquette's Big East record to 2-2 before the Golden Eagles play back-to-back road games against Louisville and Connecticut.

Upset alert: Villanova at Cincinnati. The Bearcats (7-8, 2-1) remain under .500 because of a five-game losing streak they endured last month, but they have played much better since starting Big East play. Cincinnati has won two of its first three conference games, with victories at Louisville and at home against Syracuse. Although Villanova (11-2, 1-1) is ranked 19th in the nation, the Wildcats have played only two games on opposing teams' campuses and didn't leave Philadelphia for one of them a 101-93 victory over Temple. Villanova already lost to one inferior team on the road when it fell 84-76 to DePaul last week. Don't be surprised if it happens again Saturday night.

RPI watch: The Atlantic Coast Conference is the only league with a higher RPI than the Big East, but No. 8 Pittsburgh is the only Big East school ranked among the top 20.

Key stat: Don't expect many offensive fireworks in that Connecticut-Georgetown game this week. Georgetown entered the week leading the nation in field-goal percentage defense, while Connecticut ranked fourth in that category. Opponents are shooting 34.6 percent against Georgetown and 36.1 percent against Connecticut. The Huskies also lead the nation with 9.4 blocks per game.

Freshmen to watch: DePaul center Mac Koshwal has recorded double-doubles in two of his three Big East games. Pittsburgh's rash of injuries has allowed freshman swingman Gilbert Brown to move into the starting lineup. Brown averaged just 4.7 points per game through the Panthers' first 12 contests, but he has scored 10 points in each of Pitt's past three games. St. John's forward Justin Burrell is his team's leading scorer (12.4) and rebounder (7.4). The start of the Big East schedule hasn't caused Syracuse forward Donte Greene to cool off. Greene has averaged 22.7 points and 8.0 rebounds in the Orange's three Big East games. Greene, a 6-11 freshman forward, leads the Big East at 19.4 points per game.

Who's hot: Cincinnati guard Deonta Vaughn followed up a 24-point performance in a loss to St. John's by pouring in 29 points Wednesday in a 74-66 victory over Syracuse. Connecticut junior guard A.J. Price collected a career-high 25 points and had seven assists with only one turnover Tuesday in an 81-65 win over St. John's. Price is averaging 13.8 points per game this season, but he is averaging 18 points per game in Big East competition. Georgetown point guard Jonathan Wallace is 26-of-33 from the floor including 15-of-20 from 3-point range in his past six games. Luke Harangody is averaging 21.5 points and 13 rebounds in Notre Dame's two conference games. Harangody has five double-doubles in his past seven games. Pittsburgh guard Keith Benjamin has shot 70 percent from the floor and has averaged 18.3 points per game in the Panthers' past three contests. Benjamin had scored in double figures just twice in the Panthers' first 12 games. USF center Kentrell Gransberry has put together four consecutive double-doubles. Gransberry is averaging 20 points and 13.7 rebounds in three Big East games. He entered the week as the nation's third-leading rebounder.

Who's not: Cincinnati center Adam Hrycaniuk is 4-of-16 from the floor in his last four games. He has scored a total of 11 points during that stretch after reaching double figures in eight of his previous 11 games. DePaul guard Draelon Burns has shot 5-of-22 and has averaged just 7 points per game in the Blue Demons' past two games, though he still is averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game. Rutgers guard Corey Chandler is 2-of-20 from the floor in two games since returning from a foot injury. The freshman had averaged 20.5 points in the four contests before he got hurt. Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds is 10-of-32 in the Wildcats' past three games. He went 1-of-6 and scored just four points Sunday in a 64-63 victory over Pitt.

Worth noting: Seton Hall guard Paul Gause broke a bone in his right hand last week and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Gause leads the Big East with 3.2 steals per game. Connecticut's Jerome Dyson shot just 8-for-25 including 1-of-9 from 3-point range in his past two games, but the sophomore guard has made up for it on the other end of the floor with 13 steals in that stretch. He tied a school record Tuesday with nine steals against St. John's. The point guards on either side of Saturday's Notre Dame-Marquette contest had scary situations in their last games. Marquette's Dominic James sprained his right wrist Tuesday in a 61-56 victory over Seton Hall, though he isn't expected to miss any playing time. Notre Dame guard Tory Jackson bruised the cornea in his right eye Saturday during a collision with Hasheem Thabeet late in the first half of a 73-67 victory over Connecticut, though he returned to the game in the second half with his eye nearly swollen shut. Seton Hall senior swingman Brian Laing scored his 1,000th career point Tuesday during a 61-56 loss to Marquette. Laing became the 34th player in Seton Hall history to reach that plateau.

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Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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