Lessons learned from the Big East opening round

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It was a sleepy beginning and a blow-out ending to the opening round of the Big East tournament here at the Garden. Of course, the middle was packed with memorable performances. Here’s what we learned:

  • Villanova’s offense may not be fixable after blowing a 16-point lead in a stunning 70-69 loss to 15th-seeded South Florida. The Wildcats will still be in the big dance thanks to six wins over the RPI top 50, but their seed may have just fallen from a six or seven to a 10 or 11. You’re going to see a lot of people bet against them in their first-round NCAA tournament game, partly because because they’ve lost five straight and 10 of 15, but mostly because there’s just no sign they can win. Nova had just one field goal in the final 12 minutes and Corey Stokes, who still looks shaky with a hamstring pull, took just one second-half shot. Their guards are playing tentatively and its forwards are just all-around sloppy on the blocks, getting outworked 26-21 on the glass. "We got tentative with the lead," coach Jay Wright said. "We hadn’t won a game in so long, everybody got a little scared, a little short on their shots. They didn’t play with confidence with the lead."
  • Rutgers could ruin St. John’s Garden party after a momentum-building 76-70 overtime win over Seton Hall. The Scarlet Knights won’t see a more gifted quick-release shooter than Hall’s Jeremy Hazell, who nailed a game-tying 3-pointer from NBA range with one second left in regulation. Jonathan Mitchell is a guy that’s waited for a big stage like this for the past five years. A member of Florida’s national championship team earlier this decade, the transfer scored 25 points against the Pirates, and unlike Hazell kept in attack mode in the extra session, sinking eight free throws in OT. "Under the radar, yeah you could say that," Mitchell said about himself and his team after the win. "We’re feeling as good as we have at any point … and that’s dangerous for anyone who plays us." Added first-year coach Mike Rice who has made due after losing several top recruits when he took the job: "It’s a big challenge. Love it. We’re on to the next round, it’s a great opportunity for our program and our seniors to show how much they’ve improved, to show that they’re different."
  • No one doubts Kemba Walker’s scoring ability after pouring in 26 points in a rout of DePaul, but we’ll gladly take the duo of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler of Marquette to win a tournament game. Walker’s first step to the basket with the ball in hand is almost as quick as his first step back after someone else fires a shot. The Big East’s second-leading scorer didn’t move well without the ball against a pathetic defensive effort from DePaul and immediately retreated after his teammates fired up a shot. He simply had no interest in following up on the glass on either end of the floor. No one has called Walker a complete player, and we saw why against the Blue Demons. Maybe he’s just saving it up for the second-round game with Georgetown.
  • The Golden Eagles’ duo brings it on both ends of the court, as Butler once again shut down Providence’s Marshon Brooks in an 87-66 win that should solidify an NCAA tournament bid. Brooks, the Big East’s leading scorer, had made just 14 field goals against Marquette this season after scoring a total of nine points in last season’s two matchups. "Yeah we can score," said Butler of Marquette’s league-leading offense, "but not many teams can make stops and score. That’s what we try to do … and what we’ll need to do if we want to get [far] in March."

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