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February 9, 2007

Big East Breakdown: Hoyas on the rise

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

Best matchup: Marquette at Georgetown. The 11th-ranked Golden Eagles (21-4, 8-2) and the 22nd-ranked Hoyas (17-5, 7-2) will meet for sole possession of second place behind Pittsburgh. Each team is playing as well as it has all season. Marquette has won eight in a row, and Georgetown has a six-game winning streak. Surprisingly, the Hoyas have not performed all that well at home, where three of their losses have come. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles are 6-1 on the road this season. Three of those road victories have come against ranked teams. Both teams are predicated on defense, with the Hoyas the top team in the league in scoring defense. On offense, Marquette is propelled by its three-guard lineup. Georgetown is more likely to pound it inside with center Roy Hibbert and forward Jeff Green. Expect a physical game with scores in the 60s or lower.

Worst matchup: Cincinnati at Rutgers. The only teams in the league with overall losing records meet to decide absolutely nothing. The game might be on the YES network, but you should find a way to say no. The Bearcats are 14th in the league in scoring; the Scarlet Knights are 16th.

The pressure is on: Villanova coach Jay Wright. The Wildcats have a nice-looking RPI (18th) but a 4-5 record in the conference. Seton Hall is a very winnable road game on Saturday. The Pirates aren't very good (12-10, 3-6), but Villanova is only 2-3 on the road in the Big Ten. A loss here, with games against Georgetown and Marquette still on the schedule, and the Wildcats are in serious peril concerning the NCAA Tournament.

Upset alert: UCLA at West Virginia. The No. 2 Bruins had a hard-fought game Wednesday night with cross-town rival USC. Now they have to travel across the country to face the Mountaineers, who are coming off a stinging loss to No. 7 Pittsburgh. UCLA will have to guard against a letdown in a hostile environment. Meanwhile, John Beilein's team knows it got off to a horrible start against the Panthers and never could recover. If the Mountaineers can hang around for a while, they could throw a big scare into the Bruins.

Who's hot: Since getting in foul trouble and not attempting a single field goal in a loss to Villanova, Georgetown center Roy Hibbert has shot 77.4 percent from the field over the past seven games. He's averaging 14.7 points during that stretch. Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray has had at least nine rebounds in each of his past six games. He leads the Big East in double-doubles with 11. South Florida center Kentrell Gransberry is averaging 12.3 rebounds over his past seven games.

Who's not: Marquette point guard Dominic James, a preseason All-American, has struggled recently. He's shooting 3-for-18 over the Golden Eagles' past two games and will have to shoot better if his team is going to win at Georgetown. Louisville has made less than 40 percent of its shots in five of its past six games. After a huge seven-game stretch in January in which he averaged 21 points per game and shot 41 percent, Villanova freshman Scottie Reynolds is struggling. He's shooting just 23 percent in his past three games and is averaging 7.7 points per game.

Must see TV: Marquette at Georgetown, noon, ESPN. UCLA at West Virginia, 1 p.m., CBS. They're both too good to pass up.

Key stat: Georgetown has held its past four opponents to 33 percent shooting in the second half.

Bench bonus: Pittsburgh's bench outscored its starters 31-29 in the victory Wednesday night at West Virginia.

They said it: "We are definitely settling into a groove, and a lot of the experiences that we went through earlier in the year are paying off now." Georgetown coach John Thompson III. "When you do everything you're not supposed to do in the last two minutes, you're supposed to lose." Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin after the Bearcats squandered an eight-point lead with 1:41 to play against Providence.

Worth noting: Villanova forward Curtis Sumpter traditionally has torn up Seton Hall, the Wildcats' opponent on Saturday. He has gone for at least 19 points and seven rebounds in each of the past three meetings with the Pirates. Pittsburgh held West Virginia to a season-low 47 points on Wednesday. Panthers guard Ronald Ramon is shooting a jaw-dropping 54.1 percent from 3-point range in Big East play. West Virginia won at UCLA last year, with the Bruins looking to return the favor on Saturday in Morgantown. The only current Mountaineers player who played more than two minutes in last year's game is Frank Young. Melvin Buckley still is South Florida's leading scorer though he hasn't led the Bulls in scoring in their past nine games. Louisville had just one turnover in its loss to Georgetown. The Cardinals have only nine turnovers over their past two games.

Freshmen to watch: Louisville swingman Earl Clark has led the Cardinals in scoring in the past two games with 14 points in each game. He played a season-high 30 minutes in the loss to Georgetown and shot 6-for-10 with five rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. Pittsburgh forward Sam Young came off the bench against West Virginia and posted career highs in points (21) and rebounds (seven).

Something you may have missed: Because of its size disadvantage, Cincinnati tried to use a matchup zone in the half court against Georgetown. The Hoyas shot 52.8 percent and won easily.

RPI watch: The league remains stuck in sixth in the latest RPI. Pittsburgh is the only Big East team in the top 17, sitting pretty at No. 3. Villanova has leapfrogged Marquette, with the Wildcats checking in at No. 18 and the Golden Eagles right behind at 19. Georgetown has moved up four spots since last week to 32nd. Notre Dame plummeted seven spots to 45th after losing to South Florida.

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



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