Big East Basketball Tournament 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

-- Welcome to SB Nation New York's 2011 Big East Tournament Preview. We're dedicated to preparing you for the madness at Madison Square Garden!

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Cincinnati Bearcats (24-7, 11-7 Big East): Bearcats Look For Favorable NCAA Seed

Cincinnati Bearcats (24-7, 11-7 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 7; plays Villanova/South Florida on Wednesday (7 p.m. on ESPN).

Head Coach: It took Mick Cronin five years, but he’s finally gotten Cincinnati to the NCAA Tournament. Cincy's record is a little inflated, thanks to a weak non-conference schedule, but the Bearcats should earn an at-large bid to the big dance. 

Team MVP: Junior forward Yancy Gates leads the Bearcats in scoring (11.3 points per game) and rebounding (6.9 rebounds per game). Gates is not a dominant scorer, but he's consistent one. In the Bearcats’ last five games, four of which were wins, Gates has been in double figures in scoring. The 6-foot-9 forward, who shot 49-percent this season, looks for high-percentage, in-the-paint points.

Playing For: A better seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Bearcats go one and done in the Big East Tournament, Cincinnati is probably looking at No. 7/8/9 seed. A few good wins could help the Bearcats avoid a rough first-round NCAA matchup. 

Breakdown: The Bearcats are a balanced offensive team, but their strength is their defense. This season, Cincinnati kept opponents to a conference-low 58 points per game. The Bearcats like games in the 60s and they usually find themselves there. 

Cincinnati doesn’t have too many wins that may impress you. The Bearcats have taken care of the lesser teams for the most part, but have also been playing well recently. Down the stretch of the regular season, Cincinnati picked up two wins over Georgetown and also knocked off Louisville. Freshman guard Sean Kilpatrick gives the Bearcats a good shooter off the bench (39.9 percent on 3-pointers) and they’ll need him, with help from their other perimeter players if they’re going to make some noise in the Big East Tournament.

-- written by Chris Celletti.

West Virginia Mountaineers (20-10, 11-7 Big East): Mountaineers Looking Toward NCAA Tourney

West Virginia Mountaineers (20-10, 11-7 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 6;  plays Marquette/Providence winner on Wednesday (9 p.m. on ESPN)

Head Coach: Bob Huggins is one of the most intense coaches in the country, and has turned West Virginia into a powerhouse in his four years in Morgantown. Huggie Bear will make it four straight tourney appearances at West Virginia with an invite this year.

Team MVP: Junior forward Kevin Jones is the Mountaineers’ best all-around player. The big-man gives them size inside (6-foot-8, 260-pounds), but also can knock down the occasional three pointer. In their regular season finale Saturday, Jones, who scored 25 points and pulled down 16 boards, was dominant in a big win over Louisville.

Playing For: A good seed in the NCAA Tournament. Right now, many tournament projections have West Virginia in the No. 5-6 seed range. That’s probably where they end up, but a best case scenario could see them move up to a No. 3 spot.

Breakdown: Huggins’ teams are always physical and this West Virginia team is no different. They aren’t a great scoring team, but they can play well defensively in the half court. That quality gives WVU a chance against anybody. WVU avoids big scoring runs from its opponents, as the Mountaineers allow teams to shoot just 28-percent from 3-point range.

Truck Bryant is an erratic scorer from the point guard position. If WVU can get scoring from Bryant, who can put up big nights, the Mountaineers are tough to beat. He splits time with veteran Joe Mazzulla, who plays distributor. the question is: Can WVU shoot well enough from the perimeter to make a run in the tournament?

-- written by Chris Celletti.


Providence Friars (15-16, 4-14 Big East): Friars Seem To Have Little Chance

Providence Friars (15-16, 4-14 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 14, plays No. 11 Marquette Golden Eagles on Tuesday (9 p.m. on ESPNU).

Head Coach: Third-year coach Keno Davis went from having Providence finish seventh in the conference in his first season, to finishing 15th and 14th in the last two. Of Providence’s 15 wins this season, not too many of them were of the impressive variety. 

