Men’s Big East Notebook

The Connecticut men’s basketball team’s season was on the brink of collapse last Tuesday. The Huskies had just announced their head coach, Jim Calhoun, was taking an indefinite leave of absence due to medical issues.

The team had lost three straight games and plummeted to 11-6 overall along with a mediocre 2-3 record in Big East play following a shocking 68-63 loss at Michigan. But the Huskies responded with an impressive 2-0, scoring victories over St. John’s and previously No. 1 Texas at home. Guard Jerome Dyson scored a combined 53 points in the two games to help right the ship in Storrs.

Upstart Pirates look to shake up conference race

Before this week, Seton Hall could be considered one of the “underachievers” in college basketball this season. The Pirates played a very weak non-conference schedule, and whiffed on three close games early in the Big East with losses to West Virginia, Syracuse and Connecticut. This week provided two much-needed signature victories for head coach Bobby Gonzalez.

On the heels of an 80-77 victory over Louisville Thursday night, the Pirates responded with a shocking 64-61 triumph over Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon, despite just nine points from do-everything guard Jeremy Hazell. The way the Pirates won both games was encouraging for Gonzalez.

“Look, we can’t rely on Jeremy every night. We need other players to step up and perform well for us,” said Gonzalez, following the Pittsburgh win. “It was the 80s the other night versus Louisville and today it was the 60s. That’s a good sign that you are becoming a good team.”

Orange proving they are one of the nation’s best despite key departures

Following the losses of Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris, few expected the Orange to be one of the top teams in the conference like they were last season.

However, with huge contributions from holdovers like Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku and Kris Joseph to go along with help from newcomers like Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson and freshman Brandon Triche, Syracuse finds itself just one game back of Villanova at 7-1 in conference play and 20-1 overall. The Orange went to one of the toughest venues in college basketball, the Joyce Events Center, and beat a pesky Notre Dame team last Monday before coming home and dismantling Marquette (the game wasn’t as close as the 76-71 final indicated).

Two games to watch

Connecticut at Providence, Wednesday, Jan. 27:

The Friars need to beat Connecticut to keep any hopes of reaching the NCAA tournament alive. Providence is led by Jamine “Greedy” Peterson’s 17.6 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game. Connecticut is back on track after an impressive week last week and should look to rely on the backcourt tandem of Dyson and Kemba Walker to outrun the speedy Friars.

Duke at Georgetown, Saturday, Jan. 30:

We will know much more about the Hoyas after their game at Syracuse Monday night, but this rivalry matchup always provides some interesting story lines and this year should be no different. Georgetown is led by Austin Freeman’s 15.6 ppg, while Duke relies on a three-headed attack of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, who score a combined 52.9 ppg.

Player of the week

Jerome Dyson, Connecticut

Dyson’s career-high 32 points led Connecticut to a surprisingly easy 88-74 victory over Texas. Dyson averaged 26.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 4.0 apg for the week. The Huskies also received huge contributions from Stanley Robinson (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Kemba Walker (19 points, 10 assists) in the Texas win to help ease the loss of coach Calhoun.