Tuesday, January 31, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Pittsburgh @ Connecticut

January 31, 2006

Over the last five years, Pittsburgh and Connecticut has been one of college basketball's most entertaining and competitive rivalries. Here they are again, on the last day of January, as a pair of top 10 teams in the nation ready to meet again to stake their claim at the top of the Big East. This year, the only thing missing is the spotlight of a national television audience, but, expect the same intensity and effort from both sides that has been consistent with each meeting over the last four seasons, in which the two teams have split eight meetings.

Here are the pregame stories and previews from around the internet:

Pitt, UConn Brace for Rugged Showdown (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Pitt-UConn is Big Time Big East Match-up (Tribune-Review Notebook)
Pitt Visits UConn, Hunts First Win Over #1 Team (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
...But Does Anyone Care in Pittsburgh? (Waterbury Republican American)
Pitt Rally Still Hurts Huskies Last Year (Torrington Register Citizen)
Huskies Know it Wont Be Easy (Norwich Bulletin)
Meeting Their Match (Hartford Courant)
Gay Works on Power Play (Hartford Courant)
UConn Ready to Get Physical (Connecticut Post)

To read our preview and see our game prediction, click read more below and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section!


Connecticut enters the game as 8-pt favorites tonight and the #1 ranked Huskies will have plenty of ammunition to motivate themselves by just thinking back to their meeting last year in Connecticut, where Pittsburgh rallied from 17 points down in the first half to win by 10 in front of a stunned Gampel Pavilion and national TV audience on ESPN for their inaugural ESPN gameday for basketball. It is a game that has not left the minds of the UConn players.

For Pittsburgh, they still seem to be a team fighting for national respect, as evidenced by the #9 ranking, despite just suffering one loss on the season. Perusing internet sites you will usually see a qualifier attached to Pittsburgh when fans and media mention the Panthers, usually as the "worst top ten team" they have seen. While Pittsburgh is never usually a visual pleasing team to watch, they continue to be effective at what matters most...winning!

Tonight's game is expected to be a physical battle. Pittsburgh will look to hit the boards and slow down the Connecticut running attack by being effecient in a half court game. UConn loves to run anytime, after turnovers, missed shots and even made baskets. In the past, Pittsburgh has done a very good job in forcing UConn to slow down and play in the half court, something the Huskies can get impatient with.

Both teams will look to establish their inside play to set their tone for the game. It should be a good match-up with Pittsburgh using Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall and Sam Young predominately in the mix with some minutes from Tyrell Biggs. Connecticut will counter with Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and Jeff Adrien with a few minutes from Ed Nelson. Foul trouble is going to be a key factor in this match-up as neither team would like to see one of their big men pick p a 2nd foul early in the first half, because that would mean plenty of pine time the rest of the half, unless the game seems to be slipping away early for one coach.

The key for Pitt, getting Aaron Gray touches and running the offense through him. Gray is an excellent passer and leads the Big East in rebounding. He can frustrate at times by missing some "easy" shots, but continuing to have him as an option inside opens it up for Pittsburgh. For Connecticut, Armstrong has really stepped out of the shadow of past UConn stars and has taken a leading role for the Huskies, especially in Big East play. He and Boone block a lot of shots and could get in the heads of the Pitt players inside.

At the guard, Marcus Williams and Craig Austrie start for UConn while Pitt counters with Carl Krauser and Ronald Ramon. UConn has the luxury of bringing an offensive spark off the bench in senior sniper Rashad Anderson. Senior Denham Brown is also another luxury coming off the bench and seems to be rounding back into shape after a sore knee limited his effectiveness. But, the part that makes this Husky engine purr is Williams. As long as Williams concentrates on getting the big men the ball and delivering timely passes to an open Anderson, the UConn offense is at its best. If he gets baited into a one-on-one offensive duel with Krauser, his focus could be off making his team better. For Pitt, Krauser is their scoring threat on the perimeter and is playing off the ball this year to take advantage of his scoring skills. The 5th-year senior has thrived in key situations in the past and there seems to be no situations that are new to him. Ramon is a dead-eye 3-pt shooter that is hitting over 50% from the arc in Big East play. Antonio Graves is coming off a career high against Marquette and freshmen Levance Fields will also see significant playing time for Pitt.

