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Saturday / May 25.
  • Big East Dominating RPI; Con Call Highlights

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    While this was supposed to be a “down year” for the Big East, one look at the first edition of the 2011 RPI rankings shows otherwise.

    This week’s ranking lists eight Big East teams among the top 18, with Georgetown at No. 1, Syracuse at No. 3, UConn at No. 5, St. John’s at No. 7, Pittsburgh at No. 10, West Virginia at No. 12, Notre Dame at No. 14 and Villanova at No. 18.

    No other league has as many as three teams in the top 20.

    JOHNNIES IN FIRST PLACE

    In the first two years of the Big East’s current 18-game scheduling format, home teams won exactly 60 percent of league games. So when St. John’s faced back-to-back road dates to start Big East play, it might have been unrealistic to expect a 2-0 start for the Red Storm.

    But new head coach Steve Lavin and his senior-laden team scored wins at West Virginia and Providence to open league play before beating 13th-ranked Georgetown Monday at MSG.

    St. John’s won two Big East road games before any other team won one and, at 10-3 overall and 3-0 in the Big East, is off to its best start since the 1999-2000 season.

    “We had a good stretch over the past five games, just playing more efficiently on the offensive end of the floor,” Lavin said on Monday’s con call. “I think from the Fordham game forward, our team has done a better job in terms of shot selection and playing through the post. And as a result we’ve had some degree of success.”

    Things don’t get any easier, beginning with Saturday’s game at No. 14 Notre Dame and Wednesday’s home game with No. 4 Syracuse.

    “They’ll be the most efficient offensive team we’ve played all year,” Lavin said of Notre Dame. “Coach [Mike] Brey has really organized them and you can tell they’ve bought into playing a cohesive brand of basketball. You can see it in the velocity of their cuts and their excellent spacing.

    “They’re able to get into the lane and jump stop and pitch the ball out for 3-point shooters. They play well in two gears, in terms of taking the transition opportunities when they present themselves but the team is also willing to get deep into the shot clock and break defenses down. We know we have our hands full playing on the road.”

    SNY HOSTS DOUBLEHEADER

    The Big East Network Game of the Week series begins this Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at noon Eastern.

    Syracuse faces Seton Hall at noon and Marquette is at Pittsburgh at 2 p.m.

    Both games are on SNY.

    FRESHMEN PUSHING THE PACE AT DEPAUL

    DePaul finished last in the Big East in scoring by a wide margin last season as the Blue Demons averaged just 61 points per game.

    New coach Oliver Purnell has implemented his trademark fast-paced style to the Blue Demons in his first year, however, and a pair of freshmen have helped DePaul average 71.5 points through 15 games.

    Forward Cleveland Melvin has been named Big East Rookie of the Week in back-to-back weeks and is averaging 23.3 points in three league games. Overall, Melvin has averaged 12.7 points per game, while rookie Brandon Young has averaged 12.6 ppg to rank as the top two freshman scorers in the conference.

    SELECTED QUOTES FROM THURSDAY’S CON CALL

    Buzz Williams, Marquette

    On the upcoming game with Pittsburgh

    “I think it’s probably one of the more underappreciated, under-recognized jobs in the country relative to what coach (Jamie) Dixon has done. He’s the BIG EAST active winningest coach. At home they’re almost unbeatable. I think they’ve lost 11 games since the building opened and won 47 of their last 48. I think their personnel and the leadership on their team is as good as anyone in the country. And we’ll have our hands full from start to finish.”

    On Jae Crowder

    “It’s been the quickest transition of any junior college transfer I’ve ever seen. I’m a former junior college manager so I’m partial to junior college players. When you go through the transition that any junior college transfer has to go through and to do it at this level, I think there’s a lot of stuff you have to work through before you have any success on the court, much less the success Jae has had. We’re really happy to have him. He’s an unbelievable person and I think that’s translated to his success on the floor. He has great instincts. Even though he’s only played 15 games with our program, we rely on him on both ends of the floor on every possession.”

