College Basketball Nation: 2010 Big East tournament

NEW YORK -- It's only a basketball game, 40 minutes of chucking a ball into a modernized peach basket. It can't cure what ails you. It can't erase mistakes and it can't rewrite the past.

But sometimes, when the stars align and the moment is just right, a basketball game can mean a little bit more.

"I'm standing here, 56 years old and compared to when I was 26, I didn't understand,'' West Virginia assistant coach Billy Hahn said. "I didn't realize everything you have to go through and overcome in your life and when a moment like this finally comes, there aren't words. There just aren't words.''

And then Hahn covered his mouth and blinked hard to make sure the tears stayed tucked in the corner of his eyes.

For West Virginia, a 60-58 victory over Georgetown delivered the first Big East tournament title in program history -- and the school's first league tourney title of any kind since the 1984 Atlantic 10 crown. But for the players, the coaches, the school and the state, it delivered so much more...

To read O'Neil's column in its entirety, click here.
NEW YORK -- Da'Sean Butler will never buy a drink or a meal again in West Virginia.

At the school that gave us the emblem of basketball, Butler has etched his name in the history books. His falling-down, circus shot sealed West Virginia's 60-58 victory over Georgetown and first Big East Conference tournament title and may just have locked up the No. 1 seed for the Mountaineers.

That's two buzzer-beaters in three games for the WVU hero.

And one had luck almost for Chris Wright. The Georgetown guard drove the length of the court and came up about four inches short of tying what goes down as an unexpected Big East final but one of the most entertaining in a long time.

Both the Hoyas and the Mountaineers enter the NCAA tournament playing easily the best basketball of the season and should be well rewarded for their efforts by the selection committee tomorrow.

But no one will reap a better reward than Butler. He is a lifetime legend now, a kid who went from barely recruited to superstar in four years of hard work.
NEW YORK -- Terrific first half worthy of the Saturday night bright lights of New York City. I'll be surprised if this doesn't go down to the wire. The teams are both playing too hard and too well for anyone to break ahead by much.

Some quick thoughts about an entertaining 20 minutes:

  • West Virginia's ability to own the boards is the slim difference between the two teams. The Mountaineers have 19 rebounds to Georgetown's 11, but more critically WVU has nine offensive rebounds. That's equated to 10 easy points.
  • The Mountaineers are getting a well-played game from just about everyone in uniform. I doubt even hard-to-please Bob Huggins will have much to pick apart here. Wellington Smith leads the Mountaineers withe nine points, Joe Mazzulla is directing the offense with authority and Devin Ebanks is commanding the backboards. He has four rebounds already. And of course Da'Sean Butler is doing everything else. He has seven points, two offensive rebounds and an assist.
  • The Hoyas aren't as deep, but if anyone thought they'd be tired playing their fourth game in as many days, guess again. With Greg Monroe and Chris Wright leading the push, Georgetown is doing a terrific job running the floor. Monroe's pretty one-handed bounce pass for a crowd-pleasing Wright jam epitomized the level that the two are playing at. Wright has 12 early, Monroe 5 points, 3 rebounds and two assists.
  • Georgetown, a better shooting team, hasn't been able to take advantage of its edge at the arc. The Hoyas are 1-for-7 from the arc and Austin Freeman is still looking for his first made 3-pointer of the Big East tournament. He's 0-for-2 tonight. The Hoyas need him to be a threat to stretch the Mountaineer defense.
Make no mistake: Winning a Big East conference title is a big deal. That goes double for West Virginia, a program that has gone 26 years without winning a Big East conference title. The fans in Morgantown love their Mountaineers -- sometimes a little too much -- and a conference championship would put this Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks and Bob Huggins and the rest of this rangy squad into that lofty "never buy a drink in West Virginia again" category only legends ever reach.

For the rest of the country, though, West Virginia's conference title bid -- which ends one way or the other with tonight's 9 p.m. ET date with Georgetown -- has more important implications. Will West Virginia lock down a No. 1 seed?

