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January 4, 2008

WVU should have hands full with Marquette

MORE BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Upcoming Big East Games
USF at Syracuse
Morgan State at Seton Hall
Georgetown at Rutgers
Louisville at Kentucky
Cincinnati at St. John's
Providence at DePaul
Connecticut at Notre Dame
Pittsburgh at Villanova
Marquette at West Virginia
St. John's at Connecticut
Georgetown at DePaul
Seton Hall at Marquette
Rutgers at Providence
Pittsburgh at USF
Syracuse at Cincinnati
West Virginia at Louisville

Best matchup: Marquette at West Virginia. The only blemish for the Golden Eagles (11-1, 1-0) is a 77-73 loss to Duke in the final of the Maui Invitational. Tom Crean is getting the kind of play he expected out of the guard trio of Dominic James (14.8 ppg), Jerel McNeal (14.3 ppg) and Wesley Matthews (9.9 ppg). Sophomore forward Lazar Hayward (13 ppg, 6.3 rpg) has been one of the most improved players in the Big East thus far. The Mountaineers (11-2, 1-0) have been a pleasant surprise under new coach Bob Huggins, even climbing into the top 25 before a home loss to Oklahoma. WVU is more athletic than many realize, and they are defending better. The winner of this game emerges as an early threat to conference front-runner Georgetown.

The pressure is on: Louisville. The Cardinals (9-4, 0-1), actually picked in the preseason as a co-favorite to win the league with the Hoyas, have stumbled out of the gate. They've dealt with injuries (Juan Palacios and David Padgett), suspensions (hello, Derrick Caracter) and slumps (Edgar Sosa). Upset in the Big East opener at home against Cincinnati, Louisville plays out of conference against rival Kentucky on Saturday and returns to league play Thursday night against West Virginia. That's a huge two-game stretch. Lose both and the Cardinals will be in a very bad way.

Upset alert: Pittsburgh at USF. It seems unfair to pick on the Panthers (12-1) right now, but they could be in trouble with starters Levance Fields and Mike Cook lost to injury. They open their Big East season at Villanova on Sunday, then travel to Tampa for a Tuesday game with USF. The Bulls (10-4, 1-0) have won 10 of 11 games after starting the season 0-3. They crushed Rutgers 68-45 in their Big East opener and seem to be responding well to new coach Stan Heath.

RPI watch: No league has more teams in the top 50 of the RPI than the Big East's seven.

Key stat: Providence is 6-0 when Manhattan transfer Jeff Xavier scores in double figures.

Freshmen to watch: USF G Dominique Jones. The former three-star prospect out of nearby Lake Wales, Fla., has hit the ground running for the Bulls. He's the team leader in scoring (16.2 points per game), 3-pointers (23) and steals (2.0), and is second in rebounding (5.3) and assists (3.3). He had 24 points in the Big East opener against Rutgers.

Who's hot: Syracuse F Arinze Onuaku is averaging 16.8 points and shooting an unbelievable 80.4 percent (45-of-56) over the past six games. USF C Kentrell Gransberry is averaging 15 rebounds per game over his past three games. Georgetown G Jonathan Wallace is 7-of-9 from 3-point range in the past two games and became the school's career leader in 3-pointers.

Who's not: Louisville F Earl Clark has been underwhelming the past four games after a superb start. He has shot 31 percent (9-of-29) and averaged just 7.5 points per game during the stretch. Notre Dame G Kyle McAlarney is shooting just 28.1 percent (9-of-32) over the past three games.

Worth noting: Cincinnati is on a two-game winning streak thanks to its defense. It held Miami (Ohio) and Louisville below 60 points and limited them to a combined 38 percent shooting (43 of 113). Pittsburgh's Ronald Ramon, who moved from shooting guard to point guard after the injury to Fields, had a career-high 10 assists with no turnovers in 34 minutes in the Panthers' 96-75 victory over Lafayette. Since going 3-of-14 from 3-point range against No. 2 Memphis, Georgetown has made 20-of-39 3-point attempts over the past two games, victories over American and Fordham. Louisville already had four losses by this time last season, but it rallied to go 18-4 the rest of the season to secure an NCAA Tournament bid.

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