Team MVP: Senior forward Marshon Brooks is obviously the Friars’ best player. The SB Nation New York Player Of The Year led the Big East in scoring during the regular season with 24.8 points per game and was an All-Big East First Team selection (shocking that he wasn’t a unanimous selection). On Feb. 23, he scored 52 points in a loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a single-game Big East record. 

Playing For: The only way Providence plays postseason basketball is in they win the Big East Tournament. Good luck. 

Breakdown: The Friars’ chances rest on Brooks, but even if Brooks plays great Providence still will struggle to win. In Brooks’ record-setting 52-point performance against Notre Dame, the Friars lost, giving up 94 points. Sophomore guard Vincent Council does a little bit of everything. Council leads Providence in assists with 5.3 per game and also pulls down over 4 rebounds per game. Bilal Dixon, who averages a over a block per game and is the Friars second-best rebounder (6.4 rpg), gives Providence a solid down-low presence.

Thanks to Brooks, the Friars are the second-best scoring team in the league, but they struggle defensively allowing 75 points per game. That’s been their achilles heel all year and ultimately will be the reason their season ends against Marquette on Tuesday. 

-- written by Chris Celletti.


DePaul Blue Demons (7-23, 1-17 Big East): Young DePaul Tries To Build For Next Season

DePaul Blue Demons (7-23, 1-17 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 16; play No. 9 Connecticut Huskies on Tuesday (noon on ESPN2).

Head Coach: It has been a rough first year for first-year Oliver Purnell, who formerly coached the Clemson Tigers for seven seasons. Purnell also coached at Dayton, Old Dominion and Radford. In 2003, Purnell led Dayton to the Atlantic 10 Tournament title.

Team MVP: Though, freshman forward Cleveland Melvin will not be available for the remainder of the season because of a thumb injury he suffered in a loss to St. John's, Feb. 23. The 6-foot-8 forward, who averaged 17.4 points per game during league play, was by far DePaul's best player this season. The unanimous All-Big East Rookie Team selection and SB Nation New York Rookie Of The Year honoree will end the year as the team's best scorer (14.3 points per game) and second-best rebounder (5.9 rebounds per game).

Playing For: Considering that DePaul had a terrible regular season, it's only hope of making a postseason appearance is winning the Big East Tournament and earning the automatic bid that goes with it. Of course, Lindsay Lohan's odds of earning a movie role in 2011 are better than the Blue Demons winning five straight Big East games.

Breakdown: Freshman Brandon Young is now DePaul's first option. In the Blue Demon's first game without Melvin, a Feb. 26 loss at the South Florida Bulls, the 6-foot-2 guard netted 23 points. That performance helped Young, DePaul's second-best scorer (12.4 ppg) and best passer (3.7 assists per game), earn Big East Rookie Of The Week honors on Monday, Feb 28.


Georgetown Hoyas (21-9, 10-8 Big East): Hoyas Looking For Momentum

Georgetown Hoyas (21-9, 10-8 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 8; plays Connecticut Huskies/DePaul Blue Demons winner (noon on ESPN).

Head Coach: John Thompson III took over Georgetown and quickly brought them back to national prominence by reaching the Final Four in his third season. Now in his seventh season in DC, Thompson’s teams are perennially in the top-25. 

Team MVP: The Big East Preseason Player of the Year, senior guard Austin Freeman, hasn’t disappointed. He averages 17.8 points per game on 49-percent shooting and 86-percent free-throw shooting. He’s an all-around scorer and compliments senior point guard Chris Wright perfectly. 

Playing For: The Hoyas are playing for seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Georgetown is solidly in, but since the Hoyas have been reeling a bad showing in the Big East Tournament could see them in an unfavorable spot come Selection Sunday. 

Breakdown: Georgetown doesn’t really have a resume that jumps out at you. They seem more of a compiler of wins, if you will. Their most impressive non-conference win was at the Missouri Tigers, and their best conference victory is either a home victory against the Louisville Cardinals or a road win at the Syracuse Orange. The Hoyas generally have beaten who they're supposed to beat and lost to who they’re supposed to lose to.

