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February 1, 2008? MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC
Best matchup: Pittsburgh at Connecticut. The Huskies have gone a long way toward proving their absence from the NCAA Tournament last year was an aberration instead of a trend. UConn (15-5, 5-3 Big East) has won four consecutive games during a stretch that includes victories over Marquette, Cincinnati, Indiana and Louisville. Making the surge even more impressive is the fact Connecticut beat Indiana and Louisville without suspended guards Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins, who average a combined 20.9 points per game. While the Huskies are streaking, Pittsburgh is staggering with two losses in its last four games, though the Panthers may have turned a corner Wednesday with a 69-57 victory over Villanova. The winner of this game can stake a claim to being Georgetown's top challenger for the Big East title, though Marquette, Louisville and Notre Dame also could have something to say about that.
The pressure is on: Villanova. We gave Villanova this distinction last week, but the Wildcats have done nothing since to ease our suspicions that they might have a disappointing season. Forget the fact that the Wildcats found themselves in the national rankings until this week. Villanova (13-5, 3-5) has lost three games by double-digit margins and now must rally to earn an NCAA bid. The Wildcats could make a late-season surge, because four of their last six games are at home, but they can't afford to slip up in an upcoming three-game stretch against Syracuse, at St. Joseph's and against Seton Hall.
Upset alert: Marquette at Cincinnati. At what point does a Cincinnati victory over a seemingly superior opponent stop becoming an upset? We already correctly predicted Cincinnati victories over Villanova and Pittsburgh two of the past three weeks. The Bearcats (9-11, 4-4) remain under .500 overall, but they're 3-1 in conference home games, with the only loss being a one-point decision against Connecticut. We're guessing Cincinnati comes through Saturday and gives its home fans one more reason to celebrate.
RPI watch: The Big East is third in the RPI conference ratings and trails the Atlantic Coast Conference and Pac-10. The Big East had four teams with RPIs in the top 25 as of Thursday: No. 9 Georgetown, No. 17 Pittsburgh, No. 20 Connecticut and No. 22 Marquette. Other teams in the top 50 were No. 36 Syracuse, No. 38 Louisville, No. 41 Notre Dame, No. 47 Seton Hall and No. 48 West Virginia.
Freshmen to watch: Pittsburgh guard/forward Gilbert Brown has made two-thirds of his shots (14-for-21) over his last four games and scored a career-high 16 points Saturday in a 77-64 loss to Rutgers. ? Rutgers guard Mike Coburn is averaging 21 points per game over his last three contests. Coburn was averaging just 6.3 points per game before this stretch. ? USF guard Dominique Jones has scored in double figures in seven of his last eight games. ? Syracuse forward Donte Greene has scored in double figures in 21 of the Orange's 22 games and leads all Big East freshmen with 18.4 points per game. Seton Hall swingman Brian Laing (19.3) and Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody (19.3) are the only Big East players with higher scoring averages. ? Villanova forward Antonio Pena shot 8-for-9 and scored 17 points Saturday in a 90-80 loss to Notre Dame, though he followed that up by shooting 4-for-15 and scoring only 10 points Wednesday in a 69-57 loss to Pittsburgh.
Key stat: Georgetown entered the week leading the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.352) and ranked fourth in field-goal percentage (.507). The only other teams in the nation making at least half of their shots through Sunday were Boise State (.520), Kansas (.516), North Carolina-Asheville (.508), Utah State (.506), Florida (.502) and IUPUI (.500).
Who's hot: Cincinnati guard Deonta Vaughn has scored in double figures in 13 consecutive games and is averaging 22.3 points over his last three games. ? Connecticut guard A.J. Price has scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games and had 20 points ? his highest total since Dec. 1 ? Monday in a 69-67 victory over Louisville. ? Connecticut forward Stanley Robinson has recorded two straight double-doubles. ? Marquette forward Lazar Hayward has averaged 17 points over his last three games, including a career-high 23-point outburst Tuesday in a 62-54 victory over USF. ... Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody is averaging 27.7 points and 12.7 rebounds over his last three games. Harangody scored a career-high 31 points Thursday in an 81-74 overtime victory over Providence. ? Seton Hall guard/forward Brian Laing has scored at least 22 points in four consecutive games. Laing also is averaging eight rebounds per game during that stretch. ? USF center Kentrell Gransberry has scored at least 20 points in seven of his last nine games. Gransberry also has at least 10 rebounds in eight of his last 10 games. ? Syracuse forward Arinze Onuaku is averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds over his last three games. Onuaku shot 10-for-13 and scored 22 points Wednesday in a 60-55 victory over DePaul.
Who's not: Louisville forward Terrence Williams shot 2-for-10 from the floor Monday in a 69-67 loss to Connecticut and has failed to reach double figures in three consecutive games. ? Marquette guard Jerel McNeal has shot 10-for-36 from the floor over his last three games. ? USF guard Chris Howard has shot 5-for-26 from the floor ? including 0-for-5 from 3-point range ? in his last three games. Howard also has gone 3-for-15 from the free-throw line in his last four games. ? Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn has shot 6-for-22 ? including 1-of-9 from 3-point range ? in the Orange's last two games. ? Villanova guard Corey Fisher has shot 7-for-25 in the Wildcats' last two games. ? West Virginia guard Alex Ruoff is in a 14-for-44 shooting slump over his last five games.
Worth noting: West Virginia didn't exactly come out with all guns blazing Wednesday in Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins' first game against his former school. The Mountaineers went just 10-for-50 from the floor ? the worst shooting night in school history ? in a 62-39 home loss to Cincinnati. West Virginia's Alex Ruoff and Joe Alexander are the Mountaineers' two leading scorers this season, but they combined to shoot 1-for-16 against Cincinnati. The Mountaineers shot 1-for-22 from 3-point range. ? Georgetown forward DaJuan Summers sat out a 74-42 victory Thursday over St. John's after sustaining a minor injury to his left ankle against West Virginia last weekend. ? A back injury caused USF guard Jesus Verdejo to miss a 62-54 loss to Marquette on Tuesday. ? Providence guard/forward Geoff McDermott has shot just 9-for-30 n his last four games, but one of the Big East's most versatile players continues to find other ways to contribute. McDermott has recorded at least eight rebounds and five assists in each of his last four games. .. Cincinnati is one victory away from matching its 2006-07 win total.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.