New York Colleges: 2012 Big East tournament

Rapid Reaction: Louisville 50, Cincinnati 44

March, 10, 2012
Overview: Louisville is your Big East tournament champion, for the second time in four years.

CincinnatiLouisvilleThe No. 7-seeded Cardinals, who won the title in 2009 and lost in the championship game to UConn last year, defeated No. 4 seed Cincinnati on Saturday night, 50-44 -- the Cardinals' fourth win in four days here in New York.

Cincinnati (24-10), playing in its first-ever Big East championship game, falls short, but should still feel very confident heading into next week's NCAA tournament after defeating Georgetown and Syracuse the past two days here.

Louisville (26-9), after a lackluster finish to the regular season, losing three of its past four, now enters the Big Dance with a world of momentum.

Turning point: The first half of this game wasn't pretty, to say the least. Louisville led 24-14 at intermission. Against Syracuse on Friday night, Cincinnati shot 8-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half. Tonight? The Bearcats were 0-for-9.

Cincinnati had a chance to cut the deficit to four with 12:12 left in the game, but Dion Dixon missed a pair of free throws. Louisville swiped the momentum right back when Kyle Kuric was fouled by Sean Kilpatrick on a 3-point attempt -- Kuric made all free throws to make it 37-28. That was the beginning of a 10-0 run to give the Cardinals their largest lead, 44-28 with 8:28 remaining.

Just when the Bearcats looked all but dead, they rallied down the homestretch. Cincinnati cut it to 48-44, and JaQuon Parker had two free throws with 28.7 seconds left to make it 48-46 -- but he missed both. Louisville closed it out from there.

Key player: Chris Smith had a game-high 15 points for Louisville, and Kuric added 13. But Peyton Siva was Louisville's most valuable player this week, and that continued on Saturday. Siva's numbers were a little more modest against Cincinnati -- 10 points, five assists, four rebouds -- but he was the co-pilot of this championship ship, along with coach Rick Pitino.

Siva was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.

Cashmere Wright led the Bearcats with 16 points.

Key stat: Cincinnati has been a poor free throw shooting team this season, and it cost them in a big way tonight. The Bearcats made just one of seven attempts, including those misses at critical times mentioned above.

Miscellaneous: This is the first time in Big East tournament history that the championship game did not feature at least one founding member. The times they are a changin'. ... This was the fourth time in the past seven years that a team seeded No. 7 or lower has won the Big East tournament.

What's next: Selection Sunday -- both these teams will hear their names called tomorrow.

Rapid Reaction: L'ville 64, Notre Dame 50

March, 9, 2012

Overview: It might not be quite as impressive as what UConn pulled off last year, but Louisville is on a heck of a run here in New York City.

The Cardinals, the No. 7 seed in this year's Big East tournament, are headed to the championship game after knocking off No. 3 seed Notre Dame, 64-50.

Notre DameLouisvilleLouisville has now won three games in three days, taking out No. 10 seed Seton Hall, No. 2 seed Marquette and now the Fighting Irish. The Cardinals had a somewhat disappointing regular season, but are rising up the charts now in terms of NCAA tournament seeding.

Notre Dame will be in the Big Dance, too, but is now 0-5 in Big East semifinal games. The Irish lost to Louisville in last year's semis, too.

Turning point: Notre Dame took a 15-9 lead on a layup by Eric Atkins with 12:42 remaining in the first half. That was its last field goal of the half, believe it or not. Louisville outscored Notre Dame 26-4 the rest of the way and led 35-19 at intermission. The Cardinals' pressure defense simply suffocated the Fighting Irish.

Things didn't get any better for Notre Dame in the second half. The Irish managed to cut the deficit to 12 early on, but then the Cardinals poured it on again. Louisville led by as many as 24, and cruised to victory.

Key player: Louisville point guard Peyton Siva has been the MVP of this tournament so far. The 6-foot junior just missed a triple-double on Friday night, finishing with 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Notre Dame big man Jack Cooley was named second-team All-Big East, but Louisville center Gorgui Dieng dominated him tonight. The 6-foot-11 sophomore finished with a game-high 16 points, making all eight of his shot attempts

Atkins had 12 points to lead Notre Dame.

Key stat: Notre Dame shot horribly on Friday night -- from everywhere. The Irish were 19-for-52 from the field (36.5 percent), 10-for-19 from the foul line (52.6 percent) -- and most importantly, 2-for-16 from 3-point range (12.5 percent).

