February 29, 2008

Big East races continue to heat up

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

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

Best matchup: Georgetown at Marquette. Georgetown (23-4 overall, 13-3 Big East) is locked in a fierce battle for the Big East regular-season title, while Marquette (21-6, 11-5) is fighting for one of the four first-round byes in the conference tournament. Marquette has recovered from a midseason slide to win five consecutive games by an average margin of 18.6 points. The Golden Eagles enter Saturday's game 14-1 at home. Georgetown has won three consecutive games by double-digit margins, but the Hoyas have lost two of their past three road tests.

The pressure is on: Pittsburgh: It's tough to imagine the Panthers missing the NCAA Tournament after opening the season 10-0 including a victory over Duke but the toll of all those injuries has caught up to them late in the season. Pittsburgh's 73-67 victory over Cincinnati on Wednesday ended a three-game losing streak. The Panthers (19-8, 8-7) now have a critical two-game road trip to Syracuse and West Virginia. Pittsburgh's RPI is keeping the Panthers off the bubble for now, but they probably need to win at least one of those two road games to avoid feeling nervous as they head into the Big East tourney.

Upset alert: DePaul over Notre Dame: This one's definitely a shot in the dark, but we're guessing DePaul could come into this game with much more focus. DePaul (10-17, 5-10) needs a win badly as it fights to qualify for the Big East tournament, and Notre Dame might be a little sluggish Sunday as it heads into this road contest three days after a big test at Louisville. Notre Dame is definitely playing better than a DePaul team that has lost eight of its past nine games, but maybe playing the home finale against a traditional rival will help the Blue Demons deliver an inspired performance.

RPI Watch: The Big East is the fourth-ranked conference in the RPI, trailing the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-10. The good news for the Big East is that it had six teams ranked in the top 25 as of Thursday: No. 10 Georgetown, No. 11 Connecticut, No. 12 Louisville, No. 21 Notre Dame and No. 25 Pitt. The bad news is that it also had four teams outside the top 140: No. 145 St. John's, No. 160 DePaul, No. 166 USF and No. 205 Rutgers.

Key stat: Memphis' loss to Tennessee last weekend helped Notre Dame move up to second in the list of the longest current home winning streaks. The Irish have won 36 consecutive games at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame trails only BYU, which has won 46 in a row at home.

Freshmen to watch: USF guard Dominique Jones scored a career-high 31 points Tuesday in a 79-75 loss to Seton Hall. Jones also has two 30-point games and a 29-point effort this season. Jones has scored 465 points this season to break the school freshman record previously held by B.B. Waldon, who tallied 455 points in 1998-99. Villanova guard Corey Stokes has averaged 15 points per game in his past four contests. Stokes had scored in double-figures just once all season before this stretch.

Who's hot: Cincinnati forward John Williamson whose cousin is Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd has averaged 18.4 points per game in his past five contests. Connecticut junior forward Jeff Adrien has delivered three consecutive double-doubles. Adrien had 11 rebounds and a career-high 27 points Tuesday against Rutgers. After failing to reach double figures for six consecutive games, Connecticut forward Stanley Robinson has averaged 16.5 points per game in his last two contests. Georgetown forward DaJuan Summers has scored in double figures in five consecutive games and had 21 points nearly twice his season average Wednesday in a 64-52 victory over St. John's. Louisville's David Padgett has shot 19-for-27 and has averaged 23.5 ppg in his last two contests. ... Marquette guard Jerel McNeal has averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks in his past four games. McNeal is shooting 28-for-53 during that stretch. Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody has collected nine double-doubles in his past 10 games. Harangody's 40-point effort Thursday in a 90-85 loss to Louisville represents the most points an Irish player ever has scored in a Big East game. Pittsburgh center DeJuan Blair has recorded three consecutive double-doubles. Pitt forward Sam Young has scored at least 18 points in five consecutive games and has averaged 20 points per game during that stretch. Seton Hall guard/forward Brian Laing has scored at least 21 points in three consecutive games. Seton Hall guard Jamar Nutter has averaged 17.5 points per game and is 8-for-13 from 3-point range in his past two contests. Syracuse forward Paul Harris has averaged 20.5 points in his past six contests. West Virginia forward Joe Alexander is 15 of 22 from the floor and has averaged 19 points in his past two games.

Who's not: After averaging 19.7 points per game in a six-game stretch, Connecticut guard A.J. Price has shot 10 of 35 in his last three contests. Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn may be wearing down from logging nearly 40 minutes every game. Flynn is 9-for-34 from the floor in his past two games. Syracuse forward Donte Greene is 9-for-22 in his past two games. Greene is averaging 17.1 points, but he has failed to score in double figures his past two outings. Villanova guard Corey Fisher has shot 18 of 69 overall and 4-for-22 from 3-point range in his past seven games.

Worth noting: Rutgers' starters scored only 26 points Tuesday in a 79-61 loss to Connecticut. St. John's guard Eugene Lawrence had four assists Wednesday in a 64-52 loss to Georgetown to move his career total to 503, making him just the third player in school history with at least 500 assists. Mark Jackson recorded 738 assists from 1983-87, and Jason Buchanan had 665 assists from 1989-92. Louisville has played much better than Villanova and owns the home-court advantage in Sunday's game, but history indicates Wildcats fans still have reason to fill optimistic. Villanova owns a 3-0 record against Louisville in Big East regular-season games. West Virginia's 85-73 victory over DePaul on Wednesday gave the Mountaineers four consecutive 20-win seasons. West Virginia hadn't done that since 1981-87. The NCAA statistical leaders through Sunday's games included four players with top-five rankings in various categories. Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet was third in blocks (4.4 per game). DePaul guard Cliff Clinkscales was third in assist-turnover ratio (3.21-1). USF forward/center Kentrell Gransberry was fourth in rebounding (11.0). Syracuse forward Arinze Onuaku was fifth in field-goal percentage (64.7). The statistics listed in parentheses reflect their current averages and not the totals mentioned in the NCAA rankings that were released Monday.

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

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

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