Blogging The Big East: Preparing For The NCAA Tournament 2011 Edition

-- Get your printable SB Nation NCAA Tournament Bracket -- SB Nation New York's special Selection Sunday edition of What Fan Learned from the Big East Tournament. -- Want to follow the Big East Conference throughout the NCAA Tournament? Make sure to bookmark SB Nation New York's specially NCAA Tournament page.

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Blogging The Big East: Preparing For The NCAA Tournament 2011 Edition

It's been a long six months of men's Big East basketball. The nation's best conference finished its regular-season play with the Pittsburgh Panthers finishing with the best record; then the Connecticut Huskies earned their record-tying seventh Big East tournament crown; and on Sunday, the league earned a record 11 NCAA Tournament invites.

However, that's all in the past. Thursday, the second round of the NCAAs, is what counts.

All day, SB Nation New York will keep you updated on how the March Madness bracket is shaping out, especially focused on how the Big East Conference teams are doing. So, if you called in sick to work or skipping that 2 p.m. exam in your Weather 101 class to watch today's games, make sure to check back with us. It's the first day of the NCAA Tournament! And, St. Patrick's Day! This is going to be fun!

But first, let's get a feel of how our Big East blogs are feeling before Thursday's tournament games with special edition of Blogging Around The Big East:

No. 5-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers (20-11) will be the first Big East team to play Thursday against No. 12 Clemson Tigers (21-11) in Tampa, FL (12:15 p.m. on CBS). Unfortunately for the Mountaineers and head coach Bob Huggins, they had to wait until late Tuesday night to find out its first round opponent because the Tigers needed to beat the UAB Blazers, 70-52, in the first round to advance.

Now, the last time WVU and Clemson played each other was... well, for SB Nation's The Smoking Musket it seems like a long time ago.

"WVU last played Clemson in the NIT Championship in 2007," wrote Dr. Charley West on Wednesday. "(Senior forward) Joe Mazzulla played 7 minutes that night. I don't want to say Joe Mazzulla is old, but I told him to act his age and he died.

Joe Mazzulla is so old, his birth certificate has Roman Numerals on it.

Joe Mazzulla is so old, when he was a freshman, there was no history class.

Let's buy some black market plutonium from the Libyans, fire up the flux capacitor and take a look at what the world was like the last time WVU played Clemson, in 2007:"

To find out what life was like in '07, continue reading by clicking the link...

WVU ended up winning that NIT Championship game, 78-73. Senior forward Frank Young led WVU is scoring with 24 points, while De'Sean Butler added 20-bench points.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Joe Mazzulla 31 28.4 2.2 4.7 45.9 0.3 0.9 29.6 2.6 4.0 65.0 0.6 3.3 3.9 4.1 1.8 0.8 0.1 2.3 7.2

The No. 4 Louisville Cardinals (25-9) are the second Big East team to take the floor against No. 13 Morehead State Eagles (24-9) in Denver, CO. (1:40 p.m. on TBS). The Cardinals are currently 10-point favorites against the Ohio Valley Conference champion, but SB Nation's Card Chronicle is a bit hesitant to automatically put Louisville into the third round.

"... The odds are, this team will lose another game in the month of March," wrote CardsFan922 on Wednesday morning.

"It might happen Thursday. (Morehead's senior) Ken Faried is the real deal, and the longer he keeps them in the game with second chance points and monster dunks, the higher the chances for an upset. We've been the underdogs so long, I can't remember the last game we were "supposed" to win as big as this one. Rebounding teams have killed us all year, and Morehead will be playing with quite a chip on their shoulder. I'm terrified. Of course, I would be terrified if we were playing St. X in the first round. That's just how I approach March."

Faried, the player CardsFan922 was referring about, is a 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward who's a two-time OVC Player Of The Year. If you examine Faried a bit closer you'll find out that he has averaged a double-double in the past three seasons. Yikes.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Kenneth Faried 33 34.6 6.8 10.5 64.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 4.1 7.0 57.8 5.7 8.8 14.5 1.1 2.7 2.0 2.4 3.1 17.6

The Big East's regular season champs, No. 1-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers (27-5), will be the second Big East team to matchup against a "play-in" opponent. On Tuesday night, the No. 16 UNC-Asheville Bulldogs (20-13) downed the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans, 81-77, in overtime to move onto the big dance. However, the Big South Tournament champion doesn't really scare SB Nation's Cardiac Hill, which on Monday broke down the Southeast Region bracket and likes the road to the Final Four:

"March Madness is officially here and if you're a Pitt fan," CardiacHill on Monday. "You've got to be pretty pleased with the Southeast Region. No path is completely clear, but this region shouldn't put extreme fear into anyone. Does that mean Pitt can't lose early? Of course not. But looking at this region, Pitt has a pretty nice setup and has a good chance at finally getting to that elusive Final Four."

"The bottom line is that Pitt should have maybe its best chance ever of reaching the Final Four."