Recently, they have not played well, losing four of five coming into the tournament. Two of those losses came against Cincinnati, including a 22-point hammering on Saturday. The Hoyas are the most efficient shooting team in the league (48.0 percent) and one of the best three-point shooting teams (36.5), which is what they’ll have to lean on to pull off a few wins this week. 

-- written by Chris Celletti.

Connecticut Huskies (21-9, 9-9 Big East): UConn Playing For NCAA Position

Connecticut Huskies (21-9, 9-9 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 9; play No. 16 DePaul Blue Demons on Tuesday (noon on ESPN2).

Head Coach: Regardless of what you may think of Jim Calhoun, he's one of the best coaches in the country. Calhoun, who's coaching his 25th season at UConn, continually brings in top, NBA-level talent and usually has great results with them.  

Team MVP: Junior forward Kemba Walker, who averages 23.1 points per game, is one of the best players in the country and a dynamic scoring point guard. As he goes, the Huskies go and they can win the Big East Tournament because of him. He’s leaving after this season for the NBA, so expect him to go out trying to improve his draft status in the Big East and NCAA Tournament. 

Playing For:  Improved seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Having lost four of their last five, the Huskies stock has been falling recently. A loss in the first round to DePaul would put them on the No. 7 line, while a good tournament could see them rise to as high as a No. 3 or 4 seed. 

Breakdown: Early in the season, UConn burst on the scene, which is strange to say because usually they have tons of eyes on them. In a loaded Big East Conference, no one really expected much from this young Huskies team. However when UConn posted wins over the Michigan State Spartans and Kentucky Wildcats in late November, it made it apparent that the Huskies were a force to be reckoned with.

Walker is the leader in more than one way and if he plays well the 16th-ranked Huskies can beat anyone in the country. Calhoun’s teams are always big down low and this one is no different. Helped by big bodies like Alex Oriakhi and freshman Roscoe Smith, who are pulling down the boards and blocking shots, UConn is ranked 10th in the country in rebounding (40.0 rpg).

-- written by Chris Celletti.

USF Bulls (9-22, 3-15 Big East): South Florida Looking For Big East Tournamet Miracle

South Florida Bulls (9-22, 3-15 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 15; play No. 10 Villanova Wildcats on Tuesday (7 p.m. on ESPNU).

Head Coach: Last year, under third-year coach Stan Heath, the USF basketball program earned its first 20-win season, but this year was a different story. Heath, who after last season signed an contract extension that expires in 2015, is having a hard time making USF basketball relevant in football country.

Team MVP: The name, Augustus Gilchrist, is fantastic and his game is pretty good too. All season, the 6-foot-10, junior forward, who finished the regular season as the team's best scorer (13.2 points per game) has been USF's go-to guy. Gilchrist's size and athletic ability creates tough matchup for opponents, but without much talent surrounding him constancy has been the issue.

Playing For: Unless a miracle-championship run in the Big East Tournament happens, then the Bulls are more thank likely headed back to the drawing board for the 2011-'12 season.

Breakdown: Explosiveness is not in USF's basketball dictionary. Only one player (Gilchrist) is averaging double-digits in scoring and the team is ranked last in the conference in points per game, 61.7. Now, I am no basketball genius, but I do know that scoring more than the other team is the key to winning. Sophmore forward Jawanza Poland is the team's second-best scorer (9.2 ppg), while teammate junior forward Ron Anderson Jr. is the squad's best rebound (6.5 rebounds per game).


Villanova Wildcats (21-10, 9-9 Big East): Reeling Wildcats Look For Turnaround

Villanova Wildcats (21-10, 9-9 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 10; play No. 15 South Florida on Tuesday (7 p.m. on ESPNU).

Head Coach: Jay Wright has become one of the best coaches in the country, and under his tenure, Villanova has become one of the elite teams in the Big East. This version of the Wildcats isn’t one of their most talented in recent years, but they are still dangerous, and under Wright, you know they are a threat. 

