Expect Big East success in NCAAs

I’m pretty sure that at least a couple of Big East teams are going to make fairly serious runs in the Madness. Just don’t ask me to pin down which ones.

That’s just the kind of league it is. And unless you follow it on a regular basis, I think it’s hard to really understand exactly what that means.

I mean, I’m not saying Marquette is great. The Eagles might not be NCAA Tournament worthy. But when that’s the 11th-best team in your league, that’s not bad. And Providence, which is even lower, has beaten Louisville and Villanova at home. Last weekend, Seton Hall nearly beat Connecticut at home, and Rutgers gave Notre Dame a handful out there, where the Irish are unbeaten. So ...

All I’m saying is, there’s almost no such thing as a gimme, unless maybe you get South Florida or DePaul at your place. And even USF has managed to keep almost all of its many losses close.

Anyway, I don’t know if that does more to get teams ready for March, or simply wears them down. You could probably find enough examples to support both theories. But after not sending a team to the Final Four from 2000-02, Syracuse (as a 3 seed) and Connecticut (2) won it all the next 2 years. Since then, five others have made it to the last weekend without lifting a trophy: Louisville (4) in ‘05, Georgetown in ‘07, Villanova (3) and UConn (1) in ‘09 and West Virginia (2) last March. That’s an amazing run, when you think about it. Seven trips, by six different programs, in 8 years.

In a lot of big-time leagues you might see one, two or even three teams do something like that. This is more of a group effort, which tends to set it apart. This is not about parity, but the ability to compete across the board at the highest levels. Sort of like keeping up with that neighbor who is trying to beat you up on a regular basis. 

It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has sort of separated itself from the posse. In fact, Pitt has been the most consistently successful program in the conference in the past decade. But it hasn’t parlayed that into a FF appearance. Maybe this is finally the Panthers’ time. Few teams bring more toughness to the equation.

Other than that, who knows? Notre Dame is better now that Luke Harangody is gone. Most suspect that it’s not a coincidence. The Irish play the type of guard-oriented style that often gets it done when it’s win or go home. Louisville obviously has a coach that knows how to get there. And also employs a game plan that can give opponents fits. Villanova, which also knows what it takes, will probably go as far as the backcourt takes it. So what else is new? But when they’re on, Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns and trigger man Corey Stokes can cause a lot of havoc.

I still think Syracuse is better than the recent four-game losing streak and Jim Boeheim’s criticisms would suggest. And I certainly wouldn’t shortchange G-town or UConn, especially if Austin Freeman and/or Kemba Walker get it going. And by the way, UConn freshman Jeremy Lamb is a stud in the making.

Again, I don’t know who has it in them this year. I’m sure some will lose early, just because it happens. Yet, I’m just as confident that a good many will make it to at least the second weekend. It’s become a tradition unlike many others. So take a good look at the usual suspects and try to figure out who’ll emerge in another 5 or 6 weeks. It’s what makes filling out those brackets fun. And even though it’s only for amusement purposes, please choose wisely.

 

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After losing a heartbreaker at Princeton in overtime on Tuesday, Penn is back at it in the Ivy League tonight. The Quakers visit Cornell, which has won the last three Ivy League titles but isn’t quite so fearsome this season.

 

Here is a look at tonight’s Penn-Cornell game:

 

Who: Penn (9-10, 3-2 Ivy) at Cornell (5-15, 1-5)

 

When: 7 o’clock

 

Where: Newman Arena, Ithaca, N.Y.

 

Radio: ESPN (950-AM)

 

Notes: Penn is coming off a 62-59 overtime loss at Princeton on Tuesday. Penn overcame a five-point deficit in the final 32 seconds to force OT. Quakers junior guard Zack Rosen has 999 career points. Cornell has won five of six games against Quakers, as Big Red won last three Ivy League titles under Steve Donahue, now the Boston College coach.

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