Since Pitt (27-5) is my Nation Title pick, I must agree with the Hill's statement. I believe, if need be, junior guard Ashton Gibbs has the talent to carry the Panthers. I love the fact that sophomore guard Travon Woodall is the only non-junior/senior that plays 20-plus minutes per game. That experience should help the program make a deep run in the tournament.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Ashton Gibbs 29 32.6 5.4 11.7 45.9 3.3 6.8 48.0 2.7 3.0 89.7 0.4 1.9 2.3 2.8 1.7 0.4 0.0 1.4 16.7

At 7:20 p.m., the 2011 Big East Tournament champions, UConn (26-9), play No. 14 Bucknell Bison (25-8) at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. UConn, winners of five straight (all coming in the Big East Tourney), will try to beat the Patriot League Tournament title holders.

By this time, college basketball fans will be check all 10 of their ESPN bracket challenges sheets and will probably have crossed out at least one Final Four pick (hey, it's the NCAA tournament and you copied Dick Vitales picks. Not smart). But there's still time to make some changes to your bracket challenge sheets. Andrew Porter of SB Nation's The UConn Blog wrote these picking rules on Monday:

"Rule No. 7: Pick UConn to advance to the second round

When I learned it: 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009

As UConn's head coach, Jim Calhoun is 15-1 in first round NCAA games. The one loss? That came in 2008 when AJ Price blew out his knee five minutes into UConn's matchup with San Diego...

...Rule No. 9: If a team has the two best players in the tournament, pick them

When I learned it: 2004 Despite having six losses and a 2 seed heading into the 2004 tournament, UConn had a massive talent advantage thanks to Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. That made picking them easy. Unfortunately for you, no one has that type of firepower this year so you'll just have to get lucky."

Click here to read more rules from Porter...

Of course, the question on UConn is: Does junior guard Kemba Walker, who single-handedly led the Huskies to the conference tournament crown, have enough left in the tank for the NCAAs? Walker netted 26, 28, 24, 33 and 19 points, respectively, to earn the Big East Tournament MVP. 

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Kemba Walker 35 37.5 7.8 18.1 43.2 1.8 5.4 33.9 6.1 7.6 80.5 1.4 3.9 5.3 4.3 2.2 1.9 0.2 1.4 23.5

Witnessing their first NCAA tournament game since 2002, its no surprise that St. John's basketball fans are a bit nervous. Especially, when the No. 6  St. John's Red Storm (21-11) play long-time Cinderella, No. 11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (24-9), in the second round in Denver, CO. (9:45 p.m. on CBS).

On Wednesday, SB Nation's Rumble In The Garden (St. John's blog) fielded questions from The Slipper Still Fits (Gonzaga blog). Things got a bit awkward when Zach Bell of Slipper asked Pico Duce of Rumble about the Johnnies' road troubles:

"TSSF:  While they have great wins, St. John's only has one win on the road over a top-25 opponent and has lost both times they visited the western part of the states.  Are their concerns about the travel to Denver for this team?

(Zach's note: I am an idiot and totally forgot about SJU's Great Alaskan Tourney appearance).

RitG:  Actually, the Great Alaska Shootout is considered west (isn't it? Do people in the western part of the country consider Alaska another country?), and St. John's won three games in the Shootout - granted, against Ball State, Drake, and Arizona State. So they're 3-2 in the western part of the states.

The schedule was designed to get the Red Storm road tested for the NCAA Tournament/ neutral site games. I'd feel more confident if they could have dealt with St. Mary's better, or with UCLA better, but I don't think the road is what got them, I think it was the matchups."

Jeez, I thought it was Rumble who was suppose to have a geographical basis (Twitter: ECoastBias). Considering that St. John's head coach Steve Lavin made sure the Red Storm played multiple West Coast games during the regular season, I don't think the travel will hurt the Johnnies (actually, it may help them focus better).

However, there's still a lot of questions about how the Johnnies will handle the loss of senior guard D.J. Kennedy? How will St. John's handle the Zag's developing inside-out game? Will senior point guard Dwight Hardy show up when needed? Do you have enough Red Bull to stay up for this game?

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Dwight Hardy 32 34.1 5.8 12.8 44.9 1.8 5.3 35.1 4.7 5.6 84.3 0.8 2.2 3.0 1.9 2.2 1.3 0.1 1.8 18.0

Thursday's competition will conclude with 9:50 p.m. tip-off in the nation's capital when the No. 6 Cincinnati Bearcats play No. 11 Missouri Tigers.

The Bearcats (25-8) are making their first appearance in the NCAAs since 2005. So, it's no surprise that SB Nation's Down The Drive is jacked:

"UC's NCAA tip off is roughly 27 hours from now," wrote Matt Opper on Wednesday. "That is as I am typing this sentence, not as the sentence is published. Unfortunately I no longer live in the immediate vicinity of Cincinnati and as such I can't tell just how jacked everyone is to be back in the dance. I am pretty sure the answer to that question is pretty damn jacked, but I don't know..."

Even if things don't go Cincy's way at least it will get their best player, junior guard Yancy Gates, back for his senior season.

FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Yancy Gates 32 27.3 4.7 9.3 50.7 0.1 0.4 16.7 2.3 3.8 59.0 2.2 4.7 6.8 1.3 1.4 0.8 1.3 2.2 11.8

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