Big East Men’s Notebook, March 19

Player of the Week

Russ Smith, Junior Guard, Louisville

Smith played a significant role in Louisville’s road to the Big East title game against Syracuse. In the three games at Madison Square Garden, Smith averaged 19.3 points, including a 28-point output against Villanova. Smith’s responsibilities will only increase in the coming days as the Cardinals move through the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

Game of the Week

NCAA Tournament  – Second round begins Thursday

Millions of people will fill out brackets this week in the hopes that one will be deemed the “perfect bracket.” No. 1 Louisville and No. 2 Georgetown should be safe bets to move on to the Sweet 16, but teams like No. 10 Cincinnati and No. 9 Villanova will need to fight the odds in order to move on to the next round.

Outside of the Big East, be on the lookout for No. 13 South Dakota State’s potential upset bid over Michigan. The Wolverines miserably fell to then 0-14 Penn State last month and have not played consistently.

Louisville defends title at MSG

The Cardinals switched into desperation mode in the second half after falling behind 35-22 at the break and defeated Syracuse 78-61 Saturday. Louisville was led by Montrezl Harrell, who notched 20 points and seven rebounds off the bench. C.J. Fair paced the Orange with 21 points. Shooting was an issue for both squads all night, as each shot just 40 percent from the floor.

This was the last tournament game in the current Big East era. Madison Square Garden will play host to the new Big East’s conference tournament next season.

Big East gets eight teams in the Big Dance

As expected, eight Big East teams have been selected to take part in this year’s NCAA Tournament. In the Midwest region, Louisville earned a No. 1 seed and will play the winner of North Carolina A&T and Liberty, and No. 10 Cincinnati will face No. 7 Creighton, which will be joining the new Big East next year.

In the West, No. 8 Pittsburgh will play No. 9 Wichita State, and No. 7 Notre Dame faces No. 10 Iowa State.

In the South, No. 9 Villanova will be tested by Roy Williams and No. 8 North Carolina, and No. 2 Georgetown has No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast to start off.

Finally, in the East, No. 4 Syracuse will play No. 13 Montana, and No. 3 Marquette is slated to face No. 14 Davidson. The second round games begin this Thursday.

Syracuse helped its tournament cause by advancing to the Big East championship game. Prior to the conference tournament, the Orange had lost four of five and were thought of as a sixth or seventh seed. Three straight wins at Madison Square Garden before succumbing to Louisville assisted ‘Cuse in its seeding boost.

Postseason awards announced

Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. was named Big East Player of the Year, and Hoyas coach John Thompson III won Coach of the Year. Georgetown won a share of the Big East regular season championship, and the team will be looking to make a strong run in the tournament as a No. 2 seed.

In a somewhat surprising twist, Louisville’s Gorgui Dieng was awarded Defensive Player of the Year. Dieng averaged 2.5 blocks per game, but St. John’s freshman Chris Obekpa averaged an astonishing 4.1 blocks per game in just 25 minutes per game.

Providence’s Kadeem Batts and Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams were both tabbed Most Improved Players. Marquette had two players make the postseason honors list, as Davante Gardner won the Sixth Man Award and Junior Cadougan received the Sportsmanship Award.