There are plenty of bubbles popping around the country. Georgia, Illinois and Boston College were all on the losing end of what could have essentially been play-in games for the NCAA tournament. Only one of those teams will probably sneak into the field (we’ve always liked the Illini and their senior-laded lineup), while Michigan State will get in with a win over Purdue later this evening.
Here at the Garden, NCAA seeding is the only thing to be decided over the final two nights. Here are a couple questions we’re looking to have answered:
Game 1: UConn vs. Syracuse, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Which team has the better transition game?
No one attacks the basket on the break better than the Huskies, while no one is smoother in the open floor than the Orange. UConn scored 20 points off turnovers in its quarterfinal win over Pitt, while SU scored 19 against St. John’s.
“We run, that’s what we do,” freshman guard Shabazz Napier said. “Fatigue won’t be a factor.”
Line: Syracuse -4
Sheen meter: “I am battle-tested bayonets, bro.” Four players in tonight’s game made appearances for that six-overtime thriller won by Syracuse in the 2009 Big East tournament. Swingman Kris Joseph, just a freshman back then, said he’s “exhausted just thinking back to that [night].”
Prediction: Roscoe Smith may miss the game after showing concussion-like symptoms from getting clocked in the head against Pitt. Sure, players want to win the Big East tournament just for the simple bragging rights of saying, “We’re the best of the best.” Truth is, at this stage in the tournament, after playing four straight nights now, UConn might be best served in the long run by bowing out. Both the Huskies and Orange have unveiled new wrinkles to their already potent offenses and both are gelling at the right time. If the purpose of the conference tournament is to prepare you for the big dance, both teams leave MSG winners no matter the outcome of this game.
Syracuse 74, UConn 67
Game 2: Louisville vs. Notre Dame, 9:20 p.m. (ESPN)
Can the Irish shoot through another in-your-face defense?
Both these teams can shoot the ball, as they rank atop the Big East in 3-pointers made. Notre Dame routed the conference’s top scoring defense in Cincinnati Thursday night by making 3s in transition. It did the same thing the Louisville in the first half an overtime win at home last month, but the Cardinals seemed to have learned from that experience.
“We needed to be a big-time team on both ends,” guard Preston Knowles said.
They have been. Louisville is limiting opponents to 20 percent shooting from the perimeter in the last five games.
“I told them before the game that not since 1996 did I walk into a place and feel as confident as I did walking in here. In 1996, I had a reason with eight pros,” said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, referring to his title team at Kentucky. “That;s a great feeling knowing your team is going to bring it. It will be two good passing teams.”
Line: Notre Dame -1.5
Sheen meter: “There’s a new sheriff in town and he has an army of assassins.” Whoever wins this game will be favored in Saturday night’s final. And whether it’s Ben Hansbrough or Knowles, they’re both worthy of national attention. When the country thinks of the Big East they think of Kemba Walker, maybe now they’ll start to think of the sharp-shooting assassins on both of these teams. Heck, even a reserve guard on the Cards’ bench knocked down six long bombs in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Notre Dame 84, Louisville 76
We said before the tournament we liked Pitt and Notre Dame to earn No. 1 seeds with the Irish cutting down the nets. We still like Pitino’s team to grab a No. 4 seed and make noise the rest of the month.
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