NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12: Head coach Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies celebrate after defeating the Louisville Cardinals during the championship of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Big East 2011 Tournament: Kemba Walker Brilliant As UConn Wins

Pitt is the top seed in the 2011 Big East Tournament.

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Big East 2011 Tournament: West Virginia Leads Marquette By 7 At The Half

Early on, the Mountaineers found all their scoring from behind the three point arc, hitting their first four deep shots of the day.  Marquette's first half success came driving the basketball.  While the Golden Eagles stagnated in the halfcourt early, by the middle of the half they realized the path to the basket worth taking was the direct route. The Golden Eagles pushed the tempo and began scoring consistently scored in transition.  West Virginia's big men have struggled getting back, and have generally been exposed by the dribble drive.

While it's good to see the Mountaineers hitting their shots early, the defensive end of things has been struggling.  This Marquette team isn't afraid of playing aggressively and WVU has had trouble with dynamic guards this season.  John Flowers went to the bench early in the half picking up two fouls early.

Turnovers also killed the Mountaineers early and a lot of good possesions were sunk by junor varisty mistakes. Joe Mazulla gave the ball up a couple of possesions in a row, and West Virginia dug themselves a small hole.  As usual, West Virginia's defense kept things close and the Mountaineers were always a shot away, most times a long jumper. It was then that  West Virginia stormed back into the lead on a 10-0 run highlighted by deep threes from Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant.

On the half's final play, Truck put the ball on the deck and went straight to the rack and scored the kind of falling lay-up that he often whiffs on.  In the last five minutes of the half, the Mountaineers finally came alive and go into the locker room up 7.

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2011 Big East Tournament: Mountaineers Begin Title Defense Against Golden Eagles

All of a sudden, just like that, it's March again. West Virginia's 2010 run to the the Big East Championship and the Final Four was amazing. A year later, last March's achievements seem like something I dreamed, and I'm still not totally sure it actually happened. Since then, the Mountaineers have had an up and down season filled with mighty struggles, that have seen players injured, suspended, and kicked off the team. Nothing has been easy. Miraculously, just as the calendar turns to March, the Mountaineers are playing their best basketball, winning four out of the last five. Today they open Big East Tournament their Big East Championship defense against the Marquette Golden Eagles. Here's what's worth watching tonight, if you can stay up late enough:

  • The golden touch of Marquette. No team wowed crowds yesterday like the Marquette Golden Eagles. Their game with Providence was over as it began, when Marquette jumped out to a 17 point lead they would never relinquish. Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom led the way yesterday, and will be the two players who will  draw the focus of the Mountaineers' best defenders, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla. Problem is, foul trouble sank Flowers in the team's only meeting this season, a five-point victory back on January 1. In that game, Jae Crowder pushed around Mountaineer forwards and Bob Huggins even went zone to try to stop the bleeding. I think today's Mountaineers are much better than they were back on January 1, so I don't expect any lapses on defense tonight. 
  • It's Joey Mazz time. In the past, Joe Mazzulla has put the Mountaineers on his back and beaten much better teams than Marquette. I get the feeling that it is not lost on him that these are the last games he'll ever get to play. I'm expecting him to do things that we've never seen him do over the next couple of weeks. As Mazzulla goes, go the Mountaineers in this postseason. He doesn't need to score points by the bunch, but he does need to keep the offense running and jam up the opposition defensively. If he plays as well as we know he can, the 'Eers will cruise past Marquette and more than a few more teams this postseason.
  • JFlow's snub. John Flowers was snubbed for the Big East's defensive player of the year award. I'm not going to say that Rick Jackson didn't deserve the award, but I will say that he never actually had to guard anybody. Flowers is WVU's best defensive player, and has shut down a long list of good players so far this season. His snub will have him playing energized, and I expect him to be a force on defense tonight, and throughout the rest of tournament. Flowers knows his job is to square up to the other team's best player, and to shut him down. He'll do that, and more.
  • Run offense, take good shots. Those two things have been hard for the Mountaineers to do this season. The offense will be disrupted by Marquette's length tonight, and the Eagles will switch everything and try to trap whenever possible. Now, trapping and switching often leave an offensive player wide open, but then it's still on his teammates to find him. West Virginia has struggled with double teams all season, and finding the open man has been out of the question. This leads to forced shots, which lead to transition buckets going the other way. The Mountaineers absolutely need to focus on getting good looks, and running productive sets. If WVU can post up Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli all night, then they should roll to victory. If they get baited into turnovers and ill-advised jumpers, than the Eagles will be a hard team to contend with.

Check back at SBNation Pittsburgh for halftime and post-game updates...

