MBB: Big East tournament recap notes

Kyle Scudilla

The Georgetown Hoyas, already the Big East’s regular season champions, rode late-season momentum to a convincing championship victory over Pittsburgh to capture the conference tournament title as well. In honor of Madison Square Garden’s 25th anniversary as the host of the Big East tournament, here are the 25 most important things about this year’s edition of the Big East’s postseason war.

1. Just like many fans, Seton Hall, South Florida, Rutgers and Cincinnati viewed the tournament on television. The super-sized Big East, in its second year of existence, claimed four more victims this year, counting them as the only schools in Division I who didn’t have the opportunity to win their conference tournament. For South Florida, the only school to be left out both years, “just an honor to be nominated” has a whole new meaning.

2. In the Garden’s Wednesday “popcorn game” matinee, No. 9 Villanova took down No. 8 DePaul 75-67, thanks to the emerging dynamic duo of Curtis Sumpter and Scottie Reynolds. Sumpter controlled the first half and finished with 25 points, while Reynolds tied Kerry Kittles’ Villanova record of 29 points in a Big East tournament game.

3. No. 5 Syracuse finally put the Huskies’ miserable season to sleep, beating them 78-65. Demetris Nichols’ 28 points teamed with Eric Devendorf’s 19 points on 9-of-16 shooting were enough to eliminate No. 12 Connecticut, which shot just 35 percent from the field, including a woeful 1-for-7 performance by 7-foot-3-inch Hasheem Thabeet.

4. No. 7 West Virginia tipped off Wednesday’s nightcap by hanging on to its slim NCAA hopes, thanks to an offensive barrage against No. 10 Providence that led to a 92-79 victory. The Mountaineers knocked down a Big East tournament record 17 3-pointers, while stroking it at 55 percent from downtown. Frank Young and Alex Ruoff each had five 3-pointers and 21 points apiece to lead WVU to a 52-point explosion in the second half.

5. The Johnnies sure gave it a fight in the first-round finale without their best player, Lamont Hamilton, but eventually fell to No. 6 Marquette 76-67. No. 11 St. John’s gave its hometown fans something to cheer about, limiting Dominic James to just 2-of-14 shooting, but Dan Fitzgerald picked up the slack for the Golden Eagles, knocking down four 3-pointers and scoring a team-high 20 points.

6. Villanova was the opening act once again on Thursday, this time squaring off with No. 1 Georgetown. Before many fans at MSG had gotten settled in their seats, the Hoyas jumped out to a 26-2 lead. Despite a respectable comeback effort from the ‘Cats and sloppy play from the Hoyas in the second half, Georgetown prevailed 62-57, led by Roy Hibbert’s 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

7. Big time scoring efforts by Russell Carter (24 points), Colin Falls (23) and Luke Harangody (20) ensured that Syracuse wouldn’t pull off a Big East tournament three-peat, as No. 4 Notre Dame took down the Orange 89-83. Paul Harris (24 points and 15 rebounds) and Terrence Roberts (10 points and 20 rebounds) each posted double-doubles in the losing effort.

8. No. 2 Louisville looked like it was set to breeze past West Virginia, leading by as much as 17 in the second half. But desperate times for the bubble-burdened Mountaineers resulted in a dramatic 18-0 run. Regulation wasn’t enough time to settle this contest, as the game extended into double overtime, with the Cardinals finally prevailing 82-71. Louisville outscored West Virginia 16-5 in the second OT.

9. It’s difficult to beat a team three times in one season, and Marquette learned that the hard way, falling 89-79 to No. 2 Pittsburgh. A big game from center Aaron Gray (22 points and 10 rebounds) served as retribution for the loss the Golden Eagles handed the Panthers just five days earlier to keep them from grabbing a share of the Big East regular season title.

10. It’s a good thing for Georgetown that Jeff Green wanted more than 28 points on Friday night, as the 29th and 30th points served as the game-winners in an 84-82 nail-biter against Notre Dame. The Irish led after a high-scoring first half, but a double-double by Green and big performances by DaJuan Summers and Patrick Ewing Jr. were enough to get the top-seeded Hoyas a crack at the tournament trophy.

