NEW YORK -- Rise and shine, hoops heads. Time for the official tip of college basketball. The mid-majors are fun and the Tuesday warm-up at the Garden is a good appetizer but today it’s officially on as the Big East revs up with its four-game platter of hoops.
At least three teams are playing for their NCAA Tournament lives today, two more are working to remove any gray area from their own status and one is trying to secure its head coach’s future.
Game 1: South Florida vs. Georgetown
What’s at stake: The Bulls are in the conversation but a long way from in the tourney. A win here won’t put them in but will put them in the conversation.
What has to happen: Dominique Jones dropped 29 on the Hoyas in a February upset. He’ll need to do the same for the Bulls to have a chance plus negate Georgetown’s guard tandem of Austin Freeman and Chris Wright.
Something else to watch for: The play of Austin Freeman. Diagnosed last week with diabetes, the guard didn’t seem fazed in his first game back. He had 24 points in 30 minutes of an emotional senior night.
Game 2: St. John’s vs. Marquette
What’s at stake: For the Red Storm, it could be Norm Roberts’ job. The coach said he’s not concerned and the university hasn’t offered any indication but certainly after another disappointing season in the Big Apple, he’s at least on the hot seat. For the Golden Eagles, their NCAA spot would appear secure thanks to nine wins in their last 11 games.
What has to happen: Another breakout game for Sean Evans would be helpful. The junior had 19 points and 10 rebounds against Connecticut in the opening round, giving the Red Storm a needed and somewhat unexpected injection of offense.
Something else to watch for: The Red Storm again will be without Dwight Hardy. The junior has a sprained left knee. That’s 10 points that St. John’s needs to make up.
Game 3: Seton Hall vs. Notre Dame
What’s at stake: The Pirates are on the very soft bubble but not in the tournament. A win against the surprise Irish could be enough to push them among the last four in. Notre Dame’s stunning Harangody-less rally has put them in the bracket but another win would only make their spot more secure.
What has to happen: The Pirates need Jeremy Hazell to play within the context of the game and not take foolish shots.
Something else to watch for: Points and lots of 'em. Both teams like to score and neither is a fan of defense. The Pirates average 81 points per game, the Irish 77.9.
Game 4: Cincinnati vs. Louisville
What’s at stake: Interstate bragging rights for starters. The two schools are only separated by 90 minutes of highway. Cincinnati is a long way from in the NCAA field, but after a dismal finish to the regular season (losing five of their final six) a strong finish would be good. Louisville secured its spot with a victory over Syracuse to close out Freedom Hall. Wouldn’t be a bad idea for the roller-coaster Cards to get some momentum going.
What has to happen: Edgar Sosa has to play smart. The point guard can giveth and taketh away. Sometimes he’s brilliant. Sometimes he’s awful. The Cards need his A game to stave off an upset.
Something else to watch for: Lance Stephenson's return to the Big Apple. The Big East’s rookie of the year didn’t fare so well in his first visit, with just seven points against the Red Storm.