Bob Huggins certainly thinks so:

“Nobody goes through what we go through in this league,” he told SI.com on Friday, after his team beat Notre Dame 53-51 in the semifinals. “I learned a long time ago that I’m not on the committee. But I mean, to think we’re not [a No. 1]? By the time we’re done with this tournament, our strength of schedule is going to be in the top five in the country. We’re going to be in the top five in the RPI. We’ve done everything they say to do and won.

“Who else would have sat in Newark on Christmas Day [before a game at Seton Hall], and then been in West Lafayette on New Year’s Eve [before a game at Purdue]? We went and played people. You ever been in West Lafayette on New Year’s Eve? Trust me — it was only about 26 below.”

I'm not sure the NCAA selection committee will take into account how cold it was in West Lafayette, Ind. on New Year's Eve. That has to be somewhere below strength of schedule on the committee's priorities. (Though it's probably still higher than Pomeroy rank. Sigh.) And Bob Huggins isn't exactly the most unbiased arbiter on this issue.

But none of that matters: If West Virginia wins the Big East tournament, its argument for a No. 1 seed is sound. The Mountaineers will have prevailed over 16 teams in what most consider the toughest conference in the country. They sit at No. 4 in the RPI. West Virginia is 4-4 against the top 25 while Duke is 1-3. West Virginia's worst loss came to No. 62 RPI team UConn while Duke's came to No. 90 N.C. State. The Mountaineers also won four more games at road or neutral sites, going 14-4 to Duke's 10-5. Even if Duke wins the ACC tournament, West Virginia's accomplishments are just a hair more impressive -- but more impressive all the same.

As Winn points out in his piece, West Virginia doesn't win pretty. If the committee decides to get all eye-testy, they could favor a Duke team that's spent much of the last month -- including this weekend -- fluidly dominating conference foes. But given the two conferences' relative levels of competition, it's hard to look at both teams and decide that Duke is clearly more deserving of a No. 1. It isn't.

Of course, there is still work to be done here. Both teams need to finish the job for this to be a conversation, no guarantee for either (especially the Mountaineers, who face a very hot Georgetown team in their finale tonight). But Bob Huggins, for all his gruff, is right: If the Mountaineers win the Big East tournament, they should be a No. 1 seed. Simple as that.

Michael Heiman/Getty Images/Howard Smith-US PRESSWIREGeorgetown's Greg Monroe or West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler: Who will walk away as the Big East tournament's most outstanding player?

NEW YORK –- A good friend pulled John Thompson III aside after Georgetown ousted Marquette in the Big East Tournament semifinals.

“He told me, ‘There’s nothing better than Friday night in New York City other than Saturday night in New York City,’’ Thompson said.

Bright lights, big city, two teams and only one trophy as West Virginia and Georgetown go head-to-head for the coveted Big East championship tonight at 9 p.m. on ESPN.

Here’s a championship rundown:

Numbers: West Virginia has only appeared in one Big East Conference Championship but has never taken home the hardware. The Mountaineers, in fact, haven’t won any conference tourney titles since 1984. Georgetown has played for the title 13 times and won a record seven crowns.

One or the other: Barring an unexpected 50-point barrage from someone else, either Greg Monroe or Da’Sean Butler will leave New York as the tournament’s most outstanding player. In two games, Monroe is averaging 19 points, 11.5 rebounds and seven assists while Butler chimes in with 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, three assists and one banked in, buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer.

The last time: West Virginia thumped Georgetown, 81-68, in Morgantown but the result might as well come with asterisks for all the sub-plots that affected the game. The Mountaineers rode the high of an emotional senior night for Butler; the Hoyas endured the emotional low of playing without Austin Freeman, who was out with the flu (and a week later would be diagnosed with diabetes). Georgetown fell behind by as many as 27 before trying to mount a comeback, but WVU’s pressure led to 20 turnovers, which led to 27 points, which led to disaster.

