2008 Big East Tournament Recap
Georgetown 82, Villanova 63
Let the bodies hit the floor!
Recording artists Drowning Pool years ago concocted an apt anthem for the Villanova-Georgetown rivalry with “Bodies (Let the Bodies Hit the Floor).”
Anything would have been better for ESPN to choose than the contrived, faux-frightening urban montage which accompanies every Aeropostale Big East Championship game.
In a rough and tumble battle, Georgetown emerged 82-63, on the strength of strong closes to both halves.
One, nothing wrong with me.
Georgetown’s point guard Jonathan Wallace, previously mired in a shooting slump spanning most of January, nailed a trio of three-pointers in the first four game minutes.
Down 12-4 Villanova looked shell-shocked and took a timeout immediately following Wallace’s third make. The senior finished with 20 points, never taking a bad shot.
Two, nothing wrong with me.
Scottie Reynolds, fearless to a fault, fell to the floor on a layup with 5:49 remaining in the first half. Body parts came down on top of him, splitting the skin just above his right eyebrow.
Villanova took a timeout, hoping to minimize the minutes missed by their leader.
Thanks to exceptional work from the Nova trainer, Reynolds got back on the floor quickly. With a little Reynolds wrap on his head, Scottie facilitated an 11-0 Nova run to start the second half. The game drew even at 40-40 before Georgetown put a second half point on the scoreboard.
The sophomore finished with a team high four assists.
Three, nothing wrong with me.
Patrick Ewing Jr., the Big East 6th man of the Year, picked up a warranted but bizarre technical foul near the close of the first half.
After a defensive foul call, Ewing harmlessly flipped the ball 15 feet into the air. Not malicious, the demonstration resulted in a technical which could have reigned in the typically energetic forward.
Fortunately he played with the same passion and uninhibited spirit. Ewing added seven points, seven assists, two steals, and nine rebounds to the cause.
One, Something’s got to give.
Despite winning going away, Georgetown did have one area of concern. Roy Hibbert had the unsightly line of zero points on 0-2 shooting, four turnovers, four rebounds, and five fouls.
“He has to get the ball, he has to score,” murkily added Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson. “Between the foul trouble made him tentative in the way they play, the way they root him out made him tentative. But that’s something that can’t happen, won’t happen again.”
Two, Something’s got to give.
After halftime Villanova bolted out of the locker room, only to lose steam in the last few minutes. The Wildcats grasped a tenuous lead, 45-43 on two Dante Cunningham free throws. Nova held the lead for less than two minutes.
Jessie Sapp’s three-pointer with 3:38 clinched the Hoya victory and left the final body on the floor, the Villanova Wildcat carcass.
Impact: The Hoyas need good outside shooting to reach the Final Four again. Thursday afternoon the Hoyas had great touch behind the arc, 61% as a team. Six different players converted three-point baskets, and four shot 60% or better from the Land O’ Plenty.
Villanova had more to gain with a victory. Georgetown really can’t leap too much higher in the seeding because the 1 and 2 seeds above them have built up excess respect.
Both coaches lobbied for Villanova’s tournament inclusion.
“Not having looked at the landscape, but knowing that if you’re going to pick the best teams to get an at‑large bid, they’re one of them,” offered Thompson.
“We’re an NCAA Tournament team, but that’s not our decision,” said Villanova Coach Jay Wright. “We’ll let the Committee make their decision, and we’ll accept whatever they do. We’ll be happy to play another day wherever we are.”
The Wildcats have a few days of tortuous waiting ahead of them. About 60% of Big East fans believe Nova is out, while many experts are placing them just inside the field.
West Virginia 78, Connecticut 72
Joe Alexander needs a nickname. The junior forward continues to impress despite competing nightly against future pros. For the second night in a row, Alexander led the West Virginia Mountaineers in scoring. This time his 34 points provided the first upset of the 2008 Big East Championship, West Virginia 78, and Connecticut 72.
All the UConn Huskies could be thinking was ‘Woe is me, Joe is he.’
The sizzling forward tied a season high for a UConn opponent. Deonta Vaughn of Cincinnati also dumped in 34 prompting Coach Jim Calhoun to call him one of the five best guards in the league.
“He’s averaging 28.8 coming into this game (in his last four), said Calhoun. “So that makes it 29 against the last five opponents he’s played. So one would have to presuppose that he’s a tough match‑up for everybody. He’s probably one of the best players in the league, clearly.”
This is your “Above Average Joe.” Alexander made a dozen field goals. No one UConn player made more than five.
“He’s such a hard match‑up, because if you put a bigger guy on him, he can take him out on the floor and beat him off the dribble and get him to the basket, hit pull‑up jumpshots,” said West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins. “If you put a smaller guy on him, he can go down in the post and put people on his back.”
Fifty fouls called in the game destroyed Connecticut. To be fair the discrepancy was negligible. But for a team that thrives on momentum, as UConn does, the foul accumulation was doubly painful.
Jerome Dyson and Hasheem Thabeet both missed time with foul trouble. More turbulent were the constant stoppages. The Huskies never sped the game up or generated offense from their vaunted defense. Fewer Dyson steals and fewer Thabeet blocks occurred.
The Mountaineers sprinted into the locker room with an 18-7 run to end the half. The problem WVU exposed in UConn back on March 1, during their only regular season tangle, surfaced during the run. Connecticut’s starting frontcourt Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet do not leave the lane on defense.
“He’s doing a much better job of reading the defense,” observed Huggins. In the second half especially, West Virginia was able to capitalize on their Joe-mentum. The surging forward scored ten straight for the Mountaineers, stretching the lead to 59-48 with 10:06 to play.
WVU understands how to spread the floor and capitalize on these shortcomings. Former Head Coach John Beilein taught them well in this regard.
What Huggins lectured long and hard on was pride in rebounding and pursuit of loose balls.
“Coach talked to us a lot about ‘we have to get back on defense and then transition, and stop them in transition,’” said WVU forward Da’Sean Butler. “And to outrebound them or keep them in close with the rebounds.”
This lesson apparently stuck too.
Led by Butler and Wellington Smith, WVU corralled 42 team rebounds, 16 more than UConn. Butler and Smith each yanked down three offensive rebounds against a foreboding Husky frontline.
The urgency must persist in West Virginia’s third game in three days Friday. Rebounding relentlessly, tipping, nicking all the loose balls to teammates are prerequisites for success against an enormous Georgetown team.
Impact: Connecticut spent late January/February as the hottest team in the conference. Despite a stumble at Villanova late in the year UConn only needed to beat two bottom tier opponents to tie for second place in the standings.
Such a finish would have been a surprisingly swift return to Big East excellence. Unfortunately, UConn fell again to Providence on March 6th and finished fourth. This loss to West Virginia might drop UConn to the 5-6 line, unthinkable two weeks ago.
By advancing to the Big East Championship Semi-finals West Virginia has gone from “maybe” to assuredly in the field.
Beating Georgetown could get first-year coach Bob Huggins and the ‘Eers a solid top-half seed in the NCAA Tournament field.
Pittsburgh 76, Louisville 69 (OT)
Somehow sometime along the way the Pittsburgh Panthers discovered their growl again. A program littered with overachieving, mentally tough, prideful young men forgot how to play defense. The mechanics did not slip their mind. Injuries did not entirely decimate the Panther squad.
When Pitt looked deep inside the pit of their stomach, that invincibility was nowhere to be found.
In the best game of the 2008 Big East Championship to date, Pittsburgh outlasted a ridiculously deep Louisville unit, 76-69 in overtime.
During the last nine minutes, including overtime Louisville just once converted on their first shot of a possession. That play was Padgett’s dunk to cut the lead to seven with nine seconds to play. A forgettable, wholly inconsequential play.
“I think it was just about team defense,” said Pittsburgh guard Ronald Ramon.
The Pittsburgh mentality returned at just the right time, permeating throughout the lineup.
DaJuan Blair and Sam Young combined for three blocks and four steals against a team featuring five taller players than either of them. Blair forced David Padgett off his block on the offensive end and consistently challenged Padgett’s shots.
Gilbert Brown snatched the basketball out of Earl Clark’s hands in overtime. Despite adding to his unobserved league leading tally of missed dunks, Sam Young kept shooting, kept making tough shots. He finished with 21 and 12.