On the wing UConn boasts one of the most talented athletes in college basketball in Rudy Gay. At 6'9, he poses significant match-up problems for Pittsburgh with his ability to go inside and outside. Pittsburgh will start John DeGroat (6'5) at the wing and rotate Keith Benjamin (6'2) and Antonio Graves (6'2) into the mix. Last year, Pittsburgh used Levon Kendall at the 3-spot in the UConn game and Gay was ineffective in their first meeting at UConn. In their second meeting, the Pittsburgh wing position was a revolving door and Gay led UConn with 17 pts. It will be a key factor again because the match-up heavily favors Gay and UConn. If he takes advantage, it could be a large gap for the Panthers to overcome, because, they could play very even with UConn in the other match-ups on most nights.

This is an interesting game because it is the style that Connecticut could struggle against and they always have a tough initial game with Pittsburgh. It is also a game in which Pittsburgh looks forward to as a way to show those around the country they are worthy of being mentioned among the country's elite.

On this night, the home team prevails as they have the one clear cut advantage on the wing.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 75 Pittsburgh 68

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Friday, January 27, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Connecticut @ Providence

January 28, 2006

The Providence Friars opened Big East play by dropping their first four games, but they have rebounded a bit lately and have won two straight, winning at home against DePaul last weekend and coming up with a surprising win at Rutgers this past week. Now, they return home to face the #1 team in the nation, the Connecticut Huskies.

The Huskies were involved in an old-school Big East rock fight Wednesday night against St. John's. The two schools have re-developed quite a rivalry over the last couple months with some sparring in the media and on the recruiting trail and from watching Jim Calhoun on the sideline Wednesday night, you could see how important that game, which hardly registered a blip on the conference radar to most not too long ago, was to Calhoun and the Huskies. Now, they need to re-focus on the Friars and not look ahead to Pittsburgh, who is coming early next week.


One thing that the Huskies should find more to their liking on Saturday is a little more space to operate. St. John's really got after it on the defensive end and wanted the game to be a physical battle in the mud. Providence, on the other hand, is nearly a polar opposite of the Friars and will likely fall into a zone and not provide too much resistence in the middle or on the boards for the entire 40 minutes. They are prone to allowing open looks on the perimeter and 2nd chance points on the boards and, in the past, not getting back on defense. Those are three areas the Huskies LOVE to expose.

With just eight scholarship players, and six of them being freshmen and sophomores, the Friars are going to have to think defense and slowing the game down, making it shorter, if they hope to have any chance, even at home. Herbert Hill and Jonathan Kale wil come off the bench and be forced to provide strong minutes battling Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and Ed Nelson. The UConn front line got a little weaker with the one-game suspension of Jeff Adrien for his ejection in their last game with St John's for fighting with Aaron Spears. Randall Hanke playing big is an absolute must for the Friars in this game, but could be a tall order to ask for the sophomore.

On the wings and perimter, Providence can not match up with the size or depth of the Huskies who will start Marcus Williams, Craig Austrie and Rudy Gay and turn to seniors Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson early and often off the bench. Providence will start a couple freshmen, Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku, and senior Donnie McGrath at the guards. The youthful exuberance will probably be all too happy to run with the Huskies, which, is probably not a good idea when your short on talent and numbers to go up against UConn.

However, that youthful exuberance might also be the best weapon of these Friars as they might not know any better. This should be one of the better crowds the Dunkin Donuts Center has all season as Connecticut will definitely be a target of their fans and sometimes young players respond to the excitement. Howeve,r over 40 minutes, these young Friars are going to be hard-pressed to maintain their energy against the constant wave of UConn's talent.