New York State of mind: There aren’t a lot of similarities between Morgantown and New York City, which is what makes the Mountaineers’ roster so confounding. Six of WVU’s players, including all five starters, are from the New York-New Jersey area. What circuitous twists led them from the streets of Gotham to the country roads of West Virginia? Simple: the Big East and Bob Huggins. “It’s the Big East and with anybody from the Big East, people in New York are going to listen,’’ Huggins said. “If we weren’t in the conference, can’t recruit these guys.’’ Huggins’ track record helps, too. The coach has a reputation for developing players evidenced by the 15 NBA draft picks he’s coached, including four lottery picks.

Is that a yes? Syracuse 73, Georgetown 56. Syracuse 75, Georgetown 71. Marquette 62, Georgetown 59. West Virginia 81, Georgetown 68. The Hoyas came to New York City with one primary goal: to win another Big East championship. But they also packed a little extra motivation: revenge. Asked if beating teams that had topped them during the regular season put a little extra kick in their step, the Hoyas didn’t hesitate to answer.

“Yes,’’ said Chris Wright loudly and quickly into the microphone.

“Yes,’’ said Austin Freeman, almost simultaneously.

“For the record, that’s a yes,’’ Greg Monroe deadpanned.

For West Virginia: True to form, Bob Huggins didn’t mince words: "Quite frankly, people with size bother us,’’ the coach said. “We’re not that big.’’ That’s a short way of saying the Mountaineers will have to work hard to stop Monroe. Huggins seconded Jim Boeheim’s assessment that Monroe is the “best skilled big man in the country.’’ Even in the Mountaineers’ decisive victory, Monroe got his, finishing with 22 points nine rebounds.

The Mountaineers also need to overcome themselves a little bit. Against Notre Dame, WVU almost blew a 10-point lead. They nearly coughed up a late 9-point advantage against Cincinnati the night before and in the regular-season finale against Villanova had to dig out of a 13-point hole to win.

For Georgetown: Thompson didn’t want to entertain questions about his championship game opponent on Friday night. “Can I wait until we see who we’re playing?’’ the Georgetown coach said with a laugh. A little later Thompson expounded on what his Hoyas have to do: “We have to play the way we play,’’ he said.

It sounds simplistic but it’s really the right remedy for the Hoyas. They have been winning here in New York because they have been playing their brand of basketball: feeding the ball to Monroe and then letting him direct the offense.

That’s not to say Georgetown doesn’t have to do anything to stop the Mountaineers. They do. Despite its lack of size, West Virginia works the boards with a vengeance. They clobbered Notre Dame in rebounding, 35-18.

West Virginia moving forward

March, 13, 2010
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NEW YORK -- There isn’t a whole lot of pretense to Bob Huggins.

He is honest, sometimes cuttingly so. He can be gruff. He can be rough.

He is loyal and fiercely protective of those he cares for and equally dismissive of the people for whom he has no use.

[+] EnlargeDa'Sean Butler
Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comDa'Sean Butler scored 24 points and had seven rebounds and three assists against Notre Dame.
He is a man made rich by the spoils of basketball, but a man who at his core remains the kid who grew up in Midvale, Ohio: “500 people, two stoplights, nine bars,’’ as he describes it.

Huggins doesn’t suffer fools or spend a whole lot of time wishing for what could have been or lamenting what wasn’t.

This is a guy who culled his life’s motto from a ride in a pickup truck.

“I got in the truck with this guy one time and I looked and he didn’t have a rear-view mirror,’’ Huggins said. “I said, ‘You don’t have a rear-view mirror.’ He said, ‘I don’t back up. We’re only going forward, son.’ And that’s kind of how I’ve lived myself.’’

But even Huggins admits that he would take a moment and rewind if his Mountaineers, who topped Notre Dame, 53-51, are able to capture the Big East tournament title.