Miscellaneous: Louisville has now been to the Big East title game in three of the past four seasons. The Cardinals won the tourney in 2009, and lost in the final to UConn last year.

What's next: Louisville will face No. 4 seed Cincinnati, which stunned top seed Syracuse earlier this evening, in the Big East championship game, at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN.

Notre Dame is headed back to South Bend to prepare for next week's Big Dance.

Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati 71, Syracuse 68

March, 9, 2012

Thoughts on Cincinnati's 71-68 upset of Syracuse on Friday:

Overview: Cincinnati is going where no Cincinnati team has gone before -- and Syracuse suddenly looks near-invincible no more.

In a stunning upset, in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,057 mostly Syracuse fans, No. 4 seed Cincinnati defeated the previously 31-1 and top-seeded Syracuse Orange 71-68, and advanced to its first Big East tournament championship game.

SyracuseCincinnatiThe Bearcats led from wire to wire and held off the Orange down the stretch. Syracuse will still be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament next week, but won't be quite as intimidating now.

Cincinnati (24-9) has its NCAA stock on the rise after back-to-back wins against Georgetown and Syracuse in New York.

Turning point: Cincinnati came out about as hot as you can get -- the Bearcats connected on eight of their first 10 3-point attempts and led by as many as 17 points in the first 20 minutes. Syracuse cut the deficit to 12, 35-23, at halftime.

Syracuse gradually whittled down the Cincinnati lead in the second half, all the way down to five -- and at one point Brandon Triche had two free throws to cut it to three with 4:10 left, but missed both, which was huge.

The two biggest shots of the game were a pair of corner treys by Sean Kilpatrick. The first, with 5:21 left, pushed Cincinnati's 55-50 lead to 58-50 and gave the Bearcats some much-need breathing room in the middle of Syracuse's push. The second, with 1:47 remaining, appeared to be the dagger, extending the lead from 62-55 to 65-55.

Syracuse made it interesting in the final seconds, thanks in large part to some missed free throws by Cincinnati. The Orange actually had the ball down 69-66 with 15 seconds left, but the Bearcats smartly fouled Dion Waiters before he could get off a game-tying 3-point attempt. Waiters made his two free throws, but then Cincinnati was able to inbound the ball, avoid a foul, and threw it ahead for a dunk to wrap things up.

Key player: Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates had just three points in the first half, when his team was lights-out from beyond the arc. But he he came up huge in the second half, with 15 points, cleaning up off the glass after some misses from the perimeter. He also had seven rebounds.

Kilpatrick, his teammate, also had 18 points and hit those two huge 3-pointers. The White Plains, N.Y., native will surely treasure doing this in front of the home crowd forever.

Waiters did everything he could to carry Syracuse on his back, with 28 points off the bench, including shooting 7-for-10 from 3-point range.

Key stat: Cincinnati, which shot just 2-for-21 from 3-point range in its double-overtime win over Georgetown on Thursday, shot 10-for-22 from beyond the arc against Syracuse.

Syracuse, which turned the ball over just four times in its win over UConn on Thursday, had 15 turnovers against Cincinnati.

Miscellaneous: Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was in attendance for the game, seated courtside.

What's next: Cincinnati will play the winner of No. 3 seed Notre Dame versus No. 7 seed Louisville in the Big East title game, at 9 p.m. Saturday.

Syracuse heads back north to lick its wounds and get ready for the Big Dance.

Rapid Reaction: Notre Dame 57, USF 53

March, 9, 2012
Overview: Notre Dame is in the Big East tournament semifinals -- and the Fighting Irish are awfully fortunate to be there.

No. 6 seed South Florida had No. 3-seed Notre Dame on the ropes in the final minute of regulation Thursday night, but made several critical mistakes that allowed the game to go into overtime (see more below). And the Irish took care of business from there.

Notre DameSouth FloridaIt's a crushing loss for South Florida (20-13), who were looking to go to the Big East semis for the very first time. It also means the Bulls' NCAA tournament status is very much up in the air -- a win against Notre Dame (22-10) would have essentially sealed a bid to the Big Dance.

Turning point: The first half was a strange one. South Florida hit eight of its first 10 shots, opening up a 20-8 lead -- but then went into a nine-minute, 12-second drought, during which it fell behind 26-20. The Bulls closed to within 28-26 at intermission.

