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Big East Notebook

January 23, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Big East Notebook

by Thomas Hart

Conference Play in Full Swing

The second week of conference play saw Pittsburgh remain undefeated, Connecticut wield its mighty force, and Syracuse show it is still a team to be reckoned with even without Carmelo Anthony. The Panthers had two tough wins, one over Miami in double overtime on the road, then a hard fought win over Notre Dame at home. Connecticut looked scary in its two wins last week crushing No. 6 Oklahoma, then handling Georgetown easily at home. Syracuse also had two big wins last week, one over Boston College at home, and a big win on the road at Missouri.

Player of the Week

Emeka Okafor, Uconn

Okafor wins the honor after averaging 22.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 5.33 blocks in January thus far. He started the month off with 27 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rice. Then, in an 86-59 thrashing of No. 6 Oklahoma, Okafor came within one block of a triple-double with 21points, 10 rebounds and 9 blocks. He continued his dominance in a nail biting 75-74 win over a game Rutgers team with 21 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 blocks. In that game, he also surpassed 1000 points for his career. He then logged 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a UConn’s 94-70 win over Georgetown, before adding 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 blocks in a three point loss to North Carolina. He finished his streak of great games with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a three point win over Pittsburgh.

Rookie of the Week

Chris Taft, Pittsburgh

In six Pittsburgh games this month, Taft averaged 13.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He started January off with 9 points, and six rebounds in a 70-55 win over William and Mary. He then scored a career-high 17 points, with nine rebounds, and three blocks in 38 minutes as the Panthers recorded an 84-80 double-overtime win at Miami. He had 17 points versus Virginia Tech, with four rebounds, and four blocks. In a win at Notre Dame, Taft scored 10 points, had 9 rebounds, and four blocks. He had 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a win over Rutgers. He finished his run with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in the Panthers’ only loss thus far against Connecticut.

Team Notes

Boston College (13-4 Overall / 2-2 Big East)

Boston College has gone 2-2 in early Big East action. They started off the month of January with a non-conference win over Atlantic 10 foe St. Bonaventure, then won their first conference game over Georgetown on the road. The Eagles dropped two in a row to Syracuse and Villanova, before winning at home against Seton Hall. Craig Smith exploded for 24 points and 12 rebounds in the win over Georgetown. He was ably supported by Uka Agbai with 17 points, and freshman Sean Marshall with 15 points. Another freshman, Jared Dudley, chipped in with 9 points and 12 rebounds. The Eagles then got swamped by the Orangemen at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse proved it still has plenty of talent left after the departure of Carmelo Anthony. The “Cuse” were up 20 at the half behind the long-range bombing of Gerry McNamara, and inside play of Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, and Craig Forth. In the second half, the Eagles mounted a valiant comeback behind Craig Smith, coming within 5 points before the Orangemen turned it on down the stretch in routing the Eagles 96-73. Against Villanova, BC found itself down 20-9 early on and never recovered losing 92-89. The Wildcats were led by Mike Nardi who poured in 24 points, and Allan Ray who had 23. BC once again was led by Craig Smith who had 21. The Eagles won their second Big East clash behind Craig Smith’s 26 points, beating Seton Hall 72-63. In their last victory, BC squeaked out a one point victory over North Carolina State 66-65 despite poor foul shooting and missed layups. The Eagles tenacious defense was the difference going down the stretch.

Connecticut (15-2 Overall / 3-0 Big East)

UConn stayed undefeated in the Big East with wins over Rutgers (75-74), Georgetown (94-70), and Pittsburgh (66-63). They also defeated Rice (92-83) and Oklahoma (86-59), before losing to North Carolina by three, 66-63. Preseason player of the year favorite Emeka Okafor continued to show why he is considered the best player in college basketball with dominant performances in all six games. He posted double-doubles in all several games, narrowly missing a triple-double against then-No. 6 Oklahoma. Bolstered by the return of highly-touted freshman Charlie Villanueva, a 6-10 forward, UConn showed the depth that will make them difficult to beat this year. Villanueva racked up impressive numbers in wins over Rice (25 points), Rutgers (15 points, 12 rebounds), and Oklahoma (11 points, 7 rebounds). It’s clear that Okafor is over his early season back woes, and is poised to have a player-of-the-year type season. Jim Calhoun has also assembled an outstanding supporting cast including Ben Gordon which will make UConn difficult to defeat.