It’s been 26 years since West Virginia brought home a conference title of any kind (that was during the Mountaineers run in the Atlantic 10), and for Huggins, who was born in Morgantown and graduated from the university, bringing the hardware home as the native son would hold a special meaning.

“I’ve been telling these guys all year that it’s neat to come back and see the banners that you were responsible for hanging; it gives you a reason to want to come back,’’ Huggins said. “I know when I was at Cincinnati it meant a lot to the guys to come back and see them there on that far wall. I’ve been telling them about that since the beginning of the season.’’

The Mountaineers, who joined the Big East in 1995, will be playing for the tournament championship for the second time in school history. They lost to Syracuse in 2005.

To win they’ll only have to stop Georgetown, the team with a record seven Big East tournament championships.

“They’re really good. Extremely well coached,’’ Huggins said of Georgetown. “You know, it’s the Big East. You look around the league and who do you play that doesn’t have great players? Everybody has great players.’’

WVU does as well. His name is Da’Sean Butler. Almost certainly either he or Georgetown’s Greg Monroe will take home the tournament’s most outstanding trophy tomorrow night. Both have been dominant -- and more, the absolute lifeblood of their teams.

Against Cincinnati, Butler hit the banked-in, buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer. Against Notre Dame his play may have been less dramatic but no less heroic. In a game in which offense was at an absolute premium, Butler scored 24 points, nabbed seven rebounds and cashed in three assists. He was the lone player the Irish couldn’t contain.

And even he almost wasn’t enough.

West Virginia’s 1-3-1 zone flustered the Irish into poor shooting -- Notre Dame shot only 34 percent for the game, not good enough when a team plays the way the Irish have decided to play.

But the Mountaineers didn’t do enough to put the Irish away for good. Down 10 with five minutes to play, Notre Dame rallied and had a chance to win the game on a play that eerily mirrored Butler’s final shot against Cincinnati.

Except for one critical difference. Tory Jackson’s 3 came up short and the Mountaineers, in need only of a 2, couldn’t corral the rebound before the clock expired.

“Either you win or lose on that one,’’ Butler said of Jackson’s shot. “I just prayed he didn’t win.’’

He didn’t and now the Mountaineers just might win it all.

And maybe their forward-thinking coach will even allow for a little reflection.
NEW YORK -- Da'Sean Butler didn't have to be a last-minute hero this time, but the senior still rescued his team.

Butler scored 24 points, each one as critical as the 3-point buzzer he banked to beat Cincinnati, 53-51, on Thursday night, as the Mountaineers staved off a furious rally from the Irish.

West Virginia will have a chance to win its first conference tournament crown of any kind since 1984 when it faces Georgetown on Saturday night. WVU has never played for the Big East title.

In a game where points were at a premium, Butler was the one person in a West Virginia uniform who couldn't be contained. Kevin Jones was the only other Mountaineer in double figures. He had 10.

West Virginia did exactly what it needed to do to beat the Irish. Recognizing opportunities would be fleeting, the Mountaineers took only good shots in the halfcourt. They never got frustrated or rushed, shooting 48 percent from the floor. And they absolutely dominated Notre Dame on the boards, 34-19, allowing the Irish only four offensive rebounds for the game.

Despite the loss, the Irish leave New York with a newfound offense and newfound identity. Mike Brey's willingness to scrap his fast-paced style led the Irish out of the doldrums and into the NCAA Tournament. They'll go with a healthy Luke Harangody, who struggled to get 1o points against the Mountaineers, and a confidence that slowing the game down works.

Hoyas' Monroe in a league of his own

March, 12, 2010
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NEW YORK -- John Thompson III played his college basketball for a man who thought there was nothing a big man couldn’t do.

[+] EnlargeGreg Monroe
Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comGreg Monroe has proven he can do it all for the Hoyas. He had 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks against Marquette.
In Pete Carril’s offense at Princeton, centers were expected to score down low, bounce a perfect backdoor pass and step out and sink a three. He called them point-centers, treating them as equal parts point guard and post player, and with such reverence his entire Princeton offense was predicated around their abilities.

