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Making their case

BC, Seton Hall could give Big East six tourney teams

Posted: Wednesday March 12, 2003 2:17 PM



Seton Hall needs an impressive showing in the Big East tournament to make the field of 64.
 AP
1   Pittsburgh
2   Syracuse
3   Connecticut
4   Boston College
5   Notre Dame
6   Seton Hall
7   Providence
8   St. Johnís
9   Georgetown
10   Villanova
11   Miami
12   West Virginia
13   Rutgers
14   Virginia Tech
23.0
Career scoring average for St. Johnís point guard Marcus Hatten (two seasons), breaking the Big East record of 22.6, set by Allen Iverson of Georgetown.
"I must be a pretty stupid coach. Has anybody ever been named to the All-Big East team who didnít even start? Another example of why Iím not very smart."
-- Pitt coach Ben Howland, after Chevon Troutman, who spent most of the season as the Panthersí sixth man, was named to the all-league third team.

By Dave Hickman, Special to SI.com

All things considered, this may be a moot point by the time Sunday evening rolls around and the NCAA is ready to hang 65 teams on a bracket. By that time, there might be only 65 teams still eligible.

Still, better safe than sorry. As the Big East plays out its annual tournament this week at Madison Square Garden, it would be wise for teams like Boston College and Seton Hall to do everything in their power to play their way into the NCAA field. There is no guarantee that more teams like Georgia and Fresno State and Texas Tech will merely step aside.

Where once it seemed preposterous that the Big East would land six teams in the NCAAs, it now appears likely -- if Boston College and Seton Hall put forth even an ounce of effort. Three Big East teams are lead-pipe cinches -- No. 5 Pitt, No. 11 Syracuse and No. 17 Notre Dame. Connecticut, too, seems in line, even after losing two of its last three to drop to 19-8. A 37-point win at Boston College on Saturday probably erased the last doubts.

So that leaves Boston College and Seton Hall, which waited until February to make their runs, both winning nine of their last 11 games. The Eagles were but 8-8 before finishing 17-10. The Pirates were even worse, 7-9 before winning nine in a row and finishing 16-11.

First, Boston College. Saturday's 91-54 dismemberment by Connecticut didn't help the Eagles' cause, but that was just one game.

"We were playing so well all through February. I guess you can expect a little bit of a letdown," Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "But you'd hope it wouldn't be to that degree."

It's easy to make a case for the Eagles, though. B.C. finished tied with UConn atop the Big East's East division standings and goes into the league tournament as the division's No. 1 seed. Can the selection committee overlook a division champion in a power conference? Not likely.

And Boston College didn't pad its record with home wins, either. The Eagles' 8-4 road record was the best in the Big East and included a win at North Carolina State and a 24-point win over Connecticut at Storrs.

"I think we're in," Skinner said. "People talk about playing well in February, and we've done that. Our starting power forward [Uka Agbai] has been out all year, and we overcame that. For us to finish first in our division is an indication we're one of the best teams in the league and certainly one of the top 64 in the country."

Still, a win over St. John's in Thursday's quarterfinals wouldn't hurt.

Seton Hall is a more delicate matter. The Pirates didn't win their division or even come close, thanks to back-to-back losses at Pitt and Providence to end the regular season. Seton Hall was not a great road team, either, going 3-8 away from Continental Airlines Arena.

Still, there were signature wins over Notre Dame and Pitt, along with an RPI that was in the 30s for the last few weeks of the season.

It might help if Louis Orr would do a little bit of politicking, but that hasn't happened yet. He seems content to let the chips fall where they may.

"We ended the year strong. We won nine of our last 11. They might not have been pretty sometimes, but it shouldn't matter how you win," Orr said. "You can't take anything for granted. You win as many games as you can win. Wins help you; losses don't help you. And on Sunday you sit down and see if it was enough."

For the Pirates, 16 might be not enough, so a win over Miami on Wednesday and another over Connecticut on Thursday would help.

He's not the prototypical Big East Conference center, not at just 6-foot-7 and 238 pounds. At that size, he gives up inches to the likes of Connecticut's Emeka Okafor and pounds -- lots of them -- to Georgetown's Mike Sweetney.

But night after night, Ryan Gomes just keeps getting the job done.