Levance Fields was mighty tough, but his backcourt mate Ramon shined brightest in the most visible conference tournament in the land.
He played 42 of 45 possible minutes. When Fields had first half foul trouble Ramon handled the point with poise. The senior found his range tonight with three of the teams’ four triples coming from his hands.
“We had three good practices,” admits Dixon. “We got after it. We did the things we do. More drills, blockout drills. The aggression and physicality that we usually have. And that’s been coming.”
Terrence Williams, affectionately known as T-Will, played like a T-Might. Questionable shots left his hands from three-point land. He can hit, but chose odd times to offer.
“I think T‑Will’s shots were just bad shots,” said Coach Rick Pitino. “Runners in the lane and off balance.”
Within the first 90 seconds of overtime Williams actually had shots blocked on consecutive possessions by Pittsburgh. If that doesn’t destroy your chance for victory, it at least destroys your ego. Or should.
Edgar Sosa has officially regressed. The kid everyone felt sorry for a year ago (as he missed two chances to tie from the free throw line with 29 seconds left) is now feeling sorry for himself. Sulking, pouting, and hardly ever passing, Sosa is either the third best point guard or the third best shooting guard on this team. Because he dribbles well a point guard label will persist, but his poor vision of the floor and selfish play prove that label incongruous.
Padgett played below his ceiling Thursday night and only Earl Clark truly outclassed Pittsburgh.
The sophomore burst onto the Madison Square Garden floor with the kind of activity reserved for reserves. The frenetic first half pace can largely be attributed to Clark’s hustle around the rim. He finished with six offensive rebounds and a team high 19 points. Clark has the highest ceiling of any pro prospect in the Big East.
Spending time at the small forward, Clark earned the second “unguardable” moniker of the 2008 Big East Championship. Joe Alexander of West Virginia first donned the cape by handling Providence and Connecticut on repeated afternoons.
Pittsburgh almost gave the game away, as the Blair bugaboo poked its ugly head out of the sand. Perpetually struggling with free throws, Blair clanked two off the iron with 50 seconds to play and a two point lead, 62-60. Fields missed a challenged three-pointer in the corner as regulation concluded, 62-62.
Impact: Louisville’s dream of a #2 seed is dead. More harm will be done to the collective psyche of the Cardinals than to the actual NCAA entrance.
The Louisville guards shot 2-21 from the floor. Ugh.
For a team with this collection of future pros and one of the games best coaches a loss in the quarterfinals or the Big East Championship is inexcusable. Rest assured the fans in Kentucky will let them hear all about it this next week. The Ville will not play again for a week at the earliest. An arduous mental hurdle waits.
Pittsburgh continues the improbable climb up the S-curve. With the win the Panthers should be the favorite in their NCAA opener. The highest number conceivably accompanying Pittsburgh will be an 8.
“We’ve really looked at these last four games in this tournament for us to be ourselves, be the team that we can be, and that’s what we’re becoming,” said Dixon.
The hardened Panthers want more. They have been in the Big East Championship Final in six of the last seven years. Losing on Friday is not ok for this bunch.
Marquette 89, Notre Dame 79
Quick–step left to cut off the middle. Now recover to the baseline, get your hands up.
These rapid mental commands took too long to process for Zach Hillesland, as he guarded offensive wizard Jerel McNeal Thursday night. With 28 points McNeal led the way for the second straight night, this time helping Marquette to an 89-79 win.
The experienced backcourt trio of McNeal, Wesley Mattews, and Dominic James made the Notre Dame middle men look silly. The lateral movement of Hillesland, Kurz, Ayers, and even McAlarney proved insufficient.
“I thought offensively we played well enough to win the game, but we could never get them under control on the defensive end of the floor,” said Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey.
Marquette wised up at the half, consciously getting to the basket. The Golden Eagles improved their shooting by 20% in the second half. The thirteen first half three-point shots were not too many, they were just too desperate. Facing a matchup 3-2 zone from Notre Dame, MU rarely dribbled or passed into the paint.
“We’re not quick enough to take away both, the perimeter and the inside,” said Brey. “We kind of packed it in a little bit in some different zones and they made jumpshots.”
Midcourt turnovers and quick outlet passes charged up the runnin’ Eagles. “The first half had its good moments, it had its tough moments for us,” said Marquette Coach Tom Crean. “But the second half was full of what these guys have turned into Marquette basketball.”
When they gathered enough speed the Eagles sure did soar.
Even in the halfcourt sets, McNeal embarrassed people. James penetrated with no intention of shooting. The end result, multiple Lazar Hayward short shots, bothered not one MU fan.
The Big East Conference Player of the Year, Luke Harangody, never really got rolling as he picked up his second foul ten minutes into the game. After sitting, watching, and waiting to return for nearly half an hour of real time, Harangody fouled out with 13 points and five rebounds.
“Yeah, kind of got me out of my rhythm,” said Harangody. “I have to watch myself better than that. Kind of keep myself in the game.”
Hit and miss center Ousmane Barro provided exceptional defense on the quick-footed Harangody.
Impact: Marquette beating Notre Dame head to head on a neutral floor likely helped the Eagles leapfrog the Irish in NCAA seeding. On the season MU beat ND two out of three times, the average margin of victory 18 points.
Notre Dame, Louisville, Marquette, and Connecticut are all relatively close in resume strength. Each should fall between a 3-6 seed, but Marquette is the only team still alive. They will have one or two more chances to improve their standing as the others are at the mercy of the committee.
Notre Dame is now 17-0 at home, and 7-7 away from the Joyce Center. Unless the Irish fall to the NIT dregs (they won’t) their games will be played away from their charmed existence in South Bend.
A spirited Crean was gushing after the loss, “And ever since Jerel has been a freshman, we have always wanted to take that next step in this tournament and get to Friday night. Because we’ve always felt if you can play on Friday night at the Big East Tournament, you can play with anybody.”
The Golden Eagles will be making their first appearance in the BIG EAST semifinals Friday night versus Pittsburgh at 9 PM EST.
Opening Round Games
Villanova 82, Syracuse 63
Countless experts and analysts dubbed the #8/#9 game in the Big East Tournament as an elimination game. Not just elimination from the immediate Big East Tournament, also an undeniable removal from the NCAA bubble.
Despite a disturbing start to the contest, Villanova disposed of a perpetually thin Syracuse unit, 82-63.
Setting the tone for the second half and foreshadowing the definitive trait, Nova closed the half with a three-point shot. Lead guard Scottie Reynolds lost the ball, fortuitously recovered it, and set up Dwayne Anderson for a buzzer-beating three-pointer.
“That 3 at the end of the first half by Dwayne Anderson was huge”, said Wright. “It made us feel that the lid was off the basket.”
The shot finalized an 8-0 Nova run.
“That was a big-time win for this team,” shared Coach Wright. “This group is making their own name and I am really proud of them.”
Trying to make his own name stick out whilst he shares it with another freshman, Corey Stokes showed well. The two-guard contributed a career-high 18 points, including a 25-foot shot that mocked the NBA three-point line.
“It’s great playing at Madison Square Garden,” said Stokes. “It was my dream as a young kid to play in the Big East Tournament.”
To call Villanova a viable NCAA tournament team a month ago would have been dreamy, irrational.
After being left for dead, the youngish Wildcats have won six of their last eight games. Still impotent in the paint, the Wildcats could be de-clawed early in the Big Dance, should they earn the honor of representing the Big East as the eighth team.
Syracuse forward Donte Greene, a notoriously slow starter missed several shots before burying three straight triples to give Syracuse their biggest lead, 18-7. Despite the first half flurry, Greene missed more shots than anyone else involved at 6-19 from the floor.
As a team, the Cuse Orange were amped early on, settled down momentarily only to mightily struggle in the second half (39%). Jonny Flynn’s uncharacteristically high five turnovers hurt the Orange.
Impact: Villanova is close as can be to the line of demarcation. Beating Georgetown Thursday afternoon would assure the Wildcats of a berth. Remember Villanova lost to Georgetown 55-53, courtesy of one of the most-documented bad calls of the season.
Asked if this win over Syracuse was enough Coach Wright uttered, “You hope it’s enough, but you get to play another day. That is what we are most interested in is just playing another day in this tournament which we all love.”
