Top prospects suffer letdowns in conference tournamentby Joseph Birmingham
The Big East is so tightly contested, both Syracuse and Villanova suffered losses today. Ranked 22nd nationally and seeded 8th, the Georgetown Hoyas stunned the Number 1 seed Syracuse Orange (28-4) 91-84 with an impressive second half surge led by 27 points from Chris Wright. More important than the loss and the chance of it costing the Orange a number 1 seed in the tournament, was the loss of starting center Arinze Onuaku.
Conference player of the year Wes Johnson led Syracuse with 24 points and seven rebounds in his Big East tournament debut. Johnson’s efforts were not enough as the Orange loss marked the 6th time a number 1 seed has lost in the opening game of the Big East tournament. The loss marked the first time all year Syracuse lost consecutive games, and the loss of the senior center is more significant as the Orange typically only rotate 7 players.
In their 13th tournament pairing, Georgetown took a 7-6 edge over the Orange, as they played in the most contested matchup in the 31 year history of the tournament. Austin Freeman added 18 points while Jason Clark had 17 for the No. 8 seed Hoyas (22-9), who will play in the first semifinal Friday night against fifth-seeded Marquette, an 80-76 winner over No. 10 and 4th seeded Villanova
The matchup between the Golden Eagles and the Wildcats ended just as improbably. Lazar Hayward gave the Marquette Golden Eagles (22-10) the lead for good with a 3-pointer with 1:51 to play and then added the clinching free throws with 3.2 seconds left. Marquette came in as a 5th seed against Villanova (24-7) , but had lost close games to the Wildcats in their two previous matchups this season. Villanova had been on a tear right through the end of February and Corey Stokes had 22 points for the Wildcats, who have now lost five of six and have seen their expected seeding for the NCAA tournament continue to drop
Scottie Reynolds,Villanova’s first-team All-Big East selection, had a lackluster game. He shot 4-of-10 from the field, including 2-of-5 on 3s, and had 10 points. He was 5-of-16 from the field, making only 1-of-9 from 3 including a possible game-winner scoring 17 points in the 68-66 loss to West Virginia to close the regular season.
The tournament is appearing to be a wake up call for the top seeded teams as the lower seeds let them know that the close losses they suffered during the regular season can be avenged by a stepping up of play. The Big East is so tough from top to bottom that any team can beat any other with a couple of exceptions. Three weeks ago both Syracuse and Villanova looked practically unbeatable, only having suffered the occasional loss. Now, the Big East tournament victory will go to a lower seeded team, possibly costing Syracuse their chance at a number one seed and absolutely dropping Villanova in the seedings to the point where they may appear next as an underdog.
With 9 teams now having 20+ wins, it is anybodys guess who the dominant team from this conference will be when the field is set and the NCAA tournament commences. One can only hope the Wildcats get the problems solved quickly so they can continue to compete on a level they showed us they were capable of competing all year long.
Prior to the Big East Championship tournament, experts were picking the Orange to be a #1 seed and the Wildcats to be a #2. The Orange may hold on to their #1 if they are lucky, but it now seems likely the Wildcats will be fortunate to head into the NCAA tournament as a #3, and they have a lot of work to do to remain in the hunt as March Madness ramps up to full speed.