Carril groomed some good ones in his day, but the hoops yoda never saw anything quite like Greg Monroe.

The Georgetown sophomore unleashed his stat-stuffing repertoire on a Marquette team that was helpless to contain him. Monroe racked up 23 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks to take the Hoyas to an 80-57 win over the Golden Eagles, and into the Big East tournament championship for the third time in four years. With seven titles, Georgetown has won more Big East crowns than any other league member.

“We see it everyday,’’ Thompson said. “But what’s commonplace to us, the rest of the world gets to see every now and again.’’

Good big men are hard enough to find at this level. Exceptional ones are rarer than yellow diamonds.

A guy like Monroe might as well be preserved next to Walt Disney and Ted Williams.

He has the sound fundamentals of an Ivy Leaguer and the skill set of a McDonald’s All-American, a deadly combination of smarts, savvy and strength that is unlike anyone currently in the college game.

Monroe’s dad, Gregory Sr., insisted his son learn to pass the ball as a kid, reminding him that passing big men are harder to guard. The dribbling followed the passing and the rest just came thanks to the good graces of good genes.

In one two-minute span against Marquette, the nature/nurture benefits were on full display. Monroe drained a 3-pointer (taking a moment to strike a hand-flick pose like a guard), blocked a shot, took an outlet and dribbled the length of the floor like a gazelle, bouncing a perfect pass to Austin Freeman for an and-one play.

“It is unique because he can dominate in his own way, but like a point guard, he an also make everyone else better,’’ Thompson said. “That’s what he’s learned, when to turn it on and when to take a step back.’’

Which is exactly what he did against the Golden Eagles. Monroe was everywhere in the first half, taking 14 points, five boards and three assists into the locker room.

He stepped off the gas to start the second half, but instead of growing frustrated as Marquette packed in to contain him, he simply bided his time and fed picture-perfect passes to Chris Wright, Freeman or Jason Clark.

And then when the Golden Eagles threatened to make it interesting, there was Monroe again, scoring eight in the final 10 minutes when the game went from 56-51 to over.

“Sometimes in the huddle, the guys will tell me, ‘It’s time for you to take over,’’’ Monroe said. “If it’s there, it’s there. That’s how I play. My nature is to win. That’s all I care about.’’

Monroe is at a school, of course, that has produced its fair share of talented – and successful – centers.

He refuses to put himself anywhere near the pantheon of the best ones and isn’t terribly interested in comparing his successes, either.

“The history here with big men is very rich,’’ Monroe said. “I’m just trying to do what I can in my time here and make my mark.’’

Certainly a good first step would be a Big East tournament championship.

Half: West Virginia 23, Notre Dame 20

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
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NEW YORK -- Notre Dame has somehow figured out a way to win games by going counter-intuitive to the entire concept of the game of basketball: they win by not scoring points.

Seriously.

It's bizarre and backward and it works.

The Irish's lack of offense has allowed them to stay close to West Virginia in a game that frankly feels a lot less close than the score would indicate. The Mountaineers are content playing the slow-down game and are shooting 47 percent. Da'Sean Butler is picking right up from his heroics last night against Cincinnati. He has a dominating 11 points for the Mountaineers.

The Irish, meantime, who need to score on the majority of their possessions if they want to shorten the game, have only connected on 34 percent. West Virginia is forcing the Irish to the arc and Notre Dame isn't connecting, hitting only four 3-pointers on 15 chances.

More critical WVU has 17 rebounds to Notre Dame's 11. Each board represents another chance for the Mountaineers or one less opportunity for the Irish to score.

If the Irish are going to win this game, they absolutely have to shoot better -- and more -- they need to get Luke Harangody involved. He's taken just one shot and has only three points. Yes, Notre Dame won without him before. But they need him now.

