|No. 11 Cincinnati beats Xavier 60-45 amicably
Next week, the Big East regular season starts rolling as #8 Cincinnati takes on #24 Pitt in what promises to be an eventful final season for the venerable conference as we have known it over the years. In fact, there are 6 Big East teams in the current Top 25, including 3 in the Top 10, so, indeed, this should be a season to remember for the Big East.
Louisville (11-1) has flown just below the radar since their 76-71 loss to Duke but this team will be thrust in the national spotlight when they renew their annual “Civil War” hostilities with Kentucky later this week. The Cards have only beaten one top 20 team – Missouri – this season, but they have been on a roll of late, winning six straight against mid-majors, including a 87-78 win over Memphis. Louisville is dealing with an injury to Gorgui Dieng but Russ Smith (19.7 points per game) has taken-up the scoring slack and Chane Behanan is rebounding well. The team will dip their toes into the Big East waters with an opener against Providence on January 2 but real tests won’t start until mid-month with a match-up against Syracuse on
At 12-0, the Bearcats are one of just a few undefeated teams in college basketball and the one team that no one is talking about. And probably for good reason. Thus far, their non-conference schedule has been rather flat. Cincinnati survived a huge game against city rival Xavier without a dent in their record and with no fists flying. But, other than that game, the team has not been tested by any Top 25 programs. That will change in the next two games as the Bearcats host New Mexico (12-1) and then visit Pitt (12-1) on New Year’s Eve. Cincinnati has a true star in Sean Kilpatrick (19.2 ppg), a great floor leader in Cashmere Wright, and the #2 rebounding team in the nation. We’ll see if that all comes together before the month ends or whether that early season record was built on fighting paper dragons.
No one has ever accused the Orange (10-1) as playing a tough non-conference schedule and this season is no exception. Syracuse has played just one team that was nationally ranked – San Diego State – and even lost to an unranked opponent, Temple, in their last game, a 83-79 loss at home. The Orange, though, have another strong, balanced team led by vets James Southerland (15 ppg), Brandon Triche (14.7 ppg), and CJ Fair (12.5 ppg) as well as dynamic freshman Michael Carter-Williams, who is averaging a double-double (12.4 points per game and 10.3 assists per game). The loss to Temple should sting enough to propel the Orange along the early part of their conference schedule before their showdown against Louisville on January 19 when we will find out a lot about both teams.
The Hoyas (10-1) survived the early portion of their non-conference schedule, defeating such high-profile programs as UCLA, Tennessee, and Texas, with their only loss in overtime to Indiana. But Georgetown has struggled mightily on the boards and on the score sheet, ranking among college basketball’s worst programs in those two categories. Sophomore Otto Porter, Jr., though, is on his way to becoming the next great Hoya forward with 13.2 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game. They will jump right into conference play with tough games against Marquette and Pitt in early January which will tell a lot about this team early on.
#21 Notre Dame
Notre Dame (12-1) caused a stir in the college basketball world when they defeated Kentucky, 64-50. The victory has lost some of its luster since the Wildcats have struggled but the Irish have become legitimate Top 25 contenders. The team is led by big man Jack Cooley, who averages 15.2 points per game and leads the team with 11.3 rebounds per game. The Irish also have a pair of great distributors in Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. The Irish will get an early test when the play Seton Hall to open the Big East season.
The Panthers (12-1) finally climbed back into the Top 25 by breezing through their non-conference schedule against a series of small colleges. They have been a hot shooting team but rebounding has been a problem and was a problem in their only loss, 67-62, to Michigan. Talib Zanna leads the team in scoring and rebounding, but the team’s most important player surely is Tray Woodall (11.7 points per game, 5.8 assists per game). Pitt will get a huge test when they host Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve day. John Z.