Best of the Big East: Play-In Games From WhatIfSports.com image

Best of the Big East: Play-In Games

2008-09 Villanova and 2006-07 Georgetown advance to Round of 16 in our simulated tournament

By Jake Westrich - WhatIfSports.com
March 8, 2013

The Big East is in the midst of a major shakeup, as the pursuit of football riches has siphoned many of the league's most prominent members. According to reports, the seven basketball-only schools are prepared to depart this summer and will take the Big East name with them.

Founded in 1979 by a group of basketball-centric schools, the Big East quickly emerged as a major player in college hoops, placing three teams in the 1984 Final Four. Although the 1990s saw a lull, the Big East experienced a resurgence at the turn of the century and sent eight teams to the Final Four from 2003 to 2012. The recent hardwood success has made the conference's dismantling that much more difficult to swallow. Forsaking the principles upon which the league was founded, members have left, are in the process of leaving or, in the case of Connecticut and Cincinnati, eagerly await the opportunity to leave for greener pastures.

While the future of the Big East remains in flux, WhatIfSports.com is pausing to reflect on the league's rich heritage. We're placing each of the conference's Final Four teams in a tournament that we've dubbed the Best of the Big East. Using our college basketball simulation engine, we're simulating each matchup 1,001 times and advancing the winner until a champion is crowned.

There have been 18 Big East teams to advance to the Final Four in the league's 34-year history. Since only 16 teams can participate in our tournament bracket, we're kicking things off with play-in games between the worst-seeded teams.

Seeding

Seeds for the tournament were first doled out by NCAA Tournament success and then by each team's winning percentage. We gave deference to the six teams that won national championships, placing them among the top six seeds in our tournament. The No. 1 seed went to 1998-99 Connecticut, a squad that won 94.4 percent of its games (34-2 record) and claimed the National Championship.

Seeds No. 7 through No. 11 were distributed between the five Big East teams that finished runner-up in the NCAA Tournament, again further ranking each squad by winning percentage. Finally, every squad that saw its run end in the Final Four received the remaining seeds, with the bottom four slotted for play-in games.

Visit the Best of the Big East tournament home for the full seeding and to view the upcoming schedule and matchups.

Play-In Game One: 1986-87 Providence vs. 2006-07 Georgetown

1986-87 Providence

Rick Pitino left an assistant coaching gig with the New York Knicks in 1985 to take the reins at Providence. In his first year, the school's 17 wins were its most since the 1977-78 season. The next year, Pitino and his senior point guard, Billy Donovan, reached the Final Four. Donovan's 20.6 points per game led Providence as the school carried a 21-8 record into the NCAA Tournament and was awarded the No. 6 seed. Sadly, tragedy struck just before the tournament when Pitino's infant son died. Pitino returned to the sidelines and led his team to victories over UAB, Austin Peay and Alabama. In the Regional Final, Providence faced a Georgetown squad that won the Big East Championship and had beaten the Friars by 18 points only 14 days earlier. Providence prevailed 88-73 before falling to another conference mate, Syracuse, in the Final Four.

2006-07 Georgetown

Led by junior forward Jeff Green, the 2006-07 Hoyas captured the school's first regular-season and tournament championships since 1989. Green averaged 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game during a Big East Player of the Year campaign. Center Roy Hibbert manned the middle, while Jonathan Wallace handled point guard duties and shot 49 percent from the perimeter. Georgetown earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and ousted No. 1 seed North Carolina in overtime en route to the Final Four. There, the team fell to a Greg Oden-led Ohio State squad. Following the season, Green parlayed his success into the NBA Draft, where he was selected with the No. 5 pick by the Boston Celtics and traded to the Seattle SuperSonics.

1986-87 Providence vs. 2006-07 Georgetown
Matchup1st Half2nd HalfFinalWIS Interactive
1986-87 Providence384078Boxscore
vs. 2006-07 Georgetown503181Simulate Matchup
Player of the Game: Jeff Green - 23 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks
Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: '07 Georgetown 68.3% - '87 Providence 31.7%
Average Score of 1,001 Simulations: '07 Georgetown 79.6 - '87 Providence 74.6

Game Recap

Separated by 20 years, many members of the 2006-07 Hoyas weren't yet born when Pitino and Donovan were charging through the 1987 NCAA Tournament. No matter, as they quickly became acquainted while squaring off in the first of our two Best of the Big East play-in games.

Long before coaching the Florida Gators to back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007, Donovon was the catalyst for Providence's success. The 5'11 point guard chipped in 13 first-half points, including three triples, but received little help from his teammates as the Friars trailed 38-50 at intermission.

