Top BIG EAST Matchups of 2012

I know it may be hard to believe, but BIG EAST Conference play is just around the corner as PC and St. John’s tip it all off on Tuesday, December 27, at 7 p.m., in Queens, N.Y., at Carnesecca Arena. It will be the start of another brutal schedule for 16 teams that will slug it out to try in finish in the top half of the league. Most squads will be gunning for a top-eight spot as it woud almost guarantee a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Last season the BIG EAST broke its own record for schools sent to the yearly championship with 11.

This ties in perfectly with Volvo’s “Biggest Fan of the BIG EAST” contest and its third challenge post: “What are the top three BIG EAST road trip towns, and why?”

Well now it would be fairly easy to say that especially during these winter months, USF and Tampa, Fla., would be on the top of the destination list. This could easily be joined by Louisville (in my opinion, one of the best college atmospheres in the BIG EAST) and then another larger city school such as DePaul (Chicago), Georgetown (D.C.), Pittsburgh, St. John’s (NYC) or Villanova (Philadelphia).

But let’s be honest, this is the BIG EAST. This is where basketball comes first, not the nightlife and attractions that go along with it. That said, if you still had to pick three road trips (and with a Volvo S60, it really wouldn’t matter where you were going), why not have it be the top three BIG EAST basketball matchups this season!

To choose my top three games I decided to not pick seeing a team more than once and while the Volvo S60 may be fast, it is not a time machine, so games on the same day had to be weeded out. Also, games toward the end of the schedule were given favor as they will be paramount in deciding seeds in the BIG EAST Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 6-10.

February 25: Syracuse at UConn

A potential matchup of the No. 1 team in the country and the defending National Champions. Two giants will collide when Andre Drummond and Fab Melo battle in the paint while the backcourts of the Orange’s Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine, and the Huskies Jeremy Lamb and Shabaz Napier will definitely be a good one. The X-factor could end up being Kris Joseph for Syracuse, while homecourt advantage for UConn could help to push the game in Connecticut’s favor.

Syracuse

POINTS PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
K. Joseph 14.4 .444 .784 .396
D. Waiters 12.8 .519 .700 .323
REBOUNDS REB OFF DEF BPG
K. Joseph 6.0 1.9 4.1 0.4
C. Fair 5.5 1.7 3.7 0.3
ASSISTS APG SPG TO AST/TO
S. Jardine 4.0 1.9 2.2 1.8
B. Triche 3.2 1.1 1.6 1.9

Connecticut

POINTS PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
J. Lamb 19.0 .482 .857 .375
S. Napier 14.6 .466 .718 .415
REBOUNDS REB OFF DEF BPG
T. Olander 6.4 2.2 4.2 1.0
A. Drummond 6.2 3.3 2.9 3.0
ASSISTS APG SPG TO AST/TO
S. Napier 6.9 2.2 3.5 2.0
R. Boatright 3.8 1.0 1.5 2.5

February 26: Pittsburgh at Louisville

Coach Rick Pitino has his squad playing at a high level, but a matchup against Pittsburgh is always a tough task. Louisville is an undefeated 10-0 on the season and stands fourth in the country in the latest coaches poll, while Pitt is not far behind at 10-1 and 13th. BIG EAST Tournament seeding as well as national rankings will definitely be in play here. Preseason league player of the year Ashton Gibbs spearheads the Panther attack, while a team-first mentality of the Cardinals will make this a true BIG EAST battle.

