Posted on: March 10, 2011 2:17 am
Edited on: March 10, 2011 10:20 am

Marquette needs only worry about one bracket now

NEW YORK — The Big East will be setting a record three days from now, when the NCAA tournament bracket is unveiled and the conference has 11 teams included. The current record is nine. The Big East owns that as well.

The impending, unprecedented statistic became as close to fact as possible Thursday night because Marquette did what so many others have failed to do this year: win against a good opponent to gain ground and leverage. The Golden Eagles won 67-61, making West Virginia the second team who earned a bye but not a win at the Big East tournament; Georgetown falling to UConn in the first of Thursday’s four games in the Garden was the other.

Marquette's Jae Crowder (right) shook his head in acknowledgment when asked if the team was worried in the past two weeks.

“It got really tense for us,” Crowder said. “We knew we had to come along really fast or this thing would get away from us. We knew time was slipping away from us.”

But Buzz Williams, like most coaches, publicly said he doesn’t care about seeding. And the Golden Eagles’ head honcho didn’t use winning against Providence or West Virginia, and what that meant for the teams tournament chances, as means of motivation. All he wanted to do was get his team wins to keep the momentum going and try to get his team into a groove that it’s failed to get into for most of the season.

“Relative to how it impacts our seeding, honestly, I don’t have an opinion on that because I think there’s so many games other than just our game that impact that,” Williams said, his voice slowly moving away from that hoarse tone he's become known for.

Now here comes Louisville, and despite the collective knowledge and understanding that this team will be dancing, Williams will try to keep his team's vision as narrow as possible.

“I don’t know that our mentality will change,” Williams said of the preparation for Friday night's game against Louisville. “We’ve had success every year we’ve been in New York because we’ve had great energy.”

And back to the Cardinals, who embody a double-edged sword. See, if Marquette loses, then fine, it’s done, goes home and waits to see a 10 or 11 next to its name in the 6 p.m. ET hour Sunday night. But if it wins against Louisville? Yeah, that’s terrific — but what if it vaults Marquette into an 8/9 game? That’s a bad spot. As weird as it may sound, big-picture, Marquette would likely benefit from losing to Louisville and having an easier road to making it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Now that he's in, Williams won't get greedy, though. He said he doesn't care where or against who. Just happy to be at the party. That's Buzz.

“We wanna play. Whether we’re eight or four or 12, we’re thankful we get to keep playing,” Williams said. “I think, when you start talking to 19- and 21-year-old kids about, ‘OK, now, if we do this and the other team does that, and the other tournament, if these team in the Big 12 got beat …’ I think that just dials down what makes us good.”

What was interesting about Marquette's at-large case that is no longer existent: by virtue of beating a 20-11 West Virginia team, the Golden Eagles leap-frogged the possibility of getting put in Dayton for the First Four. Most bubble teams aren't afforded such luxuries after winning a do-or-die game.

“We’re now not focused on being in (the NCAAs),” said. “We really want to get to Saturday, here. We get to Saturday, we’ll feel we have a chance to win it all.”

Marquette lost to Louisville in the only meeting between the teams this year, a 71-70 result at Marquette on Jan. 15.

“We let one slip in Louisville, and we’re thirsty to get those guys back,” said. “That’s one of the teams we picked out in the bracket.”

The bracket being the Big East bracket. The only one Marquette has to worry about now.

Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP

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Posted on: March 9, 2011 12:26 am
Edited on: March 9, 2011 8:51 pm

Big East's first day jam-packed with impact

Even though plenty of people gripe about the double-bye format in the Big East ... well, how can you deny the goodness of what happened in Madison Square Garden Tuesday?

Sure Connecticut whooped on DePaul, but the other three games were dramatic or at had meaning/impact on the NCAA tournament.

We'll lead with Villanova's utter collapse against South Florida. How a team puts up 49 in the first half against the Bulls and manages to blow it, I don't know. I'll never know. But what is clear: Villanova's in much more of a free-fall than last season, when a two seed was a gift that karma quickly shot down.
Some are actually discussing Villanova as out? That's completely asinine. But the Wildcats are a 10, at best. Don't think they'll be traveling to Dayton. The Wildcats will be the group everyone except contrarians pick against in the first round. I'm not sure what would justify picking the Wildcats at all. They've lost five straight and are nothing like the 16-1 team they were a few months ago.

I always thought they were overvalued, but to fall like this? Is it leadership?

Moving on, the most important transgression from Tuesday in Manhattan: Marquette winning. Jimmy Butler was key to holding Providence's Marshon Brooks down, as Marquette beat Providence and most likely keyed the Golden Eagles to an at-large berth. Winning Wednesday against West Virginia would certainly lock up Marquette, but it's likely safe now.

