Big East gives more reminders that there are no easy nights

By Randy Lieberman

Plenty of exciting Big East matchups became history in the past week. Eight Big East teams pack… Plenty of exciting Big East matchups became history in the past week. Eight Big East teams pack the Top 25 again this week, with a ninth in West Virginia looming to jump into the party as well. Big East basketball is well documented as a tough, gritty brand of basketball. It is this toughness, along with many raucous home court advantages, that often prevail over rankings and numbers. Many experts ignore the home court advantage, citing that only a few really are troublesome, but in the Big East it’s officially a trend that home teams have a distinct advantage against teams of equal prowess. ‘You’ve just got to have a tremendous effort every night,’ said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. ‘And when you go on the road, you’ve got to have a tremendous effort, you’ve got to stay out of foul trouble, you’ve got to make your free throws and then you’re just going to be in the game. And when you don’t, you’re not going to be in the game late.’ In the past week, not including yesterday or today, there were 16 Big East games. Of those 16, the home team won all but three of those matchups. St. John’s fell to a superior No. 3 Connecticut squad 67-55, DePaul lost to Cincinnati 59-55, and Providence lost to No. 14 Marquette 91-82. This means that teams such as Pitt, Syracuse (twice) and Notre Dame have already lost on the road to Big East opponents this year. Pitt fell to Louisville, Syracuse lost at Georgetown and Pitt, and Notre Dame lost at Syracuse. All of these games were nationally televised, getting already traditionally tough crowds into a frenzy. It’s pretty much a lock that none of these teams, or anybody else in the conference for that matter, expects to end the season with an undefeated in-conference record. At least according to Pitt center DeJuan Blair. ‘Sometimes you’re just going to come up short,’ said Blair. ‘That’s what you’ve got to understand. If you play your hearts out and you come up short, you shouldn’t be that mad about the loss. A lot of teams take the game that they lost to the next game, and that’s how they lose.’ But that conference toughness means good things for the teams that do steal wins on the road ‘mdash; like Pitt did against Georgetown or Connecticut did against West Virginia. At this point, those two teams ‘mdash; which match up on Feb. 16 ‘mdash; have an edge in the league. While the Big East is really starting to beat itself up, Marquette is getting a chance to move into the spotlight. Marquette boasts one of the most experienced and dynamic backcourts in the country with the three-headed monster of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews. James, the point guard, leads the team with 5.2 assists per game, while Matthews and McNeal average 19.1 and 18.8 points per game, respectively. A team like Marquette, which can score a ton of ways, has the toughness to go on the road and win and’ has one of the better home court advantages, is dangerous down the stretch. The Golden Eagles went on a tear to finish off Providence on the road last game and now face a defining stretch in their season. First up is a home game against DePaul with a game at Notre Dame and home against Georgetown to follow. Also keep in mind Marquette’s stretch, which begins Feb. 21: at Georgetown, home against Connecticut, at Louisville, at Pitt and then home against Syracuse. Good luck with that one, Marquette. On to the awards: Big East Hammer on the Hardwood: Georgetown forward DaJuan Summers is quietly becoming one of the conference’s best scorers on the front line. He now has two straight games of 21 points’ ‘mdash; one in an 88-74 win over Syracuse and another in a 76-67 loss at Duke. Summers also had five steals and three blocks in those games. The junior’s scoring output is taking the scoring pressure off of freshman Greg Monroe, helping him adjust to Big East play by focusing more on defense. Big East Cupcake: Providence held a five-point lead at the half over Marquette and stretched the lead to 13 at one point in the second half. But after an interesting moment in which Jonathan Xavier ‘mdash; the brother of Providence player Jeff Xavier ‘mdash; walked onto the court to argue with a referee, the Friars folded down the stretch. Marquette forced the game into a transition track-meet game, and the Friars fell 91-82. Big East Matchups to Watch: Two big matchups load the week ahead for the Big East. Starting on Saturday, Connecticut needs to turn around from last night’s bout with Villanova and travel to No. 19 Notre Dame in what should be a measuring stick for two preseason Big East Player of the Year candidates in the Irish’s Luke Harangody and Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet. Then on Sunday, a huge matchup pits No. 8 Syracuse against No. 12 Louisville. Don’t forget Monday either, when No. 10 Marquette travels to Notre Dame. Upset Alert of the Week: South Florida is a sneaky-tough place to play. It’s not as loud as some home arenas in the Big East, but the combination of long travel and a high school basketball game-like atmosphere helps the Bulls play solid on their home court. Watch out Villanova ‘mdash; noon game on Saturday is against these Bulls. With the Wildcats coming off a big game against Connecticut and looking ahead to their tilt against Pitt, this could be their trap game.