Louisville

POINTS PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
K. Kuric 12.7 .500 .706 .333
P. Siva 10.6 .369 .833 .259
REBOUNDS REB OFF DEF BPG
G. Dieng 9.5 4.6 4.9 2.7
C. Behanan 8.1 2.7 5.4 0.8
ASSISTS APG SPG TO AST/TO
P. Siva 6.8 1.6 3.4 2.0
C. Smith 2.9 1.2 1.0 2.9

Pittsburgh

POINTS PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
A. Gibbs 18.3 .385 .848 .389
T. Woodall 14.1 .524 .850 .457
REBOUNDS REB OFF DEF BPG
N. Robinson 6.2 2.7 3.5 0.2
D. Taylor 6.0 2.6 3.4 1.3
ASSISTS APG SPG TO AST/TO
T. Woodall 8.3 0.6 3.6 2.3
L. Patterson 4.3 0.6 1.2 3.5

March 3: Georgetown at Marquette

Marquette has caught some people by surprise this year, but are playing like a top-five team in the BIG EAST this season. Head coach Buzz Williams has the Golden Eagles at 10-0 and ranked 10th in the country in the latest coaches poll. Meanwhile, Georgetown has overcome some huge player losses in the past two seasons, such as Greg Monroe and Austin Freeman, but head coach John Thompson III has the Hoyas at 9-1 and ranked 13 in the nation. This game could decide who gets a first-round bye in the BIG EAST tournament.

Marquette

POINTS PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
D. Johnson-Odom 18.8 .491 .766 .372
J. Crowder 17.6 .556 .714 .412
REBOUNDS REB OFF DEF BPG
J. Crowder 7.1 1.4 5.7 0.8
C. Otule 4.4 1.6 2.8 1.6
ASSISTS APG SPG TO AST/TO
J. Cadougan 6.6 0.9 2.3 2.8
V. Blue 3.6 2.1 2.5 1.4

Georgetown

POINTS PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
J. Clark 15.5 .458 .900 .396
H. Thompson 14.7 .535 .826 .500
REBOUNDS REB OFF DEF BPG
O. Porter 6.1 1.5 4.6 0.9
H. Thompson 5.8 1.3 4.5 0.4
ASSISTS APG SPG TO AST/TO
H. Sims 3.9 0.7 1.8 2.2
N. Lubick 2.4 0.5 1.0 2.4

There are several other games that could have made this list, including Louisville at Syracuse on March 3, Pittsburgh at UConn on March 3 and Villanova at West Virginia on December 28.

Either way, with a brand new Volvo and some excellent BIG EAST basketball, how can you really go wrong?

Thanks to everyone for reading and let me know what games you want to see this season. Check out the full league schedule here.

Vote for Mike Gambardella in Volvo’s “Biggest Fan of the BIG EAST” Contest.

Join Mike’s Facebook group.

Follow Mike on Twitter.

Mumbles Therapy

Today is only Wednesday and it has already been one of the longest weeks I’ve ever experienced.  The best therapy is for me to just rant about subject matter that I feel I know best: the world of sports.  Beware here comes a slew of unorganized thoughts better classified as Mumbles.

*Chris Paul will be traded before Christmas 2011.  New Orleans does not want to go through the “Melodrama” the Nuggets went through last year.  With all the leaks about the Celtics wanting Paul, it would be in their best interest to acquire the best point guard in the league by any means necessary.  The Celtics current point guard Rajon Rondo is very talented but is beyond emotionally fragile.  He broke down last year when his BFF Kendrick Perkins was traded.  He broke down when he was “dissed” by President Obama.  Now the Celtics are reportedly (by every media outlet) pursuing Paul.  If the Celtics fail at acquiring Paul, they will be in for a very long and very uncomfortable season with Rondo running the show.  Get Paul now, worry about his contract status later.

*The Miami Marlins (have to get use to saying that) have been the biggest players in baseball free agency thus far.  They landed Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, and Mark Buehrle.  They are also in hot pursuit of Albert Pujols.  While this appears to be great news for South Florida, they have alienated their franchise player in Hanley Ramirez.  HanRam has reportedly asked for a trade because does not want to move to third base for Reyes.  If I am the Red Sox, I make a strong play at reacquiring the troubled shortstop.  He comes with baggage. There is no doubt about it.  But at the end of the day he is 27 years old coming off his worst season but entering his prime.  He is under contract until 2014 at a reasonable price (3 years $46 mil left).  He is a clear upgrade over Marco Scutaro or Jed Lowrie.  If I am Ben Cherrington, I offer Lowrie or Scutaro, Xander Bogaerts or Jose Iglesias, Ryan Kalish or Josh Reddick, and Matt Barnes or Anthony Ranuaudo.  Imagine this lineup:

Ellsbury, Crawford, Pedroia, Gonzalez, HRamirez, Youkilis, Ortiz, Saltalamacchia, Kalish/Reddick.