Nice to see a team simply go out, get it's job done and not mess around. The NCAA tournament will be a better overall product because Marquette will be involved. Buzz Williams (right) and Co. will sleep well tonight.

Finally, the Rutgers-Seton Hall overtime game was an exciting bonus for the first day, but why is Rutgers not fouling when up three in the final seconds? Instead, they let Jeremy Hazell catch the ball at the top of the key and just launch. Cha-ching, and it's going to overtime. The Scarlet Knights didn't have to pay, lucky for them, and Rice gets a crack at upsetting the home team tomorrow afternoon. I think they've got a decent shot.

A fine first day, and you get the feeling it's setting up for yet another incredibly engaging four days in the Gahden.

Wednesday afternoon, this is what we're looking at, noon to night:

Georgetown (8) vs. UConn (9).

St. John's (5) vs. Rutgers (13).

Cinci (7) vs. South Florida (15).

West Virignia (6) vs. Marquette (11).

Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2011 8:52 pm
Edited on: March 9, 2011 8:56 pm

Big East first-round preview and capsules

The Big East tournament will receive more attention than any other conference championship — that’s a given. Deservedly so? Well, depends on what your values and desires in a conference tournament are. But the argument can definitely be made: there isn’t a lot at stake in Manhattan over the course of the next five days.

Sure, Marquette needs to win at least one game to ensure it gets into the field of 68, but outside of that, this 16-team field will primarily be about Pittsburgh and Notre Dame trying to navigate their way to Saturday night in an effort to earn one seeds.

The bubble urgency or shifting in seeding won’t be as prevalent in Madison Square Garden as in other places, BCS conference or not.

As for the aforementioned alphas of the conference and their pursuit of Saturday night’s primetime affair — if Brad Wanamaker (right) and Pitt gets there, it’s probably going to get a one. Many believe the Irish need to win the whole thing to earn top billing on Selection Sunday. Considering what most thought of ND back in November, that’s incredible in its own right.

We’ll be carrying you throughout the Big East tournament, giving you extensive, on-site coverage and reaction, but to get you going, here are capsules for the opening-round games which, yes, to be fair, are a bit underwhelming. The games are listed in order of tip times, which start at noon, then are 2:30, 7 and 9:30, approximately.

Connecticut (9) vs. DePaul (16). What’s there to say about this one? DePaul has a .0004 chance to win the whole thing, and you’re completely sane if you think it’s insane there aren’t enough zeros on that statistic. UConn’s going to meet Georgetown in the noon game on Wednesday if it beats DePaul. Don’t know if there’s ever been a bigger lunchtime tip than that.

Seton Hall (12) vs. Rutgers (13). If this game got the 7 p.m. billing for a Tuesday night, the Garden might be able to get a decent contingent of Scarlet Knights and Pirates fans. But this is the 2:30 tip, and you wonder how packed the building will be for two Jersey teams who are, once again, mediocre as can be and just hoping to somehow survive to Thursday. Both teams are coached by men in their first year in the Big East: Rutgers by Mike Rice; Seton Hall by Kevin Willard.

Villanova (10) vs. South Florida (15). Jay Wright has to be shaking his head and wondering how it got to this. Remember when the Wildcats were a 16-1 team? Now they’re 21-10 and looking to stop the bleeding by going up against a South Florida, one of the poor sisters of the conference. The Bulls Villanova defeated South Florida, 83-71, on Jan. 6. The Bulls only have two wins in the past 40 days. Both came against DePaul, which is all you need to know.

Marquette (11) vs. Providence (14). OK, so the final game of the day has some urgency. Marquette is considered to be in the field right now by about, oh, let’s say half of those who are paid to prognosticate the field. A win over Providence then, in theory, should about secure the Golden Eagles (two would be cementing). But a loss to Providence? Then it’s an incredible case, as Marquette would be an 18-14 team with wins over West Virginia, Notre Dame, Syracuse and UConn. But there’s nothing outside the conference worthwhile. I can’t leave Marquette in.

As for Providence, you’ve got the Marshon Brooks factor. Brooks can go off for 30 any time he wants. If Providence does lose this game, Keno Davis becomes the only coach in the Big East with a tenuous, uncomfortable job situation. Does he make it to Selection Sunday with a gig?

The first day isn't sexy, but if the favored teams win, it sets up for a beautiful, intense, unpredictable Wednesday at the Garden.

Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP

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Category: NCAAB
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