Halfway To New York
The BIG EAST league schedule reached the halfway point this week. Every team will head down the stretch trying to gain the highest possible seed for The BIG EAST Championship at Madison Square Garden March 10-14. All 16 teams are heading to New York this year, but the top four seeds still earn the coveted byes into the quarterfinal round. If the season ended today, the top four seeds, in order, would be Marquette, Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Based on the preseason coaches’ poll, Marquette has been the biggest surprise so far. The Golden Eagles were picked sixth.
Cincinnati’s Rise Tied To Vaughn
After an 0-3 start in BIG EAST play, the Cincinnati Bearcats have won five of their last seven league games. Over the seven-game span, guard Deonta Vaughn has led UC in scoring in the each of the victories and was not the team’s top scorer in the two losses. A 2008-09 All-BIG EAST Preseason Team pick, the junior is averaging 17.2 points in conference games. Included in the five victories were wins over Notre Dame and Georgetown, the first time the Bearcats have defeated those teams since joining the BIG EAST. UC is 15-8 overall and 5-5 in league play going into a Saturday rematch at Georgetown.
Saturday TV Showcase
Three of the six games Saturday involving BIG EAST teams will be carried by national television networks. The day starts with No. 20/20 Syracuse traveling to play No. 17/16 Villanova at the Wachovia Center at noon ET on ESPN. It will be the 21st conference game this season between ranked teams. At 1 p.m. Notre Dame plays at No. 15/12 UCLA on CBS Sports. Connecticut, ranked No. 1 in both national polls, hosts Michigan at 6 p.m. on ESPN. The BIG EAST Network Game of the Week, which is telecast to one-third of the nation, has Cincinnati at Georgetown at noon.
BIG EAST Has Three Of Ten Lowe’s Senior CLASS Finalists
The BIG EAST is the only conference to boast three of 10 finalists for the 2009 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the honor recognizes outstanding senior basketball student-athletes. The BIG EAST finalists are Terrence Williams of Louisville, Jerel McNeal of Marquette and Sam Young of Pittsburgh.
TOP QUOTES FROM TODAY’S CON CALL (COURTESY JERRY CARINO)
“I don’t think we’re an easy out for anybody. We’ve certainly had some bad stretches. We dig ourselves a hole but we compete like crazy to come back . . . There’s no quit in my guys. You hope that with all the hard work they put in and how well they’ve been practicing, that they can get a couple . . . That’s the biggest challenge when you’re not winning, to continue to get your guys to play hard and give them hope and let them see there’s wins down the road. The schedule is what it is. We played one of the toughest stretches in the conference. You can’t control that. The league, it’s so deep and so good. It can be very difficult for guys to see that ray of hope.” —Rutgers’ Fred Hill “I’m going to tell you 1,000 percent of the truth 1,000 percent of the time, and I expect you to do the same.” —Marquette’s Buzz Williams on what he said to his players after taking over the program “You kind of focus on their other two guys and he’s a silent assassin.” — South Florida’s Stan Heath on Marquette’s Wes Matthews “For summer school prior to his freshman year we put him on the scale and it went up to 300 and it kept going. We obviously knew changing his body was going to be a big part of his adjustment.” —Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon on sophomore forward DeJuan Blair, now 265 pounds “I think there are about five teams very similar in this league who are all going to be move from the bottom half of the league to the top third with time. Cincinnati, St. John’s. Villanova—they lose Dante Cunningham but they get everyone else back—South Florida, Rutgers, they’re all going to make a move because they’re all young but talented.” —Louisville’s Rick Pitino “As much as I said the league was going to be good, everybody has forgotten about the Cincinnatis, the West Virginias, the Seton Halls and the St. Johns’, teams who scrap and can beat anybody. And I personally believe that with Pittsburgh, Marquette, Louisville, ourselves, there’s four or five teams in our league that can make the Final Four, and I’ve never thought that before.” —Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun