Big East Battling Back? -

Big East Battling Back?


by Andy Force
Senior Writer,
February 16, 2004


The time is now. Win, win, and win. Amongst other things, a team's record in the last 10 games weighs in on the selection committee. There are shoe-ins (Kentucky, Duke, and Stanford) and teams expected to play well (Kansas and Arizona). What about the team people discounted in December/January as inconsequential? Is it possible there are squads out there written off too early that have a chance to make a real impact in the stretch run?

Just as important as being a great team is being a hot team. Teams that have carried serious momentum heading into the Big Dance include last years' UK team (undefeated in SEC conference play). The 00-01 Stanford Cardinal (15-3 Pac-10) reached the West Region final, and the 99-00 Florida Gators (12-4 in SEC) battled to NCAA title game loss to the Spartans. This year presents several teams capable of being resurrected in time for contention.

The Fighting Irish basketball team is poised for a late season charge after beating UConn and Seton Hall back-to-back. Expected to compete for the Big East title this season, Notre Dame is stacked with talent. They lost two versatile scorers (Matt Carroll and Dan Miller) from a year ago, but returned a superstar in Chris Thomas. The guy shoots a lot, but you have to recognize his ability to pump in the points. He is currently 6th in the Big East in scoring at 18.6 ppg. The junior from Indy is having an atypically poor (37% FG) and inefficient shooting year. However, he catches fire like few of his peers in the country. Eleven times this year, Thomas has posted 20+ points in a game. He is not strictly a scorer though as he owns the All-time assist record for ND.

One player Notre Dame would love to get back is Torin Francis, sidelined indefinitely with back spasms. Out since February 13th, Francis posted 14 and 9 prior. With their uniquely fervent fan base and potential to amass numerous quality wins, Notre Dame could make the field. Regardless ND will have an impact on the complexion of the bracket with games remaining against UConn, Cuse, and Providence.

The defending National Champions from Syracuse have been left for dead. First bring in the bad. They dropped four of their last six. To put that in perspective, two of those teams are currently Top 5 teams, while the other two are probably NCAA bound. Let us gander at the good. Cuse is tourney tough. Aside from winning the title a year ago, they played in tons of big games last year. Each tournament game was a do or die contest. It takes a never say die mentality to pull through time after time.

Another factor for consideration is the ability to compile a winning streak. Last year Syracuse won 14 their final 15 games. This year, the Orangemen won 13 straight including wins over resurgent Michigan State, then highly touted Missouri, and anticipated MAAC champion Manhattan Jaspers. This Boeheim product is stacked. Hakim Warrick oozes raw talent, which he has begun to mold into a technically sound post-up game. His career resembles Emeka Okafor in that he entered as a shot-blocker and will leave with legitimate All-American attention.

As exciting as Warrick is to watch, PG Gerry McNamara launches more often than NASA. A heady player, confident as any, G Mac leads his team by example. In crunch time, he looks relaxed enough to take a nap and always in control of the situation, the ball, and the outcome. Role players like Josh Pace and Craig Forth contribute occasionally, and there are budding talents coming off the bench in freshmen center Daryl Watkins and big man Terrence Roberts. Syracuse's success will be integral to the Big East's post-season showing.

While these other two teams have fallen from the spotlight, Boston College struggles to get any light whatsoever shed on their campaign. Last year BC was a bubble team that did not make the tourney. Maybe they deserved it, maybe they didn't. Well, bust out the Ajax baby, cause BC is bubbling again. As of Valentine's Day, BC still needs some love to make the dance. The Eagles' record is 18-8, 5-6 in Big East play.

BC basketball quietly posts wins of the NC St. and Seton Hall ilk. Those two wins seemed marginally important at the time, while each team now ranks among the RPI Top 25. The Eagles boast a top 5 strength of schedule. Why? Maybe their losses to UConn and Pitt defray the soft non-conference run. If Boston College maintains their standing in the vociferous SOS and RPI, then perhaps A BC team will get in.

Crunch time calls for prepared teams. Syracuse and Notre Dame have proven they can win big games, but they need to prove it all over again this season. Boston College, as much as anyone, just wants the chance to try. All three of these teams are capable of putting the hurting on opponents. Notre Dame banks on a flashy, inconsistent but talented point guard. Syracuse has two thrilling players who ebb and flow. They hope to get the two studs flaming simultaneously. Boston College has some warriors spotting its roster who could prove mighty along the way. The charge is simple, win. The execution takes much more focus. The 2003-2004 Big East legacy hangs in the balance.