Final: Georgetown 80, Marquette 57

March, 12, 2010
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NEW YORK -- Georgetown advanced to the semifinals via an upset. But the fact that the Hoyas are in the Big East tournament finals after an 80-57 win over Marquette isn't a shocker. One of the conferences original members, the Hoyas have made 12 appearances in the title game, including three in the past four years.

They've won a record seven trophies. On Saturday night they'll go for number eight.

Here's how they got there:
  • Greg Monroe constantly redefines what a big man can do, or at least what extraordinary ones can do. The junior swished a 3-pointer, ran the floor like a gazelle (while dribbling!) dished backdoor passes and blocked shots in a 23-point, 13-rebound, 7-assist and 2-block game that looked almost effortless.
  • When Monroe wasn't scoring, the Hoyas didn't miss a beat. They simply reconfigured when Marquette tried to pack in on Monroe. Enter Austin Freeman, Jason Clark and Chris Wright, who carried the load through the first part of the second half. Freeman grabbed eight of his 12 points in the second, Clark scored 11 of his 15 and Wright 14 of his 15.
  • Marquette, which hadn't lost by more than nine all season and lost its 10 previous games by a combined 35 points, ran out of gas. The Golden Eagles mounted one final charge midway through the second half, but then the needle finally reached E. After making it 56-51, Marquette scored just six points in the final 10:50.

Half: Georgetown 37, Marquette 34

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
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NEW YORK - In a stunning departure, Marquette appears headed to another photo finish. The Golden Eagles dug themselves out of an early 15-4 rout and now it's anybody's game.

Here are a few quick thoughts before the second half starts:

  • Greg Monroe is clearly the best player on the floor tonight. The Hoya big man has 14 points but it's how he's running the floor that's really impressive. Late in the half, Monroe blazed down the court to block Maurice Acker from behind, a sensational block at the glass that ignited the Georgetown crowd. Monroe also has five rebounds and three assists.
  • With Monroe leading the charge, the Hoyas are getting anything they want inside. Of their 37 points, 22 are in the paint.
  • If Monroe is the best player, Lazar Hayward isn't far behind. The senior has 12 points and has zipped two 3-pointers.
  • The Hoyas have to be mindful of the arc. Marquette shoots a sizzling 58 percent from 3-point and already has four in the half. Pretty much everyone in a Golden Eagle uniform is a threat on the arc, including big men Jimmy Butler and Hayward.

Previewing the Big East semifinals

March, 12, 2010
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NEW YORK -- So whoever had this Big East Tournament semifinal matchup, play the lottery, hit the track and go to the casino. Quickly.

The best conference in the country was one banked 3-pointer away from a chalk-less shot at the title game. Only Da'Sean Butler’s buzzer-beating heroics preserved a chance for at least one favorite in West Virginia.

But just because the presumed cream of the conference crop isn’t here don’t think the teams left are chopped liver. Marquette and Notre Dame are among the hottest teams in the country right now while Georgetown has the sort of talent to be considered among the elite. And West Virginia, considered Final Four caliber before the season, could slip into a No. 1 seed should it raise the hardware on Saturday night.

Marquette vs. Georgetown

The Hoyas have won seven Big East Tournament titles and are trying to earn their third championship game berth in the last four years. Since joining the league four years ago, Marquette has never advanced to the title game.

For the Golden Eagles: Despite giving up a few inches, Marquette did a good job containing Greg Monroe earlier this season. The Georgetown big man had only nine points and equally critical, just three assists. It will be a key again tonight. As he proved against Syracuse, Monroe can kill you when he’s not scoring. His seven assists did in the Orange more than his 15 points.

Don’t expect the Golden Eagles to be overwhelmed by the big stage. Fifteen of their games have been decided by four points or less.

For the Hoyas: Chris Wright was sensational against Syracuse and needs to be the same again. His play is directly correlated to the Hoyas’ success. In Georgetown’s losses this year, he averaged just nine points -- in the Hoyas’ wins, 18.

