For anyone who remembers Forrest Gump, he had a classic line. “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. Boy was he ever so right. This had to be the most hectic weekend in the Big East in recent memory. There were upsets galore. Teams that were seemingly unbeatable –Syracuse, Villanova– all of a sudden look vulnerable. Meanwhile, teams that were dropping fast –Georgetown, St. John’s– scored huge wins that put them right back in the mix.
St. Johns – Where else can we start? The Red Storm (12-8, 4-5 Big East) had dropped three in a row and five of six heading into Sunday’s matchup with Duke. That didn’t matter as Steve Lavin’s crew upset the No.3 Blue Devils, 93-78 at Madison Square Garden. St. John’s last six contests were part of an eight-game stretch against ranked teams. The Red Storm came up on the losing end, dropping five of the eight, but you have to be fair. When was the last time a team faced eight straight ranked opponents?
Lavin made a great point in illustrating how tough the Big East is:
“You can lose eight-of-nine games or five-of-six games in this league and not necessarily be playing really bad basketball. As a matter of fact, you may be one of the best 65 and deserving of a NCAA Tournament bid, but you happen to be in the BIG EAST. And the scores indicate that. I used Syracuse as an example. They really helped our team get a better sense for the larger context or picture of how tough the Big East Conference is, because if Syracuse can lose four straight in this league, we can sure lose five-of-six, depending on who you’re drawing and when.”
This win doesn’t necessarily guarantee St. John’s a spot in the NCAA Tournament. They still have only 12 wins. They’ll likely need at least 18 wins by the end of the regular season to have a chance. With 10 games left, there’s no reason to think the Red Storm can’t do it. They have games against unranked Rutgers, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall and South Florida. All of those teams are beatable. There is also a non-conference game at UCLA, and home games against Connecticut and Pittsburgh. Those won’t be easy. There is also a road game against Villanova. That’s another tough one. Bottom line, if St. John’s can win seven of those 10, they might have just secured a spot in the big dance.
Georgetown – The Hoyas looked terrible at the beginning of January. They dropped three straight to St. John’s West Virginia and Pittsburgh. Those losses were on the heels of a loss at Notre Dame on December 29. But John Thompson III’s team has won four straight, including a three-point win at No.8 Villanova on Saturday. The Hoyas still have home games against Louisville and Syracuse and road contests against Syracuse, Connecticut among their remaining nine games. It won’t be easy, but Georgetown (16-5, 5-4) would need a complete meltdown to miss the NCAA Tournament. Austin Freeman has keyed this run. The senior guard averaged 24.1 points and just one turnover per game over the four. He hit 12 of 22 three-pointers in the stretch, too. Can you say En Fuego?
Louisville – You have to hand it to Rick Pitino. He doesn’t have an NBA lottery pick anywhere on his roster, but he’s found a way to get it done with this group. Just check out Saturday’s 79-78 double overtime win over No.5 Connecticut. The Cardinals withstood a UConn team that had three players score 20 or more points. Kemba Walker, who had 20, missed a jumper at the end of regulation and a three at the end of the second OT that would’ve won it for the Huskies.
“We don't have no superstars on this team and that helps us out a lot, because we know anybody can take that last shot,” Louisville guard Peyton Siva told the AP after the game. “I got to the lane, I made a couple layups and that was important.”
Louisville (17-4, 6-2) is probably the most surprising team in the Big East. No one thought they would be sitting in sole possession of second place at this point. The Cardinals have a big test at Georgetown on Monday. After that it’s a home game versus DePaul, followed Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Syracuse – The Orange continue to be an enigma. They looked unbeatable earlier this season. But they’ve dropped four straight. It’s the first time Syracuse has dropped four in a row since 2006. The worst loss came at the hands of Seton Hall. The Pirates destroyed the Orange’s vaunted 2-3 zone in a 90-68 win. Is this just a blip in the radar? The Orange are too talented to drop out of the running. Just like Lavin said, a team can drop several games and still not lose anything because of how deep and tough the Big East is. Syracuse (18-4, 5-4) will get a chance to turn things around on Wednesday when they travel to UConn to take on the Huskies. They’ll get a breather against South Florida the following Saturday. But it’s back to business the following week with consecutive games against Georgetown and Louisville.
Villanova – Like Syracuse, Villanova looked nearly untouchable earlier in the season. But Jay Wright’s crew has dropped three of its last four. Wednesday’s 83-68 loss to Providence was a killer. Villanova’s talented backcourt of Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher had just seven points each in that loss. If those two are off, the Wildcats are seriously vulnerable. But Villanova can be comforted by the face that two of those losses came by a total of five points. The Wildcats aren’t likely to lose much more ground, but like Syracuse, they need to be conscious of their seeding for the tournament.
STEADY AS SHE GOES
Pittsburgh – Outside of a five-point home loss to Notre Dame, the Panthers (20-2, 8-1) have been flawless for over six weeks.
Notre Dame – Winners of three straight (Cincinnati, Marquette, Pittsburgh), the Irish (17-4, 6-3) are at DePaul on Thursday.
Marquette – The Golden Eagles (14-8, 5-4) were falling after dropping two in a row to Notre Dame and Connecticut. Their home win against Syracuse on Saturday put them right back in the mix.
Cincinnati – The Bearcats (18-4, 5-4) have been surprisingly good this season. But they need a win against one of the ranked Big East teams to prove they are for real. They’ll get a chance at Pittsburgh next Saturday.
West Virginia – The Mountaineers (14-6, 5-3) lost a lot from last season’s Final Four team, but they have done a great job to stay in the mix. Wins at Georgetown and Purdue turned a lot of heads. Next up for the Mountaineers is a home game against Seton Hall, followed by Villanova and Pittsburgh.
Rutgers, Seton Hall and Providence will be fighting to finish the season near .500, while South Florida and DePaul are trying their best not to be embarrassed.