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February 23, 2007

Big East Breakdown: Battle of the big men

Weekly Big East Update
Team Conf. Overall
Pittsburgh 11-2 24-4
Georgetown 11-2 21-5
Louisville 10-4 20-8
Notre Dame 9-5 21-6
Marquette 9-5 22-7
Syracuse 8-5 19-8
West Virginia 8-6 20-7
Providence 7-6 17-9
DePaul 7-7 16-12
Villanova 6-7 18-9
Connecticut 6-7 17-10
St. John's 6-9 15-13
Seton Hall 3-10 12-14
South Florida 3-10 12-15
Rutgers 3-11 10-17
Cincinnati 1-12 10-17
Standings as of 2/22

Best matchup: Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray vs. Georgetown center Roy Hibbert. Big East titans clash with first place on the line Saturday in Washington, D.C., as the 7-foot-2 Hibbert and the red-hot Hoyas (21-5, 11-2) play host to the Panthers (24-4, 11-2) and a hobbled Gray. The 7-foot Gray sustained a sprained ankle last Saturday in the early moments against Washington, and he didn't play Monday against Providence. That snapped a streak of 60 consecutive starts and 89 consecutive appearances for Pitt's big man. He's listed as day to day and you have to believe he'll play, but it's hard to believe he'll be 100 percent. Meanwhile, Hibbert and the Hoyas are riding a 10-game winning streak. They've arguably played as well as any team in the country this month. Hibbert had raised his scoring average significantly during the streak, though he has tailed off in the past couple of games. Pitt won the first meeting this season, 74-69. Their matchup will go a long way toward determining who takes over the league lead.

Worst matchup: USF at Seton Hall. Both teams are 3-10 in league play, so it's a scintillating battle for 13th place. The loser of this game can't qualify for the conference tournament.

The pressure is on: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. The Orange (19-8, 8-5) are 65th in the RPI and need every win possible for any chance to crack the NCAA Tournament field. They're riding a three-game winning streak, albeit fashioned against three teams in the bottom half of the league. Syracuse is 4-3 on the road this season, so it won't be intimidated going into Providence to face the Friars (17-9, 7-6). Providence also harbors hopes of an at-large bid, and it must win a couple of its remaining games to enter the conversation. It has won three games at home against ranked teams, so it has no reason to fear Boeheim's bunch. Providence has a higher RPI (No. 63) than Syracuse.

Upset alert: Duke at St. John's. The Red Storm is by no means a great team, but it has been pretty good at home (victories over Notre Dame and Syracuse). This is not a great Blue Devils team, and it had better pay attention in this late-season non-conference matchup. St. John's was miserable on Wednesday night, getting clobbered at Louisville. Expect the Storm to come home and put up a good front against Duke, which has won six of the teams' past eight meetings.

Who's hot: Georgetown forward Jeff Green has been on a tear over the past eight games. He's averaging 19.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and is shooting 57.8 percent (59 of 102) during the streak. Louisville freshman Derrick Caracter has scored 50 points in just 63 minutes of play over the past four games. Projecting that over 40 minutes that would be 31.7 points per game. The Cardinals have won all four games. Marquette guard Wesley Matthews, a 64 percent free-throw shooter through the first 20 games this season (53 of 83), has hit 90 percent over the past nine games (61 of 68).

Who's not: Hibbert has scored just 11 points in the past two games, though he has shot 5-for-8 from the floor. Villanova forward Curtis Sumpter is averaging 12.3 points and shooting just 38.4 percent over his past three games. West Virginia forward Frank Young is shooting just 34.7 percent of his past five games.

Must see TV: Marquette at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m., ABC. The Irish put their home unbeaten streak on the line against the Golden Eagles. This is a battle for sole possession of fourth place in the league, which means the winner has an inside track to a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Key stat: No opponent has scored more than 67 points against Georgetown during its 10-game winning streak. The Hoyas lead the Big East in scoring defense, yielding just 56.5 points per game.

Bench bonus: Connecticut freshman Curtis Kelly scored nine points on 3-for-3 shooting in just 11 minutes in the Huskies' 65-55 victory over Rutgers on Wednesday. ... Providence freshman Brian McKenzie was the Friars' only sub used in a 64-61 upset of West Virginia. He played 26 minutes and tallied eight points, six rebounds and four assists.

They said it: "Jeff Green is a lottery pick. He's got tremendous talent, and I think Coach (John) Thompson has done a tremendous job of harnessing his talent. He knows when to shoot, when to pass, when to drive." Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin

Worth noting: Louisville is 13-0 this season when scoring 70 or more points and 13-0 when leading at halftime. With a victory over DePaul on Tuesday, Notre Dame set a school record for home wins in a season (17). The Irish are 17-0 this year at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame guard Colin Falls is just three 3-pointers from tying the all-time Big East record held by Syracuse's Gerry McNamara. Falls had four treys against DePaul on Tuesday to push his career total to 180. Providence is 13-1 in games in which guard Weyinmi Efejuku scores at least 13 points. Four Big East teams Cincinnati, Connecticut, Seton Hall and Villanova had a freshman lead them in scoring in the past week. Marquette made its last 16 free throws in its 80-67 victory over Villanova on Monday. Fourth-year Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon picked up the 100th victory of his career on Monday night. Of the 30 starters on the six ranked Big East teams, only eight are seniors.

Freshmen to watch: UConn guard Jerome Dyson has led the Huskies in scoring in the past four games, averaging 19.8 points. Cincinnati guard Deonta Vaughn is the Bearcats' leading scorer at 14.2 points per game. He had 19 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals in the loss to Georgetown on Wednesday night.

Something you may have missed: West Virginia attempted 41 3-pointers in its 64-61 loss at Providence on Tuesday. It made only nine. The Mountaineers shot 40 percent better from inside the arc, making 15 of 24 (62.5 percent).

RPI watch: The league held the fifth spot in the latest RPI. Pittsburgh continues to be its highest-ranked team, sitting at fourth. Georgetown is next at 18th, with Villanova 19th. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Wildcats. They have such a solid RPI, yet are tied for 10th in the league standings. Can they get in the NCAA Tournament at the exclusion of DePaul, Syracuse and Providence all teams with better conference records than Villanova but with RPIs in the 50s and 60s?

More Conference Breakdowns: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | SEC | Pac-10

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