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March 7, 2008

Big East title is on the line

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Upcoming Big East Games
Louisville at Georgetown
West Virginia at St. John's
Marquette at Syracuse
Cincinnati at Connecticut
Notre Dame at USF
Villanova at Providence
DePaul at Pittsburgh
Rutgers at Seton Hall

Best matchup: Louisville at Georgetown: The Big East regular-season title will be on the line in this showdown that features two of the nation's toughest defenses. Louisville has won nine consecutive games including a 59-51 victory over Georgetown at Freedom Hall and has allowed more than 73 points just once during that stretch. Five of the Cardinals' past nine foes have been held below 60 points. Georgetown has won four consecutive games and leads the nation in field goal percentage defense. Louisville ranks third in the nation in field-goal percentage defense. The Cardinals also have done an outstanding job this season of rising to the occasion. They own a 4-0 record against ranked opponents and an 8-2 mark on away courts. This game could come down to who wins the center matchup between Georgetown's Roy Hibbert and Louisville's David Padgett. In the first meeting between these teams, Padgett scored 18 points and Hibbert had 14.

The pressure is on: Syracuse and Villanova: Both probably would miss the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today, so they can't afford to lose their regular-season finales Saturday. Syracuse plays host to Marquette, and Villanova visits Providence. Even if both win Saturday, they probably need strong showings in the Big East Tournament to have a realistic shot of making the NCAA field. Although both had RPIs in the 50s after Wednesday's games, Villanova probably is in better shape by virtue of its 3-5 record against RPI top-50 opponents. Syracuse is 1-7.

Upset alert: Syracuse over Marquette: The Orange need this game much more than Marquette. Syracuse probably must win this game to have any chance of earning an at-large NCAA bid. The Orange also are trying to avoid finishing the season with a losing Big East record for only the third time in history. Marquette already has locked up its NCAA invitation and has no shot of earning a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament. Syracuse's home-court advantage and Marquette's possible lack of incentive should allow the Orange to earn its 19th win of the season.

RPI Watch: The Big East remains the fourth-ranked conference in the RPI, behind the ACC, Pac-10 and Big 12. After Wednesday's games, the Big East had six schools ranked among the top 25 teams: No. 9 Georgetown, No. 11 Louisville, No. 13 Connecticut, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 21 Marquette and No. 25 Pittsburgh. It also had five teams outside the top 100: No. 106 Providence, No. 143 St. John's, No. 160 DePaul, No. 163 South Florida and No. 225 Rutgers.

Key stat: Georgetown is 5-0 in games decided by five or fewer points. Louisville is 4-4 in those types of games, though the Cardinals defeated Notre Dame and Pittsburgh by a combined margin of seven points last week.

Freshmen to watch: DePaul forward Dar Tucker and center Mac Koshwal have given Blue Demons fans reason for optimism about the program's future. Tucker scored a career-high 28 points Sunday in a 98-91 loss to Notre Dame. Koshwal had 23 points and 10 rebounds against Notre Dame, though he followed that up by scoring just one point Thursday in a 60-54 victory over Cincinnati. Providence swingman Marshon Brooks scored 15 points off the bench, made a game-tying basket with two seconds left in regulation and made a game-clinching block Sunday in an 81-79 overtime victory over Cincinnati. USF guard Dominique Jones has reached double figures in 12 consecutive games and has scored at least 29 points in two of his past three contests. Jones made a tiebreaking bank shot Saturday with 37 seconds remaining in a 54-52 victory over Rutgers. Syracuse forward Donte Greene has averaged 21 points and nine rebounds per game in his past two outings. Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn has delivered at least five assists in six of his past seven games. Flynn is averaging 22 points and 6.5 assists and shooting 50 percent from 3-point range (8-for-16) in his past two games.

Who's hot: Cincinnati forward John Williamson has averaged 21.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game in his last three games. Connecticut forward Jeff Adrien has four double-doubles in his last five games. Georgetown's Hibbert has made at least half his shot attempts in 13 consecutive games. Hibbert also has blocked 16 shots over his past four games. Louisville's Padgett has shot 22 for 31 and has averaged 17.7 points in his past three contests. Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody has averaged 28 points per game in his past three contests. Harangody has shot 36 of 58 during that stretch. Seton Hall swingman Brian Laing has scored at least 20 points in four of his past five games. Villanova guard Dante Cunningham has made each of the eight shots he has taken over his past two games. West Virginia forward Joe Alexander has scored 32 points in back-to-back games.

Who's not: DePaul forward Karron Clarke has shot 1-for-14 in his last three games. Georgetown guard Jessie Sapp has scored a total of seven points and has shot 2-for-10 in his past two games. Sapp was held scoreless Saturday in a 70-68 victory over Marquette. Marquette guard Jerel McNeal has shot 12 of 39 in his last three games. Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields has shot just 18 of 62 in the six games since his return from a broken foot. Seton Hall guard Jeremy Hazell has shot 6-for-26 in his last three games. Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds has scored a total of 13 points in his past two games. He has shot 7-for-23 in his past three games.

Worth noting: Notre Dame is the first Big East team to go undefeated at home in conference play in back-to-back seasons. The Irish have won 37 consecutive home games, which puts them one win away from the school record set from 1943-48. Padgett is on pace to set a Big East record for single-season field-goal percentage in conference games. Padgett is shooting 68.1 percent in league competition. The Big East record is owned by Villanova's Michael Bradley, who shot 67.6 percent against conference opponents in 2000-01. A victory over DePaul on Sunday would give Pittsburgh a winning record in Big East competition for the seventh consecutive season, which represents the longest active streak in the league. Providence forward Geoff McDermott showed his trademark versatility Sunday by playing point guard after an injury to Dwain Williams. McDermott finished the game with 13 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists in the Friars' 81-79 overtime victory over Cincinnati. Villanova is 12-1 when it makes at least eight 3-pointers, but the Wildcats are just 10-for-53 from beyond the arc in their past three games. Villanova is 1-2 in that stretch.

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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