Big East: What a conference!

Feb 20, 2007 1:09 AM

Once again the Big East is loaded with talented teams.

Marquette, Cincinnati and Louisville came aboard last season, among others, joining powerhouse schools like UConn, Syracuse, Villanova and Pitt to form a 16-team Super conference.

A Big East representative won college basketball’s national championship three years ago (UConn 2004) and several will be knocking on the door again.

Pittsburgh: The Panthers have a powerful frontcourt behind 7-foot, 270-pound senior center Aaron Gray (15 ppg, 10 rpg) and 6-9 senior Levon Kendall. Pitt allows 61 ppg and has reached at least 10 wins in Big East play for a school-record sixth consecutive season. Veteran guards Antonio Graves and Mike Cook anchor the backcourt and average over 10 points in this balanced lineup.

They picked up the defense after New Year’s, going on a 9-3 run under the total. While starting 22-4, two of those losses were in overtime at Oklahoma State and at home to Marquette. This veteran team doesn’t scare easily and plays great on the road, including a perfect 5-0 start in Big East away games. Pitt is the only conference school to win 20 or more games and 10 or more league contests in each of the last six seasons.

Georgetown: The Hoyas use their outstanding frontcourt to play tough defense, allowing just 56 ppg. The frontcourt is athletic and awesome with 7-2 junior Roy Hibbert and 6-9 junior Jeff Green, while junior Jonathan Wallace and sophomore Jessie Sapp run the backcourt. There is balance in this lineup, with Hubbert and Green leading the team at 13 ppg.

The Hoyas just had a dominating 76-58 victory over Marquette. Georgetown is 3-0 ATS as a dog after starting 8-1 on the road! This is an exciting weekend for the Hoyas, hosting Pittsburgh in a showdown on Saturday. It’s a revenge spot after losing to the Panthers in January at Pitt, 74-69.

Marquette: While Pitt and Georgetown are about inside power, Marquette prefers speed in the backcourt, like recent alumnus Dwyane Wade. Three sophomore guards Dominic James (15.3 ppg), Jerel McNeal (14.4 ppg) and Wesley Matthews lead the team in scoring.

Marquette has impressive wins over Duke (73-62) on a neutral court, at Louisville and at Pitt (77-74). Junior forwards 6-10 Ousmane Barro and 6-9 Dan Fitzgerald are role players on the glass. Marquette has played well as an underdog (4-3 ATS) and the past two years is 16-8 ATS in that role.

West Virginia: It’s no secret that Mountaineers sports teams have a history of playing well at home, starting 13-1 SU and 8-2 ATS this season. You don’t have to convince No. 2 UCLA, a 70-65 upset victim at West Virginia. Coach John Beilein has now won 17 times against ranked teams at West Virginia including twice this year (they beat UConn 81-71 as a home dog).

West Virginia has a frontcourt punch of 6-5 senior Frank Young, 6-8 sophomore Joe Alexander and 6-7 freshman Da’Sean Butler. They don’t have a lot of experience, with only two seniors on the roster. However, the Mountaineers have great depth with sophomore guard Alex Ruoff and 7-footers Jamie Smalligan and Rob Summers. They held UCLA to 38.7 percent shooting and 6-of-23 from 3-point land.

UConn: It’s been a frustrating season for Coach Jim Calhoun because he has an inconsistent team overflowing with youth. Jeff Adrien (13.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg) is a 6-7 sophomore who leads the Huskies in scoring and rebounding. Of their 10 top scorers, all are freshmen and sophs! That explains why UConn started 1-6 SU/ATS on the road and 0-5 SU/ATS as a dog.

Georgia Tech just smothered the Huskies, who shot 30.9 percent, made 12-of-21 free throws and were 6-for-19 on three-pointers. It was UConn’s second-lowest scoring effort of the season behind the 49 in a 17-point loss Jan. 6 at LSU. UConn has shot below 40 percent in 10 of its last 13 games.

Notre Dame: The Irish are the Big East’s highest-scoring team (81.8 ppg) behind senior guards Russell Carter (17.8 ppg) and Colin Falls (14 ppg). Offense keeps them in most games and the team boasts a 13-3 ATS mark as an underdog the last two seasons.

However, Coach Mike Brey has concerns about a hot and cold bench. Brey too often goes with the starters more on the road. The Irish started 15-0 at home, but is a poor 2-5 SU, and 3-4 ATS away from South Bend. They’ve also struggled in close games, losing to Butler, St. John’s and DePaul by a combined seven points.