Team MVP: When senior guard Corey Fisher, who's the Wildcats’ leading scorer at over 15 points per game, plays well 'Nova usually wins. The All-Big East Second-Teamer struggled down the stretch and it showed as Villanova lost four in a row to close out Big East regular-season play. In three of those four losses, Fisher hasn’t reached double digits in points. Fisher is the Wildcats' most important player and they’ll need him to play well offensively, if they hope to have a good showing in both in the Big East and NCAA Tournament.

Playing For:  Better seeding in the NCAA Tournament. A good showing here can help erase the bad taste of the final four regular season games, and help restore a solid seed. A quick loss or pedestrian tournament, and Villanova could find themselves in a tough spot as a No. 7 seed. 

Breakdown: Villanova gets its scoring from its senior back court and the two Coreys: Fisher and Stokes. But its big men are paramount to their success. If they can get offensive production from big-men Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena, they will put up a lot of points and will be tough to beat. 

Villanova is a veteran team, and under Wright, you can’t be shocked if they make a run in the league tournament. Stokes and Fisher have been there before and there’s enough talent around them that Villanova can beat anyone in the conference. However the Wildcats recent play is alarming, so it will be interesting to see which 'Nova team shows up for the tournament. They’re the best free-throw shooting team in the conference (75.3 percent), which could help during these conference tournament games that often come down to the wire. 

-- written by Chris Celletti.

Louisville Cardinals (23-8, 12-6 Big East): Cardinals Aim For Second Big East Tournament Crown

Louisville Cardinals (23-8, 12-6 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 3; play 6/11/14 winner on Thursday (9 p.m. on ESPN).

Head Coach: Rick Pitino, who's coaching his 10th season at Louisville, is one of the three living legends currently coaching in the Big East Conference. Pitino, who led the Cardinals to their first ever Big East Tournament title in 2008, has nine Elite 8 and five Final Four appearances on his resume.

Team MVP: Senior guard Preston Knowles is Louisville's biggest threat to put up big numbers. The 6-foot-1 guard is the team's leading scorer (14.5 points per game), shooter (7.6 3-point attempts per game) and team captain. The best aspect about Knowles, a All-Big East second teamer, is that he has been the team's leading scorer just once in the Cardinals' last 12 games.

Playing For: A Big East Tournament title would probably propel Louisville to a solid No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but who knows what will happen. The Cardinals downed No. 1-seed candidate Pittsburgh last Sunday, Feb. 27, but lost at the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday.

Breakdown: Knowles and junior Kyle Kuric (10.8 ppg) lead a team that lives and dies by the 3-pointer. If I received a dollar for every 3-point attempt that Louisville chucked up this season (750), I'd be able to throw a great Big East Tournament party (you wouldn't even need to BYOB). Knowles is a player who will shoot from anyplace, while Kuric is a sharp-shooter (45.5-percent on 3-pointers) and is the most underrated player in the league.

Sophomore guard Peyton Siva, who averages 9.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.9 assists and leads the conference in steals per game (2.1) does all the small things. The question is, can the Cardinals survive without sophomore forward Rakeem Buckles, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday?


Pittsburgh Panthers (27-4, 15-3 Big East): Pitt Big East Tournament Favorite

Pittsburgh Panthers (27-4, 15-3 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 1; play 8/9/16 winner on Thursday (noon on ESPN)

Head Coach: Jamie Dixon, who's coaching his eighth year at Pittsburgh, is probably the most underrated head coach in the nation. Entering this season, Dixon has the highest Big East winning percentage (.696) than any other conference coach (yeap, that includes legends like Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino). Unfortunately for the rest of the coaches, his percentage just went up.

Team MVP:  Frankly, there are about two other MVPs for the Panthers, but junior guard Ashton Gibbs stands out above them all. Why? Because the 6-foot-2 guard, who earned All-Big East First Team honors, leads the team in scoring (16.4 points per game), 3-point shooting percentage (46.6), is automatic from the free-throw line (89.5 percent) and if Pitt needs a basket, they look to him.

