Big East Notebook: Pitino Says Leaving Big East Will Help Catholic 7; Jersey Teams Struggling

The Catholic 7 could be out of the Big East by 2014 and the way Rick Pitino sees it, that will be good news for that group of schools.

“It’s very difficult for the teams to catch up in the Big East when everybody has such an advantage in terms of talent,” said Pitino, the current Louisville coach who once led Providence to a Final Four.

“That being said, I think when the Catholic schools break off, I think you’ll see a rise in Seton Hall. I think Providence, Seton Hall, you’re going to see a major rise in those two programs when there’s a little bit more league continuity for them.”

Four of the current bottom seven schools in the Big East are Catholic 7 schools — DePaul (10-12, 1-8 Big East); Seton Hall (13-10, 2-8); Providence (12-11, 4-7); and Villanova (14-9, 5-5).

DePaul has lost seven straight and Seton Hall — devastated by injuries — has dropped four in a row.

Among the Catholic 7, only Marquette (16-5, 7-2), Georgetown (16-4, 6-3) and St. John’s (15-8, 7-4) are currently above .500 in the Big East.

The Catholic 7 are not scheduled to depart the Big East until 2015, unless they pay a $10 million buyout to the league, but Commissioner Mike Aresco has recently said he would be willing to negotiate a release in 2014.

The Catholic 7 has been in TV negotiations with Fox Sports to carry its games, and the new league would like to add 3-5 more teams. Butler, Xavier, Dayton, VCU, St. Louis, Gonzaga, Creighton and others have all been mentioned.

Moving forward, Pitino said he believes St. John’s is in a “unique situation” and has a recruiting edge over other schools, including local rivals Seton Hall and Rutgers (12-9, 3-7), losers of five straight.

“Look at recruiting this way, you have a 48-hour visit, you may be dealing with 36 hours really to impress a young person,” Pitino said. “So when you go and you see the facilities in a 36-hour span, you have to say to yourself, ‘ What attracts a young person?’ Well, it’s New York City, it’s Madison Square Garden, it’s the greatest city in the world.

“So they’ve got a little bit of an edge there in terms of recruits and that’s probably the difference-maker.”

He added: “St. John’s has stepped away from the Catholic-school kids and…they’ve enhanced their recruiting base and I think that’s an extremely smart thing to do.”

JERSEY SCHOOLS STRUGGLING

Between them, Rutgers and Seton Hall are a combined 5-15 in the Big East.

Rutgers has dropped five straight heading into Saturday’s home tilt with Georgetown, while Seton Hall has dropped four in a row heading into Sunday’s home game with UConn.

“This team has eight games left and this team has shown signs of being able to compete at the highest level in this league and be successful, but it hasn’t happened in the last two and half, three weeks and it is a grind,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said.

Seton Hall, meantime, has been plagued by injuries and may be without leading scorer Fuquan Edwin on Sunday.

“With Seton Hall it’s a matter of injuries,” Pitino said.

“Rutgers, I think has played good basketball all year. Whether it’s the road or situations arise they’ve had a very difficult time turning those losses into ‘W’s.”

The two Jersey schools face off at Rutgers on Tuesday and it’s possible they could be a combined 5-17 at that point. If both schools lose this weekend, Seton Hall will take a five-game losing skid into the RAC, while Rutgers will have lost six  in a row.

“If you carry that loss into the next game, the league is very unforgiving,” USF coach Stan Heath said of losing streaks. “Nobody cares, nobody feels sorry for you, they come right at you like Marquette did to us.”

FREE THROWS

**Syracuse, which hosts St. John’s on Sunday, is down to seven scholarship players in its rotation. Providence coach Ed Cooley knows what that’s like and said it’s not all bad.

“Those seven players that Syracuse has, those are great problems to have,” Cooley said. “Those seven players are really, really talented. It’s not a bad thing when it’s just the seven guys in your rotation. Guys get in a rhythm and play well.”

**While Russ Smith of Louisville, Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse and Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati are three favorites for Big East Player of the Year honors, Cooley said Providence junior guard Bryce Cotton deserves consideration. He leads the league in scoring at 20.9 points per game.

“He should be mentioned with the Player of the Year candidates,” Cooley said.

“If we had two more wins, then arguably he could be. Obviously, he’s a focal point every night. He’s working on it every night and he’s deserved it. He’s definitely deserved it.”

**Syracuse and Marquette are the only Big East teams unbeaten at home, and not surprisingly, they are tied atop the league at 7-2. Syracuse hosts Marquette Feb. 25.

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