*The Boston Bruins benched Tyler Seguin last night during a 15 game unbeaten streak due to him missing a team breakfast in Winnipeg.  Now, I may be in the minority but I love that they benched the 19 year old leading scorer.  Nipping any antics that Seguin may be a part of in the bud is essential in his early development.  It’s clear to me that his benching has a lot more to it then missing his team breakfast.  His excuse will also go down as the worst excuse in sports history.  “My clock was set on Boston time and not Winnipeg time.” Tyler may need a geography/time zone lesson to go along with that benching.  What we all need to remember is that the kid is 19 and he hasn’t had a chance to experience the night life like we all did in college.  I cut him some slack but at the same time applaud the management and coaching decision to discipline him.

* I once hated Tim Tebow with a unparraleled passion.  I think that was because I was an ignorant Longhorns fan that would hear nothing other than Colt McCoy was the best there was.  (In my defense he is the all time winningest quarterback in NCAA history). But after the last two months, how do you not love Tebow? Yes, the whole God squad thing can deter someone but as an athlete? The guy has “it.” Whatever “it” may be Tebow has it.  He wins football games and is exciting to watch.  Yes, I am all aboard the Tebow wagon!

*Unfortunately I don’t have any thoughts on the Patriots.  To me they are the most vanilla franchise in Boston sports.  It may be a reflection of the coach.  They win ball games and move on to the next opponent.  Until the playoffs, there is nothing I can really say about them.

*I love Ed Cooley.  When Providence College first hired him, I was skeptical at best.  My hatred of Keno Davis and his thug culture may have angered me to the point I was blind.  But there truly was no better person to hire for this position then who they landed.  Cooley has demonstrated a willingness to play defense (unthinkable during Keno’s time) and also to discipline players when needed.  (Kadeem Batts is yet to play a game.  Expected back for the URI game 12-23).  I have gone to as many games as I’ve could and have appreciated the development of Bryce Cotton.  I like that Vincent Council is playing under control.  I like that Cooley has Coleman playing defense.  I understand that the Friars may get smoked once the Big East schedule starts.  But I expected that coming into the season.  But because of Cooley, I now know they will play hard for 40 minutes every night.

*I can be followed on Twitter @ ScottieNTCF

New York, New York. Preview of a Whirlwind Trip Back to STJ

At the end of February, a day after my birthday actually, the kind folks at Volvo (@Volvo_US) are sending me on an all-expenses paid trip back to my alma mater, St. John’s University, thanks to my involvement in their “Biggest Fan of the BIG EAST Contest“. Not only are they putting me up in a hotel in New York City, giving me tickets to the STJ – Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden and spending money, they are letting me test drive the brand new Volvo S60, all weekend long.

In preparation for the big weekend, I have been tasked with listing the must-see attractions and stops to make when I am back in NYC for the game. This is the second challenge post in the contest.

Needless to say I will have Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” on repeat, pumping through the sound system for three hours as I drive the S60 down to Queens (Maybe a ‘lil Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York” thrown in as well).

The first stop I’ll make once I get over the Throgs Neck Bridge and on to Union Turnpike will definitely have to be Romeo’s Pizzeria. Any St. John’s student can tell you that once you have had one of their “chicken cesar slices” you will never go back. My mouth is actually salivating right now as type this (February can’t get here fast enough).