No juice left in the Orange. NIT mayhaps; NCAA not at all. “We needed to win two or three games probably to even get close to where we were last year, we thought, said Jim Boeheim. “We couldn’t quite get the job done.” “Well, even if we had won, I still wasn’t going to watch it because of what happened last year,” said Boeheim after the loss. “I watched it, and I thought we were going to be in. So I told myself no matter what, I’m not going to watch it regardless.” Sour grapes or sour oranges?
West Virginia 58, Providence 53
Two dynamos showed up in the Big Apple Wednesday: Providence forward Geoff McDermott and West Virginia forward Joe Alexander. McD did all he could, serving up some glorious overhead passes in the first half. The passing skills featured by Alexander the Great worked for a different reason.
Over the course of the last three West Virginia games, Bazooka Joe averaged 31 points. Suffice it to say he is a scoring threat. Because Providence’s prepared for the floating, subtle assassin, Alexander’s teammates were able to get open shots off his passes. The WVA forward led the Mountaineers in scoring (22) and assists (4).
“When my teammates know their man is coming over to help out on that, they make the adjustments and get open,” admitted Alexander. Nowhere on the floor was Alexander more threatening that in the high-low sets. “It’s a pretty easy shot for me. Even with more focus from the opposition. You know, on them guarding me on that shot, it’s still easy for me to hit.” He could have used a little more help from his supporting cast. “Alex had shots that he normally makes,” said WV Head Coach Bob Huggins referring to Alex Ruoff. “I think he was 0 for 6 to start the game.”
The Mountaineers finished with their lowest point total all season in the 58-53 win.
The Friars were led by Weyinmi Efejuku, the only double figure scorer for PC, with twelve points. The haphazard guard shot 4-15 from the floor. Despite getting countless bunnies around the rim, PC shot terribly at 42%. Jamine Peterson missed two dunks by himself. McDermott once again proved he is the best frontcourt passer in the conference, playing point forward out of necessity since Sharaud Curry never sufficiently recovered from his broken foot.
Impact: The Mountaineers have won five their last six games, the lone loss coming to UConn in Hartford, 79-71. Impact:making the Big East Tournament. With the tolerable performance and a 58-53 victory, West Virginia is in the NCAA field. They won 10 conference games, albeit against substandard opponents, and beat Winthrop and Marshall along the way. “I don’t know how any team that wins 11 games in this league is not an NCAA Tournament team,” said Coach Huggins. “I was at Akron for five years and I know how hard it is. I know how hard those people work at it. But the reality is if it’s the 34 best teams, put them in our league and see how many they win.”
Providence (15-16) was an all or nothing team who truthfully felt as though they accomplished something by just
The Mountaineers will not be a feared first round opponent, but have they ever been considered one this year? These guys have played underestimated and undervalued their entire careers. If Ruoff, Darris Nichols, and Joe Mazzulla show better West Virginia might win a game or two in the Big Dance.
Pittsburgh 70, Cincinnati 64
Drooling forth praise for Sam Young has simply become old hat. Earlier this week Young earned the Big East Most Improved Player.
En route to dispatching of a spirited Cincinnati Bearcat squad, 70-64, Young dumped in 21 points, hauled in seven rebounds, and four blocks. Late in the game Young swatted away shots on successive Cincinnati possessions.
“(Vaughn) really had to lower his shoulder, get in the lane and in some traffic which enabled Sam to help out and get some blocks there or change some shots, anyways,” said Pittsburgh Head Coach Jamie Dixon.
The 70 points tallied by Pittsburgh was mightily impressive considering Cincinnati played the best team defense of the day. No other Big East team covered the post as actively or energetically. From the opening tip the Bearcats doubled down on Pitt’s pit fighter, DaJuan Blair.
“We figured his scoring would be down a little bit because of how they play,” said Dixon. “They double‑team in the post consistently, and that’s the guy we’re throwing to in the post.”
The gameplan worked as far as limiting Blair. The polar Blair shot once and collected two total points, his ice cold 2-6 from the charity stripe part of an ongoing struggle. Not until 13 minutes elapsed did Pitt gain its first lead never to be relinquished. The Panthers have battled to regain the toughness and pride in defense once emblematic of Head Coach Jamie Dixon’s and Ben Howland’s teams.
