Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame are flying high. Can they capture the Big East Tournament title for the first time after capturing the Fighting Irish their first outright regular season crown?
As we continue to take a look at the Big East and the remaining team’s keys and highlights. Yesterday was a day to remember as the Big East Tournament kicked off to a great start. 3 out of the 4 games came down to a single possession and we have a new Player, Coach and Freshman of the Year to congratulate.
Big East Tournament: The Top Tier
8. Rutgers: Excuse me if you heard this before: Different year, same story. The inability for this school to produce any team with an ability to execute an offense is mind boggling. Rutgers is 5-5 in their last 10 games with their most impressive win over a Depaul team who was just playing 7 players at the time. As always, this program is defense first. They are holding opponents to 35% shooting. Good thing too because they are only shooting 41% from the floor. April Sykes has been the poster child for inconsistency but sometimes all you need to know is that you are running out of time.
7. Depaul: Not sure if Depaul coach Doug Bruno has skipped confessional this year or done something else to make this gods become angry but he might want to apologize right away to get back into their good graces. Bruno was blessed with unanimous all Big East selection Anna Martin but lost former All Big East selection Keisha Hampton to injury. They have struggled in the beginning of her injury but seem to be putting the pieces together to make a run without their superstar. Outside of UConn’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, they also have one of the most dynamic freshmen in the Big East in Brittany Hrynko. This team is a great offensive team but can struggle in the rough and tumble BET depending on how the game is called. They also give up a lot of points and you can’t try to outscore the top of this league.
6. Louisville: Louisville has given everyone in the top 5 in the conference a game, and a good one. Louisville is loaded with some great talent but most of that talent is extremely young. Shoni Schimmel is a show stopper dynamic guard. The issue is she can shoot you into a game or out of one in a blink of an eye. Monique Reed is out with a season ending knee injury and most of the Cardinal’s remaining team is freshmen and sophomores. Extremely nerve wracking, if you are Jeff Walz, if you have to depend on them that this time of year. The thing is Louisville has the talent to be in the top half of this tournament easily. This team has not lived up to its potential from suspensions to injuries to individuals defining their role. Louisville has the ability to make a run if Schimmel gets hot.
5. Georgetown: Sugar Rodgers got off to a slow start at the beginning of the season. She quickly rebounded at the start of the Big East season to have her best season ever. She is a dynamic playmaker who can take over a game quickly. Georgetown will not wow you with offensive numbers but they are gritty and won’t back down. In fact they shoot 36% from the floor. They make you play so ugly and they are so physical they hold you to 34% from the floor. Georgetown forces 22.4 turnovers per game but has a negative assist to turnover themselves.
3. St. John’s: St. Johns is riding high. They wrapped the season up with a thrilling last minute win over then 2nd ranked UConn. They then followed that with a win over the same West Virginia squad who had just taken down 2nd ranked Notre Dame. St. John’s is healthy and coming together at just the right time for Coach of the Year Kims Barnes-Arico. They have 3 All-Conference performers and have a balance and confidence that is refreshing to see. While so many teams in this league struggle to put the ball in the basket, the Red Storm might shoot ugly looking shots but run some of the prettiest offensive sets in the league. But Holly? They are #2 in the league, not # 3. The issue is if seeds hold to form, St. John’s will have to beat UConn again on their home court AGAIN, where the Huskies have lost 2 in a row. I wouldn’t want to have to play the team who blames you for taking away their shot at the regular season conference title. If there is any team outside of Notre Dame that can take down the Huskies again, it is this St. John’s team.
2. Connecticut: It’s fitting that the team who is 4th in the country is only 3rd best in their own conference. It speaks to the depth of the league. It also speaks to the fact that match ups are everything. Yes, UConn lost to St. John’s. The Huskies were also the only team to have to play the Fighting Irish twice. Connecticut is struggling on the offensive end, mostly with self inflicted errors. I have been highly critical of their need to depend on jump shots and their press to generate offense. Why? Because in the post season, those opportunities are few and far between. Depending on 3-pointers on Day 2 or 3 of any tournament will spell disaster. They are also not a good rebounding team so they do not have the opportunity to generate extra possessions. But the bottom line is this, if this game is close, UConn has shown the tendency to trip over themselves to discover a new way to lose the game. Not having an All-American or go to player has people struggling with their decision making with the ball in the final minutes. The Huskies have won either the Regular Season or Tournament titles for 18 straight years. Of note that it also the last time UConn lost to an unranked team at home and lost back to back home games. So is history repeating themselves or will UConn find some way to lift a trophy this year?
1. Notre Dame: Yes, Notre Dame lost to West Virginia, but can you name 1 team in the top 25 that doesn’t have a ‘What Were You Thinking’ loss? What hasn’t been said about this team? They are balanced, fearless and have the ability to win any way you want to play. Big East Player of the Year, Skylar Diggins is an incredible play maker. She makes her teammates better around her and they follow her. While Diggins won the honor, I don’t think she is even the best player on her own team. Natalie Novosel doesn’t get the praise she deserves. Yes, she was marred with a shooting slump towards the end of the season but her ability to be versatile and get to the basket is a thing of beauty. Notre Dame is not a good 3 point shooting team because they don’t have to be. Their ability to make shots with contact allows for 3 pointers to become a bonus. I’m not sure I would necessarily want to face a team for the 3rd time in league but the Fighting Irish are the one team that can handle playing the Huskies again if they have to. You get the impression that Muffet McGraw and Notre Dame has a spot firmly planted in UConn and Geno Auriemma ‘s head.
To The Victors Go the Spoils:
Yesterday Conference awards were announced at a press conference with no surprises.
Big East Player of the Year: Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame
Big East Freshman of the Year: Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis, UConn
Big East Scholar Athlete of the Year: Da’Shena Stevens, St. John’s
Big East Coach of the Year: Kim Barnes- Arrico, St. John’s
On Deck Today at the Tournament
#5 West Virginia vs #12 Syracuse – 12 Noon—This match up might break the record for rebounds in a game. Both teams like to play a physical brand of basketball because they struggle on the offensive end. Syracuse was the only team to win by double digits yesterday securing a 57-47 win against Providence.
#8 Depaul vs #9 USF --2 PM – Neither of these teams like to play defense, so this might be the highest scoring match of the day. Dynamic guards are the story of both of these teams. USF advanced on a thrilling 60-59 victory against Pittsburgh after holding a 39-20 lead at halftime.
#7 Louisville vs. #10 Villanova – 6 PM – These teams couldn’t be more opposite. Louisville wants to run the ball down your throat, Villanova wants to shoot a 3 while running away from you. Villanova can beat anyone when their shots are falling and this is my upset pick of the day. Villanova advanced yesterday by beating Seton Hall 61-60.
#6 Rutgers vs. #14 Marquette – 8 PM—This is a hard game to predict. Marquette can’t score but neither can Rutgers. Rutgers physical play might be able to able to wear down the Golden Eagles like it did in the final regular season game, where Rutgers won 69-58. Marquette advanced to the 2nd round with a 54-51 upset of Cincinnati.