Playing For: A recent losses to St. John's Red Storm, Feb. 19, and Louisville Cardinals, Feb. 27, have put Pitt on the NCAA Tournament top-seed bubble. A finals appearances should help the Panthers earn their second No. 1 seed in three seasons.

Breakdown: By far the most well balanced team, the SB Nation New York's Best Big East Team has been the class of the nation's best conference all season. However, Pittsburgh could never string together enough victories to earn the nation's top ranking  -- Pitt was ranked No. 2 on Jan. 24.

Gibbs and senior guard Brad Wannamaker (11.9 ppg), a All-Big East second teamer, can beat you inside and out, while senior center Gary McGhee and senior forward Gilbert Brown protect the rim with physical play. Sophomore guard Travon Woodall is the only non-junior/senior that plays 20-plus minutes per game. That experience should help the program earn its third Big East Tournament title.


Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-16, 5-13 Big East): Rutgers Pointing Toward Next Season

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (14-16, 5-13 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 13; plays No. 12 Seton Hall Pirates on Tuesday (2 p.m. on ESPN2).

Head Coach: Mike Rice is in his first season guiding the Scarlet Knights. The fiery coach has found out how tough the Big East is to navigate, but looks as though he has planted the seeds to grow the program in the right direction. 

Team MVP: Senior forward Jonathan Mitchell leads Rutgers in scoring at 14.2 points per game and is second in rebounding at 5.7 per game. He's also the Scarlet Knights’ best three-point shooter at 39.0-percent. In three of the five conference wins for Rutgers, Mitchell has passed the 20-point mark. 

Playing For:  A win or two in the Big East Tournament would send good vibes heading into next season, where Rutgers will look to become a bigger force in the league. Rutgers, which is matched up against Seton Hall and then St. John’s Red Storm, if they win Tuesday, will be playing for local pride, bragging rights and maybe a recruiting edge as well. 

Breakdown: With just one double-figures scorer per game (Mitchell), Rutgers looks for a balanced offensive attack.  Unfortunately, they just have too much trouble scoring -- ranked 15th in the conference in scoring (66.1 ppg). However, they get a favorable matchup against Seton Hall which is ranked 14th (67.4 ppg).

But Rutgers is a pretty good defensive team, and Mike Rice has them playing hard every night. Freshman forward Gilvydas Biruta, who averages almost 10 points per game in just 21 minutes on average, has been a nice addition to the program. In his first season in the Big East Biruta was selected to the All-Big East Rookie Team. Sophomore Dane Miller is third on the team in scoring at 9.3 ppg and is the top rebounder at 6 per game. The seeds are planted for Rutgers to become a bigger force in the league in years to come, but they’re not there yet. Except a one-and-done for Rutgers this week. 

-- written by Chris Celletti.

Marquette Golden Eagles (18-13, 9-9 Big East): Marquette Tries To Get Off NCAA Touranment Bubble

Marquette Golden Eagles (18-13, 9-9 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 11; play No. 14 Providence Friars on Tuesday (9 p.m. on ESPNU).

Head Coach: Buzz Williams, who's coaching his third year at Marquette, has done a solid job of keeping the Marquette basketball, a 94-year tradition, competitive in the nation's toughest conference. However, the Golden Eagles are still searching for that one Big East accomplishment that could carry the program to the next level.

Team MVP: All season, senior forward Jimmy Butler has been Marquette's most consistent, all-around threat. The 6-foot-7 forward, who is averaging 34-plus minutes per game and earned All-Big East honorable mention, will enter the tournament as the Golden Eagles' leading scorer (16.2 points per game) and second-best rebounder (6.2 rebounds per game).

Playing For: After losing to the Cincinnati Bearcats, March 2, and the Seton Hall Pirates, March 5, to end the regular season, the Golden Eagles enter the Big East Tournament officially on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Currently, Marquette is in, but a first-round loss to a very beatable Providence team could end their NCAA aspirations.