The game remained tight throughout the second half -- and then things went haywire in the final minute. First Victor Rudd turned the ball over with 40 seconds left and the Bulls up 45-42, which led to two Notre Dame free throws. Then the Bulls inbounded the ball, broke the press and found Jawanza Poland for a wide-open layup -- but he missed it.

Poland was fouled in the scramble for the ball, went to the foul line -- and missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Then Poland tried to intercept a pass on defense and was whistled for a foul -- Pat Connaughton made one of two free throws, and we ended up in overtime.

The big play in OT was a trey by Eric Atkins -- who didn't score a single point in regulation -- that pushed Notre Dame's lead from 51-50 to 54-50 with 30 seconds remaining. South Florida's Toarlyn Fitzpatrick hit a 3 with three seconds left to make it 54-53, then Notre Dame was fouled and hit one of two free throws. And on South Florida's last-ditch chance to tie or win the game, having to go the length of the floor with one second left, the Bulls threw the ball out of bounds. A perfect ending.

Key player: Notre Dame had three players in double figures, but the biggest player of the night was Atkins. The sophomore guard averages 12.4 points per game, but had a goose egg for 40 minutes, and it's tough to stay in a game mentally when you haven't broken through on the scoreboard for that long. But he finally got his chance in overtime, and he delivered when it counted most. Atkins had six points in overtime, and also had six assists in the game.

Rudd had 16 points to lead South Florida.

Key stat: Notre Dame outscored South Florida at the foul line, 13 to 3. South Florida shot just five free throws on the night.

Miscellaneous: South Florida point guard Anthony Collins suffered a finger injury on his left hand late in the second half, and sounded like he was in intense pain. He did return to the game with his fingers taped, but that's something to keep an eye on with USF going forward.

What's next: Notre Dame will play No. 7 seed Louisville in Friday night's second Big East semifinal, which should tip at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET. The two teams met once in the regular season, and it was a thriller -- a 67-65 Notre Dame win in double overtime at Louisville.

For South Florida, it's nervous time, until Selection Sunday rolls around and they see if their name is called.

Overview: Louisville has crashed the party and joined the Big East Final Four.

The No. 7-seeded Cardinals upset No. 2 seed Marquette on Thursday night, advancing to the Big East tournament semifinals.

MarquetteLouisvilleThe Golden Eagles (25-7), who finished 14-4 in the Big East during the regular season -- their most-ever wins in the conference -- leave New York without a single victory. It's the first time since 2006 -- its inaugural season in the Big East -- that Marquette did not win a game in the tournament.

Turning point: Louisville looked like an entirely different team in the early going than the one that defeated Seton Hall Wednesday night. After scoring 23 in the first 20 minutes against the Pirates, the Cardinals erupted for 50 tonight, leading 50-40 at the break.

Marquette had cut it to 54-50 with 13:29 remaining in the game, when a key sequence occurred. First, Jae Crowder -- the Big East Player of the Year -- picked up his fourth foul with 12:39 left, and exited the game. Soon after, a Peyton Siva offensive rebound led to a Kyle Kuric 3-point attempt, which he buried to make it 57-50. The momentum seemed to have swung back Louisville's way again at that point, and Marquette never got closer than seven the rest of the way.

Key player: For the second night in a row, Siva seemed to be everywhere, and in the middle of everything. The 6-foot junior point guard finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists and four steals -- a tremendous performance.

Kuric had a team-high 20 points for Louisville. Darius Johnson-Odom had 23 points to lead Marquette.

Key stat: Twenty-six -- that's how many turnovers Marquette committed tonight. Louisville's pressure defense is tough, but the Golden Eagles have some pretty good ball-handlers. Hard to win a game against anybody with that many TO's.

Miscellaneous: Hope you enjoyed those neon orange Louisville uniforms, because you'll be seeing them again on Friday, since the Cardinals are guaranteed to be the lower seed.

What's next: Louisville will play the winner of No. 3 seed Notre Dame versus No. 6 seed South Floria, Friday at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET.

Marquette heads back to Wisconsin to regroup -- the Golden Eagles should still receive a pretty high seed in the Big Dance.

Rapid Reax: Cincinnati 72, Georgetown 70

March, 8, 2012

Overview: Our first game of the day, between Syracuse and UConn, was going to be tough to beat

But this one did it.

GeorgetownCincinnatiCincinnati, the No. 4 seed, ousted No. 5 seed Georgetown 72-70 in double overtime -- a game that was ugly for most of regulation, but then thrilling in the final minutes and the extra periods.

