1. Plenty of basketball left to be played before the MSG comes calling. How do you expect Mike Brey and company to finish the regular season?
The Irish have 4 more left to play: home against Cincy (2/24) and St. John's (3/5) and at Marquette (3/2) and Louisville (3/9). That's a tough set of games to finish up the season, with no obvious wins (if such a thing exists anymore).
That said, I think the Pitt game (more than the Louisville miracle) is really going to spark a nice turnaround for this team the rest of the way. The last 30 or so minutes of that game, they really seemed to be figuring out spacing and roles on offense (which has been a disaster since Martin went out), and if they can continue that kind of effort on defense (with fewer games and more rest than anyone else in the Big East), they are that team that can beat anyone again.
I'll predict a 3-1 finish with the only loss coming in the finale at Louisville. I think the Irish will set themselves up nicely for a 4 or 5 seed with that kind of finish instead of the 7-10 seed they are looking at now. Here's hoping anyway.
2. Early prediction time: Who you got winning the Big East tourney? And who gets crowned national champs?
It's hard not to love the way Georgetown is playing right now. When they are going right, they might have the best balance in the league, including, for my money, the best player in Otto Porter. They have been very efficient offensively during conference play and seem to control tempo better than most. I'll go with them, although there are plenty of contenders as usual.
For right now, I'll go with the Michigan Wolverines to win the NCAA championship. They are crazy efficient shooting the ball, they don't turn the ball over ever, and they have that star in Trey Burke who can just carry them for long stretches and entire games at a time and drag them through to the Final Four. It's way too early to pick a winner, especially without a bracket sitting in front of me, but I like what Michigan brings to the table come March.
3. After two straight championship game losses, will Skylar Diggins and crew finish the job this time around?
Yes. Next question.
4. If the men's squad makes it to the Sweet Sixteen, what is the one thing that we are going to point to as the biggest reason why?
I think if they are going to pull out two tourney games in a row, we saw how they can do it this past Monday night. The paint defense and rebounding of that game for 40 minutes was some of the best we have seen in the Mike Brey era. The Irish are going to need Jack Cooley, Tom Knight, and Zach Auguste to contest everything from short range, limit second chance opportunities, and close up driving and passing lanes exactly like they did against Pittsburgh.
If they do that, then we can live with the herky-jerky, up-and-down nature of the offense and particularly Atkins and Grant and still have control of the game. But without that interior defense and rebounding, which we thought might be a strength coming into this season, the Irish might be seeing another tournament get away from them too early.
5. Let's get real for a second. There are plenty of people ragging on college basketball for, well, um, sucking. It's boring. Not enough scoring. No real stars, not enough talent. What gives? Is college basketball getting worse?
I've resisted as much as I can, but I'm coming to agree with the haters. There are some major problems in this game right now. There is some downright atrocious reffing going on. There is more and more Pitino-style defense of "press and foul every possession, they can't call it every time!" Lots of teams are "burn"ing their offensive sets, with possessions per game plummeting in recent years. And, seriously, how is three-point shooting getting worse? It's the same distance! The talent is spread out to the point of too much parody, and now we have access to more games than ever, so we are actually subject to all those mediocre and bad teams we never were before. I have a hard time just tuning into any major conference game, and I've never had that problem before.
Across the board, it's not a great game right now. Granted, your IU-MSU games like Tuesday night still bring it, and if you can't enjoy that, you can't enjoy basketball. And I still expect the tourney to be just as entertaining as always, and the Final Four should be some pretty good basketball. But something is not quite right with college basketball right now, and I have no idea how that is going to change.