The Providence sophomore averages 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He makes his free throws. He guards inside and out. And he handles the basketball.

"He's a consistent player," said Providence coach Tim Welsh, who notes that Gomes was a monster during a European tour last summer. "He not only got better over the summer, but during the season he's expanded his game as well."

And that has enabled Providence to expand its game. Heading into this week's Big East tournament, the Friars have won five of their last six games, including a huge road win over Connecticut on the Huskies' senior night in Storrs.

Gomes on Monday was named to the All-Big East second team.

"He's just what you want in a player," Welsh said.

 

HOT: St Johnís guard Marcus Hatten

In the last three games of the regular season, Hatten almost single-handedly engineered the Red Stormís win over Duke, scored a Big East season-best 44 points against Rutgers and finished with 27 points at Miami.

NOT: Virginia Tech

Are the Hokies really a member of the Big East? Think about it. In three years, Virginia Tech has never qualified for the league tournament. Is it any wonder the school fired coach Ricky Stokes on Monday with a year remaining on his five-year contract?

HOT: Connecticut forward Emeka Okafor

Okafor not only leads the nation in blocked shots, but he is also on pace to shatter the league record held by Georgetownís Patrick Ewing, who averaged 3.98 for his career. Okafor is averaging 4.41 in league games.

NOT: Notre Dame

The Irish helped themselves with a win on the road at Georgetown to finish the regular season, but Notre Dame has still lost three of its last four, two of them at home (after winning 14 in a row to start the season) and the third a blowout at Rutgers.

 

Villanova goes into the Big East tournament with modest expectations.

"We're not exactly talking about winning this thing," said second-year coach Jay Wright.

Not with 12 players facing suspensions of three to eight games for the unauthorized use of a telephone access number.

The Wildcats will take just five scholarship players and two walk-ons into the tournament, the same cast that nearly upset Pitt in the regular-season finale before losing by two. Among the players suspended immediately (others face their suspensions next season) were seniors Gary Buchanan and Ricky Wright.

What is baffling is not so much that the players used the access code, but that they never imagined they would be caught.

"They're good kids," Wright said. "They just made a bad call."

At 15-14, Villanova still has a chance at an NIT bid, especially if it can beat Georgetown in the first round of the Big East.

 

Chris Thomas, Notre Dame

Thomas scored 29 points and had seven rebounds and six assists as the Irish snapped a three-game losing streak with a win at Georgetown.

Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse

Anthony tied a career high with 30 points and also had 14 rebounds and six assists as the Orangemen capped a 17-0 home season with a 83-74 win over Rutgers.

Syracuse fans

A crowd of 33,071, an all-time college basketball record for an on-campus audience, showed up at the Carrier Dome for the Orangemenís win over Rutgers Sunday afternoon.

Drew Schifino, West Virginia

Benched for a long stretch of the second half, Schifino scored 11 of the Mountaineersí final 13 points in a 71-67, come-from-behind win over Virginia Tech to win a spot in the Big East tournament.

 

Miamiís Darius Rice played sparingly with a sprained hand in Miamiís last two games of the regular season and is likely to be hampered during the Big East tournament. Ö Pitt finished the regular season without a single player among the leagueís Top 20 scorers or rebounders, yet had four players named to the all-league teams. Ö Boston Collegeís Troy Bell was held to just 15 points in that 37-point loss to Connecticut and fell just 18 points short of the league record for career points (conference games only) held by Lawrence Moten of Syracuse. Bellís 27.8 scoring average in league games this season bettered the record of 27.4 held by Seton Hallís Dan Callandrillo. Ö Bellís 22.4 career scoring average in league games is arguably the most impressive ever, although it ranks third on the all-time list. Bell played four seasons, while the top two (Marcus Hatten, Allen Iverson) played just two. Ö Connecticut leads the nation in blocked shots. Ö The Big East was 7-8 against Top 25 teams this season, three of the wins by Notre Dame (Marquette, Maryland and Texas). Ö Pittís Brandin Knight finished his league career No. 5 on the all-time assist list with 372. Notre Dame sophomore Chris Thomas, if he plays four seasons, is on pace to shatter Sherman Douglasí all-time record of 426.

Dave Hickman covers the Big East for the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette.

 
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