Questions we want answered early in the quarterfinals

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A couple questions we hope to have answered this afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament:

Game 1: UConn vs. Pitt, noon (ESPN)

How good is this Connecticut team?

Kemba Walker can take just about anybody off the dribble with that quick first step to the basket, and he showed a fearless mid-range jump shot with a 28-point performance in yesterday’s win over Pittsburgh. The junior national Player of the Year candidate, though, is 0-4 against the Panthers and the Huskies are 0-7 against the top five teams in the Big East.

Four Panthers scored in double figures, as they shot 52 percent in a 78-63 win over UConn Dec. 27. That Huskies team is very different than the one now, as Walker was just a one-man show, taking 27 shots in that defeat.

This game figures to be won down on the blocks, where Pitt’s Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson combined for 21 rebounds and 22 points. UConn needs its bigs, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith, to at least neutralize Pitt’s front court. If they can make a quick outlet pass and get teammates out and running like they have the last two days, UConn may be on to the semifinals.

Line: Pitt -5.5

Sheen meter: “C’mon, the guy wears corduroys.” Pitt is well balanced and let’s face it, a little boring to watch. They slowly break you down with great ball movement and outmuscle you on the glass.

Prediction: The big boys will do enough up front to make Pitt one-and-done on the offensive end, and Jeremy Lamb will make just enough big shots when the Panthers double Walker.

UConn 75, Pitt 70

Game 2: St. John’s vs. Syracuse, 2:20 (ESPN)

Can the Red Storm find a way to handle the zone?

Dwight Hardy went 4 of 15, his worst shooting performance of the season, in a 76-59 loss to Syracuse Jan. 12. Justin Brownlee wasn’t much better, going 5 of 13, bothered inside by bigs Rick Jackson and Baye Moussa Keita.

“They got a terrific zone, they’re long, they’re big,” Hardy said. “We got to find ways to get the ball in the middle and space them out and for driving lanes and short corner passes to our bigs.”

It’s what comes after they get a shot up that might hurt the Johnnies the most. Syracuse freshmen Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair have been superb running the floor the last couple weeks, and the Orange are at their best in transition. They outscored the Red Storm 12-4 on fast breaks in the first meeting, winning in a rout despite 20 turnovers.

The Orange enter the game on a Big East-best five-game winning streak, including a 107-59 pounding of DePaul – the most lopsided win in conference history. Jackson comes in with a chip on his shoulder after the Big East Defensive Player of the Year was left off the Big East first team in favor of Hardy.

Line: Syracuse -2.5

Sheen meter: “I’m still alive, which is pretty cool.” St. John’s benefited from several fortunate non-calls by the refs to survive Rutgers yesterday. It won’t be alive for much longer, though.

Prediction: Scoop Jardine will try to wreck this one for the Orange, but he’ll eventually find Jackson on the blocks over and over again. Syracuse, the only team to defeat St. John’s at the Garden this season, does it again.

Syracuse 84, St. John’s 71


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