    Bob Huggins, West Virginia

    On Georgetown

    “It’s a little bit scary going to Georgetown after they’ve lost. I’ve got great respect for John and great respect for what their guys do. We’ve just got to figure something out. We’ve had a hard time guarding anybody, but guarding those guys will be very difficult. They execute their offense so well. They all can make shots, they all can play post they all can beat you off the bounce. They just do such a great job.”

    Keno Davis, Providence

    On the season in general

    “I’ve been very encouraged with our team’s play this season. We have arguably the youngest team, not just in the BIG EAST, but in the country, and we’ve been able to have some success. I think in our first three BIG EAST games we’ve had our opportunities, definitely in our last couple against St. John’s and Pittsburgh, but weren’t able to finish things off. I’ve been very encouraged with our team’s effort. I think, being so young, that we have the ability to improve the most, a lot more than teams with more veterans. We start a three game road trip that starts with Rutgers on Saturday night and our guys are looking forward to it and the challenges the BIG EAST poses this year.”

    Jim Calhoun, Connecticut

    On the season:

    “Obviously we started the season off wonderfully. I think we had incredible freshman energy and team energy, and of course a phenomenal performance by Kemba Walker. I think, like any other team, once you get back to league play, whether it be against Pittsburgh or USF, who gave us a great game, we have to fix some of the small problems that we have. We’ve got to grow older as the season progresses and I think we will. I think we will be a better team four weeks from now. We haven’t played bad but we’ve made enough mistakes that I think cost us the game at Notre Dame. We have just got to get better.”

    On Texas:

    “Texas has got some terrific players. We have more than our work cut out for us. The bottom line is we’ve got some work to do. We just have to get older.”

    On early season success

    “Maui certainly wasn’t a fluke, but it was early season. Early season we had all kinds of energy and people didn’t know us. The tape is starting to catch up a little bit and now we have to catch back up with the tapes.”

    Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

    On the win against Providence

    “We’re happy to get a road win against Providence, a very good team that’s lost some tough games. We found a way to win with some foul trouble, some sickness and some injuries. It was a good finish for us.”

    On Travon Woodall

    “He had a good freshman year and now he’s an improved sophomore. He was one of those kids that was sick before our last game and didn’t practice before the game. He was able to make some big plays down the stretch after getting off to a slow start. He brings good leadership and is still improving defensively. He makes good decisions and he’s a good guy to have on your team, especially coming off the bench and playing well.”

    Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

    On Syracuse

    “We’re playing one of the best teams in the country in Syracuse. But we’re glad to be home and look forward to a great challenge on Saturday.”

    On Jeremy Hazell

    “Jeremy is doing terrific. Obviously he had a very serious incident on Christmas but he’s recovering very well from that physically, mentally he’s doing ok. He’s taking some time off just to relax a little bit. He’s still working out and shooting but has not been cleared and won’t get cleared until at least the 10th. But mentally and physically he’s doing much better. We haven’t made a decision on if we’re going to redshirt him. If his wrist has healed and he’s cleared on the 10th we’ll sit down with him and his family and decide what’s going to be best for him.”

    John Thompson III, Georgetown

    On team’s play

    “This league is rough. We start off three games in and we’re 1-2. We had a tough stretch where we played Wednesday, Saturday and Monday with two of those games on the road and we lost the two road games. It’s a long season and you can’t get too down even though you’re down right now. You can’t get too down because it’s an unforgiving league. We just have to focus here. We have a game coming up against West Virginia and like any other team in the league, we have to play well to win.”

    On Hollis Thompson

    “He played well in stretches the other night. Hollis can put the ball in the basket. He’s a very good shooter and for as slight as he is, he’s a very good rebounder. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there and get after the ball. He’s a confident kid who can put the ball in the basket but is not afraid to go in there and get rebounds and defend as well.”

    (Jared Hager & Chuck Sullivan contributed)

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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.