Team of the Week:
It’s hard to believe that six years after the South Florida Bulls joined the Big East Conference, they are just now on their first three-game conference win streak, but that is just the case. After Sunday afternoon’s shocking 70-61 upset against Pittsburgh, the Bulls were ranked ninth in the conference, putting them in prime position to make a deep postseason run.
Led by high-scoring junior guard Dominique Jones, who is averaging 26.8 points per game in conference play, the Bulls started their streak by defeating the Providence Friars in overtime on the road and then won consecutive hard-fought battles against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh. However, the team is not a one-man wrecking crew. Forward Augustus Gilchrist is averaging 19 points per game, and forward Jarrid Famous is averaging 11.5 points and eight rebounds per game. Pending last night’s result on the road against Georgetown, the Bulls may be on their way to their best Big East finish in the school’s history.
Player of the Week:
Jimmy Butler, Marquette
The Marquette Golden Eagles have made a name for themselves this season by coming up painfully short in all of their conference losses; their five Big East defeats are by a combined 11 points.
The Golden Eagles also were without a true conference road win after being upset by the DePaul Blue Demons on Jan. 20. Junior swingman Jimmy Butler put a stop to both of those unfortunate trends.
After scoring 15 in a win against Rutgers, Butler made sure they didn’t lose another close game on the road to Connecticut by sinking a clutch leaner with 2.8 seconds left.
His 21 points led the Golden Eagles to a 70-68 victory. The Golden Eagles will need Butler’s production this week when they try to improve upon their disappointing 4-5 record in conference play.
The Eagles play at Providence on Saturday.
After racing out to the best start in school history, the Villanova Wildcats are now about to face a murderer’s row of Big East talent in the upcoming weeks. In a three-day span they will face two of the top four teams in the Big East: the Georgetown Hoyas and the West Virginia Mountaineers. They will also play on the road against both Pittsburgh and Syracuse before the month is over.
The Wildcats are currently 8-0 against Big East opponents, but only one of those wins has come against a team with a winning-record in conference play. If the ‘Cats want to hold onto their No. 2 ranking in the coming weeks, they will need to play their best basketball of the regular season.
The team is currently scoring 85 points per game, which is the third highest point total in the country, but it has been their defense that has been impressive as of late. During Tuesday’s 10-point win against Seton Hall, the Wildcats limited the Pirates to only 71 points, 11 points fewer than their season average.
Game of the Week:
Villanova at West Virginia: Feb. 8
As noted above, the Wildcats will have a tough time remaining undefeated in the Big East. The Wildcats and the Mountaineers were the preseason favorites to win the Big East title, and both teams have shown that they are more than capable, along with Syracuse, of winning the conference crown.
Villanova has won 11 games in a row, which is the best start to conference play in school history. The Mountaineers are third in the conference and were on a four-game winning streak as of Tuesday night. West Virginia hasn’t lost at home since falling 72-71 to Syracuse Jan. 16.
In the last matchup between the two teams on Feb. 13, 2009, West Virginia forward Da’Sean Butler scored a career-high 43 points against the Wildcats, and the Mountaineers defeated Villanova at home, 93-72.
The key for a Villanova victory is its frontcourt defense. The Mountaineers’ top three scorers are all forwards, and if the ‘Cats can limit their opponent’s points in the paint, then they will likely come away with the win.