This should be a balances performance from the Huskies, getting scoring and contributions from every spot on the floor with almost every line-up they put out there. They absolutely masacred Syracuse's zone and forced the Orange into turnovers and poor offensive possessions all over the place early in their game. If their energy and focus comes anywhere close to that effort on Saturday, the friars will find themselves in a similar hole early on.

It is another learning experience for the young Friars. I like some of their young pieces, but I am still not sure how well it translates for the future in this new Big East. They are likely to get a strong lesson this weekend, lets see how they respond.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 83 Providence 67

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: St John's @ Connecticut

January 25, 2006

With the set-up of the new Big East, some worried it would be difficult to create or maintain rivalries, but, every conference needs rivilaries and in the last few months, Norm Roberts and Jim Calhoun seem to be very intent and building one between the Redstorm and Huskies as it has played out in the media. Tonight, they meet up on the court!

Here are some of the pregame articles from around the internet:

No 1. Huskies Welcome red-hot Storm to Town (Danbury News Times)
With Williams Back, Austrie Still on the court (Connecticut Post)
As #1 Team, Huskies Really Target Now (New London Day)
Brown Still Riding See-saw Career (Hartford Courant)
Huskies Face Red Hot Storm (Norwich Bulletin)
St John's Takes Aim at Huskies (Waterbury Republican-American)
Scrappy St John's in Town (Torrington Register-Citizen)
Calhoun, Huskies Ready for St John's...on the court (New Haven Register)
UConn Wary But Enjoying the View (Hartford Courant)

Confident Redstorm Tackle Huskies (Newsday)
Disgruntled Gray Transfers to Iona (Daily News)
Roberts, Calhoun Star in Soap Opera (NY Post)
Storming the Top.
Johnnies on the Spot (NY Post)

To read our preview and see our game prediction, click read more below and don't forget to leave your prediction in the comments section!


With all those pre-game articles to read, not much else really can be said about this one. Connecticut is the newly annointed #1 team in the land and will definitely have a bigger bulls-eye on their back as long as they remain #1. St John's took down undefeated Pittsburgh at home last weekend and now they will try to take down the nation's #1 team on the road, a tall order for thr 15-pt underdogs.

St John's definitely has a style that is very unique in the conference. They are tough, gritty and scrappy and play that way for the entire 40 minutes for coach Norm Roberts. They are not a very good shooting team, but are tough and athletic and will not give you anything.

Connecticut is the skilled and stylish group of potential NBA lottery picks. They prefer a free-flowing style that allows them to get out and run and play in open space. This is the area that the Redstorm will try to take away from the Huskies with thier defense and slow-it-down mentality on offense. They would love for the game to be in the 50's while UConn wants it to be a track meet.

Playing in the road it is much tougher to control tempo and look for Coach Calhoun to be on the officials early trying to get a tightly called game to give Connecticut more space, and playing at home, look for him to get it.

The quickness of Daryll Hill is a weapon that SJU will need to unleash in this game. He will need to engage Marcus Williams in a little bit of one-on-one action to possibly get Williams away from running the team in the near perfect manner he has recently. The UConn front line will have to respect Lamont Hamilton's ability to face up and nail the 3-pt shot, but if he decides it is easier to get shots at the arc than inside, it could be a long night for the Redstorm.

