Race to the Finish for Big East Title | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / September 23.
  • Race to the Finish for Big East Title

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    With Cincinnati’s surprising 26-23 overtime upset of No. 20 West Virginia Saturday night, there is now a three-way tie atop the Big East.

    Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are all 3-1, with Rutgers a 1/2 game back at 3-2 following its 35-17 rout of Syracuse. UConn is 2-2.

    West Virginia had been the lone unbeaten team before Saturday’s loss.

    “As everybody has said all year, I think any team can beat any other team in our league and that makes for some real interesting football,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said Sunday in a conference call. “And there’s a lot of football left to play in our league, so I think everyone’s going to have to sit back and see how it unfolds.

    “But as far as Rutgers is concerned, we only have one concern right now and that’s South Florida. That’s where all of our focus goes.”

    Rutgers (4-5, 3-2) visits South Florida (6-3, 1-3) on Saturday in its final road game of the year. The Bulls have dropped two straight and three of four, but Schiano isn’t underestimating them.

    “They’re a very, very talented football team,” Schiano said. “Possibly the most talented in our league. They have a great quarterback [Matt Grothe], a guy who can do everything, can make all the throws, can run. And then they have a defense that is one of the best in the country. They’ll have 16 days off before they play us, I believe. I’m sure they’re going to be healed and ready to play. It’s a home football game for them at noon, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us, that’s for sure.”

    After starting the year 1-5, the Scarlet Knights have won three straight Big East games to get back into bowl contention.

    The win over Syracuse was highlighted by three more touchdowns from QB Mike Teel and a career-best 143 yards rushing and one TD on 29 carries by Kordell Young.

    Redshirt freshman RB Joe Martinek also scored his second career TD on a 45-yard run off a direct snap in the third quarter. Asked if he had a nickname for the play, Schiano said, “Yesterday it was ‘touchdown.'”

    Keith Sargeant of the Home News Tribune came up with “38 Special” because Martinek wears that jersey number.

    “You’re a marketing genius,” Schiano told him.

    If the Knights were to win out, they would finish 7-5, 5-2 in the league and could anticipate their fourth straight bowl appearance.

    If they drop the South Florida game and beat Army and Louisville at home, they’d be 6-6, 4-3 and could still go bowling.

    Schiano said his team can’t look that far ahead, though.

    “We talk to our guys all the time about what our focus is,” Schiano said. “I think we’ve experienced over the last years what occurs when you take your eye off the goal, so hopefully we…can avoid that. They’re young people and even adults can get off track if you’re not careful.

    “Starting 1-5, we’ve had to claw back one week at a time and that’s what we need to continue to do.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.