From there it’s on to visit Big Ed over at the Sly Fox Inn (just five blocks down)… wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Of course, I have to stop at Iguana’s Mexican Grill and Cantina for a margarita. To bad I won’t be there on a Wednesday (O, how I miss dollar beer night). I’ll also try to avoid the tequila museum (Yes they have a giant room with about 300 different types of tequila).

Ok, now on to the Sly Fox, for a barbecue burger and Hoegaarden (and probably a bear hug from Eddie). The Fox was always the place to go after all athletic events on campus at St. John’s. Much obliged for all the hospitality over the years.

From there, I have to make a stop in the “Verizon Store.” Now most recent St. John’s grads know that the “Verizon Store,” which is actually a cellphone store now, used to be one of the best bars at STJ. I myself actually worked the door there for a year. Whether it was known as Last Call or Gantry’s, the new phone outlet just serves as a reminder of all the good times we shared there.

Now that I’ve made it all the way to the corner of Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway, I have finally reached the campus of St. John’s. Of course any time I stop by the school, I have to go in and say hello to the many members of the Athletic Department that still work there (special shoutout to the Sports Information Office). I spent four years as an undergraduate student worker in Carnesecca Arena (then known as Alumni Hall) and then two more as a graduate assistant. I can’t even imagine the total hours that I spent in that gym, whether it was working for the administration office, helping out with Red/White Club, watching the Red Storm play a game, or just shooting around on the court to pass the time. The days I spent there will always be some of the best years of my life.

Ok, where to next? I may actually have to head down to Fresh Meadows just to grab a queso burrito from Qdoba. I know its not local to Queens, but anyone that worked with at STJ with me knows my slight obsession. From there it will be on to the LIE, heading towards Manhattan.

Now, we are talking about the “greatest city in the world.” To be forced to have to pick just a few establishments to visit is almost near impossible. There is a reason that the BIG EAST Conference hosts its annual basketball championship at Madison Square Garden. You could go to the city for the tournament every year for the next 20 years, and do something different each time you go. That said, I am going to do my best to pick out some of my favorite spots in the city before heading to a game.

The cheesy pick will be Times Square. It is a complete tourist attraction, but no matter how many times you have been there before, any chance you have to stand in the middle of it and do a .360, you have to feel like you are a part of something. And that goes for any time of day. Whether its 8 a.m., or 5 a.m., the place always has a ton of people in it. It is simply amazing.

The next stop would probably be Bryant Park. I know a lot people would choose Central Park, but for some reason, for the first four years as an undergrad at St. John’s, whenever I took the E or F train into the city, we would always end up getting off at Bryant Park (usually with no plan of what to do, what-so-ever, but eventually having another amazing and memorable night) before we would head out. A chance to go back and feel the nostalgia set in would be well worth it.

The pregame spot for any St. John’s game at the garden has to be Stout. Whether we were hanging out upstairs getting some good food and watching whatever other game was on, or going downstairs for some darts or karaoke (both are always in play), I always had a great time there. The other good thing is that many other people felt the same way, and you never knew who would walk in the door. You could end up meeting a friend you hadn’t seen in nearly three years and not miss a beat as both of you had shown up for the game that night. You could also easily find tickets outside (not that I condone that type of thing).

After a St. John’s game, the world is practically your oyster (I’ve heard people use that saying a lot, and I don’t think I’ve ever used the saying before. Feels pretty good). As many of my friends have now moved to the city, it becomes a flurry of texts and phone calls to find out where everyone is meeting up. Riding the train around the city at one point or another is also a must as you never know what you may see (seriously, anything is in play on those things). The best part is that once you get to the first “spot” you immediately get another text that says plans have changed and we are now heading to another place 40 blocks away. Into the cab and away we go.

No matter what happens though, you are guaranteed to have a good time. And if you’re lucky you’ll end up looking out over the water at 4 a.m., staring at the Statue of Liberty, humming the lines “… concrete jungle, where dreams are made, there’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York, New York, New York….”

If you haven’t voted for me yet, please do at MyBigEastVolvo.com.

And as always, follow me on Twitter at @BIG3Sports.