The Bearcats (23-9) advance to the Big East semifinals, while the Hoyas (24-7) go home with just one win in this tournament. Both teams' spots in the NCAA tournament are already secure.

Turning points: Too many to count. Georgetown led 30-24 at the half, and the second half went back and forth. Georgetown increased its lead to nine, 36-27; Cincinnati closed to 36-35. Georgetown went up 49-38; Cincinnati cut it to 52-51, and then went ahead 53-52 on a Yancy Gates tip-in with 37 seconds left. But with the score 54-52, Georgetown freshman Otto Porter connected on a short jumper with 3.6 seconds left to tie the game, and we ended up in overtime.

In the first overtime, Georgetown had the ball trailing 64-62 with 12.9 seconds left coming out of a timeout, but was struggling to find a good look. With the clock winding down, center Henry Sims drove down the lane from the top of the key and laid it in at the buzzer -- a beautiful move, especially for a big man -- to tie the score at 64.

In the second overtime, with the score knotted at 70, Cincinnati's Cashmere Wright drove the lane and banked it in to make it 72-70 with 7.6 seconds left. After a timeout, Georgetown went the length of the floor and tried to make magic one more time -- but Sims' jumper from the top of the key was off the mark.

Key player: Gates came alive for the Bearcats in the second half and the two overtimes, finishing with 23 points and eight rebounds. He scored 10 of Cincinnati's final 11 points in regulation.

For Georgetown, Sims has nothing to hang his head about. The senior, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds against Pittsburgh on Wednesday, followed up that performance with 22 points and 15 rebounds on Thursday.

Key stat: Georgetown shot just 8-for-15 from the foul line -- a couple more made free throws could have made all the difference.

Amazingly, Cincinnati shot just 2-for-21 from 3-point range, yet pulled out a victory.

What's next: Syracuse and Cincinnati will tangle at 7 p.m. ET Friday. The teams played once during the regular season -- a 60-53 Syracuse win in Cincinnati. The Orange were without starting center Fab Melo.

Georgetown returns home and gets ready for Selection Sunday.

Rapid Reaction: Syracuse 58, UConn 55

March, 8, 2012

Overview: There will be no miraculous five-wins-in-five-days run this time around.

Connecticut, which pulled off that feat a year ago here in New York, en route to a national championship, had its 2012 Big East tournament run end in the quarterfinals, losing 58-55 to top-seeded Syracuse.

SyracuseConnecticutThe Huskies almost pulled off the upset in a game more worthy of a semi or championship final. But Syracuse advances to the actual semifinals.

UConn (20-13, 8-10 Big East) can at least go home feeling confident it will hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Two wins here the past two days, plus such a strong showing against the Orange, should be enough to put the Huskies in the field of 68.

Turning point: Syracuse opened up an eight-point lead, 20-12 with 7:49 left to go in the first half, on the backs of its talented second unit. But UConn withstood the surge and closed to within 27-24 at halftime.

UConn jumped out on top early in the second half and actually held the lead for several minutes, by as many as eight points. But Syracuse stormed back -- and the key sequence actually began with a great play by UConn. With the Huskies leading 47-43 and just under eight minutes remaining, Andre Drummond had a tremendous blocked shot -- only problem is, the ball wound up in the hands of Syracuse's James Southerland, who drained a trey to make it 47-46.

Dion Waiters -- another reserve -- nailed a jumper to give Syracuse back the lead 48-47. And on the Orange's next position, Southerland connected again from deep to make it 51-47. Syracuse had the momentum back, and never relinquished the lead again.

Key player: Waiters had a team-high 18 points for Syracuse, but it was Southerland who hit the biggest shots, scoring all 10 of his points in the second half. He hit another important jumper later on, pushing the Syracuse lead to 55-49 with 1:14 remaining. No other coach in the country can bring as many talented players off the bench as Jim Boeheim can.

Shabazz Napier had 15 points to lead UConn. Jeremy Lamb was held to 10 points.

Key stat: Syracuse had just four turnovers in this game. You read that correctly -- four turnovers. That's outstanding. UConn had 10.

UConn shot 5-for-10 from the foul line -- a couple of more made free throws would have made a big difference.

Miscellaneous Syracuse is now 31-1 -- but the Orange have played several close games, and have always found a way to win. The Orange are 5-0 in games decided by three points or fewer -- and all five of those have been within Syracuse's past 10 games. The previous one? A 71-69 win at UConn on Feb. 25.

