- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

Yesterday through Saturday, Madison Square Garden,New York

PLAYER TO WATCH

Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut

The word is that UConn’s 7-foot-3, 265-pound center is headed for the NBA in a few months. A relative newcomer to the game, Thabeet (10.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.5 blocks) seems to improve every time he steps on the floor. Over the next several nights, expect him to shine.

BEST BET: LOUISVILLE

The Cardinals have played the league’s best basketball over the last two months, winning nine of their last 10 games. Though perimeter shooting is a bit of an Achilles’ heel, Rick Pitino’s bunch has the Big East’s best mix of defense, depth and athleticism. Expect the Cardinals to clip Connecticut behind the frontcourt trio of Terrence Williams, Earl Clark and David Padgett.

DARK HORSE: VILLANOVA

The Wildcats helped their NCAA tournament changes with yesterday’s victory over Syracuse. Villanova features perhaps the league’s two best perimeter shooters in Herndon High School graduate Scottie Reynolds and freshman Corey Stokes. And unlike tournament favorites Georgetown, Louisville and Connecticut, the Wildcats are a guard-centric team, a makeup more conducive to success in consecutive-day tournament play.

MOST TO GAIN: VILLANOVA

As stated above, the Wildcats (20-11) moved onto the NCAA tournament bubble by crushing Syracuse 82-63, adding both another victory to their resume and dispatching a fellow NCAA hopeful with the same stroke. Assuming Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Marquette, Pittsburgh and West Virginia are in the NCAA field, Villanova (RPI of 57) needs to impress to force the committee to take eight Big East teams — that might mean a victory over No. 9 Georgetown today or bust.

WHO’S HOT?: GEORGETOWN

The Hoyas are looking to add a second consecutive Big East tournament title to their back-to-back regular-season crowns, matching Connecticut’s accomplishment from 1998 to 1999. The Hoyas boast veteran leadership and have won five straight games since a mid-February loss at Syracuse.

WHO’S NOT?: MARQUETTE

Georgetown edged the Golden Eagles in their last home game and Syracuse then blasted them 87-72 at the Carrier Dome in their Big East finale. Marquette is guard-oriented team that struggles from behind the arc.

Barker Davis

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