Louisville

Although the Cardinals have stumbled early on with losses to mid-majors UNLV and Western Kentucky, No. 21 Louisville looks ready to go as it enters Big East play. Rick Pitino’s squad currently stands at 10-3, with its signature victory thus far coming last Sunday against Kentucky. Edging the Wildcats 74-71, the Cardinals showed that they can perform in crunch time against an NCAA tournament-caliber team. Louisville opened up their rigorous Big East schedule on Wednesday with a relatively easy road win against a weaker South Florida team.

Louisville has rebounded nicely from the loss of senior and first team All-Big East forward David Padgett with talented freshman Samardo Samuels. Although Samuels may lack the veteran leadership and experience of Padgett, the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Jamaican forward leads the team in points with 13.8 per game and is averaging 6.5 rebounds per game. Junior swingman Earl Clark and senior forward Terrence Williams are also contributing nicely, both averaging over 12 points and eight rebounds per game. For Louisville to be successful, however, junior guard Edgar Sosa must perform on a consistent basis. The once-highly touted recruit has gone through some struggles but proved to be the difference in the victory over Kentucky, nailing the deciding three-pointer with 2.3 seconds remaining.

Next: at Villanova, Jan. 10 at noon; at GU, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.

West Virginia

No. 22 West Virginia received national attention earlier this season with a loss at Madison Square Garden against Davidson. The Mountaineers, however, were missing two of their best players, as junior guard Joe Mazzulla and senior guard Alex Ruoff were hampered by injuries. Since the return of their experienced backcourt, West Virginia has played excellently, highlighted by a 28-point rout at Big Ten title contender Ohio State.

Ruoff, a senior, is a prolific scorer and has excellent range. Junior forward Da’Sean Butler has emerged as one of the Mountaineers’ best all-around players, averaging 15.6 points per game and 6.1 rebounds. The young talent on this squad has contributed nicely thus far, too, as freshman guard Darryl Bryant and forward Devin Ebanks, also in his first season, have asserted their presence on the floor.

If healthy, this team can prove to be quite dangerous in both Big East as well as postseason play. The Mountaineers are a well-coached squad and have tournament experience, as they upset No. 2 seed Duke last season en route to the Sweet 16. The Mountaineers currently stand at 1-1 in Big East play, with an easy victory at Seton Hall and a tough loss against Connecticut.

Next: at Marquette, Jan. 10 at noon; at GU, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.

Villanova

Although the 17th-ranked Wildcats have jumped out to a 13-2 record, they have yet to gain status as one of the Big East’s best. Villanova has yet to defeat a ranked opponent, with its only victory against a major conference team coming this past Tuesday in an 89-85 overtime nail-biter at Seton Hall. The Wildcats failed to capitalize against either of their toughest opponents thus far, dropping games to Big 12 favorite Texas and Big East rival Marquette.

Senior forward Dante Cunningham has provided Villanova with a formidable post presence, averaging 17.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Cunningham scored 21 points and racked up 13 rebounds in the Seton Hall victory, all while displaying an uncanny dependability and fortitude, as he played for the entire duration of the game. The Wildcats have a relatively balanced offensive attack, as the guard trio of junior Scottie Reynolds and sophomores Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes are all averaging in double figures.

Next: Louisville, Jan 10 at noon; at GU, Feb. 28 at 2 p.m.

Syracuse

Projected as a middle-of-the-road Big East team before the season began, this team is on a roll – the Orange currently sit atop the Big East standings at 3-0 (15-1 overall) along with Providence and Marquette, and they have risen to 11th in the AP Poll. If Cleveland State’s Cedric Jackson hadn’t banked in a miraculous 60-footer at the buzzer on Dec.15, Syracuse would be undefeated and most likely a top five team. After two years of being left out of the NCAA tournament, the Orange seem determined to leave no doubt in committee members’ minds come Selection Sunday.

Sophomore guard Jonny Flynn continues to star as the team’s point guard, averaging more than 16 points and five assists per game, and controversial junior guard Eric Devendorf, fresh off a suspension for allegedly “closed-fisted slapping” a woman, has added adept outside shooting while pouring in nearly 14 points per contest.

Next: at Rutgers, Jan. 10 at 7:30 p.m.; at GU, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

arquette

Like the Orange, Marquette has greatly exceeded expectations so far this season. The No. 15 Golden Eagles are 14-2 and have won their first three league games against Villanova, Cincinnati and Rutgers. An experienced nucleus of senior guards Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James and junior forward Lazar Hayward has Marquette primed for a run at the Big East title. Matthews has been superb through 16 games, leading the team in scoring with more than 19 points per contest. McNeal, who eventually withdrew his name from the 2008 NBA Draft, continues to add to his resume with excellent three-point shooting and an average of 18 points per game. Hayward is the inside presence for the Golden Eagles, and James runs the point for a team that averages more than 81 points per game.

arquette enters a tough home contest tomorrow against pesky West Virginia on a six-game winning streak. While the Golden Eagles enjoy a relatively easy start to the conference season – if it can be called that in the Big East – they will finish with a brutal five-game stretch. Beginning on Feb. 21, they are at Georgetown, home for Connecticut, at Louisville, at Pitt, and home for Syracuse. That stretch will match the Golden Eagles against possibly the five best teams in the Big East. The nation may have to wait until the end of the regular season to find out what Marquette is really made of.

Next: West Virginia, Jan. 10 at noon; GU, Jan. 31 at 2 p.m.; and at GU, Feb. 21 at 2 p.m.

Providence

At the moment, the Friars are in first place in the Big East with a perfect 3-0 record in conference play. They are 11-4 overall and are feeling good right now as they try to put together a tournament-worthy resume. The conference could send a record 10 teams to the Big Dance, and Providence certainly has a chance to be that 10th team – although losses to Northeastern and Saint Mary’s will not look good on Selection Sunday. A key aspect of this year’s Friars is their depth. An impressive seven players average more than eight points per game, and six of those seven pull down more than three boards per contest. Senior guard Weyinmi Efejuku is the team’s leading scorer and playmaker, while junior point guard Sharaud Curry leads the offensive attack with his 4.3 assists per game.

An experienced team that has not enjoyed much success recently, Providence’s impressive start to the season can only be validated by a banner victory over a traditional Big East power – and there are plenty of those on the schedule for the Friars. If they want to be considered by the NCAA tournament selection committee, they will need some key victories along the way.

Next: at Georgetown, Jan. 10 at 1 p.m.

-Compiled by Lance Pauker and Dave Finn

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.