BIG EAST PROGNOSTICATIONS
UCONN: BY THE NUMBERS:
***The Huskies are tops in the Big East and 11th in the country in team offense, averaging 83.5 points per game. They're third in the country in scoring margin, beating foes by a 21.2-point average. UConn is ninth in the nation in field goal percentage (50.2 percent) and 40th in field goal percentage defense (38.5).
***Somewhat surprisingly, the Huskies are second in the Big East in 3-point field goal percentage (39.3 percent). Not surprisingly, they're 13th out of the conference's 16 teams in 3-point defense (33.5 percent), which is perhaps their only glaring weakness.
***The Huskies have gone to the free throw line nearly three times as often as their opponents. They have taken 325 foul shots to opponents' 119, a margin of 206, or 18.7 per game. They're also hitting them at a 70.8 percent rate, led by Kemba Walker (84.8 percent) and Craig Austrie (78.9). (Oh, and Donnell Beverly, who is 5-for-6). The Huskies are hitting nearly 14 more free throws per game than their opponents.
***Hasheem Thabeet is fifth in the nation in blocked shots (3.5 per game) and 11th in rebounding (11.1). That'll work.
***Jeff Adrien is 42nd nationally in boardsmanship (9.1). Did I just make up a word?
***Jerome Dyson leads the Huskies in scoring (15.5) and steals (19), is second in assists (40) and third in rebounding (4.5).
***UConn has four players averaging in double figures, and two others (Walker and Austrie) at 9.9 and 9.7, respectively.
***Walker has 33 assists against 28 turnovers. That needs improvement.
***Walk-on Johnnie Bird has more points (two) than Jonathan Mandeldove, and one less than Charles Okwandu.
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Some other observations:
Jerome Dyson is the Huskies' best player. We've already mentioned the key numbers, but it goes beyond that. He's taking better shots and shooting 46.5 percent from the floor – easily the best of his career. He's taking better care of the ball, with 40 assists to 20 turnovers, a respectable 2.0 ratio. More than that, Dyson just seems to be a happier, more personable guy off the court. It really seems like he's trying to redeem himself after his nine-game suspension a year ago. Last year, Dyson finished in dead-last in the annual Husky Run, setting the tone for a disappointing season. This year, he was among the second scholarship player to cross the finish line. Some laughed at the suggestion, but I believed at the time – and still do – that it set a symbolic tone for Dyson to start making amends. So far, so good.
Hasheem Thabeet is UConn's most indispensable player. He's still not a great, polished offensive player and likely never will be. But to say he hasn't made vast improvements from two years ago or even a year ago is simply ridiculous. He still has his critics, but if Thabeet went down, exactly who would step in and replace his defensive dominance? No one.
Jeff Adrien needs to get more original. He donned a Superman outfit and cape on First Night, a la Dwight Howard. He often chalks up his hands and claps them, sending powder everywhere, before checking into a game, a la LeBron. Now, he sports a Mohawk, a la numerous other players (including Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo).
Then again, he's nearly averaging a double-double (14.5 points, 9.5 boards), and has 37 double-doubles in his career, tops among active Big East players. That's pretty original.
Plus, who's going to tell him he needs to get more original to his face? Not me.
A.J. Price is still landing the wrong way. Even in his breakout game against Gonzaga, I noticed that Price still seems to be landing on his right foot after taking jump shots. Noticed it again, in person, on Friday night. It's something that Jim Calhoun noticed in preseason practices, and it still seems like it's happening. Price recently admitted he's not yet over the mental hurdle of his torn left ACL injury last March, and by landing on the wrong foot on shots, it's obvious he hasn't.
Craig Austrie is as steady as ever. He's averaging 9.7 points, has a 2.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and shoots 78.9 percent from the line (down more than 10 percent from a year ago!). You don't notice him until he makes a key play or drains a big bucket in crunch time.
Stanley Robinson is rusty. No surprise, not having played the first eight games. No rust on his leaping ability, however.
Gavin Edwards can play a little bit … When given a chance, like against Gonzaga. Ditto Donnell Beverly.
Scottie Haralson isn't ready for this level yet. He's taken 12 shots, 11 of them 3-pointers. He's made three, one of them a bank. Great kid, though. Ditto Charles Okwandu.
Jim Calhoun is stubborn. And the man can coach. Big surprise here. He'll never change, and why should he? He went ballistic throughout the Stony Brook game, even though the Huskies really weren't that bad. But he wasn't just coaching that game, he was coaching the upcoming Gonzaga game, too. Worked out pretty well, didn't it?