What's next: Syracuse will face the winner of our next game, No. 4 seed Cincinnati versus No. 5 seed Georgetown, in the first Big East semifinal, at 7 p.m. ET Friday.

UConn heads home and prepares to find out its NCAA tournament opponent and destination.

Overview: Seton Hall will have to sweat it out until Selection Sunday.

The Pirates had a chance to put themselves on much firmer ground with their second win in two nights here at the Big East tournament. Instead, the No. 10 seed fell to No. 7-seeded Louisville, 61-55, and will be on pins and needles for the next four days, with a record of 20-12, 8-10 in the conference.

Louisville (23-9, 10-8 Big East) can already rest assured that it will be in the NCAA Tournament field of 68. But now the Cardinals will play in the Big East quarterfinals, and snap their two-game losing streak to end the regular season.

LouisvilleSeton HallTurning point: Both teams were inept on offense in the first half. Louisville shot 27.6 percent from the field, Seton Hall 25 percent, and the Cardinals led 23-22 at intermission.

Seton Hall remained cold in the second half, but Louisville started to knock down shots. The Cardinals opened up on a 16-4 run to make it 39-26, and the key sequence of the game came at the end of that stretch. With the score 34-26, Peyton Siva intercepted a Herb Pope inbounds pass and went in for a slam on the other end. On the very next possession, Seton Hall turned it over again, and Siva made them pay again with a 3-pointer. Suddenly the Cardinals were up 13.

The Pirates rallied late, and cut the deficit to five on three different occasions -- but the Cardinals answered each and every time with a bucket. Then in the final minute, Jordan Theodore hit a trey to cut the lead to 59-55 -- and then at 60-55 he had a pair of decent looks from downtown to cut it to two, but both were off the mark.

Key player: Siva was all over the floor, and in the middle of the key sequences mentioned above -- he also led the Cardinals with 14 points. But the man with the biggest presence in this game was Gorgui Dieng. Louisville's 6-foot-11 center scored just six points, but had 10 rebounds and six blocked shots -- plus many more intimidations. He was the biggest force in the game.

Pope had 11 points and 15 rebounds for Seton Hall. Theodore had 17 points.

Miscellaneous: The shooting numbers tell the story. Seton Hall was 17-for-52 from the field (32.7 percent) and 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) from 3-point range. Louisville wasn't a whole lot better, but the Pirates had to shoot better, particularly from beyond the arc, to win this game. ... Turnovers also really hurt the Hall. The Pirates had 17, to just nine for the Cardinals. ... Louisville is a poor free throw shooting team, and it could cost them in a big spot in March. The Cardinals were just 17-for-30 (56.7 percent) from the charity stripe tonight.

What's next: Louisville will face No. 2 seed Marquette in a Big East quarterfinal on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.

Seton Hall's fate is the hands of the selection committee. And its fans will spend the next 93 hours or so monitoring every media bracket projection they can find.

Rapid Reaction: Georgetown 64, Pitt 52

March, 7, 2012

Overview: It's official -- Pittsburgh will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.

Pitt's nightmarish 2011-12 season is finally over, after the No. 13-seeded Panthers lost to No. 5 seed Georgetown in the second round of the Big East tournament Wednesday afternoon. A season which began with promise -- Pitt was picked to finish fourth in the conference -- went off the rails with a nonconference loss to Wagner on Dec. 23, followed by seven straight losses to begin Big East play.

PittsburghGeorgetownGeorgetown went in the opposite direction. Picked to finish 10th, the Hoyas instead finished tied for fourth, and continue to look like a team capable of going deep in this tournament, and the Big Dance as well.

Turning point: Pittsburgh actually led this game for most of the first half, but a 12-0 run by Georgetown over the final 4:07 gave the Hoyas a 31-23 lead at intermission. After a quick 6-0 flurry by the Panthers to start the second half, the Hoyas reasserted control, for good. Back-to-back treys by Greg Whittington and Otto Porter turned a 31-29 game into a 37-29 game, gave the Hoyas some breathing room, and they poured it on from there.

Key player: Porter, who did not make the All-Big East Rookie Team despite averaging 9.0 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds for Georgetown, was excellent -- particularly in the second half. Porter finished with 20 points and six rebounds, with 14 of his points coming after intermission. Center Henry Sims was outstanding as well, with 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

Also, kudos to Ashton Gibbs, who scored 14 points in his final game at Pittsburgh. Gibbs' senior year certainly didn't go the way he envisioned, but the Scotch Plains, N.J., native had an excellent collegiate career.