Georgetown (11-3 Overall / 2-3 Big East)

After starting off the New Year with a win over Rutgers, the Hoyas lost three in a row before defeating St. Johns. The first loss was at home to Boston College (72-64), and the last two on the road to West Virginia (62-58), and Connecticut (94-70). Despite 16 points apiece from Ashanti Cook and Brandon Bowman, the Hoyas could not overcome the balanced Mountaineer attack led by Joe Herber (15 points). It didn’t help that they shot 31% from the field, and were out shot at the foul line 28-8. Against Connecticut, the Hoyas were hopelessly outmatched as many of their opponents will be this season. The Huskies have great depth and in addition to a great night from Emeka Okafor, got great leadership and production from their point guard Taliek Brown (20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists). Georgetown had four players in double figures: Brandon Bowman, Courtland Freeman, Ashanti Cook, and Gerald Riley. Georgetown got back on the winning track in beating St. Johns 71-69. Courtland Freeman led the way with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists.

Miami (13-5 Overall / 3-2 Big East)

The Hurricanes have begun the month of January with four wins and two losses. After smoking Savannah State by 40 points, they were routed by North Carolina. In Big East play, they lost a nail biter in double overtime to Pittsburgh, 84-80, before beating St. Johns, Virginia Tech, and Rutgers. Despite double figure efforts from Darius Rice, Guillermo Diaz, and Robert Hite, Miami could not get over the hump down the stretch and lost to undefeated Pittsburgh at home. The Hurricanes turned it around on the road against St. Johns led by 18 points from Hite. Hite also had 26 in the win over Virginia Tech, while Rice had 22 against Rutgers.

Notre Dame (9-5 Overall / 3-2 Big East)

The Fighting Irish have started conference play with a 3-2 record. They beat West Virginia, Villanova, and Virginia Tech and lost to Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Chris Thomas continues to produce leadership and big numbers for the Fighting Irish. After dropping 26 points in the win over Villanova, he scored 29 points in the loss to Pittsburgh. He also scored 24 points in two other games this season. Notre Dame appears to have enough talent to do well in the Big East this year, they just need more consistency. In addition to Thomas, they are getting consistent scoring and rebounding from Torin Francis and Torrian Jones, and scoring from Chris Quinn.

Pittsburgh (18-1 Overall / 4-1 Big East)

The Panthers finally lost to Connecticut in a tough battle after 18 straight wins to start the season. They won their first 5 games in January, and the No. 9 Panthers were flying high despite losing their coach Ben Howland to the UCLA Bruins at the end of last season. They had the longest winning streak (17 games) in the nation, a 36 game home winning streak, and the best starting record of any Pitt team since the 1927-28 team that finished 21-0. They have accomplished all this with a balanced attack. In their 74-71 win over Notre Dame, they had five players in double figures, against Miami they had four, and in the win over Virginia Tech, nine different players scored. Clearly, balance is a key to the Panthers early success.

Providence (12-3 Overall / 3-1 Big East)

After two tough back-to-back close losses to 18th-ranked Texas, and Rutgers, the Friars bounced back with four straight wins and are 3-1 in the Big East. Both losses were heartbreakers that came at the buzzer, and after being ranked early on Providence dropped out of the national rankings. Rest assured they will be back. Led by tough forward Ryan Gomes, who is second in the Big East in scoring (20.2) and fourth in rebounding (9.3), the Friars showed their competitiveness and resiliency in the Texas and Rutgers games. Center Marcus Douthit will also be a huge key in Providence’s success. Thus far he’s responded with steady scoring and rebounding to complement Gomes outstanding play.

