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Big East First Round Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Big East Conference First Round Preview

Preview by Jim Woods

Starting Wednesday, all eyes in the Northeast will be on Madison Square Garden for the Silver Anniversary of the Big East Tournament. Over the past 25 years there are some memories and names you can never forget. Great finishes, superb individual performances and upsets are just some of the many things you can expect to see. This year’s version is as wide open as I can remember. Though Pittsburgh won the regular season title, by no means will the Panthers coast through the weekend. Connecticut is always tough with their horde of fans invading the Garden and generally annoying every other fan in attendance when they begin to talk about their women’s team while the other games are going on. Syracuse has been coming on strong, Ryan Gomes can carry Providence, Boston College will try to win with youth and Seton Hall will ride Andre Barrett as far as he can take them. And these are by no means the only six that can win. These six may already have “locked” up an NCAA tourney berth, but don’t tell the rest of the teams they can’t crash the “Big Dance.” I’ll be here all week to provide insight, analysis and predictions on my favorite conference tournament.

No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. No. 9 Rutgers
Led by the Big East’s top scorer Bryant Matthews (22.9ppg), the Hokies enter New York on their first-ever Big East three game win streak. Seth Greenberg is arguably the Coach of the Year in the conference and he will have his ball club well prepared for the Scarlet Knights. Tech recently knocked off Rutgers 71-70 to exact some revenge for RU’s 33-point win in February. Herve Lamizana is the key for the Scarlet Knights. This multi-talented forward has the capabilities of taking over a game, but has to remain focused for 40 minutes. Rutgers freshman guards Marquis Webb and Quincy Douby will be in the spotlight in their first tournament game. Douby’s long range marksmanship can turn a game around in a hurry. The close to home factor and support of a pro-Rutgers crowd will weigh heavily in the Scarlet Knights’ favor.

Prediction: Virginia Tech’s free throw woes (last in conference at .597) will hurt them in a close game. I like Rutgers 69-66.

No. 5 Boston College vs. No. 12 Georgetown
This game features two teams heading in opposite directions. The Eagles have lost only once since February 1st and the Hoyas have won only once since that same date. Georgetown has lost their past eight games and are reeling as they head to New York. Boston College would like to put together a nice run and improve their NCAA Tournament seed. First Team All Big East performer Craig Smith gives the Eagles a legitimate go to scorer and forward Uka Agbai has been through many conference wars and already has one tournament championship ring. Brandon Bowman leads the Hoyas in rebounding (8.0rpg) and is second in scoring (16.0ppg). The Hoyas will try to grind this game out and keep it in the high 50’s to have a chance to win.

Prediction: Coach Skinner will not let the Eagles overlook the Hoyas. Not enough scoring options will be the undoing for Georgetown. BC rolls 72-58.

No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 West Virginia
This game features two teams that were considered on the bubble in mid-February, but their bubbles have appeared to burst. Both teams will need to win the tournament to get into the “Big Dance.” Notre Dame’s backcourt of Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn is capable of keeping them in any game against any opponent. West Virginia counters with a balanced lineup in which no player averages more than eleven points per game. West Virginia’s biggest team weakness this season has been rebounding, however, without Torin Francis, the Irish are themselves a weak rebounding team. Defending the perimeter will be the key for the Mountaineers. They cannot allow Quinn and Thomas any free looks.

Prediction: The Irish will want to get out and push the ball up the floor, while West Virginia will want to play possession by possession basketball. The key is going to be who defends the three-point line better. Both teams struggled in this area all season. In the end guard play will elevate the Irish 70-63.

No. 6 Seton Hall vs. No. 11 Villanova
I really believe this game will be the first day’s most entertaining contest. This game is like a New York/New Jersey AAU reunion. This is the Panthers, Playaz, Ravens, Roadrunners and all the rest of our favorite summer teams on display. I wouldn’t expect any of the kids on either team to be intimidated by the stage they are playing on. Nine of the ten starters in this game played their high school or AAU basketball within twenty miles of MSG. All of these kids know each other’s games inside out and you can throw the personnel scouting reports in the trash. Seton Hall is headed for the NCAA’s, and Villanova would like to have a nice run to build upon next season with this young team. Andre Barrett has been superb all season for the Pirates and would like to lead his team to a title in his final chance. If Villanova can neutralize Barrett and make somebody else have to handle the ball they can spring the upset. I would attack the Pirate point guard and try to get him in some foul trouble. Donald Copeland is still a question mark at the backup position.

Prediction: These teams are very close statistically in all the major categories. Villanova has struggled in close games, including a two-point loss at Seton Hall earlier this season. I can see no reason why this game does not go right down to the last possession and I think the Pirates’ experience will be the difference. Seton Hall 80 Villanova 78.

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