Miscellaneous: Georgetown trotted out a starting lineup of players 6-foot-10, 6-8, 6-8, 6-8 and 6-2, with Porter joining the starting lineup -- that's some serious size. ... The Hoyas outscored the Panthers 22 to 11 at the foul line, which obviously made a big difference.

What's next: Georgetown will face No. 4 seed Cincinnati in the Big East quarterfinals, Thursday at approximately 2:30 p.m.

Pittsburgh heads home with a final record of 17-16, 5-13 in the Big East.

Rapid Reax: UConn 71, W. Virginia 67

March, 7, 2012

Overview: Two down, three to go.

Connecticut, which trailed West Virginia for almost the entire second half, by as many as 11, staged a furious rally in the final five minutes to send the game into overtime, then pulled out the win in the extra period. Another magical Madison Square Garden moment for the Huskies, who are now two-fifths of the way to repeating their incredible five-wins-in-five-days performance in the Big East tournament last year.

UConn (20-12, 8-10 Big East) also likely locked up an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament with the victory.

For West Virginia (19-13, 9-9 Big East), it's a bitter defeat -- and its final game as a member of the Big East conference. The Mountaineers will be members of the Big 12 next season. For now, they'll have to wait and see if their name is called on Selection Sunday.

Turning point: After a tight first 20 minutes, West Virginia took control of the game early in the second half. With UConn trailing 61-52 with 4:58 remaining, West Virginia seemed firmly in control -- but then Shabazz Napier took over. Doing his best Kemba Walker impression, Napier scored nine straight points for the Huskies down the stretch, including back-to-back steals that led to layups, the second of which tied the game at 63. We ended up in overtime, tied at 65.

Napier fouled out with 2:35 left in OT, but his teammates picked up -- Jeremy Lamb in particular. Lamb hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer off a curl screen to break a 67-all tie with 1:05 left. The Huskies shut out the Mountaineers the rest of the way.

Key player: Napier was brilliant in the second half. After scoring just four points in the first 20 minutes and shooting just 1-for-7 from the field, he erupted for 20 points in the second half and finished with a game-high 26, to go along with six assists and four rebounds.

Lamb added 22 points, 12 of which came in the first half. He disappeared for a while in the second half, but then made the huge shot in OT.

For West Virginia, Kevin Jones -- the conference's leading scorer and rebounder on the season -- had one more outstanding Big East game, with 25 points and 10 rebounds.

Miscellaneous: UConn is going to have to rebound better to advance any farther in this tournament. The Huskies were killed on the offensive glass by the Mountaineers, 26-to-8, leading to 25 second-chance points. ... UConn also struggled from the foul line for the second straight game, making just 14 of 22. Ryan Boatright missed three of four in the final minute of OT, but finally got one down to make it a two-possession game.

What's next: UConn will play No. 1 seed Syracuse in a wonderful Big East quarterfinal matchup, Thursday at noon. West Virginia goes home and faces a few days of uncertainty leading up to Selection Sunday.

W2W4: Seton Hall vs. Louisville

March, 7, 2012
Here are three things to watch for when Seton Hall (20-11, 8-10 Big East) takes on Louisville (22-9, 10-8 Big East) on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on ESPN, or via ESPN3.

WHAT'S AT STAKE: A spot in the Big East tournament quarterfinals. But more importantly, No. 10 seed Seton Hall can basically lock up an NCAA tournament at-large bid with a win over No. 7 seed Louisville. The Pirates could make the field of 68 even with a loss. But they'll sleep a lot better leading up to Selection Sunday if they pick up another victory.

These two teams played once this season -- a 60-51 Louisville win at Seton Hall on Jan. 28.

The winner of this game will face No. 2 seed Marquette on Thursday night.

THE PIRATES: Seton Hall got a desperately needed win in the opening round of this tournament, crushing Providence 79-47. That will help erase the sting of that gawd-awful 86-58 loss at last-place DePaul in the Pirates' regular season finale -- a huge blemish on their NCAA tournament resume.

If the Pirates are going to win this game, they'll do it on the backs of their two senior leaders, as usual -- point guard Jordan Theodore (15.9 ppg, 6.9 apg) and power forward Herb Pope (15.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg). Theodore had 13 points and 13 assists against Providence, while Pope had 16 points and six rebounds.