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2011 Big East Tournament Predictions; Panthers To Hoist Championship Trophy

The bracket for the 2011 Big East Tournament seedings were set yesterday, but already it's time to look into the crystal ball and see how next week's tournament will play out. We here at SBNation Pittsburgh think that the local teams, the Panthers and the Mountaineers, will both do just fine. The rest of the field? Not so much.

 

Tuesday, March 8

Connecticut - 75, DePaul - 60: The Blue Demons only managed to net one win in the conference this season, and they won't get number two against the Huskies. Kemba Walker and company roll easily through the tournament's opening game.

Seton Hall - 66, Rutgers - 59: The battle of the turnpike won't be pretty but Jeremy Hazell's crew should come out on top. Seton Hall had another lackluster season this year, but seem to be playing better down the stretch.

Villanova - 81, South Florida - 68: Another of the conference's premier teams find themselves playing on the first day of the tournament, but it shouldn't bother the Wildcats. South Florida hasn't beaten a team not named DePaul since mid-January, which doesn't bode well for the Bulls.

Providence - 69, Marquette - 66: The first day's only upset, Marshon Brooks will lead the Friars into day two of tourney. The Golden Eagles have had plenty of chances to play their way into the big dance, and have blown all of them. Add this one to the pile.

 

Wednesday, March 9

Connecticut - 75, Georgetown - 74: Two evenly matched teams will play an evenly matched game, but the Huskies will come out on top. Late-game heroics from freshman Shabazz Napier will seal the deal and propel UConn into the third round. John Thompson III's squad has been slumping lately and coming into this one cold will put them off of their game.

St. John's - 65, Seton Hall - 54: St. John's got blown out by the Hall last week, putting a slight tarnish on their Cinderella season. They won't let that happen again. St. John's marches on.

Cincinnati - 67, Villanova - 59: Mick Cronin's squad punched their ticket to the NCAA's this weekend when the knocked off the Hoyas. They'll wipe away any doubts the committee might have bye stymieing 'Nova with tough defense and and a physical presence in the paint.

West Virginia - 60, Providence - 51: Marshon Brooks is no match for West Virginia's physical defense, and the Mountaineers win their fourth straight game the way they've won twenty games this season: ugly. The steady hand of Joe Mazzulla will keep the ship from taking in water during some cold stretches, and the Mountaineers pull away at the end.

 

Thursday, March 10

Pitt - 70, Connecticut - 62: The Panthers climbed to the top of the conference this season with size, defense and depth. By the time the Huskies make it to Thursday, they'll be playing their third game in five days. The Panthers' depth will wear down UConn's tired legs, and put Pitt into the semi-finals.

St. John's 65, Syracuse - 59: The Orange have won five in a row, and seven of nine, but their mojo stops in the Garden. Lavin's squad have their finest moment of the season and Dwight Hardy scintillates the hometown crowd by raining threes over the 'Cuse's patented zone defense.

Notre Dame - 71, Cincinnati - 55: Sometimes talent outweighs grit, and Mike Brey's squad will dispatch the Bearcats with ease in their first tournament game. The Irish are the real deal, a lesson Cincy learns the hard way.

West Virginia - 64, Louisville - 55: The season's first two meetings between the Mountaineers and the Cardinals had wild finishes.  In this one, the Mountaineers use their size to create second looks in paint and Kevin Jones and John Flowers have standout games. Joe Mazzulla's tough defense creates havoc for Peyton Siva and the Mountaineers move on without much drama.

 

Friday, March 11

Pitt - 72, St. John's - 66: St. John's will hold close for most of this one, but will have no match for Gilbert Brown and Brad Wanamaker in the game's waning minutes. The Panthers' experience will trump the Johnnies' emotion, and Pitt will make a return to a very familiar place: the Big East title game.

Notre Dame - 71, West Virginia - 59: The Mountaineers blew by the Irish by shooting lights out a week ago in Morgantown. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins' squad, their hot hand can't last forever. Tough defense and a dominant shooting performance from Ben Hansbrough put the Irish in the title game, and foil the opportunity for a third Backyard Brawl.

 

Saturday, March 12

Pitt - 69,  Notre Dame - 63: There may have been a few upsets along the way, but the conference's two best teams will chalk their way into Saturday night's final.  Pitt's senior leadership and depth make them a tough out in any tournament, and Notre Dame won't be able to dislodge the Panthers.  The only question remaining for Jamie Dixon's crew is if Big East tournament success will translate to NCAA tournament success?  A Big East title will wrap up a Number One seed for Pitt, and the remaining question will be what the Panthers can do with it.

 

Make sure to follow SBNation Pittsburgh all week for updates on the 2011 Big East Tournament, with a heavy emphasis on the Pitt Panthers and West Virginia Mountaineers.

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