11. Louisville led Pitt at the half but seemed to run out of gas after its double OT thriller the night before, falling to the Panthers 65-59. Pittsburgh went on a 20-2 run to start the second half and never looked back, including 10 points by Antonio Graves during the stretch. Graves finished with 23 points to get Pitt a return trip to the final game.

12. The tournament finale matched two teams expected to be at the top at season’s end. In a game that would be decided by the big men in the paint, Georgetown dominated Pittsburgh 65-42 in the championship game. Green and Hibbert scored 21 and 18, respectively, while Gray finished with just three points on an abysmal 1-of-13 shooting performance. The Hoyas’ title was their first since 1989 when Alonzo Mourning was their big man in the middle.

13. Green won the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the tournament’s most outstanding performer just days after being named the Big East Player of the Year. Green averaged 21.0 points and 8.7 rebounds in three games, leading the Hoyas to the championship.

14. Hibbert was named to the Big East All-Tournament Team with averages of 12.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in Georgetown’s three wins.

15. Summers joined his Hoya teammates as the third Georgetown player named to the all-tournament team. The forward averaged 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.

16. Graves’ performance in Pittsburgh’s win over Louisville was the main reason he was also selected for the team. He averaged 13.0 points and 2.3 assists in three games.

17. Notre Dame’s Russell Carter was a scoring machine in the Fighting Irish’s two games. Carter averaged 22.5 points to go along with 7.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals against Syracuse and Georgetown to earn a spot on the tourney team.

18. Terrence Williams of Louisville was the sixth and final member of the all-tournament squad. Williams played two well-rounded games in which he averaged 19.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per contest.

19. One could say that UConn, despite being the tournament’s lowest seed and getting eliminated in the first round, left its mark at MSG, anyway. That would be thanks to Jim Calhoun, who dented the scorer’s table after kicking it in reaction to a non-call by the referees. For good measure, he turned to argue and got slapped with a technical foul.

20. Mike Nardi saw just 10 minutes of action over the course of Villanova’s two games because of a strained left calf. Head Coach Jay Wright said he was tempted to put his senior guard in the game despite the injury just so he could go out and fire up his teammates on the court like he usually does. Nardi has been practicing and said that he will play in the postseason whether he is healed or not.

21. Big East Defensive Player of the Year Jerel McNeal didn’t play at all for Marquette in the tournament because of an injured right thumb. The sophomore guard’s status is still a mystery at this point and could be a deciding factor for Marquette’s postseason.

22. Syracuse spokesmen Jim Boeheim and Devendorf sounded mighty confident following the team’s loss to Notre Dame, acting as though it was in the tournament despite a weak out-of-conference resumé and an RPI of 50. One had to wonder how they felt Sunday evening when the unthinkable happened.

23. As expected, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette and Villanova parlayed strong regular seasons and wins in the Big East tournament to at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament, joining Big East champs Georgetown. Unlike last season when the conference had two No. 1 seeds, the committee didn’t look too favorable upon the 2007 edition of the Big East, seeding everyone other than Georgetown and Pittsburgh lower than many expected.

24. Syracuse and West Virginia, fresh off getting their bubbles burst by the selection committee, drew invitations to the NIT along with DePaul and Providence. Perennial powerhouse UConn, after winning a share of the conference regular season title last year, failed to even make the NIT’s field of 32.

25. After a year of beating up on each other in some memorable games and defining moments, the likes of Green, Hibbert, Gray, James, Sumpter, Reynolds, Carter, Falls and Williams will lead a cast of stars directed by John Thompson III, Jamie Dixon, Rick Pitino, Mike Brey, Tom Crean and Wright to represent the Big East conference on college basketball’s biggest stage. Sure, the road ahead for these six teams looks tough, but that’s just the way the boys of the Big East like it.