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February 22, 2008

Louisville hopes to continue hot streak

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

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

Best matchup: Louisville at Pittsburgh. The Cardinals have won six in a row with an average victory margin of 16.5 points per game heading into Sunday's contest. This game marks the only time these teams will meet in the regular season. Louisville's RPI has improved 23 spots (to 15th) during the winning streak. The Cardinals are now in the mix for a No. 3 seed. Pitt, on the other hand, was 4-4 in the past month going into Thursday night's game at Notre Dame. Point guard Levance Fields, who missed 12 games with a broken bone in his foot, still is trying to get back into playing shape. His return takes some pressure off big men DeJuan Blair and Sam Young to score. Louisville is playing at a high level, but Pitt needs a victory more; that combination should lead to a great game. But don't expect a lot of points; this will be a grind-it-out affair.

The pressure is on: Syracuse. The last time Jim Boeheim's program was shut out of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons? Try 1981 and 1982. The Orange didn't make it last season, and if they don't get hot soon they won't get in this season, either. They're 17-10 overall and 7-7 in the league. But they're in the midst of a brutal three-game stretch: a loss Monday at Louisville, a game Sunday at Notre Dame, then a home game March 1 against Pitt. They also close the regular season with a home game against Marquette after a relative breather against Seton Hall on March 5.

Upset alert: Marquette at Villanova. Villanova is in desperation mode as it tries to get on top of the NCAA bubble. The Wildcats have won three of four and finally are playing defense (more on that in a minute). Plus, their lack of a true low-post game won't matter against Marquette, who looks to be an NCAA lock and may not be playing with quite the same intensity as the Wildcats.

RPI watch: Going into play Thursday night, the league was second in conference RPI and had six teams in the top 25 No. 8 Georgetown, No. 11 Connecticut, No. 14 Louisville, No. 16 Marquette, No. 21 Pitt and No. 24 Notre Dame. Two more were in the top 50: No. 43 West Virginia and No. 47 Syracuse.

Key stat: UConn point guard A.J. Price has averaged 20 points in seven games against ranked opponents this season.

Freshmen to watch: Syracuse forward Donte Greene leads all league freshman at 17.6 points per game. DePaul's Mac Koshwal leads the league in offensive rebounds in conference play with 50.

Who's hot: All of a sudden, Villanova is playing defense. After allowing fewer than 60 points in just two of its first 22 games, Villanova has held three consecutive opponents to less than 60. UConn's Hasheem Thabeet has at least five blocks in six consecutive games. He has 50 blocks in that span. In his past four games, Marquette's Dominic James has 28 assists and four turnovers.

Who's not: Just call St. John's the team that can't shoot straight. The Red Storm is 43-of-141 (30.5 percent) from the field in its past three games. Seton Hall has lost five in a row; the losing streak comes on the heels of a five-game winning streak. The Pirates are being outrebounded by an average of 8.4 per game in league play. Rutgers is getting outscored by an average of 11.2 points in conference games.

Worth noting: Connecticut takes a 10-game winning streak into Saturday's game at Villanova. The Huskies have won their past seven league games by seven points or less, including two one-point decisions. Cincinnati already is assured of the biggest one-season turnaround in the Big East. The Bearcats already have won seven conference games this season after winning just two last season. Georgetown leads the league in scoring defense (57.5), field-goal percentage (48.4) and field-goal percentage defense (36.0). USF has outshot its opponent from the floor in four consecutive games; the Bulls are 1-3 in that span. Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney leads the Big East in 3-pointers per game (3.3) and in 3-point field-goal percentage (45.1). USF's Kentrell Gransberry leads the league with 14 double-doubles. Louisville's Terrence Williams has the league's only two triple-doubles this season.

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

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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