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March 2, 2007

Big East Breakdown: 'Nova clawing to survive

Weekly Big East Update
Team Conf. Overall
Pittsburgh 12-3 25-5
Georgetown 12-3 22-6
Louisville 11-4 21-8
Notre Dame 10-5 22-6
Syracuse 10-5 21-8
Marquette 9-6 22-8
West Virginia 8-7 20-8
DePaul 8-7 17-12
Villanova 8-7 20-9
Providence 8-7 18-10
Connecticut 6-9 17-12
St. John's 6-9 15-14
Seton Hall 4-11 13-15
South Florida 3-12 12-17
Rutgers 3-12 10-18
Cincinnati 2-13 11-18
Standings as of 3/1

Best matchup: Syracuse at Villanova. The Wildcats (20-9, 8-7) have the kind of RPI (19th) that makes you believe they have nothing to worry about when it comes time for the NCAA Tournament to extend bids. But not only would a home loss ruin Senior Day for Curtis Sumpter, Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan, it could leave Villanova alone in 10th place in the league. Then you have to think: Can a 10th-place team really make the NCAAs, RPI be damned? Syracuse (21-8, 10-5) is 5-3 on the road this season, and the Orange beat the Wildcats 75-64 in their first meeting, on Jan. 13. Demetris Nichols led 'Cuse with 23 points; Sumpter had 24 points and 12 rebounds for 'Nova. The Wildcats had better scratch like their NCAA life depends on it, because it probably does. But the Orange are playing for something, too a first-round bye in the Big East tournament.

Worst matchup: Seton Hall at Louisville. The Pirates (13-15, 4-11) didn't even qualify for the Big East tournament. The Cardinals (21-8, 11-4) have a first-round bye. The Hall doesn't even have the NIT to play for.

The pressure is on: Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. The Irish (22-6, 10-5) can wrap up a first-round bye in the Big East tournament with a win at Rutgers (10-18, 3-12). And it's a game Notre Dame should win. It would push them to a five-game winning streak and probably to a fourth seed in the NCAA tournament. The Scarlet Knights aren't going to the Big East tournament and have nothing to lose. It would be a nice carryover to next season to upset No. 22 Notre Dame in their final game. The Irish have been unsteady on the road in the conference, winning only twice in seven games.

Upset alert: Pittsburgh at Marquette. The Panthers (25-5, 12-3) are playing for a regular-season championship. The Golden Eagles (22-8, 9-6) are playing to shake out of the doldrums, sew up their NCAA bid, and build some March momentum. Tom Crean's squad has dropped four of five and hasn't resembled a team that's ranked 20th by the Associated Press. A win here could re-establish Marquette as a team that could be a noisemaker in the NCAAs. The Golden Eagles actually won at Pitt, 77-74, in overtime on Jan. 21. Dominic James had 23 for Marquette.

Who's hot: Providence center Herbert Hill, who in conference games only leads the Big East in scoring and is second in rebounding, continues to flash his NBA potential. In his past two games he's averaging 28.5 points and 15.5 rebounds and is shooting 69.4 percent (25 of 36). UConn forward Jeff Adrien posted his conference leading 20th double-double (career-high 20 points, 10 rebounds) in the loss to Villanova on Wednesday. He's shooting 55.6 percent (19 of 34) over the past three games and averaging 16.7 points. UConn freshman guard Jerome Dyson has led or tied for the scoring lead for the Huskies in their past six games. Syracuse forward Demetris Nichols has made 33 of his last 34 free-throw attempts.

Who's not: Syracuse's Nichols is fortunate to be shooting so well at the foul line. He has made just 22 of his last 64 shots (34.3 percent) from the field over the past four games. USF leading scorer Melvin Buckley has shot just 31.1 percent (18 of 61) over the past four games. In the final home game of his career Wednesday against Providence he went 4 of 19, including missing all 11 of his 3-point attempts.

Must see TV: UConn at Georgetown, noon, Saturday, CBS. The traditional Big East powers meet on national TV for the first time this season. And this may surprise you: The Huskies have a 10-game winning streak against the Hoyas, who will be the heavy favorite in this one. Georgetown had an 11-game winning streak stopped in its last outing, at Syracuse on Monday.

Key stat: Pittsburgh has held 14 of 15 Big East opponents under the 70-point mark. The only time it didn't it lost in overtime to Marquette.

Bench bonus: Three players off the West Virginia bench scored in double figures in its 80-66 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Freshmen Joe Mazzulla and Da'Sean Butler had 11 and 10 respectively, and junior Jamie Smalligan had 13. The totals were season highs for Mazzulla and Smalligan.

They said it: "We didn't deserve to be in (the NCAA Tournament) 10 days ago, but in college basketball, a lot can change in 10 days." Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.

"Herb (Hill) is playing like a monster. He's playing beyond great. The seniors around the country see the end is near and the best ones don't want it to end. Herb has the ability to carry us here down the stretch." Providence coach Tim Welsh.

Worth noting: Pittsburgh shot better from the floor (60.4 percent) than the free-throw line (58.3 percent) in its victory over West Virginia. Mountaineers leading scorer Frank Young had a season-low two points against the Panthers. It was the fewest points he'd had since a season-opening goose egg against Mt. St. Mary's. Cincinnati's Wednesday night victory over Seton Hall halted the Bearcats' 10-game losing streak. Providence has a 10-game winning streak over Seton Hall, its opponent on Saturday. Seton Hall's Eugene Harvey, a former four-star prospect, leads all Big East freshmen in scoring at 16.5 ppg. Villanova leads the Big East in free-throw shooting and has three players hitting better than 80 percent at the line. Georgetown center Roy Hibbert is on pace to set a conference record for field goal shooting in league play. He is shooting 73.5 percent (72 of 98). The record is 67.6 percent set by Villanova's Michael Bradley in 2000-01.

Freshman to watch: Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds appeared to be hitting the freshman wall a couple of weeks ago. The 6-2 Virginia native had a five-game stretch in which he made only 9 of 41 shots (22 percent) and averaged 8.6 points, scoring in double figures just once. Let's just say he has his legs back. The former four-star prospect torched UConn for 40 points on Wednesday night, hitting six 3-pointers. The 40 was one point shy of the Big East freshman record set by Marco Lokar of Seton Hall against Pitt on Feb. 20, 1990. Reynolds has averaged 27 points over the past four games and shot 50 percent (34 of 68). He'll be integral to the Wildcats' hopes of making the NCAA Tournament.

Something you may have missed: Louisville is 8-2 when freshman Derrick Caracter plays 10 or more minutes, including a current five-game winning streak.

RPI watch: The league held the fifth spot in the latest RPI. Pittsburgh continues to be its highest-ranked team, sitting at fourth. Georgetown is next at 17th, with Villanova 19th. Marquette is the only other Big East team in the top 30, checking in at No. 28.

Jostling for NCAA position are Notre Dame (34th), Louisville (40th), Syracuse (49th) and West Virginia (55th).

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | SEC | Pac-10

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