Defensively, Monroe has to be prepared to be pulled away from the basket by Lazar Hayward and be ready to defend the arc. The savvy Hoya is more than capable of doing both.

The Hoyas barely celebrated their upset of Syracuse on Thursday morning. If they beat the Golden Eagles, they probably won’t party either. Georgetown is here for a trophy, not just a chance at one.

Notre Dame vs. West Virginia

The last time these two teams met, Da'Sean Butler’s 3-pointer failed to drop on the buzzer and the Irish, who once led by 20, held on for the victory.

Things have changed since then. Namely for Notre Dame. The Irish have won six in a row with a new grind-it-out offense.

For the Irish: Luke Harangody looks like Luke Harangody, which is good news for Notre Dame. In his last five games against WVU, the senior has averaged 26.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.

Notre Dame will need him to do the same again if they’re going to play for their first Big East crown. The key isn’t the offense. It’s the rebounding. Long, strong and athletic, the Mountaineers make a living off the backboard and if they get second-chance shots to extend their possessions, that will hurt Notre Dame’s new-fangled plan.

For the Mountaineers: It’s been 26 years since West Virginia lofted any sort of conference tournament hardware and that came from the Atlantic 10. The Mountaineers want this trophy for the case but they also want it because they know it could potentially put them on the No. 1 seed line come NCAA tournament time.

To get a chance to play for it, West Virginia will have to find a way to solve the riddle of the Irish. With the brakes on their offense, Notre Dame is torturing teams into losses. West Virginia is content playing ugly offense but will need to play better defense than anyone else has on the Irish recently. Notre Dame shot 53 percent in its win against Pitt and in a game when offensive possessions are at a premium, that’s a dagger.

West Virginia's Butler did it

March, 11, 2010
3/11/10
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NEW YORK -- Da'Sean Butler just put the icing on top of a crazy day at the Big East tournament.

[+] EnlargeDa'Sean Butler
Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comDa'Sean Butler hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer for West Virginia.
The best player in a Mountaineer uniform all season banked home a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, leading West Virginia to a highlight reel 54-51 win over Cincinnati. West Virginia, the only top four seed left standing, advances to the semifinals against Notre Dame.

"He called it,'' said Cincinnati's Lance Stephenson, who was defending Butler. "He said, 'Bank.' I said, 'What?' I turned around and saw it go in. Oh man.''

The game wasn't played with the same high-scoring fun as the afternoon session, but it didn't lack for intensity. Credit a feisty Cincinnati team that may have found its stride here in New York for coming back time and time again and pushing the Mountaineers quite literally to the brink.

But ultimately great players do great things and Butler did them all. He not only scored the winner, he set it up. Butler's pressure defense of Dion Dixon forced Dixon into a turnover on the sideline right in front of the West Virginia bench. The 'Eers got the ball back with 3.1 seconds left and the game tied.

Enter Butler. Cue the drama.

"Honestly, I was supposed to just catch the ball and get a couple of dribbles inside the 3-point line,'' Butler said. "When I got the ball [Stephenson] kind of pressed up on me, so I lost my balance and by the time I squared up, I only had time to take one dribble. When I took the one dribble, I put it up. It felt good. I saw it hit the glass and I said, 'Oh, it's fine.' It fell right there and I said, 'All right, it went in. Thank God.''

Wes Johnson and Scottie Reynolds long ago stole the attention for league player of the year, but away from the spotlight, Butler built a resume every bit as impressive. He is one of just three 2,000-point scorers at WVU (Jerry West is another) and has grown from an unheralded recruit to a bona fide All-American.

The Neers are back in the semifinals for the third time in as many years but haven't won a conference crown of any kind since 1984, when they took the Atlantic 10 title.

Could this be their year? They are the lone top seed left, so the odds are in their favor.