BIG EAST: BY THE NUMBERS
Following West Virginia's thorough stomping of Ohio State, Big East teams are 11-8 against opponents ranked in the Top 25 in either of the two polls, best of any major conference. Last year, Big East teams went just 5-12 against ranked foes.
More impressively, only two of the 11 wins have come at home, with WVU's win in Columbus the most recent example (it also temporarily shut up my brother, an OSU alum who has been trumpeting the dominance of the "Big 11"). All three of UConn's wins over Top 25 opponents have come away from home, at neutral sites – Miami and Wisconsin at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Gonzaga at the "Battle in Seattle" on Dec. 20.
Of course, all three of those wins have lost a bit of their luster – both Miami and Wisconsin have since fallen out of the Top 25, and No. 7 Gonzaga is sure to tumble several spots after its unseemly loss to Portland State last week.
In fact, against teams that were still ranked in this week's AP Top 25, Big East teams are 3-6.
*** Seven Big East teams currently reside in the AP Top 25, led by No. 2 UConn and No. 3 Pittsburgh. (There are eight conference squads in the ESPN/USA Today poll, with Marquette sneaking in at No. 25).
BIG EAST OBSERVATIONS
UCONN: They rise to the occasion when the competition is toughest. Gotta like that.
PITTSBURGH: For the third time in Jamie Dixon's six seasons here, Panthers are unbeaten (12-0) heading into league play, with wins over Maryland, Miami and Indiana. Impressed? Don't be: it's Maryland-Baltimore County, Miami (Ohio) and Indiana (Pa.) they've beaten. (Then again, Indiana (Ind.) wouldn't be too impressive, either). Still, Sam Young is as good as anyone, DeJuan Blair is a monster, Levance Fields is healthy, and the Panthers can still 'D' it up with anyone.
LOUISVILLE: Rick Pitino's Cardinals (7-2) have been an early-season disappointment, missing graduated center David Padgett even more than expected. But freshman center Samardo Samuels is the real deal, and it says here that Pitino gets things straightened out.
NOTRE DAME: The 9-2 Irish can score with anyone, led by reigning Player of the Year Luke Harangody and 3-point gunner Kyle McAlarney. But are they tough enough defensively to be legit Final Four contenders?
SYRACUSE: Arinze Onuaku (74.7 percent) doesn't miss from underneath the basket, Eric Devendorf doesn't miss with his right hook, and the Orange won't miss the tourney this season, as they have the past two.
GEORGETOWN: Husky-killer Roy Hibbert graduates? No problem. The Hoyas have replaced him with 7-footer Greg Monroe, the highly-touted recruit who looks even better than advertised.
WEST VIRGINIA: UConn helped make Joe Alexander the eighth pick in the NBA Draft, but Bob Huggins' Mountaineers should still be tough, now that Alex Ruoff is healthy again. Nice win over No. 15 Ohio State on Saturday, too.
MARQUETTE: The Golden Eagles may have the conference's best triumvirate of guards in seniors Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James.
VILLANOVA: Tough to get a read on Wildcats just yet, but we know one thing: Scottie Reynolds will kill the Huskies when they play on Jan. 21.
CINCINNATI: Off to a good 10-2 start, led by Deonta Vaughn and impressive frosh Yancy Gates. Good test at Memphis on Monday.
SETON HALL: Jeremy Hazell is currently second in conference in scoring, including a 32-point outburst against Memphis.
RUTGERS: McDonald's All-America shooting guard Mike Rosario has looked good so far, averaging 16.8 points per game.
PROVIDENCE: New coach Keno Davis was the National Coach of the Year last season at Drake in his very first season as a head coach. Maybe he can turn things around at PC.
ST. JOHN'S: When top scorer Anthony Mason, Jr. was lost for the season with a foot injury in mid-November, Red Storm's season essentially ended, as well.
DEPAUL: Ray Meyer rolled over in his grave when the Blue Demons scored 36 points vs. Northwestern, then lost to Morgan State in consecutive games Dec. 6 and 10.
SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bulls are 4-7 in non-conference play. Imagine what happens once the Big East starts.
BORGES' FEARLESS SEASON PREDICTIONS
1. UConn (13-5); 2. Pittsburgh (13-5); 3. Louisville (13-5); 4. Notre Dame (12-6); 5. Syracuse (12-6); 6. Georgetown (11-7); 7. West Virginia (11-7); 8. Marquette (10-8); 9. Villanova (10-8); 10. Cincinnati (9-9); 11. Seton Hall (8-10); 12. Rutgers (7-11); 13. Providence (6-12); 14. St. John's (4-14); 15. DePaul (3-15); 16. South Florida (2-16).