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5 Big Questions for the Big East

Now that we’ve passed into the New Year, we can officially get excited for conference play.  We have been treated to a few pre-New Year’s classics (West Virgina-Seton Hall, West Virginia-Marquette), but now we can settle into the weekly slate of intense Big East action.  Here are some of the biggest questions heading into January:

1. Can West Virginia win without starting a point guard?

Bob Huggins is doing something that we only dream of in video games and playing his five best players, regardless of position.  While in theory it seems like a good idea, not having a player below 6’7″ on the court may have disastrous side effects for the Mountaineers.  What we have seen being the biggest negative so far is that West Virginia has proven to be turnover prone, with no example stronger than the beatdown they suffered at Purdue.  Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks are tremendous players but their skill set is not suited to be bringing the ball up facing pressure.  With Joe Mazzulla still battling shoulder problems, the played that must step up is Darryl Bryant.  His shaky play has been one of the reasons that Huggins has decided to bring him off the bench, but for this team to go deep into March he must find a way into the starting lineup.

2. Is Syracuse really the fifth best team in the country, and if so, will they stay there?

For all the talk about Syracuse being the most surprising team in the country, the Orange’s hype has gone a bit too far.  Looking at their schedule, Syracuse has beaten one notable team in UNC.  At that time, the Tar Heels were young, raw and ripe for the picking.  The win against Florida looks less impressive with every Gator loss.

That said they do have a few players that could keep them in the top-10 this season as Wesley Johnson is the real deal and Arinze Onuaku has stepped up this season.  However, the Orange’s season will live and die with it’s point guard play.  Running a platoon of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche will only hurt the flow and consistency of the offense.  One of these players must take the reins of the unit and become the floor general.

3. Will Mouphtaou Yarou be the final piece to Villanova’s team?

Starting the season so highly ranked was in many ways a distraction for this young Wildcats team.  Villanova very well may be a top-5 team this season, but with all of the inexperience on the roster and departure of a talented senior class that day is more likely to come in March than it was in November.

The Wildcats have survived a few close scares and enter conference play with one loss.  Antonio Pena has played well enough to be seen as a reliable low post presence for Villanova, and Taylor King has shown that he is one of the best scorers off the bench in the conference.  The question is what will the team get out of Mouphtaou Yarou.  The Wildcats need him to provide the defensive presence down low while also just being an extra body in a very thin frontcourt.  It is clear that Villanova would prefer not to have to use Maurice Sutton as a starter, and if Yarou can live up to his promise, the team will be more dangerous than many could even have expected.

4.  Is this the year one of St. John’s, Seton Hall or Rutgers makes a return to the NCAA tournament?

Let’s take this one by one.  The Red Storm right now has the most impressive resume of the three teams, but with the way they looked in a loss to Georgetown, it appears they are more of a pretender than a contender.  Although Norm Roberts has given the team a good core and possibly assembled the best group he has ever coached, St. John’s lacks the offensive firepower it needs to make a serious run as only two if its starters average in double figures.

Seton Hall probably has the best chance to make the NCAA tournament out of the NY/NJ area schools.  Getting a talented group of transfers to add to this roster was a smart decision by Bobby Gonzalez.  One of those transfers, Herb Pope, has proven to be one of the better big men in the conference.  Transfers aside, this offense will live and die with the play of Jeremy Hazell.  If the offensive strategy of having Hazell takes 50 percent of the team’s shots works, then Seton Hall may be one of the most dangerous teams in the conference, and Hazell may be the player of the year.

As for Rutgers, the nine-win start is nice to see, but realistically, Rutgers is still awhile away from postseason success.  The loss of Gregory Echenique is devastating, but even with him Rutgers would be NIT bound at best.

5.  How many teams make the NCAA tournament?

Let’s go with nine.  The three league title contenders are Villanova, West Virginia and Syracuse.  Three other definite bids are Georgetown, UConn and Cincinnati.  The Bearcats are too talented not to finish around 20 wins overall and 10 in conference.  Notre Dame is close to the group and should get in.  The final two will be Louisville and Pittsburgh.  The Cardinals and Panthers are too well coached to go through a down year.

-David Cassilo

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  1. Craig
    January 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Most inane observations I think I’ve ever read.

    Moving on….

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