Breakdown: Marquette has a solid trio of Butler, junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom and junior forward Jae Crowder, who will try an earn two wins to help the Golden Eagles earn their six straight 20-win season. Johnson-Odom, 15.9 ppg, can score with the best in the Big East conference, while Crowder can provided a solid inside (Marquette's leading rebound with 6.9 rpg) and outside (36.7 percent from 3-point land) weapon.


Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-5, 14-4 Big East): Irish Strive For First Big East Tournament Title

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-5, 14-4 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 2; play No. 7/10/15 winner on Thursday (7 p.m. on ESPN).

Head Coach: Mike Brey, who's coaching his 11th year at Notre Dame, is the third-longest tenured coach in the Big East Conference. Brey has led the Irish to a lot of regular season success (11 20-win seasons), but he has never captured a Big East Conference Tournament championship.

Team MVP: Don't worry, I wont do be that guy who points out that one fact about senior guard Ben Hansbrough. The transfer from Mississippi State, has made a name for himself this season. Hansbrough, who was the only player to earn a unanimous selection for All-Big East First Team, ended the regular season as the conference's third-best scorer (18.5 points per game) and third-best 3-point shooter (45.1 percent). Since Jan. 19, the Irish are 11-1 and Hansbrough has averaged 19.9 ppg. On Feb. 23, the 6-foot-3 guard netted a collegiate-best 32 points at Providence.

Playing For: If Notre Dame can earn the program's first Big East Tournament title, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is possible. If not, then the Irish will probably earn a No. 2 or 3 seed.

Breakdown: While Hansbrough has received a lot of attention, it needs to be noted that teammate senior forward Tim Abromaitis is also producing a stellar season. The 6-8 forward is the team's second-best scorer (15.2 ppg) and rebounder (6.2 rpg), but also can hit a 3-pointer (41.9 percent) and does every little thing on the basketball court. Add two more seniors, forwards Carleton Scott and Scott Martin, and Notre Dame, SB Nation New York's Most Surprising Team, has the goods to win the whole shebang. Finally.


Seton Hall Pirates (13-17, 7-11 Big East): Pirates Hope To Make Noise

Seton Hall Pirates (13-17, 7-11 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed: No. 12; plays No. 13 Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Tuesday (2 p.m. on ESPN2).

Head Coach: First-year coach Kevin Willard took over a talented roster but a tumultuous situation, replacing Bobby Gonzalez. Willard turned around the Iona program in his three years there, but his ability on the Big East level is still in question. 

Team MVP: Senior guard Jeremy Hazell is Seton Hall’s best player, but at times he can be their most frustrating. Seton Hall can beat anyone if Hazell goes off, but you never know exactly when or if he will. But the fact of the matter is that the Hall’s season effectively ended when Hazell went down with a broken wrist in November. This year, he passed Colin Falls on the conference’s all-time three pointers list. 

Playing For: Pride? Playing time for next year? Draft status? It depends on the player, but the Pirates aren’t playing for any postseason berth. They’ll have to win the whole thing to have any games scheduled past Saturday’s Big East Final. 

Breakdown: The Pirates are coming into the Big East Tournament playing their best basketball of the year. They have veterans with experience, so the bright lights of Madison Square Garden shouldn’t provide too many nerves for the Hall's most important players, Hazell, junior guard Jordan Theodore and junior forward Herb Pope. Seton Hall knocked off St. John’s Red Storm and Marquette Golden Eagles in its last two Big East games to finish 7-11 in conference play, a pretty solid record all things considered.

Is it crazy to the think the Pirates can win a few games here and make some noise? It’s possible. If they can beat Rutgers Scarlet Knights, SHU has St. John’s next and we know that the Hall is capable of beating the Johnnies (although it will be tougher at the Garden than it was at home just last week). At the same time, the Pirates can definitely be knocked off by Rutgers, which owns a win over the Pirates this year. It’s pretty cool that the tournament bracket shaped up with a mini Metro-area tournament between Rutgers, Seton Hall, and St. John’s. 

-- written by Chris Celletti.


St. John's Red Storm (20-10, 12-6 Big East): Johnnies Having Best Season Since 2002

St. John's Red Storm (20-10, 12-6 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 5; play Seton Hall Pirates or Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Wednesday (2 p.m. on ESPN.