Connecticut has a lot of depth inside and out and it is quality depth. The Redstorm lost a little of their depth this week when Dexter Gray decided to transfer out of the program and move on to Iona, most likely. With a three game winning streak, it is not clear if this could pose a distraction. The Redstorm have clawed their way to 3-2 in the conference and have to be taken seriously, Jim Calhoun will be on his team from start to finish tonight making sure they do.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 75 St John's 58

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Monday, January 16, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Connecticut @ Syracuse

January 16, 2006

Another edition of Big Monday tips off tonight and it does not get much bigger in the Big East than Connecticut and Syracuse! Tonight they renew their rivalry on national television as this pair of heavyweights with their Hall of Fame coaches meet in the Carrier Dome on the Syracuse campus. Below are links to the many articles from the internet on tonight's game:

UConn's Frontcourt Will Test SU's Resolve (Rochester D&C)
Here Come the Huskies (Syracuse Post-Standard)
Austrie, Williams Keep Offense Moving (Norwich Bulletin)
UConn Set for Old Foe (Conn Post)
Conn Post Game Preview
No Time to Relax as Tough Stretch Begins (Waterbury Rep-Am)
Road Gets Tougher for UConn (Torrington Register-Citizen)
Time to Keep Eyes on the Road (Hartford Courant)


The Huskies are a slight favorite this morning, coming off a pair of home wins last week, beating Cincinnati last Monday, 70-59, and getting past Georgetown, 74-67, on Saturday.

Syracuse, in the midst of a killer 5-game stretch, won a pair of road games last week, being victorious at Notre Dame (88-82) and at Cincinnati (77-58) and prepare to mee UConn tonight. After this game, the Orange have road trips to Villanova and Pittsburgh this weekend and next Monday.

Syracuse has won 12 straight games since their November hiccup against Bucknell. Gerry McNamara has scored 54 points in their last two games and will now prepare to face his nemesis in UConn.

McNamara is one of the most decorated playes in Syracuse history and has performed on the biggest stages with Big East Tournament championship and an NCAA Championship, but something about Connecticut turns GMAC, the pride of Scranton into a shooter as cold as a Syracuse winter. For his career, McNamara is 23-101 (22.8%) from the floor and 13-60 (21.7%) from 3-pt range while averaging 10.7 PPG in his career against UConn, while the Orange have dropped 5 of 7.

While the Orange are off to a 3-0 start in the conference, UConn comes in with teo straight conference wins after opening conference play with a road loss at Marquette. They have only played two road games on the season (Pepperdine on November 18) before tonight and this will be quite an adjustment from the friendly confines of the Hartford Civic Center or their on campus home, Gambel Pavilion.

UConn is led by Rudy Gay, averaging 15 PPG and 6 rebounds and he will start along the front court with Hilton Armstrong, a senior averaging 10 PPG, nearly 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in 25 minutes a game, but he has really stepped up his play of late to become the force inside for UConn. JR Josh Boone will also start and he chips in 9 PPG and 6 rebounds a contest. The Orange front line has been much-maligned as they will start a trio of juniors in Terrence Roberts, Darryl Watkins and Demetris Nichols. Nichols has really stepped up his play this season and gives Syracuse a long and athletic small forward who adds scoring punch from the perimeter (15.5 PPG and 6 rebounds), shooting 40% from 3-pt range. Roberts adds 12 PPG and 9 rebounds and Watkins chips in 6 PPG, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. UConn will bring in freshmen Jeff Adrien off the bench as well as bruiser Ed Nelson. The only likely front court reserve for the Orange to see extended time is frosh Arinze Onuaku. Connecticut is a little more flexible and could move Gay to a 4-spot if need be.

Gerry McNamara and freshmen Eric Devendorf start in the backcourt for SU. McNamara is only shooting 34% from the floor (and 3-pt range) on the season, but leads the team with 17.8 PPG and 6.4 assists. Devendorf has been coming into his own since wrestling the starting spot away from Louie McCroskey and averages 10 PPG. McCroskey, another junior, adds depth to the backcourt and has been playing well of late, giving them some toughness and energy. PG Josh Wright has struggled with an injured foot and finding his way back into the rotation with the emergence of Devendorf. He is a true PG and frosh Andy Rautins also could see a little time as a spot shooter. For the Huskies, Marcus Williams has reclaimed the starting role at the PG position and will certainly be a target of the SU fans tonight. In his 4 games since returning from suspension, Williams is averaging 10.5 PPG and 7 assists a game. In the last game, he was joined in the starting line-up by Craig Austrie, a freshmen averaging 5 PPG and 4 assists, but most of his time comes at the point. Senior Denham Brown has also been a starter but has struggled since battling a sore knee and freshmen Marcus Johnson has also started at the spot. The most productive, offensively, member of the backcourt has been senior Rashad Anderson. The dead-eye marksman has averaged 14.5 PPG off the bench for the Huskies.

