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January 19, 2007

Big East Breakdown: Pitt taking on all styles

Weekly Big East Update
Team Conf. Overall
Pittsburgh 5-0 17-2
Syracuse 4-1 15-4
West Virginia 4-2 14-3
Notre Dame 3-2 15-3
Marquette 3-2 16-4
Seton Hall 3-2 11-6
DePaul 3-2 12-7
Georgetown 2-2 12-5
Providence 2-2 12-5
Louisville 2-2 12-6
Connecticut 2-3 13-4
Villanova 2-3 12-5
St. John's 1-4 10-8
South Florida 1-4 10-9
Rutgers 1-4 8-10
Cincinnati 0-3 9-8
Standings as of 1/18

Best matchup: No. 6 Pittsburgh has already proved it can beat teams with superior size (see their 74-69 win over Georgetown last week). Now, we get to see how they do against someone with superior speed. No. 24 Marquette and its three-guard lineup travel to Pitt on Sunday in a matchup that could shake up the Big East title race. The best one-on-one matchup can be found in the Texas-Villanova game in Philadelphia on Saturday. Texas freshman Kevin Durant is the nation's hottest player, averaging 34 points and 13.5 rebounds in his last four games. Durant will go up against Villanova senior Curtis Sumpter, who is the Big East's second-leading scorer at 18.9 points a game.

Worst matchup: Rutgers at South Florida (Wednesday) First team to 60 points will probably win here. It has been five games since Rutgers has scored that much. The offensively challenged Scarlet Knights are shooting 39 percent from the field and scored just 13 points in the first half of their 68-54 loss to Georgetown last week. The struggling Bulls have a chance to double the number of Big East wins they collected last season when they went 1-15 in the league.

The pressure is on: Villanova. The up-and-down Wildcats are entering the toughest part of their schedule, beginning with a visit from Texas on Saturday and a road trip to Providence on Tuesday. An away game at Notre Dame comes next, followed by a home matchup against Pitt. The league games obviously hold more importance, but the Longhorns represent the Wildcats' last chance to grab a quality non-conference win.

Upset alert: Nobody should be surprised if West Virginia falls to Marshall (6-11) on Wednesday. Not after the Thundering Herd pulled off a 58-52 upset over their in-state rival last season, ending the Mountaineers' 12-game winning streak in the process. The Herd, which upset Virginia Tech and Tulsa earlier this season, tends to get extra motivated when facing the state's premier program. Plus, the game is going to be played in Charleston, W.Va., just 50 miles away from the Marshall campus.

Who's hot: Pittsburgh guard Ronald Ramon has hit nine of his last 13 attempts (69 percent) from 3-point range. Ramon went 4-of-4 from beyond the arc in his last game against Connecticut. Syracuse center Terrence Roberts scored a season-high 17 points in the Orange's 75-64 win over Villanova, then matched that total in a 77-76 win over Cincinnati on Wednesday. Roberts pulled down 24 rebounds in those two games and also hit 8-of-10 free throws (shooting 50 percent from the free-throw line on the season).

Who's not: Connecticut's A.J. Price. The Huskies have lost four of their last six games, and in those losses Price went 6-for-23 (23 percent) from the field and averaged just 4.2 points a game. Price also racked up more turnovers (13) than assists (11) Rutgers' Marquis Webb and Jaron Griffin are both shooting the ball poorly. Webb has made just four of his last 18 attempts (22 percent) from 3-point range and Griffin has made just three of his last 20 shots (15 percent) from the field.

Must see TV: Texas at Villanova (Saturday, 1:30 pm EST, CBS) The Kevin Durant show makes its next stop in Philadelphia. The versatile 6-9 freshman forward with the soft shooting touch has been on a tremendous tear offensively, scoring 28 or more points in his last four games.

Marquette at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 3 pm. EST, CBS) This matchup features the top two players in the Big East - Marquette's Dominic James and Pitt's Aaron Gray. A big performance here would go along way toward capturing the league's player of the year award.