The hot-shooting Hoyas cooled in the second half and allowed a Providence rally. Donovan's sixth three-pointer of the game brought his team to within three with 13 seconds remaining. Jessie Sapp missed both of his free throw attempts and the Friars' Ernie Lewis, also a long-distance ace, put up a shot to tie the game but it fell short and Hibbert corralled the rebound to ensure an 81-78 Georgetown win.

Green paced the Hoyas with 23 points and nine rebounds, while Wallace added 17 points and Hibbert chipped in 13 points and 14 boards. Donovan netted 26 points, five assists and four steals in the losing effort. He was joined in double figures by only David Kipfer's 11 points.

With the win, 2006-07 Georgetown advances to the Round of 16 as the No. 15 seed. Fellow Hoya alums wait, as their matchup pits them against 1983-84 Georgetown.

Play-In Game Two: 2011-12 Louisville vs. 2008-09 Villanova

2011-12 Louisville

In Pitino's 11th season at the helm of the Louisville Cardinals, the team featured a balanced scoring attack, with six players averaging between 9.1 and 12.6 points per game. Junior Peyton Siva orchestrated the assault, dishing 5.6 assists per contest, while high-energy sub Russ Smith averaged 11.5 points in just 21.5 minutes per game. Big man Gorgiu Dieng controlled the paint, ripping down 9.1 rebounds and blocking a conference-best 3.2 shots per game. After a 12-0 start to the season, the Cardinals faltered in conference play, finishing 7th in the Big East with a 10-8 record. However, four wins in four days claimed the conference tournament championship and propelled the squad to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After ousting No. 1 seed Michigan State, the Cardinals faced Florida in the Regional Final in a matchup that pitted Pitino against his former player, Billy Donovan. The Cardinals ended the game on a 23-8 run to win 72-68, but lost in the Final Four to archrival Kentucky.

2008-09 Villanova

The Wildcats were heavy on experience, returning all but one player from the previous season's Sweet 16 run. Forward Dante Cunningham led the squad in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.1 points and 7.5 boards per game while winning the Big East's Most Improved Player award. Junior guard Scottie Reynolds chipped in 15.2 points per game and a team-high 3.4 assists, while sophomore guard Corey Fisher, the Big East's Sixth Man Award winner, scored 10.8 points per game. Villanova was awarded the No. 3 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament and dispatched American, UCLA and Duke before meeting No. 1 seed Pittsburgh in the Regional Final. A Reynolds layup with two seconds remaining notched a 78-76 victory over the Panthers and advanced the Wildcats to the school's fourth Final Four and first since 1985. The following round, Villanova fell to eventual-champ North Carolina.

2011-12 Louisville vs. 2008-09 Villanova
Matchup1st Half2nd HalfFinalWIS Interactive
2011-12 Louisville373471Boxscore
vs. 2008-09 Villanova373673Simulate Matchup
Player of the Game: Scottie Reynolds - 12 points, 7 assists, 4 steals, game-winning shot
Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: '09 Villanova 61.7% - '12 Louisville 38.3%
Average Score of 1,001 Simulations: '09 Villanova 71.7 - '12 Louisville 68.1

Game Recap

Two of the more recent Big East Final Four squads battled in our second play-in game, as the 2011-12 Louisville Cardinals met the 2008-09 Villanova Wildcats on a neutral court.

Dieng, not known for his offensive prowess, was featured early and often for the Cardinals, scoring 11 first-half points. However, Louisville couldn't shake the Wildcats and the two teams headed to the break tied at 37.

The second half was back-and-forth and it quickly became apparent the game would go down to the wire. Dieng put his team ahead by three with 30 seconds to play but Corey Stokes answered and a quick foul sent Russ Smith to the free throw line with Louisville clinging to a 71-70 lead. Smith missed the front end of the one-and-one and Cunningham snagged the rebound with 19 seconds remaining. The Wildcats gave it to Cunningham down low and he kicked it back out to Reynolds, who buried the go-ahead three-pointer with seven seconds to go. Louisville's Smith missed a jumper as time expired and Villanova notched the 73-71 victory. The Wildcats advance to play the tournament's top seed, the 1998-99 UConn Huskies.

Reynolds overcame a poor shooting night to connect on the game-winner. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-12 shooting, but added seven assists and four steals. Cunningham led the Wildcats with 17 points and 12 boards. The Cardinals were paced by Dieng's 18 points and 11 rebounds. Siva and Smith struggled offensively, combining for 10 points on 4-for-19 shooting.

Visit the Best of the Big East tournament home for the full seeding and to view the upcoming schedule and matchups.

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Jake Westrich is the Digital Content Coordinator for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at jwestrich@whatifsports.com.

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