Best matchup:Pittsburgh at Marquette. This rare Friday night Big East showdown pits teams fighting for a top-four finish in the league standings, which would allow them to earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The home-court advantage would seem to favor Marquette (17-6 overall, 7-5 in the Big East), but Pittsburgh (19-5, 7-4) should get a boost from the anticipated return of point guard Levance Fields, who has missed nearly seven weeks with a broken left foot. Pittsburgh was playing as well as any team in the nation before Fields' injury. Marquette would love to see a return to form from its own point guard. A wrist injury and flu symptoms had limited Dominic James in recent weeks. James rebounded to score a season-high 23 points Saturday in an 86-83 loss to Notre Dame, but he followed that up by scoring just nine points Tuesday in an 89-64 rout of Seton Hall.
The pressure is on:Syracuse. The Orange (16-9, 6-6) could be staring at a second consecutive disappointing Selection Sunday if it doesn't turn things around in a hurry. A stunning 89-78 loss to USF on Wednesday dropped Syracuse to .500 in conference play heading into a brutal section of the schedule that includes road trips to Louisville (19-6, 9-3) and Notre Dame (18-5, 8-3) sandwiched by home games against Georgetown (20-3, 10-2) and Pittsburgh. Syracuse has relied heavily on the freshman duo of forward Donte Greene and guard Jonny Flynn all year. The Orange can only hope its youth doesn't work against it during this critical stretch.
Upset alert: Syracuse over Georgetown. Georgetown has the better team, but Syracuse certainly is the more desperate team as it heads home to the Carrier Dome on a two-game losing streak. Georgetown needed overtime to beat Syracuse 64-62 at home on Jan. 21 even with Greene shooting 5-of-19 and Paul Harris scoring only seven points for the Orange. We're guessing Greene and Harris are much more productive at home Saturday to help Syracuse resuscitate its NCAA Tournament hopes with a victory.
RPI watch: The Big East is the fourth-ranked league behind the ACC, Pac-10 and Big 12. The good news for the Big East is that six of its members are in the top 26: No. 7 Georgetown, No. 9 Connecticut, No. 16 Pittsburgh, No. 17 Louisville, No. 19 Marquette and No. 26 Notre Dame. The bad news is that four Big East teams are outside the top 130: No. 137 St. John's, No. 147 DePaul, No. 149 USF and No. 201 Rutgers.
Key stat: Louisville and North Carolina lead all programs with 58 career 1,000-point scorers, and the Cardinals could add a 59th player to their list Saturday. Louisville forward Terrence Williams is 12 points from that plateau. Louisville forward Juan Palacios scored his 1,000th career point earlier this season.
Freshmen to watch:DePaul forward Dar Tucker scored a career-high 22 points off the bench Tuesday in an 88-68 loss to Louisville. Pittsburgh center DeJuan Blair shot 6-of-8 and had 15 points and seven rebounds Tuesday in an 82-63 victory over Providence. Blair ranks third in the Big East at 9.6 rebounds per game. USF guard Dominique Jones scored 29 points Wednesday in the 89-78 upset of Syracuse. Syracuse's Flynn has played every minute of the Orange's past six games.
Who's hot:Cincinnati forward John Williamson has averaged 23.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over his past two games. ? Connecticut guard A.J. Price has scored in double figures in 15 consecutive games. Price has averaged 19 points and 5.8 assists over his past five games, including a 26-point outburst Wednesday in an 84-78 victory over Notre Dame. ? Louisville forward/center David Padgett has averaged 19 points per game over his past two contests. Padgett is 14-of-20 from the floor during that stretch. ? Marquette forward Lazar Hayward has averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds over his past two games. ? Notre Dame forward Luke Harangody has six consecutive double-doubles and is averaging 26.2 points and 13 rebounds during the streak. ? Five days after hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in a 55-54 victory over West Virginia, Pittsburgh guard Ronald Ramon recorded 15 points and six assists Tuesday in an 82-63 rout of Providence. Ramon has 13 assists and only three turnovers in his past three games. ? Providence center Randall Hanke is 30-of-44 from the floor in his past six games and has averaged 16.3 points over his past four contests. ? Syracuse's Harris has averaged 22 points, 8 rebounds and 4.3 assists over his past three games.
Who's not: Notre Dame forward Rob Kurz has shot 3-of-11 and has a total of seven points and eight rebounds in his past two games. Kurz is averaging 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. ? Villanova guard Corey Fisher is 8-of-36 from the floor over his past three games. Fisher was 1-of-16 overall and 0-for-6 from 3-point range Monday in a 55-53 loss to Georgetown. ? West Virginia guard Da'Sean Butler has shot 17-for-52 in his past five games.
Worth noting: Notre Dame's 86-83 victory over Marquette on Saturday gave the Irish 34 consecutive victories at the Joyce Center. Memphis (46) and BYU (43) are the only schools with longer home winning streaks. ? The Big East's defense-oriented nature is evident from a look at the NCAA statistics. The Big East entered the week with three of the nation's top seven teams in field-goal percentage defense: No. 1 Georgetown, No. 5 Connecticut and No. 7 Louisville. The Big East also boasted five of the nation's top 30 teams in blocks: No. 1 Connecticut, No. 11 Syracuse, No. 21 Rutgers, No. 25 Louisville and No. 29 West Virginia. ? Notre Dame will honor former Irish star Austin Carr at halftime of its showdown with Pittsburgh. Carr, the leading career scorer in Notre Dame history, was inducted into the Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Nov. 18.