If Syracuse can get away with playing seven players against the deeper Huskies, meaning no foul trouble, then they do match-up very well. Roberts and Watkins have a history of foul trouble in their careers, but have been better this year, but will be tested tonight. Connecticut can not rely on settling for perimeter jumpers against the Orange zone, if they concentrate on getting the ball to the foul line and attacking from there, they should be in good shape.

I do worry about how in-sync the Huskies are right now, especially defensively on the perimeter with a revolving door of players. If Gerry McNamara can take advantage of this and rise above his historical woes against UConn, this could be an exciting win for the Orange. Tonight, I am going with the senior GMAC as he adds another chapter to his tall tale of an Orange legend.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Syracuse 76 Connecticut 71

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Georgetown @ Connecticut

January 14, 2006

I think we are really getting an idea at how unforgiving this league is. Georgetown travels to NYC on Sunday, then to Morgantown on Wednesday and it is off to Hartford for a noon tip on Saturday, already the Hoyas' 7th road game of the season. they return home next week to host South Florida and Duke.

For Connecticut, they are coming off a home win over Cincinnati on Monday and will have a quick turnaround of their own as they travel to Syracuse for a Big Monday match-up after this one and also has Louisville on the road next weekend as well.

Last year these teams met once at Georgetown and once at Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament with UConn winning both, 66-59 and 66-62. Both games were played in the range the Hoyas prefer, the 60's, and UConn battered them on the boards in each, but the deliberate style of play of Georgetown definitely kept Georgetown a tad out of sync.

Georgetown does return everyone from last season, so they will try to bring the same game plan against UConn with a little better effort on the boards. Georgetown really has an excellent starting 5 with Darrel Owens adding some punch off the bench. With Brandon Bowman, Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert off the bench, the Hoyas can match-up with the Connecticut front line of Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong. However, the Hoyas really do not have any additional answers off the bench to keep getting bigger while UConn can bring in Jeff Adrien and Ed Nelson to the mix as well.


The backcourts are also intriguing. Georgetown starts Jonathan Wallace at the point in their motion-based Princeton offense while Connecticut has freshmen Craig Austrie manning the point. At the shooting guard, each team has their own enigmas in Ashanti Cook and Denham Brown. Each player shows flashes of being brilliant, but each senior also has a tendency to disappear for games or at important junctures. Obviously, with Rashard Anderson and Marcus Johnson behind him, Brown has more support and UConn can overcome a subpar performance from him. With Georgetown, they have Darrel Owens, but he is more of a wing G/F and freshmen Jesse Sapp, but Cook is usually a key ingredient to deciding Georgetown's fate in big games. Connecticut also has Marcus Williams, back from suspension and now battling mononucleosis, in the mix at PG, again, showing how much depth this UConn team has available. If he is healthy, he is likely to get the majority of time at the point and his passing was key in the decisive run on Monday.

Connecticut is going to try to force tempo and use their size and athletic ability to hit the boards hard. They feel good when they are putting up 70+ shots a game. On the other had, Georgetown is much more methodical and wants to force UConn to defend 25-30 seconds per possession and milk you into a half court game. In 14 games this season, Connecticut has attempted 907 field goals (65/game) while in 13 games, Georgetown has attempted 644 shots from the field (49.5/game). Not only has Connecticut made more FT's (259) than their opponents have attempted (250), but they make more per game (18.5) than Georgetown attempts a game (18.46).