Key stat: Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray is the only Panther who ranks among the league's top 25 scorers (Gray is 10th at 15.1 points a game). Georgetown is the only team not to have one player among the top 30 scorers. Three Providence players are among the top 15 scorers. Sharaud Curry (17.1 ppg) and Herbert Hill are tied for fourth and Weyinmi Efejuku (14.5 ppg) ranks 14th. West Virginia's Darris Nichols leads the league with a 4.2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Pitt's Levance Fields has the next best ratio at 2.7-1. Seton Hall has committed fewer turnovers than its opponent in each of its five Big East games.

Bench bonus: DePaul's bench outscored its starters 38-33 in the Blue Demons' 71-63 win over St. John's on Tuesday. Guard Draelon Burns led the way with a 14-point performance. It was the eighth time this season that Burns has come off the bench to score in double figures. Forward Marcus Heard pulled down a game-high eight rebounds in 18 minutes. Notre Dame's Zach Hillesland came off the bench and nearly produced a triple-double in the Irish's 88-76 win over Seton Hall on Sunday. Hillesland scored 12 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out a career-high eight assists.

They said it: "We might have a sold-out crowd at the Wachovia Center, but I'm concerned that Philadelphia fans are coming to see Kevin Durant in hopes that he's the Sixers' No. 1 draft pick." Villanova coach Jay Wright

"I remember when they started calling it a rivalry, and I think Coach (Jim) Calhoun did at first. It was a statement for our program eight years ago, it wasn't considered a rivalry. Now it's a game we look forward to, because we always seem to be battling for Big East championships." Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon after his Panthers beat Connecticut 63-54 on Tuesday.

"Tonight, (Aaron Gray) was the difference, clearly. He is a difference maker. It's great when you have an out pitch. And they have a great out pitch when he can score like that. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun after watching Gray score 22 points, grab a career-high 19 rebounds and block four shots against his Huskies.

Injury update: Seton Hall sophomore John Garcia played in his first game in more than a year in the Pirates' 69-68 win over Providence. Garcia, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in nine minutes. Coach Bobby Gonzalez plans to steadily increase Garcia's playing time and make him a regular part of his rotation.

Worth noting: UConn freshman Doug Wiggins may start at point guard when the Huskies host Indiana on Saturday. Current starter A.J. Price has struggled of late. Calhoun recently said, "We've got to shake it up (at point guard)." Syracuse-signee Antonio Jardine and Georgetown-signee Chris Wright were part of Rivals.com's top five performers at the talent-rich Hoophall Classic last weekend in Springfield, Mass. Jardine scored 36 points against DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) and Wright finished with 39 points against the St. Andrew's school (Barrington, R.I.).

Freshman to watch: Seton Hall's Eugene Harvey remains the front-runner for the Big East's Rookie of the Year award, but Scottie Reynolds is gaining ground fast. The former Oklahoma signee averaged 20.4 points in his last four games. "Scottie came in very highly touted and he was never nervous or tentative," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "But, he was very reluctant to be a leader on the floor because of Mike Nardi and Curtis Sumpter (seniors). Against DePaul, Nardi had the flu and was throwing up in the locker room. I think Scottie knew then he had to step up. He went for 25 (points) and has played great ever since."

Something you may have missed: Notre Dame guard Kyle McAlarney, who was indefinitely suspended six games ago after being arrested on a marijuana possession charge, could return to action soon. McAlarney recently entered into a pretrial diversion program which would allow the charge to be dismissed on Thursday if he passes random drug tests and meets other requirements. McAlarney could still face sanctions from the school. The sophomore guard is scheduled to appear before the Student Affairs Committee next week. According to the student handbook, a charge of marijuana possession can be penalized with "disciplinary suspension or permanent dismissal." He was averaging 10.3 points and shooting a team-high 46 percent from 3-point range before the suspension.

RPI watch: The RPI reflects the general perception of the Big East, meaning Pittsburgh is clearly better than everyone else. The Panthers rank No. 3 in the RPI. Villanova (No. 20) is the only other team in the league in the top 35. There are a handful of teams in bubble territory, including Syracuse (No. 37), Marquette (No. 39), Notre Dame No. (43), West Virginia (No. 49), Georgetown (No. 50) and DePaul (No. 54). The Big East continues to rank No. 7 among the leagues, behind the five other major conferences and the Missouri Valley Conference.

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