Six Big East Conference men's basketball games were played Saturday, and after all the dust settled a few things were learned. So, without further delay lets get to What Fans Learned in the Big East Saturday. (Scroll down for an update on the Big East basketball standings.)
UConn Is The Conference's No. 2 Team
All last week, I was asked my opinion on who I thought was the second-best team in the Big East. To be honest, I couldn't give a straight forward answer because I wasn't sure, as one could make a case for the Seton Hall Pirates, Connecticut Huskies, Georgetown Hoyas, West Virginia Mountaineers, Cincinnati Bearcats or Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
However, when pressed to make a decision I said, the No. 17 Huskies (14-3, 4-2 Big East) because they had the most talent and a good coach, Jim Calhoun, who could fix their issues quickly.
Well, my opinion on UConn basketball was reassured Saturday when the Huskies used a solid second-half performance to easily defeated Notre Dame, which had its 29-game home winning streak snapped.
Behind 16 points from sophomore guard Shabazz Napier and a double-double from freshman center Andre Drummond (10 points and 13 rebounds), UConn, which was playing without freshman guard Ryan Boatright, who was suspended by the NCAA Friday while it investigates eligibility matters that predate his enrollment at Connecticut, earned its second straight league victory.
"Assuming that we get Ryan (Boatright back) at some point in time," said Calhoun to ESPN's Doris Burke after the game," Andre (Drummond) didn't have a particularly great game, but we needed Andre; we've seen Alex (Oriakhi) get alive like this; we've seen Roscoe (Smith); and we still have an injured Tyler (Olander), who we got in late in the game because he can make foul shots.
"I am just really happy about the way we're playing, and, you know, we're 14-3 and have the fourth-best power ranking in the country. So, thus far I am really happy but I do think we can get better."
On Monday, UConn beat West Virginia, 64-57, to earn the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Mountaineers.
The fact is, if everybody is playing to their potential the Huskies can beat anybody and do so running away.
Everybody knows how talented sophomore guards Jeremy Lamb and Napier are, but add the inside presence of Oriakhi and Drummond -- who's made an early-game transition layup against the Irish was meaningless but very impressive -- this is a very dangerous team, especially against the No. 1-ranked Syracuse Orange.
"...The story of the game was the brilliance of the previously-dormant duo of Alex Oriakhi (12 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks in 24 minutes) and Roscoe Smith (10 points, 6 rebounds in 15 minutes)," wrote Kevin Meacham of the SB Nation blog The UConn Blog after the game.
"...Add Smith as a rebounder/toughness guy (he had six FT attempts, mostly after picking up offensive boards), and occasional contributions from the rest of the rotation? You've got a team that can win when Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb are merely average, as they were today, and a team that can be a juggernaut when the backcourt gets it going."
Big East Conference Standings
(updated 1.15.2012 at 4:02 AM EST)
|Seton Hall Pirates||4||2||15||3|
|West Virginia Mountaineers||4||2||13||5|
|Marquette Golden Eagles||3||2||14||4|
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish||3||2||11||7|
|South Florida Bulls||3||2||10||8|
|Rutgers Scarlet Knights||2||3||10||8|
|St. John's Red Storm||2||3||8||8|
|DePaul Blue Demons||1||4||10||7|
West Virginia Is No. 3, Cincinnati No. 4
Slowly, after a few weeks of murkiness, the Big East power structure is taking shape, as the question of No. 2 is settled and No. 3 (West Virginia) and No. 4 (Cincinnati) have taken shape.
The solid inside-out duo of senior guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant and senior forward Kevin Jones, who leads the league in scoring (19.9 points per game) and rebounds (11.5 per game), helps the Mountaineers slightly edge the Bearcats for the league's third-best team title.
Behind Bryant scoring 15 of his 18 points in the first half and Jones' adding 24, West Virginia steamrolled the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Saturday, 84-60. Bryant and Jones also have a decent supporting staff with junior forward Deniz Kilicli, who's averaging over 10 ppg, and freshman guard Jabarie Hinds (almost four assist per game). This team can by crafty as well as physical.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati clipped the struggling Villanova Wildcats, 82-78, Saturday. However, if it wasn't for Villanova's Maalik Wayns netting the highest point total in the conference so far this year (39 points) then the game wouldn't have been as close.
Again, the Bearcats, like the Mountaineers, are an athletic team that can be physical. Cincinnati has knocked off both Georgetown and Notre Dame, and would could easily get the nod over West Virginia.
I guess the No. 3 and No. 4 slot in the Big East will need to be settled when the team programs meet up about two weeks from now., Jan. 21, when Cincinnati host West Virginia (3 p.m. on ESPNU).
In This League There Is No Nights Off
Is your team playing Villanova? Pittsburgh? Rutgers? South Florida? DePaul? Providence? Thinking that your team is going to coast to victory tonight? Think again.
If there's one thing that has been clear since the first week of league play, its that the bottom tier of the league has gotten better.
On Friday, the Bulls downed a seemingly better Seton Hall team, 56-55, at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Meanwhile, we've already seen some crazy upset like: Rutgers edging UConn, St. John's downing Cincinnati, Providence manhandling Louisville.
Those schools that used to be a preseason "W" are now tough outs, which feature talents like DePaul's Cleveland Melvin, and Brandon Young; Rutgers' Eli Carter and Melvin Mack; Providence's Vincent Council and Gerard Coleman; and St. John's Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison.
USF has the size and athletic ability to beat anybody at home (even when nobody is there), while Villanova (Wayns)and Pittsburgh (Ashton Gibbs) still have players who can single handily beat a team.
So, you still think the Big East is having a down year?
(Yeah, and did you notice I never mentioned Marquette or Goergetown in this whole piece?)
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is good at his job: This statement has been made before but I'd like to reiterate it because Brey, who was last season's Big East Coach of the Year, deserves a lot of credit for the Irish's early-season success.
By no means is this team isn't full of elite stars, but they're very balanced with sophomore guard Eric Atkins, who netted 13 first-half points against UConn, including 3-for-4 shooting from behind the 3-point line, and junior forward Jack Cooley (10.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg), and like Calhoun said at the end of the game, "they wear you down" by game's end.
Maalik Wayns' big game: Villanova's junior guard Maalik Wayns tallied 39 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in a 82-78 loss at Cincinnati. Wayns was basically the only reason the Wildcats had a chance late against the Bearcats.
For more on Big East basketball, visit the SB Nation blog Big East Coast Bias. For more news and analysis from the day in NCAA hoops, visit SB Nation's college basketball hub. Have something to say about the Big East? Let us know on Twitter at SBNationNY or JaredSmithCNY.