Georgetown really had a chance at West Virginia as the Mountaineers could not put up a normal performance from beyond the arc, but they were beaten on the boards and lost a little bit of their composure late in the game. The grueling week of road games that began Sunday night is too much to overcome in this one with a deep Connecticut team that is still improving and working out the kinks while getting players back into the mix. If Georgetown can keep the game in the 60's, they will hang, but I expect them to slowly fade throughout the game with all the athletes Connecticut will throw at them.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 74 Georgetown 63

Leave your game prediction and thoughts in the comments!

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Monday, January 09, 2006

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Cincinnati @ Connecticut

January 9, 2006

An exciting way to kick off another season of ESPN's Big Monday as the Connecticut Huskies will host Andy Kennedy and the red host Cincinnati Bearcats. Here are the links from around the internet we have found:

Hicks Up for Tilt with UConn (Record-Journal)
Tightened Defense Helps UConn Break Malaise (Norwich Bulletin)
Armstrong Can't Be Ignored (Hartford Courant)
Taking on the New Cats (Hartford Courant)
Cincinnati Next Big East Foe for UConn (Danbury News Times Live)
Cincinnati Thrives With Kennedy in Office (New Britain Herald)
Big East for Real Tonight (Cincy Post)
Limping Hicks: I'll Play Tonight (Cincy Post)
Hicks Says Ankle is Fine (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Physical Challenge Ahead for UConn with Bearcats (Waterbury Republican American)
Calhoun, Disappointed, Keeps Boos in Perspective (Connecticut Post)

As with any Connecticut game, plenty of excellent coverage available. For our preview and prediction, read on below after we recap the weekend that was in the Big East...

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RE-capping the Weekend's Predictions:
On Saturday, we had four conference games to follow. First up was an old Conference USA rivalry and it lived up the the pregame hype. Marquette jetted out to a 10-pt half time lead before Cincinnati mounted their comeback to pull out a 70-66 lead. The NBE Blogger predicted that the 4.5-pt favorite Bearcats would get the road win by 3 (75-72) so it was a win outright and with the points for NBE Blogger. The NBE Blogger went with the home team next as DePaul was a 1-pt underdog against Notre Dame on their home floor. Notre Dame seemed to still have their minds in Pittsburgh as DePaul raced to a 23-6 lead, only to see ND tie it midway through the first half. DePaul re-grouped and won 73-67 and the NBE Blogger, who picked DePaul to win by 2 (67-65) had another win and cover. The battle of New Jersey also took place on Saturday afternoon and it was not the anticipated defensive struggle the NBE Blogger figured it to be with his prediction of Rutgers winning by 13 (68-55). Rutgers won, but only by 4, 82-78 (as 7-pt favorites) so, the NBE Blogger had a win, but no cover. Capping off Saturday was Rick Pitino's return to Providence and the 4-pt favorite Cards we the pick of NBE Blogger (77-66). It was closer than expected as UL scored the last 6 pts to pull out a 72-67 win, but it was enough to get the NBE Blogger the win and cover for a 4-0 day outright and 3-1 against the spread.

On Sunday, computer issues prevented us previewing and making prediction on WVU's thrilling 91-87 win over Villanova and Syracuse's 63-57 win over USF, which might have been a good thing ;). We did get a chance to provide a prediction on the Georgetown/SJU game and we went with the 3-pt favorite Hoyas to win by 9 (62-53). We did not expect the offensive showing each team would put forth, but the Hoyas 74-65 win was good for the win and cover making it a 5-0 weekend with outright winners and 4-1 against the spread and making the first week record: 11-1 outright picking winners and 8-4 against the spread.

Cincinnati @ Connecticut:
This game is a perfect example of what the college basketball fan must love about the New Big East. It is one of those games that you can sit back and watch and learn a lot about two teams, coaches and programs at the elite level of college basketball. It should be a tremendous battle of two of the highest scoring teams in the league, but two teams that take such pride in defense, intensity and rebounding as well.