Head Coach: The first-year head coach of St. John's, Steve Lavin, had a few months to morph nine seniors into winners and he's done a fantastic job. Last season, with Norm Roberts at the helm, the Red Storm finished in 13th place in the Big East Conference standings (17-15, 6-12) with basically the same group of players. Now, they are a contender for a Big East Tournament title.

Team MVP: Senior point guard Dwight Hardy, the SB Nation New York's Big East MVP and All-Big East First-Team, has ice water running through his veins. The 6-foot-2 guard reminds me a lot of former Texas A&M clutch performer Acie Law IV (2003-07), who led the Aggies to a Sweet 16 appearance. The three-time Big East Player Of The Week has been playing at an extremely high level (23.9 points per game) in St. John's last 11 games.

Playing For: A 60-59 victory over No. 4/6 Pittsburgh, Feb, 19, punched the Johnnies ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Johnnies are looking for something more -- a No. 4, possible 3 seed? Whereever the selection committee places the Red Storm, they will playing in their first NCAA Tournament since 2002.

Breakdown: St. John's began league play with a 4-5 record, but then rallied with a seven-game conference winning streak that including beating Pittsburgh, UConn and Villanova. This season, the Johnnies have defeated six top-15 teams, including the No. 4/5 Duke Blue Devils, a number match by no other men's Division I program.

Senior Justin Brownlee is the second-best scorer (12.1 ppg) and rebounder (5.2 rebound per game) for the Johnnies. The 6-foot-7, 220-pounds forward does nothing spectacular, but he's strong, athletic and a versatile scorer. Believe it or not, Brownlee can take opponents off the dribble and can hit the occasional 3-pointer. All these aspects create tough matchup for opposing teams. Despite being just 6-foot-5, senior forward D.J. Kennedy is a bully inside. Kennedy is averaging 10.7 ppg and 5.9 rpg.

-- Written by Jared Smith


Syracuse Orange (25-6, 12-6 Big East): SU Looking For High NCAA Seed

Syracuse Orange (25-6, 12-6 Big East)

Big East Tournament Seed:  No. 4; plays 5/12/13 winner on Thursday (2 p.m. on ESPN).

Head Coach: Earlier this season, Jim Boeheim, who's coach his 35th season at Syracuse University, earned his 850th career victory and is currently ranked fifth all-time in victories for a men's basketball Division I coaches. Only Bob Knight (902), Mike Krzyzewski (still active), Dean Smith  (879) and Adolph Rupp (876) have collected more victories.

Team MVP: Senior forward Rick Jackson is the key to the Orange's success in the Big East Tournament. Jackson, who earned All-Big East Second Team honors, has been SU's most consistent player all year. Jackson (13.1 points per game and 10.7 rebounds per game) is a very agile 6-foot-9 big-man. That quality has helped the senior log a ton of minutes (35.1 minutes per game) and collect 17 double-doubles this season.

Playing For: The Orange enter the Big East Tournament as a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but could improve their seeding with a couple wins in the conference tournament. With a Big East Tournament title, SU could earn a No. 2 seed.

Breakdown: It's been a roller coaster-like ride for Syracuse in 2010-11. At one point, the Orange were 18-0, ranked No. 4 in the country and were penciled-in to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, a mid-season tailspin (SU lost six of its next eight games, including a three-game home skid) that plummeted the Orange down the national rankings (No. 20 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll) and Big East standings.

SU's wandering ship righted itself after it found a captain, sophomore guard Brandon Triche. Triche is currently the team's fourth-best scorer (11.2 ppg) on the team, but he's the player that the Orange turn to to get the them going. Junior Kris Joseph is the team's leading scorer (14.2 ppg). Senior point guard Scoop Jardine (12.6 ppg and 6.0 assists per game) can create plays, but also a lot of headaches (2.8 turnovers per game). Freshman forward C.J. Fair (6.4 ppg and 3.5 rpg) is a positive contributor off the bench.

-- Written by Jared Smith

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