The shock of the end of the regular season has finally worn off, just in time for the start of the 5 days of some of the best and most intense basketball in the country. Louisville Head Coach, Jeff Walz, once referred to the Big East tournament as the ‘UConn Invitational.’ My how times have changed, this year’s Big East tournament looks as wide open as ever. With 6 teams in the top 25 and 2 others receiving votes, the depth of the Big East will be on full display with some intriguing match ups as the tourney tips today at 12 noon in Hartford, Connecticut at the XL Center.
A Team by Team Breakdown of team’s chances from Worst to First:
16: Pittsburgh: Anyone that is a fan of good people has to root for Agnus Berenato. Her character and demeanor make her a fan favorite. She works tirelessly to advocate for the growth of the women’s game. Her team has experienced some growing pains this season with not having a single junior or senior on their roster. This isn’t their year and as she made note after her game against the Connecticut Huskies this year, it is all about teaching opportunities for her team. At 0-16 in the league, her team has had a number of lessons taught to them and Friday will be no different.
15. Seton Hall: When Anne Donavan took this job 2 years ago, I am sure she didn’t dream of 8-22 seasons (1-15 in the Big East). Seton Hall struggles with the basic nuisances of the game. Their biggest struggle is on the offensive end. Jasmine Crew made the All- Big East 2nd team, but in order for Seton Hall to make any noise above a pin dropping Crew will have to do some extremely heavy lifting.
14. Providence: Providence is one of 4 teams who are giving up more points than they are scoring. So along with Marquette, Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, the Friars are at a disadvantage when tournament droughts come because they can’t depend on their defense to get them through. To make matters more complicated, Providence doesn’t have a go to player when points are needed.
13. Marquette: I heard a reporter the other day use transitive property to say that the Golden Eagles were better than Connecticut because Marquette beat St. John’s who beat the Huskies. While you chew on that, also digest that since that win over a depleted St. John’s team, who was just getting their pieces back from injury, Marquette is 1-10. Their lone win came over winless Pittsburgh. They turn the ball over at an alarming rate of 21.0 times per game. Because of those turnovers, they have shot about 200 less shots than their opponents this year. MU is in the same boat as all the other teams in the bottom half of the Big East, they simply can’t score enough points to stay with the top half.
12. Cincinnati: The good news for Cincinnati is that they have already beat the Marquette team that they are set to play. Cincinnati was picked to finish 15th in the league and did enough damage in the lower half of the league to finish tied for 10th, so in Jamelle Elliot’s 3rd season they have shown marked improvement. Cincinnati has done most of their damage on the defensive end. The struggle to rebound the ball and when you shoot the percentage that they shoot, you can’t give your opponents extra chances to score.
11. Villanova: 3 points is greater than 2 points is Wildcats head coach Harry Perreta’s philosophy. 46% of the Wildcats shots are from 3, which presents some interesting matchup issues on both sides of the floor. You play zone, they will tear it apart and get 3-pointer after 3-pointer. You play man against this team and all of a sudden your 6’4" – 6’5" center is trying to guard people on the perimeter. It’s a great theory and works against the teams it is supposed to work against. Unfortunately for Villanova, they do not have the talent to pull it off against the majority of the Big East.
10. Syracuse: Different year, same story. Syracuse is just not prepared for tournament time. Outside of the Big East their toughest opponent was Oklahoma in a tournament in Vegas back in December. The Orange have two 2nd Team All-Big East in Iasia Hemingway and Kayla Alexander but even that can’t stop the downward spiral that Syracuse seems to be on. The Orange have lost 4 straight and 7 out of 8 of their last few games. Syracuse makes up with their lack of an offense by hitting the boards HARD. SU is 4th in the country in rebounding and first in the Big East in offensive rebounding. If you can keep them off the boards, Syracuse doesn’t have a chance because they have no offense.
9. South Florida: The University of South Florida wins the award for giving both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and UConn Huskies the biggest scares this season. They gained a fantastic player in Ukrainian, Inga Orekhova, who became eligible in January. Orekhova has only played in 7 games this season but is averaging 14 points per game, good enough for 2nd on her team. In those 7 games she has 25 3-pointers, tied for most on the team. South Florida will make some noise in the post season, but most likely in the WNIT and not the NCAAs.
The most intriguing match up is the first match up of the day with Syracuse taking on Providence. Syracuse has the length to give Providence problems, but the Friars are a pretty solid defensive team. The most impressive player in action today might be USF's Inga Orekhova; go and watch her at 2 p.m. ET to see her take shots from Manchester, and make them.