This weekend is for lovers...Big East basketball lovers, that is. While Notre Dame and Georgetown have not lived up to expectations, the Big East remains one of the deepest conferences in the nation, a group that includes the top-ranked UConn Huskies who will travel to Seton Hall on Saturday. Friday finds Villanova at West Virginia and the weekend ends with DePaul meeting the Cardinals in Louisville.
At the start of the 2008-09 college basketball season, it was a given that the Big East Conference was going to put more teams in the NCAA Tournament than anyone else – as many as 10. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
Georgetown and Notre Dame have gone bust, Ken Pomeroy has the Big East ranked third among the conferences in average team efficiency, and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has the ACC with eight bids to seven for the BE.
That’s still a ton of talent. This weekend’s all-Big East betting tripleheader features four strong March Madness candidates – including the No. 1 team in the polls.
No. 13 Villanova at West Virginia (-4½, 137)
Friday, Feb 13, 9:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN
The Wildcats (20-4 SU, 13-7 ATS, No. 12 Pomeroy) are finally starting to get some ink, thanks to a six-game winning streak – plus eight straight paydays – including a 67-57 upset of visiting Pittsburgh (-3½). That run might not be sustainable. The ‘Cats are hitting shots at an unusual rate, topping 50 percent from the field in three of the last four games:
- Marquette: 58.7 percent
- Syracuse: 54.5 percent
- Providence: 44.1 percent
- Cincinnati: 51.0 percent
John Gasaway at Basketball Prospectus points out the fast pace the ‘Cats have run over the past two games, but pace is measured in possessions per game, and there are bound to be more changes of possession when so many shots are going in. Pace is acknowledged as a bit of a fuzzy metric; however, it’s useful enough that we can tell Friday’s matchup with West Virginia (16-8 SU, 9-12 ATS, No. 8 Pomeroy, No. 177 pace) should be considerably slower. The under is a combined 23-18 against the betting odds for these two teams.
No. 1 Connecticut at Seton Hall
Saturday, Feb 14, 12:00 p.m. (ET)
The No. 1 Huskies (23-1 SU, 10-8 ATS, No. 2 Pomeroy) have just about every positive attribute a supporter could hope for. This is the tallest team in Division I according to Pomeroy’s effective height metric, anchored by 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet. They grab a ton of rebounds, block shots and parade to the free-throw line. Remarkably, they’re also the most disciplined team in college – UConn opponents have a puny 18.3 percent ratio of free-throw attempts per field goal attempts, compared to 48.3 percent for the Huskies.
If only UConn could hit more of those shots, especially from the charity stripe. It’s the big man’s disease: The Huskies are ranked No. 132 overall at 69.7 percent from the foul line, with Thabeet at 63.1 percent. Time for some Hack-a-Hasheem. The Pirates (14-9 SU, 11-7 ATS) cashed in as 18½-point puppies in last month’s 76-61 loss at UConn, as Thabeet went 3-of-7 from the line and the rest of the Huskies were 5-of-11. Seton Hall is also on a five-game winning streak at 4-1 ATS.
DePaul at No. 7 Louisville
Sunday, Jan 15, 4:00 p.m. (ET)
The DePaul Blue Demons (8-17 SU, 3-15 ATS, No. 206 Pomeroy) will not be getting a March Madness invitation. But sharp handicappers are sending them flowers and chocolates for being so wonderfully inept at basketball. The Demons are 0-12 SU and 2-10 ATS in Big East action. They’re near the bottom of the entire Division I in shooting from beyond the arc (26.9 percent) and from the free-throw line (62.2 percent). These guys are even worse than Indiana (No. 203 Pomeroy).
At the other end of the Big East food chain, the Cardinals (18-4 SU, 13-9 ATS, No. 7 Pomeroy) are the top defensive team in the nation, running the under to a 12-8 record heading into Thursday’s matchup with Notre Dame. However, the Cards coughed up the cash to West Virginia and UConn after starting conference play at 7-0 SU and ATS. Louisville is just 6-5 ATS when favored by more than 12 points – that’s after starting the non-con portion of the schedule at 4-1 ATS in that situation. Buyer beware.