Some interesting action around the Big East last night, and conference play doesn't begin for a month! Here are some things I think we learned last night:
Georgetown played perhaps the game of the year so far against Missouri. It was a difficult task against a Missouri team ranked eighth in the country, playing before a pro-Tigers Kansas City crowd, and with three of Missouri's rotation regulars from Kansas City itself. But the Hoyas performed admirably, with their trio of perimeter players- Jason Clark, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman- asserting their ability to score at will, Greg Monroe or no Greg Monroe.
Astonishingly, this Georgetown team may be better this year without Monroe- not that they wouldn't be immeasurably better off if he'd stayed in school. But unlike last year, the team has several other interior options, with Julian Vaughn continuing his development, and Henry Sims, in particular making enormous strides.
Sims was little more than a warm body through his first two seasons at Georgetown, but he was a revelation against N.C. State, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out five assists in just fifteen minutes. Arguably, he was even more valuable against Missouri, providing 33 strong minutes with Vaughn limited due to foul trouble. Sims is a perfect physical complement to Vaughn, and the presence of both will give the Hoyas another dimension.
In other action, Syracuse beat Cornell, 78-58, but the win troubled Jim Boeheim (and should provide a cautious note to those putting Syracuse at the top of the Big East). Rick Jackson has taken a step forward, but he was already valuable last season. And the Orange, without Arinze Onuaku, quickly fell from their perch entering the Big East Tournament as one of the favorites to be standing when March turned to April.
Early returns suggest that Fab Melo, for all his talent, isn't ready to assume Onuaku's role just yet. Against lesser competition, his game against Cornell represent his season highs in points and rebounds. It is hard to see him as anything less than the key to Syracuse's season.
As for Connecticut, we saw the floor of their performances in a 62-55 win over New Hampshire, whose other loss came at the hands of Sacred Heart. Kemba Walker was unstoppable, with 30 points (and 14-16 from the free throw line), but the rest of the team struggled to generate much offense at all. Alex Oriakhi continued to impress with 10 rebounds and five blocks, but it remains an open question what Connecticut will do should he run into foul trouble.
In short, if Connecticut and Syracuse are serious national players- and especially Connecticut should be- it may have as much to do with a bit of a down year in college basketball at large as the Big East sporting the kind of talent it did two years ago.