Seton Hall is prone to inconsistency -- you just never know what you're going to get from this team. But if they're shooting the ball well from the perimeter, they can beat just about anybody.

THE CARDINALS: Louisville can already rest assured that it will be in the NCAA tournament field, but the Cardinals -- who received a first-round bye in this tournament -- would like to pick up some momentum heading into the Big Dance.

Rick Pitino's club has lost three of its past four games, including its final two of the regular season, to South Florida and Syracuse.

Louisville is led in scoring by senior swingman Kyle Kuric (12.9 ppg) and sophomore guard Russ Smith (11.9 ppg), a sparkplug off the bench.

The Cardinals get after you defensively, as usual -- fifth in the country in field goal defense (37.9 percent) and seventh in steals (9.2 spg). But offensively, they are not a good shooting team this year.

Rutgers' season ends on a sour note

March, 7, 2012
NEW YORK -- When the final horn mercifully sounded Tuesday night, just before 11:30 p.m., Mike Rice wasted no time exiting the Madison Square Garden floor.

After the perfunctory handshakes with the opposing coaches and players, the Rutgers head coach stopped on a dime, turned and walked briskly back toward his team’s locker room, head down, shaking his noggin the whole way.

Who could blame him?

Rice had just watched his team go from up four at halftime to down 21 at the buzzer, and its season end in the process -- a 70-49 loss to Villanova in the opening round of the Big East tournament.

“Obviously it’s very hard to win a basketball game only scoring three field goals in the second half,” said Rice at the postgame news conference.

That’s right -- Rutgers had just three buckets, total, in the final 20 minutes of play. The Scarlet Knights shot 3-for-25 -- that translates to 12 percent, for those of you without your calculators handy.

Those numbers are so ugly, they might break your calculator.

Meanwhile Villanova, which trailed Rutgers 34-30 at intermission, outscored Rutgers 40-15 in the second half.

“We made some mental errors that led to their transition, led to their wide-open looks in the paint, and it just snowballed from there,” said Rice.

Villanova’s second-team All-Big East point guard Maalik Wayns schooled the Scarlet Knights to the tune of 28 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Rutgers freshman Eli Carter almost matched him, with 23 points of his own. But none of his teammates scored more than seven.

“A young team might not have responded as well as I would have liked, but these things happen,” Rice said. “Learn from it. Hopefully use that as motivation in the spring and the summer to improve, to get stronger, to maybe be able to finish some of the shots down in the paint. But that’s life when you have a very young basketball team.”

Rutgers is indeed a very young team, with mostly freshmen and sophomores in the rotation. The Scarlet Knights won’t be happy with their 14-18 final record, or the way they played in the final 20 minutes of their season. But there were a few bright spots, such as wins over Florida and UConn in late December and early January, when both teams were ranked in the Top 10.

Carter, a freshman, was the team’s leading scorer at 13.8 points per game. Several other young players, like fellow freshman guards Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears, showed promise at times. And with no seniors on the roster (besides a pair of walk-ons), the entire nucleus will be back -- plus Wally Judge, a talented transfer from Kansas State.

Junior forward Dane Miller, who will be the team’s senior leader next season, talked about how the team can improve after the game. “I think a couple things that we’ve got to work on is just attention to details,” Miller said. “Being locked in and being real focused on both ends of the court. I think now, as the games go by, we saw that you can’t win a lot of games like that without being focused. We just need to come in during the offseason and listen to Coach Rice and the whole coaching staff and we should be very successful.”

“We’re going to lock them in the weight room, too,” Rice said, chuckling.

That was about the only chuckle we saw from Rice after halftime Tuesday night. Rutgers has now endured six straight losing seasons, including the last two under his watch. But Rice sounded as confident as ever after the game, despite such a tough loss.

“It’s going to happen,” Rice said. “Rutgers is going to happen.”

Rapid Reaction: Villanova 70, Rutgers 49

March, 6, 2012

Overview: Rutgers' second season under coach Mike Rice ends in very disappointing fashion, as the 11th-seeded Scarlet Knights are blown out by the 14th-seeded Villanova Wildcats in the opening round of the Big East tournament.

This game was there for the taking -- Rutgers actually led by four at the half! But things took a very different turn after intermission (see below).

Meanwhile Villanova, which had a very underwhelming regular season to say the least, goes on to play another day.