As we all know, this is also a game featuring two teams that were in the news quite often in the off season for matters that were taking place off the court. Of course, Bob Huggins will not be roaming the sideline for the Cincinnati Bearcats, it will be interim head coach Andy Kennedy. The Bearcats have surpassed all expectations thus far with a 10-game winning streak and a 13-2 recird, which includes a pair of conference wins over other Conference USA alums Marquette and DePaul. They are not a very deep team, especially upfront and an ankle injury suffered by Eric Hicks in their last game against Marquette is something of a concern. Hicks was in obvious pain on the Bradley Center floor after turning his ankle, but returned to finish the game. It is a short turnaround and no doubt, the ankle will be tender, so this is a development to watch tonight as the Bearcats only have Hicks, 6'7 JUCO JR Cedric McGowan and 6'10 NAIA JR transfer Ronald Allen available to battle the UConn front line that can shuttle players in and out.

Freshmen Devan Downey handles the PG duties for UC and will be under the microscope tonight in trying to keep his team in rhythm against the usual relentless pressure to run put on by Connecticut. He will be flanked on the perimeter by seniors Armien Kirkland and James White, while off the bench comes another pair of seniors Chadd Moore and Jihad Muhammad. White leads the team in scoring at 17.5 PPG and Hicks is second with 15 PPG and a team leading 9 rebounds a contest. Downey adds 14 PPG and a team high 4 assists/game. As a team, the Bearcats shoot an outstanding 79% from the line and 41% from beyond the arc while averaging around 83 PPG and giving up around 69 PPG.

For Connecticut, this might be the night we see Marcus Williams return to the starting line-up. Of course it was Williams that kept UConn on the front pages this summer for his role in a scheme to pawn stolen campus laptops. Williams has played the last two games for the Huskies after his one semester suspension and seems poised to take back his expected amount of time from freshmen Craig Austrie at the point guard spot. He is also recovering from being ill in the past week, too. Denham Brown has been slowed by a sore knee of late and the Huskies will likely round out their starting line-up with Rudy Gay (16 PPG), Josh Boone (10 PPG, 6.5 rebounds) and Hilton Armstrong (9 PPG). Rashad Anderson is their second leading scorer and comes off the bench, averaging 15.5 PPG and shoots 49% from 3-pt land. The Huskies love to run and average nearly 85 PPG and give up around 65 PPG, although, they have not played the type of schedule Cincinnati has tested themselves with.

Both teams have played LSU as a non-conference opponent with Connecticut rallying for a 67-66 win at home on Saturday and the Bearcats rallied for a neutral floor vicotry on Las Vegas last month, 75-72. They each played at Marquette in the last week and Connecticut got caught in the Steve Noval storm for a 94-79 loss and the Bearcats rode Erick Hicks triple double and strong defense limiting the Golden Eagles to just 20 second half points in a 70-66 win.

It will be interesting to see tonight how UConn handles the physical presence of Cincinnati, something they have had trouble with in the past is a player like Hicks (Chevon Troutman last year). However, Hick's ankle could limit some of the explosiveness he needs to battle the taller, deeper UConn front line.

UConn also seems a bit of of sync offensively with all the players being run in and out of the line-up. This is not unusual for Jim Calhoun and he seems to be willing his team to come up with the extra effort, especially on defense. This does lead to some performances that are a little less than special early in conference play.

Tonight is Big Monday and I do look for Connecticut to look a little more in-sync and play more consistently. I do think James White and a healthy Eric Hicks pose an interesting test and will put pressure on UConn in the areas they might be susceptible. However, on the road, Cincinnati might just not have enough depth tonight playing on such a short turn-around. It will be an interesting game to see if Rudy Gay can outplay James White, if he does, UConn could win easily, if not, it could come down to the wire. I think they play to a draw and UConn overall is just a bit too much.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Connecticut 77 Cincinnati 69 (UConn is listed as 7.5-pt favorite)

Please leave YOUR predictions in the comments section!

