BIG EAST: Marquette up: Golden Eagles atop Big East

David Cassilo




When Hasheem Thabeet first stepped onto campus in Storrs, Conn., it took just once glance at his 7-foot-3-inch frame to realize that he would be the defensive presence Head Coach Jim Calhoun always looks for. Now in the third year of his Huskies career, Thabeet has developed into one of the best big men in the country, and perhaps the greatest defensive player ever in the Big East.

The greatest performance of his young career came last Saturday against Providence. In a game where UConn dominated 68-51, Thabeet recorded his first career triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. It was the first Big East triple-double to include blocks since former Cincinnati forward Eric Hicks did it Jan. 7, 2006, against Marquette.

Thabeet once again stepped up in a crucial matchup with No. 5 Louisville on Monday. In a game that UConn dominated from the opening tip, Thabeet was once again a major factor defensively, blocking four shots and changing many others. He also showed his offensive game as he recorded his tenth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Despite his progress on offense, Thabeet will go down in history for his defense. He ranks first all-time in the conference with 4.47 blocks per game in Big East place. He is also already sixth all-time in total Big East blocks with 201. Thabeet only sits 46 blocks behind former Georgetown center Patrick Ewing for the record, and it may be a number he will remarkably reach in his junior season.



Coming into Big East play this season, Pittsburgh, Louisville and Connecticut were the teams being tossed around in the discussion about who was the conference’s premier team. For several reasons, including a new head coach and a bad loss to Dayton, Marquette was left out of that talk. However, after winning its first eight games of the Big East season, the Golden Eagles are getting the respect they deserve as they sit atop the Big East Standings.

This past week was an especially daunting task, as they took on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend and then returned home to battle the Georgetown Hoyas. The game against Notre Dame looked to be particularly difficult as the Fighting Irish were coming off of a home loss and had not lost consecutive games at the Joyce Center since 2006. Marquette, however, was unfazed as they knocked off Notre Dame 71-64. Senior guard Jerel McNeal had another impressive game, leading the Golden Eagles with 27 points, while fellow senior guard Dominic James contributed in a variety of ways, finishing with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

The Golden Eagles came home on Saturday and once again had their hands full with a young Hoyas team. After a first half that ended with the score tied at 42, Marquette dominated the second half and won 94-82. McNeal was once again spectacular, this time adding 11 assists and 26 points. Senior guard Wesley Matthews and junior forward Lazar Hayward also were effective as they both finished with 23 points. With two soft opponents on the horizon, Marquette could be 10-0 in the Big East when they travel to Villanova.



After missing the NCAA Tournament for two consecutive seasons, it looked like Head Coach Jim Boeheim would not have to sweat out Selection Sunday when his team found itself ranked No. 8 in the nation. Following three straight losses to Pittsburgh, Louisville and Providence, Boeheim may once again be getting nervous.

The schedule ahead does not get any easier for the Orange. Saturday they travel to the Wachovia Center to take on No.17 Villanova. Their following game will be a trip up to Connecticut to take on the Huskies on Wednesday, Feb. 11. The two road games will be a tough task for a Syracuse team that only has one win away from home in Big East play.

Perhaps the biggest question for Syracuse is the health of junior guard Andy Rautins, who missed the loss to Providence with an ankle injury he suffered against Louisville. The Orange is not a deep team, usually only playing seven players, so without him its lack of depth has been revealed. For Syracuse to make another rise up the rankings they will need to have him healthy.



No matter what their records are, any time Boeheim’s Orange takes on Jim Calhoun’s Connecticut Huskies, the game is sure to be full of both history and intensity. This year, with both teams part of perhaps the greatest conference in college basketball history, all eyes will be on Storrs, Conn.

Their rivalry is dead even, with the Big East series tied at 25. The Orange and Huskies have also met three out of the last four years at the Big East Tournament, with Syracuse winning each time.

When they face-off on Wednesday, the key to the game will be how UConn’s offense matches up against Syracuse’s defense. The Orange are famous for its zone defense and with the Huskies’ weakness their outside shooting, it is a perfect mismatch for Syracuse.

For Connecticut to win, guards A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson must shoot the ball well to keep Syracuse honest defensively. If Syracuse is to pull off an upset, Rautins must not only play, but also be effective shooting the ball.


Both Providence and Marquette have four 1,000 point scorers in their lineup… UConn forward Jeff Adrien is the Big East active leader in double-doubles with 42 … Providence center Randall Hanke and Syracuse forward Arinze Onuaku have the top two field goal percentages in the country.