In a blog post at ESPN.com, Doug Gottlieb goes through a "What we think, What we know and What we wonder" about the "big six" college basketball conferences. (You may need to be a subscriber to read it, in which case I'm sorry -- e-mail me and I'll think about giving you my password).
I'll dispense with the "think" and "know" parts, because they're not as interesting as the "wonder," which is the unanswered questions that serve as the basis for debate. I wanted to go through the "wonder" part as it pertains to the Big East, and try to answer or at least wonder along with him:
Can Pitt win the league shooting as poorly from the 3-point line as it has lately?
I think so. I mean, they won it last year without shooting especially well, and they're so strong up front that you'd think they'll have an edge head-to-head against everybody except maybe UConn. Plus, three-point shooting is a lame way to win anyway. The great thing about this league right now is that the teams are playing basketball -- not just driving the lane and kicking it out to long-range gunners. The reason they moved the three-point line back this year was to discourage that practice and force teams to run their offenses and work for shots. The top teams in this league do that, and Pitt does it well enough that it can win the league, sure.
Will UConn play as well with Jim Calhoun on the sidelines as it did against Rutgers with him sick in the locker room?
Guess he wrote this yesterday. UConn played fine last night, especially once they figured out that they had a huge size and strength advantage down low and let Adrien and Thugbeet take over the game. As for Calhoun, who reamed out his team after the Georgetown loss, I think he's got a handle on this team.
Is West Virginia as good as it has played since Alex Ruoff returned? And will the Mountaineers bring back Joe Mazzulla or try to get him a medical redshirt?
I think West Virginia has enough good players that they'll be fine except in games where they're totally outmanned in the paint, as they were last night. And even last night, they were in the game. No clue on Mazzulla.
Will the real Georgetown please come forward?
Not sure what he means here. Does he mean the Georgetown that used to play patsies in December and get ripped for it? Or the Georgetown that beat UConn on the road and played tough at Notre Dame on Monday night? This is a young, talented Hoya team in the midst of one of the most brutal schedule stretches of all time (next week is Syracuse and Duke, for god's sake!). I think they're allowed a little bit of leeway. Except for the Pitt game, where they were beaten physically and fell apart in the final 12 minutes, they've looked pretty much like the same team every night -- steady, composed and capable of beating anybody if they hit their shots.
Does Syracuse have a killer instinct in games it should win by 25 points?
Hope not. I freaking hate Syracuse.
Can Louisville ever play well before mid-February?
Yeah, I mean, for me this gets to the heart of the Louisville question. I watched their game against Kentucky on Sunday, and at about 11 different points during the game they appeared to be in total game and yet you looked up at the end and they needed a silly long-range three to win. I see a team that lacks on-court leadership and focus. Maybe if Edgar Sosa is going to go on a hot streak, performance-wise, he can be a leader. But they need somebody to glue it all together. Louisville is loaded with talent -- probably right there with Pitt and a notch below UConn in terms of quality of athletes -- but they don't play a very tight game, and they'll lose some because of it.
Will one of the top nine teams dare the committee to leave it out of the NCAA field? Will it be Villanova, which played its weakest nonconference schedule to date and might not have the interior girth to contend with players such as Samardo Samuels and DeJuan Blair?
Could be, but for me Scottie Reynolds keeps Villanova in every game because of his shooting ability. Same as Jonny Flynn on Syracuse. I think Notre Dame (which already has a bad St. John's loss on his resume) could be such a team if it's not careful. Their defense is terribly soft, and that could cost them some games they're supposed to win. Louisville, for reasons noted above, could pick up a bad loss or two. And yeah, Villanova, if they don't make it a slam-dunk and the committee looks at the cupcakes they played before the conference season started.
For me, the more fun question is which of the other seven teams could sneak in the back and force its way into the discussion by March. Providence is experienced. South Florida gave the Cuse a tough time last week. Best guess is the big guys beat up on the bottom-feeders all year, but you never know. There might be a hero ready to emerge and help somebody exceed expectations.
Will Notre Dame guard anyone away from the Joyce Center in South Bend?
Been over this and over this. The Irish just don't look like a team that's very interested in playing defense. Their should-be blowout games will be closer than they're supposed to be for this reason, and that puts them at risk, especially on the road.