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006


January 3, 2006

The Big East conference kicks off conference play tonight with a very anticipated game for both sides. For the Golden Eagles coached by Tom Crean, it is their first conference game as members of the Big East. On the Connecticut side, they welcome back Marcus Williams after a semester-long suspension for his role in the summer theft of laptops from campus dorms.


Pomeroy Ratings Has UConn by 9 tonight at the Bradley Center. The Huskies are 11-0 this season against an RPI SOS of 245. The young Marquette squad is 10-3 against a 175th rated schedule, but are 0-1 against the RPI top 50 and 2-2 overall against the top 100, while UConn is 3-0 against the top 50 after the tournament title in Maui, which was a long time ago (RPI.

Connecticut has not played a road game since November 18th when they opened their schedule against Pepperdine on their way to Maui for the Maui Classic. The last time they played away from home was November 23 in the Maui Classic final and since then they have feasted on some holiday creampuffs (Connecticut Schedule). They are led by Rudy Gay who averages 16.4 PPG and they also get 15 PPG off the bench from Rashad Anderson who is shooting a torrid 51% from beyond the arc. As a team they average 88 PPG and are outrebounding opponents by 13 a contest.

Marquette comes in averaging 76 PPG, which is a little higher than I anticipated them scoring a game after the way they finished the season last year and with all the new players in the mix. Freshmen Dominic James leads the way with 14 PPG and nearly 6 assists and senior Steve Novak also contributes nearly 14 PPG, shooting 43% from beyond the arc and making all 22 of his free throw attempts on the season. Another freshmen, Jerel McNeal adds nearly 11 PPG for the Golden Eagles cause.

Having the game at home inthe Bradley Center will no doubt help the young Marquette squad be energized and some added adrenaline. Connecticut likes to run and run some more and how the young guards at Marquette handle this and avoid trying to out-gun UConn at every opportunity will definitely play a factor in how this game plays out.

Marquette is also dealing with some injury news as the thirs member of the three-headed freshmen guard trio, Wesley Mathews, is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot. The timing of this news could not have been worse for Marquette. However, Marquette is a versatile team and they have Dan Fitzgerald, a 6'9 sophomore, who can play multiple positions and senior Joe Chapman to add some experience to the mix.

I expect UConn to take a little time adjusting to the new surroundings of playing on the road against a high-major opponent for the first time in a while. They also might have to take some time to iron out their rotation as they have been shuttling players in and out the last month and now add Williams back into the mix. However, the inexperience of Marquette and superior rebounding prowess of Connecticut should be enough for UConn to pull away steadily as the game progresses.

NBE Blogger game prediction:

Connecticut 85
Marquette 68

Leave your game prediction in the comments!

Here are some game preview articles from the media:

Huskies Ready to Introduce Marquette to Big East (New London Day)
Now It Gets Serious (Waterbury, CT Republican American)
Huskies Know Its Tiem to Shift into High Gear (Bristol Press)
There's Plenty New in Big East Opener (Hartford Courant)
MU Challenges Beasts of Big East (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
Huskies Face Marquette (News Time Live)
#2 UConn @ Marquette (Connecticut Post)
Best of Big East Rolls In (Cracked Sidewalks)

More on the Return of Marcus Williams:

Williams Return Should Help Boone (Record-Journal)
Williams Looking Forward to Re-joining Huskies (News Time Live)
Williams Working Way Back (Connecticut Post)
Williams Looks for Smooth Transition (New London Day)
Williams Primed for Return (Waterbury Republican American)
Williams Gets Assist from Mom (Hartford Courant)

Also: Calhoun Crunching Numbers (Hartford Courant)

Wesley Mathews Injury:
Mathews Out with Injury Connecticut Post)
Foot Injury Shelves Mathews (Milwaukee J-S)

Read more!