The Pitt guard trio of Keith Benjamin, Levance Fields, and Ronald Ramon tugged down 16 rebounds combined. In defeat Deonta Vaughn offered 30 points to the Cincy cause. There was a point in the second half, during which Cincinnati narrowed the game (56-54), that Vaughn actually scored 20 straight points for the Bearcats. Out of 54 field goal attempts, the Bearcats’ bombed away for 27 three-point attempts.
Impact: “We fought hard to get to the Big East Tournament,” said Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin. “That’s the bottom line. We went 8‑10 in this league with absolutely nobody that had been recruited for more than two or three months. These guys banded together and they got us here.”
The NIT will not even inquire about the 13-18 Bearcats. Pittsburgh, already a lock prior to the win, gained very little by beating Cincinnati. The quarterfinal matchup with Louisville offers much more in the way of resume builder. The Panthers are 6-1 in their last seven BIG EAST tournament games and consider Madison Square Garden their home away from home.
“We’ve got a lot of New York guys on the team,” said Young. “Their family comes out and supports. And they feel like they’re home every time we step in the Garden.” Pitt is 20-8 in their last 28 MSG contests.
Marquette 67, Seton Hall 54
Marquette controlled the game against Seton Hall, winning 67-54. Not everyone uses control successfully. With a lead of some weight, Marquette kept the game close in two ways.
MU missed free throws at an alarming rate. The Eagles shot 20-35 from the line. This shortcoming helped Seton Hall hang around despite playing average basketball themselves.
In addition, Marquette’s team scrounged for offensive rebounds all game long. Each missed opportunity quickly became one of a series of attempts on each possession.
The bunch led by MU Head Coach Tom Crean dominated Seton Hall on the glass, embarrassing the regionally-based Pirates. Marquette yanked down 25 rebounds no the offensive glass alone, while Seton Hall only found 24 defensive rebounds. To lose the battle of the boards when you begin with inside position is akin to losing a war on your home soil.
The belief nationally has been that Dominic James is the best Marquette player. Because he dominates the ball and plays with flair, this misguided belief continues to live on. That dies now.
Jerel McNeal has no equal on his roster. The guy is the best defensive player, the most courageous offensive player, and can guard any position but center. “There are going to be the nights where you’re going to be the guy that gets open shots and open looks, and you’re going to be the guy that can make plays,” said McNeal. “Tonight was one of those nights.”
In this game McNeal led all scorers with 21, led the team with four assists, and finished with nine rebounds, one shy of the game leader. “He’s not only one of the best players in the conference, but I think he’s one of the best players in the country, and I think it’s because he plays both ends of the floor with an absolute vengeance, and I think that’s what separates him,” praised Coach Crean.
Not to be overlooked was Marquette’s disastrous shooting. There were tons of offensive rebounds for a reason. MU shot 34% from the floor and will have to do much better against Notre Dame on Thursday. “I think both teams have a familiarity with each other,” said Crean. “They’ll have an understanding of us, and we’ll have an understanding of them.” Between the exceptional offensive rebounding and abysmal free-throw shooting,
Marquette controlled the game. They essentially battled their own demons while soaring on angel’s wings for a season-high 56 team rebounds.
Impact: Seton Hall hardly belonged in the Big East Tournament, the way they have played down the stretch. At one point, Seton Hall was receiving deserved bubble banter. After they beat Louisville in the Meadowlands the program was at its highest high in three coaching staffs. This loss is the 9th in the last eleven games for the Pirates. It would take patches over both eyes to protect Head Coach Bobby Gonzalez from that pain.
Gonzo, never bashful immediately began to lobby for an NIT berth after the game, “I believe if we can get to the NIT our second year, it would be a huge compliment,” said Gonzalez. “I think these two seniors deserve to play again. So whoever is out there making the decision, I hope they give us a chance.”
Marquette is in. They have been in the projected field since the season began. Admittedly they have performed outside of their top three preseason prognosticated position, but their guards are still forcing turnovers and playing courageously. Like mid-majors dominated by poised guards, this MU team will be ultra-reliant on favorable matchups. Keep in mind Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Mattews (all juniors) have never won a NCAA Tournament game.