Thursday, March 12, 2009

Big East Tournament Recap #2

UPDATE 3/12 1541: Villanova 76, Marquette 75. Last....second...shot....prevents epic collapse. I need a sedative.

Yesterday's results returned the tournament to form. After one mild upset and one major surprise, the higher seeded teams reasserted control over the Big East Bracket.

Providence survived a gritty effort by DePaul and eliminated the Blue Demons 83-74. I think DePaul has to consider this tourney run a success, considering they entered with nary a win in conference and left 1-1. Providence remains firmly ensconsed on the bubble going into tonight's contest against Louisville. Personally I think a win over Louisville would put them into the NCAA field, providing no more Cleveland State-type teams win their conference tournaments.

My opinion of the conference tournament nonsense deserves it's own column, but let's just say I'm not a fan.

Providence finished 2-5 against the teams above them in the standings, and got blown out at Louisville by 27 three weeks ago. A win on a neutral court would seal their NCAA bid.

West Virginia rode a huge first half and beat Notre Dame 74-62. The Fighting Irish didn't really fight in that first half, scoring only 18 points to trail by 18. Notre Dame and Georgetown were the two teams exposed as overrated this season - high pre-season rankings, then el floppo during conference play. I'm glad it was those two Catholic schools and not Providence and Villanova, whom I expected it to be. WVA gets the Pitt Panthers today. WVA has played Pitt twice this season, losing by 13 in Pittsburgh and by 11 at home. I don't see any reason why Pitt won't win tonight. As an aside, I'm glad the Mountaineers are in the opposite half of the bracket. Along with Georgetown, there the one team consistently giving Villanova fits these days (UCONN doesn't count, well, because they always give Villanova fits).

Syracuse was in a dogfight with Seton Hall until some second half unpleasantness occurred on the court - a couple of technical fouls on the Pirates, and then a double technical on Eugene Harvey (SH) and Eric Devendorf (SRY). That last one fired up the Orange(men), and especially Devendorf, who collectively went on a 17-3 run and blew the game open, winning 89-74. As a reward, Syracuse matches up with Connecticut today; UCONN won their only meeting earlier this year by 14. Syracuse is in, so this is for pride.

That brings us to Marquette. The Warriors choked the life out of St John's, holding the Redmen to 10 first half points. No that's not a typo. Leading by 28 at the break, Marquette cruised to a 74-45 pasting. Their game with Villanova is the most intriguing one today. Both teams have been ranked in the top 10 this season; both teams held serve at home. Villanova won the second round bye because Marquette lost 4 in a row to close out the regular season. Interestingly, of the top 4 seeds only Villanova was beaten by Marquette, and that was the first conference game for both teams.... on New Year's Day. Nice scheduling, there.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Villanova win, and I would be equally nonplussed if Marquette prevails. At this point, the teams are playing for seedings. One will be a #3, and the other a #4 when the NCAAs start. I think the game means more to Villanova, because they have an outside chance to be the #3 seed playing in Philadelphia next week; the home crowd helped them out 3 years ago during their second round game against Arizona. That 'Zona team was really good; I don't know if Nova wins that game on a neutral court.

A note about past Conference champions. For the first 10 years of the league only three teams won the tournament (Georgetown, Syracuse, and St John's). Georgetown still has the most tournament wins at seven, even though they won 6 of those from 1980-1989 (the Ewing/Mourning years). The full list:

Georgetown - 7
Connecticut - 6
Syracuse - 5
St John's - 3
Seton Hall - 2
Pittsburgh - 2 (and the defending champs)
BC - 2
Providence - 1
Villanova - 1

The Wildcats have been to several finals (5, including their lone win in 1995), but none since 1997. Getting to the final this season is a long shot - I think they're the weakest of the top 4 seeds, and would have thought that if they'd finished higher in conference - but you never know.

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