Rutgers (9-6 Overall / 1-4 Big East)

The Scarlet Knights have gone 2-4 in January thus far but have proven to be a tough opponent in all their games. They lost by only a point to Connecticut, and knocked off Providence on the road. They also lost two competitive games against Pittsburgh and Miami. Herve Lamizana, and Ricky Shields continue to lead Rutgers in scoring, averaging in double figures. Rutgers has a nice blend of younger players and veterans and will make noise in the Big East this season.

St. Johns (4-11 Overall / 0-5 Big East)

The advent of the new year has not brought any relief for the Red Storm. After firing head coach Mike Jarvis, their only victory in January has been over Niagara. They have lost their first 5 conference games. The good news is they have been close and in most of their games and have featured a balance scoring attack featuring four and sometimes five players in double figures. Kyle Cuffe, Grady Reynolds, Daryl Hill, and Elijah Ingram have kept St. Johns competitive and the Red Storm will likely pull off an upset or two before the seasons over.

Seton Hall (12-4 Overall / 2-2 Big East)

The Pirates have gone 4-2 in January with conference wins over St. Johns and Syracuse. Sophomore Kelly Whitney led the way with 21 points in the upset over the Orangemen at the Meadowlands. The Pirates lost to Boston College and Providence despite a balance scoring attack including Whitney, Andre Barrett, and John Allen. The Pirates will need Barrett’s senior leadership in order to challenge for a berth in the NCAA tournament in March. Clearly, they have the tools to vie for a postseason position.

Syracuse (13-2 Overall / 3-1 Big East)

The Orangemen started off the new year with 5 wins in a row before losing to Seton Hall. Syracuse remains a potent offensive team with Hakim Warrick, and Gerry McNamara leading the way. They also possess additional firepower in junior Josh Pace and sophomore Billy Edelin, who score in double figures and make the Orangemen difficult to defend. Craig Forth provides size in the middle. In addition to conference wins over St. Johns, Boston College, and Notre Dame, Syracuse has knocked off two tough non-conference foes in Michigan State and Missouri. Although the Spartans and the Tigers have struggled in the early going, they remain formidable opponents. Their next game will be a big test at home against Pittsburgh.

Villanova (10-6 Overall / 2-2 Big East)

The Wildcats have gone 2-4 in January, including losses against two high-powered non-conference opponents Kansas and Memphis. Their two conference wins have come over St. Johns and Boston College. Villanova, like many teams in the Big East sports a balance scoring attack with Curtis Sumpter, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi, and Randy Foy frequently scoring in double figures. Jason Frasier is their best rebounder and also can score. The Wildcats hope to turn things around in their final three games this month against Miami, Rutgers, and West Virginia. If they don’t, it could be a disappointing season for coach Jay Wright.

Virginia Tech (8-7 Overall / 1-3 Big East)

The Hokies are 1-3 in Big East conference play this month their lone win coming over West Virginia. Virgina Tech is led by sophomore Bryant Matthews who leads the Big East in scoring averaging 24.4 points per game,and 10.1 rebounds. Freshmen Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon also average in double figures. January doesn’t get any easier for the Hokies as they face three tough games against Seton Hall, Syracuse, and Connecticut.

West Virginia (9-6 Overall / 1-3 Big East)

The Mountaineers are 2-3 this month with their lone Big East conference win over Georgetown. Drew Schifino led West Virginia in scoring and was the only player who averages in double figures for the Mountaineers before being dismissed from the team on January 12 for a violation of team rules. Six other players have scored in double figures in various games. On the plus side, West Virginia is a young team with only one senior on the squad, so as the season goes on and the younger players get more experience, the Mountaineers may yet pull and upset or two. There next game is at home versus Boston College, and that would be a good game for West Virginia to make some noise in the conference.


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