More than that, West Virginia could work its way into the NCAA tournament No. 1 seed conversation. If the Mountaineers win the Big East tournament, they'll be tough to keep out, a fact the players are keenly aware of.

"We felt like after we beat Villanova, we locked the No. 2 up,'' Butler said. "But if we win the Big East, why wouldn't we be No. 1?''
NEW YORK -- Could upset Thursday continue here in the Big East?

Cincinnati is certainly trying.

Down 19-9, the Bearcats fought back to make this a game. Only Joe Mazzulla's buzzer-beating three-pointer gave the Mountaineers the 26-23 lead at the break.

Some possible reasons why this is a game:

  • Mick Cronin said on Wednesday that his team wouldn't stand a chance at beating WVU unless it attacked the glass. Cincinnati has responded to the challenge. The Bearcats are beating the Mountaineers on the boards, 15-14 in the rebounding department. That's a crucial number for a WVU team that ordinarily beats its opponents by six rebounds per game.
  • The Bearcats are being smart with their shot selection. Instead of jacking up jumpers, Cincy is picking its spots. They've drained 3 of 7 boards, considerably better than the 4 of 18 they hurled at Louisville.

Big East's double bye bye

March, 11, 2010
3/11/10
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NEW YORK – When the Big East elected to change its tournament format two years ago, coaches had two goals: to open the doors to everyone instead of cutting the bottom four out of the Garden party and to protect the league’s elite after a grueling regular season with an extended vacation via a double bye.

Only problem?

[+] EnlargePitt
Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comPitt's loss to Notre Dame was the third upset in three tries at the Big East tournament on Thursday.
The double bye has turned into a double bye bye.

With Pittsburgh’s 50-45 loss to Notre Dame here this evening, three of the top four teams (Syracuse and Vilanova being the other two) have been dismissed from New York City early.

Mix in Connecticut and Pittsburgh’s quick exits last season and it’s easy to see why some coaches think the so-called advantage has become a disadvantage.

The league toyed with changing the format once again this year, but in the end declined, figuring three tournament changes in as many years would be disruptive if not downright confusing.

With more bad results, though, that feeling might change.

“We tend to listen to our coaches,’’ associate commissioner Dan Gavitt said. “When they want something to change, it changes. If they think a change would be a better path going into the NCAA tournament, then I’m sure we’ll look at it.’’

Jim Boeheim has screamed the loudest in favor of a change, telling the New York Daily News earlier this week, “I think the double-bye is awful. It’s a huge advantage to be playing instead of waiting.’’

History proves Boeheim right. Even before the double-bye was installed, teams who delayed their tournament start have had their share of troubles.

Since 2001, 14 of the 36 teams given a one- or two-game day off have lost in their first time on the court.

If the tourney were revised yet again, the most likely scenario would be a first-round similar to the NCAA tournament: 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, 3 vs. 14 and 4 vs. 13 on Tuesday. The winners would take Wednesday off while seeds 5-12 played and then the quarterfinals would roll on Thursday.

“It would also help the teams at the bottom potentially,’’ Gavitt said. “Trying to win five games here in five days is almost impossible.’’

But not everyone is so sure that the time off is the culprit.

Jamie Dixon, twice victimized in his first game in as many years, said the losses are more a testimony to the toughness of the league than the mini vacation.

"We just lost to one of the hottest teams in the country and they were a seven-seed," Dixon said. “I think this just speaks to the strength of the league."

Gavitt said that the feeling to eliminate the double bye wasn’t unanimous, that many coaches were in favor of the break.

Count Jay Wright among them. The Villanova coach sat out the first two days this year and last and said in both cases, the extra time off was more helpful than harmful.

“The NCAA tournament is important and this way, your top teams aren’t beat down,’’ Wright said. “I think we would trade that. We’d all trade that. We’re all ready. We’ve been playing so many games. There’s still a great advantage to only playing three games in a tournament and having a chance to win it.’’

Gavitt said the conversation most likely will come again in May at the conference’s annual meetings.

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