Tuesday Big East Preview

    
March 9th, 2010
The 16-team brawl that is the Big East Tournament begins on Tuesday with teams nine through sixteen playing on the opening day. Similar to last season there are bubble teams playing with the hope of gaining the opportunity to bolster their resumes against stiffer competition later in the week. You've got the bubble angle for USF and Seton Hall, two teams who may be closer to working their way into the Tournament than anticipated a couple of weeks ago as the nation concentrated on Connecticut.

Speaking of the reeling Huskies, what will they bring to the table against St. John's? Head coach Jim Calhoun was none too happy with the play or leadership of his three seniors, benching the trio for the final sixteen minutes of their loss at USF on Saturday. Add in the rumor that this is the coaches' final Big East Tournament (SNY's Chris Carlin reported that "sources" tell him Calhoun will retire; CBS' Seth Davis later reported that Calhoun's son Jeff told him that there was no intention of retiring) and the questions regarding St. John's head coach Norm Roberts' job security and you've got a game that may be more interesting for reasons outside of the teams on the floor.

And there's the return of NYC high school legend Lance Stephenson, whose Cincinnati Bearcats will take on Rutgers in the final game of the night. While the Rookie of the Year award will have already been decided, the lone members of the All-Rookie Team to be unanimous selections (Stephenson and Rutgers' Dane Miller) will share the spotlight as will experienced guards Deonta Vaughn and Mike Rosario. Do the Bearcats have an NCAA pulse? It's definitely a faint one if there (same goes for the Huskies) but you never know when it comes to March. The winners move on to face seeds five through eight on Wednesday.

#9 USF vs. #16 DePaul (Noon; ESPN2)

This is the toughest game of the entire Big East Tournament to play; at least in the later rounds you've got a frenzied crowd to feed off of. The atmosphere in last year's Noon Tuesday tip: more like a lightly-attended high school game. That adds in the importance of bringing your own energy to the floor to the keys in this one. The Blue Demons (much to their chagrin) are in the game for the second consecutive season but they got the job done against Cincinnati and could do the same against USF. Two of the better scoring guards will be on display in USF's Dominique Jones and DePaul's Will Walker but if you were to ask which one is the more prolific that's an easy question to answer (Jones).

The key for DePaul: dealing with a team that's far deeper inside. Jarrid Famous, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Gus Gilchrist are just three of the players inside that the Blue Demons could have a tough time managing should Mac Koshwal get into foul trouble. DePaul really needs this to be a "sloppy" game if they're to win, and that's more than possible in this situation with the Bulls being in a position they haven't been in since 1992 (their last NCAA Tournament appearance). The key for USF: don't turn the ball over and take good shots. Outside of Jones there shouldn't be anyone else throwing up too many contested looks, and Mike Mercer is a player on the wing who can get to the rim and finish. Play the way that they have been of late and Stan Heath's team should move on.

#12 Connecticut vs. #13 St. John's (2 PM; ESPN2)

Looking for the least predictable game? This could be it, despite the Huskies dominating the series of late. Coach Calhoun will give his youngsters more time on Tuesday; whether or not they actually start remains to be seen. But it a few cases those are guys who have either played very limited minutes or not at all before Saturday's loss in Tampa. As for the Red Storm, you've got the rumblings about Norm Roberts' job status to deal with but they are coming off of a win to end the regular season (at DePaul in triple overtime). There's definitely talent and depth on that bench with D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne leading the way, but they've been unable to put it together in Big East play. Could the tournament be the time when St. John's gets things to click?

Kemba Walker will run the show for Connecticut; that much is certain. But what roles will Jerome Dyson, Gavin Edwards and Stanley Robinson have? That's the major question mark. If they're limited youngsters such as Ater Majok, Alex Oriakhi, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Darius Smith will have plenty of minutes at their fingertips. The key for UConn: stay under control and execute. Far too often in recent games there have been forays to the basket with little clue of what the defense is doing or what the goal is.

#10 Seton Hall vs. #15 Providence (7 PM, ESPNU)

Given the up-tempo style that both teams like to play this is a dangerous game for Bobby Gonzalez's Pirates. The two met on Saturday with Seton Hall winning at The Dunk 94-82; neither team will struggle to score points. The difference will likely be shot selection and turnovers. With the likes of Jeremy Hazell (SHU) and Jamine Peterson (PC) on the floor there will be more than your fair share of free-wheelers when it comes to what kinds of shots are taken. But whichever team can harness that and find good looks while playing at their preferred tempo will more than likely move on to Wednesday night. Herb Pope has been one of the best newcomers in the Big East, showing the ability to score on the low block (and the occasional mid-range jumper) while also controlling the boards.

Freshman Bilal Dixon will need to combine with Peterson on the glass in order for the Friars to avoid Pope dominating the interior. And as with any team that likes to get out and run the point guards will be crucial tonight. Sharaud Curry (PC) and Eugene Harvey (SHU) have plenty of experience while younger guards such as Vincent Council (PC), Jordan Theodore and Keon Lawrence (SHU) have the skill to make things happen in a hurry (although Lawrence has struggled with his shot for more than a month). The Pirates still have hopes of going to the NCAA Tournament but a slip-up here would likely be fatal.

#11 Cincinnati vs. #14 Rutgers (9 PM; ESPNU)

The Bearcats limped to the finish line, most recently getting beat by 27 at Georgetown on Saturday. What can one make of Mick Cronin's team? The talent is definitely there with the likes of Stephenson, Deonta Vaughn, Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright among others. But for some reason while they've been able to click on occasion the consistency hasn't been there. Now they face a Rutgers squad that's played better basketball through the second half of the conference slate, and in Defensive Player of the Year Hamady Ndiaye they've got a game-changer in the paint. The key for Rutgers: keeping Mike Rosario's shot selection in check.

The sophomore can put up points in a hurry but when he gets wild the entire offense suffers. There's more than enough help for Rosario, notably freshman Dane Miller and Florida transfer Jonathan Mitchell. But one guy straying off too often hurt Fred Hill's team dearly in the first half of Big East play, and that's something they need to avoid tonight. As for Cincinnati, they need Yancy Gates to show up ready to go. He's had stretches where he's looked unstoppable, only to flip the switch and look like he could care less as to whether or not he were on the floor. If he and Ibrahima Thomas play well up front the Bearcats are a tough team to beat.

Picks
USF over DePaul
Connecticut over St. John's
Seton Hall over Providence
Rutgers over Cincinnati

Live coverage at MSG