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Five Questions to Ponder for the Big East

Issues remain unresolved heading into the stretch run

 by Raphielle Johnson

 

Heading into the final couple of weeks in the conference schedule, there aren’t too many teams that can say they’re satisfied with their work to this point. Each team has some questions that need answering if they hope to take part in postseason play, whether it is the NCAAs, NIT, or the simple matter of making it to Madison Square for the league tournament. Here are five questions, some of which are repeats from the previous “Five Questions” article, and some new thoughts for the remainder of the season.

 

1) What is going on at St. John’s?

The last time this issue was visited, Mike Jarvis had just lost his job. Now with the prostitution/curfew fiasco that took place in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, all you-know-what has broken loose. With the exception of the Colorado football team, there’s no more maligned sports program in America than St. John’s. Kevin Clark most likely will not be on the sidelines in Jamaica next season, and the Red Storm will be spectators in the Big East Tournament next month at their current rate. Names mentioned in relation to the opening include Rick Pitino (he denies any interest), Bobby Gonzalez of Manhattan, and P.J. Carlesimo of the San Antonio Spurs. P.J. ran a solid program at Seton Hall back in the day, so he knows what it takes to be successful in the New York metro area. Gonzalez does as well, so Father Harrington will have a tough decision to make come the off-season.

 

2) Who is the league’s best team?

This was a lengthy paragraph in January, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that Pittsburgh is the class of the league. Their 75-68 victory over Connecticut showed their ability to control tempo, thanks to their point guard Carl Krauser. Add to that their interior depth and strength, and an experienced backcourt, and the Panthers could find themselves defending their conference tourney title next month.

 

3) What’s wrong with UConn?

To be honest, at 20-5 not much is wrong with this team. The problem for the Huskies was most likely the unfair expectations placed on this team. Some even mentioned this squad in the same category of those Duke and UNLV teams of the early 90s, forgetting that those two teams had a wealth of experience playing with each other. Some of UConn’s major components, such as Charlie Villanueva and Josh Boone, have just been added to the mix this season, with some of the sophomores being counted on for more contributions. If coach Jim Calhoun can find solid scoring at the small forward position and Ben Gordon is more assertive on the offensive end, don’t be shocked if the Huskies are in San Antonio the first weekend of April.

 

4) Who needs to finish strong closing out the regular season?

Everyone needs to finish the season on a good note, but there’s a logjam in the middle of the league full of teams who need wins to help their NCAA Tournament argument. Notre Dame has done the most of late, with home wins over UConn and Seton Hall coupled with a road win at Syracuse. Seton Hall, Rutgers, Boston College, and Syracuse all need wins to end the year, for none of these three can say that they’re definitely in. Look out for spoilers in the form of Villanova and West Virginia, two teams who still have an outside shot of stealing a bid with an excellent finish. A strong finish is also important in terms of receiving a first round bye in the Big East Tournament; with Pitt being the only team is close to assuring itself of a day off on Wednesday March 10th.

 

5) How many teams will receive NCAA bids, and who will they be?

After last year’s travesty, the NCAA selection committee will award the league with six berths. The Big East, according to many projections, is the 3rd strongest league in America, behind the ACC and the SEC. Add to this sub par seasons for the Big Ten and Pac-10, and the league should get six. The six teams who will receive the good news are Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Providence, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Seton Hall. There is an outside chance for seven, but I wouldn’t count on it. This makes games at the end of the season, Seton Hall at Rutgers being one, crucial to the teams involved if they don’t want to feel the pressure of having to win the tournament to get into the Big Dance.

 

Hopefully this helps answer some questions about the Big East, and I hope to see you next month in New York City.

 

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