Turning point: Rutgers trailed Villanova 24-16 with 6:52 remaining in the first half, but from there the Scarlet Knights went on an 18-2 run to take a 34-26 lead, and led 34-30 at intermission. Rutgers shot 7-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half.

Villanova got off to a fast start in the second half, while Rutgers went ice-cold shooting the ball and had turnover problems, too. The Wildcats took control of the game with a 12-2 run to start the half, and never looked back. The Scarlet Knights' offensive numbers in the second half were simply abominable (see below). The outcome was a formality in the final minutes.

Key player: Maalik Wayns, Villanova's second-team All-Big East guard, was outstanding as usual, finishing with 28 points, six rebounds and four assists. Rutgers simply could not handle him.

For the Scarlet Knights, freshman guard Eli Carter was excellent, scoring 23 points. But no one else scored more than seven points.

Miscellaneous: Rutgers shot 13-for-30 in the first half (43.3 percent) overall, and as we said earlier, 7-for-11 from downtown. As for the second half? The Scarlet Knights were 3-for-25 (12 percent) -- it doesn't get much worse than that.

What's next: Villanova will face the No. 6 seed, South Florida, on Wednesday night at approximately 9:30 p.m.

Rutgers' season is over -- the Scarlet Knights finish with a record of 14-18, 6-12 in Big East regular season play.

Halftime: Rutgers 34, Villanova 30

March, 6, 2012
Here are three halftime observations from the second game of the day here at the Big East tournament:

LATE SURGE: Rutgers trailed Villanova 24-16 with 6:52 remaining in the first half, but from there the Scarlet Knights ripped off an 18-2 stretch to take a 34-26 lead, and lead 34-30 at intermission. Rutgers god red-hot from the perimeter -- how hot? Well ...

THIS HOT: Rutgers shot a blistering 7-for-11 from downtown in the first 20 minutes. Eli Carter, who has a game-high 15 points, connected on three of four. Myles Mack has hit a pair, and Dane Miller and Jerome Seagears have one apiece. Coach Mike Rice said after Rutgers beat St. John's three nights ago that if his team just hit open shots, they'd be dangerous.

THE OTHER SIDE: Villanova is hanging in there by outscoring Rutgers 8-1 on the foul line. Maalik Wayns has nine points to lead the Wildcats.

Rapid Reaction: Pitt 73, St. John's 59

March, 6, 2012

Overview: St. John's, which had won at least one game in the past three Big East tournaments, exits in the first round in 2012. The Red Storm, seeded 12th and playing on their home floor, lose to 13th-seeded Pittsburgh, handily.

No one expected this six-man, inexperienced St. John's team to make a deep run in this tourney -- no one thinking rationally, anyway. But a first-day loss is disappointing.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh -- which hadn't won a Big East tournament game since 2008, and had an extremely disappointing regular season -- moves on.

Turning point: After falling behind 8-2 early, St. John's showed great resolve in rallying to take a 26-20 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half. But then Pittsburgh turned it up a notch, closing the half on a 13-2 run to take a 33-28 lead into the locker room.

St. John's never recovered. Pitt quickly expanded the lead to double digits in the second half, and was in control of the game from there. Moe Harkless tried his best to carry the Red Storm on his back (see more below), but he got little help from his teammates. The Panthers continued to knock down perimeter shots, and starting cleaning up on the offensive glass as well. The Red Storm had no rally in them this time around.

Key player: Harkless, who is expected to be named the Big East Rookie of the Year at a news conference later today, had a fabulous finish to his freshman season. The 6-foot-8 Queens native finished with 25 points and nine rebounds, making 10 of 16 shots -- one of his best games of the season.

Senior guard Ashton Gibbs led the way for Pittsburgh with 20 points, knocking down four treys.

Miscellaneous: St. John's has been a poor shooting team all season long, particularly from behind the 3-point line, and that reared its ugly ahead again today. The Red Storm shot 22-for-66 from the field (33.3 percent), and 2-for-11 from beyond the arc (18.2 percent). ... D'Angelo Harrison had an outstanding freshman season for St. John's, but he really struggled today -- 4-for-18 from the field, 12 points.

What's next: Pittsburgh will play No. 5 seed Georgetown in the second round, on Wednesday at approximately 2:30 p.m.

As for St. John's? This long, strange season is over. Time to turn its full attention to bringing in some much-needed reinforcements in the spring signing period. Hopefully the next time St. John's takes the floor for a game, Steve Lavin will be back on the sideline, too.