Checking In On… The Big EastPosted by jstevrtc on December 2nd, 2009
Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
Despite the holiday, loyal readers of RTC may have noticed something missing last week.
Where was Checking in on the Big East? Without BIAH waxing poetic about the happenings within the nation’s biggest conference, how were you able function?
For that, I must apologize. But, you see, it wasn’t all my fault. For starters, the editors at RTC are ruthless. Not only did they have me traveling up and down the eastern seaboard during the busiest travel weekend of the year, they forced me to cover the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT for RTC Live.
Brutal, those guys. I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks.
Anyway, I probably could have found the time to put together a recap for you, but apparently grandmas don’t realize that having dial-up isn’t the same as having the internet. Old folks, you gotta love ‘em. She made me a mean Thanksgiving leftover sandwich as a peace offering. She’s not all bad, that one. I forgave her, just like I hope you all will forgive me.
Back to the point, since we have a lot to go over, and seeing as the first few weeks of the college hoops season are a bit hectic, the structure of this post is going to be a bit different than future posts. But never fear, as your trusty Big East expert is here to guide you through it. So tuck the children in, strap on your seat belts, and, well, you tell them, B.B…
So the Big East is supposed to be down this year.
I think everyone agreed on that a month ago.
If you rank conferences based on how good the top teams are, then the Big East is probably down. Last year three teams earned #1 seeds in the Big Dance; this year there may not be a #1 seed in the Big East.
But there is a very good chance that the conference gets more than the seven bids it got a year ago.
Because the Big East from top-to-bottom is as good as any conference this season. For starters, the Big East is a ridiculous 82-12 on the year as a conference. That’s an .872 winning percentage. Think about that.
It isn’t coming against pasties, either, as the Big East as rolled through the preseason tournaments:
- Villanova won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic
- West Virginia won the 76 Classic
- Syracuse won the Coaches vs. Cancer
- St. John’s won the Philly Hoop Group Classic
- Cincinnati made the finals out in Maui
- UConn made the finals of the Preseason NIT
- Marquette made the finals of the Old Spice Classic
- Pittsburgh and Rutgers made the “finals” of the CBE and Legends Classics, respectively.
We expected Villanova and West Virginia to be at the top of the league. We expected UConn and Cincinnati to be good. But did anyone see Syracuse being a legitimate contender for the Final Four, let alone the Big East crown? Did anyone expect St. John’s and Marquette to look like they had a shot at dancing? Did you expect DePaul and South Florida to be competitive?
We both know the answer’s no.
BIG EAST ROLL CALL
Stud of the Week: Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
Remember all that hype about Wesley Johnson during the off-season? He’s the best player at Syracuse practices; he’s going to be the difference maker for the Orange; he may be the best NBA prospect in the Big East.
Because it’s all true. Johnson is a monster. Look at these stats: 18.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.3 SPG, 1.9 BPG, 60% FG, 55% 3PFG, 71% FT. Its not just the numbers; Johnson is the perfect fit for the way Syracuse wants to play this year. His length and athleticism make him a terror in the zone, he can get out and run the floor in transition, and he can score in a variety ways on the offensive end. The only thing he has to be careful of is falling in love with the three ball as sometimes he tends to settle.
Best of the Rest:
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: through seven games, Gody is averaging 25.0 PPG and 10.0 RPG, and I find myself thinking his production is somewhat disappointing.
Herb Pope, Seton Hall: Pope has put together four straight double-doubles, while averaging 14.6 PPG, 11.4 RPG, and 3.4 BPG.
Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia: Butler won the MVP of the 76 Classic, and through six games is averaging 18.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 3.4 APG.
DJ Kennedy, St. John’s: Kennedy has been the biggest reason the Johnnies have started 5-0, averaging 17.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 3.0 APG.
Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler, Marquette: Hayward (19.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and Butler (16.0 PPG, 7.6 RPG) might be as good as West Virginia’s two forwards.
T1. West Virginia (5-0); Syracuse (7-0); Villanova (6-0). Is there really a way to discern between these three teams right now?
(Hint: no, there isn’t.)
West Virginia is as big and strong at every position as any team in the country. They will make life hell for opposing offenses with their physical brand of defense, and will make every coach they play regret not spending an hour a day on box out drills. With Devin Ebanks back in the line-up, this team is as versatile as it is talented. But will they get enough from their back court?
Syracuse has looked near unbeatable through the first seven games. Their zone defense is creating a ton of turnovers, and Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche have both been pleasant surprises with their ability to lead the break and orchestrate Jim Boeheim’s offense. Andy Rautins has turned into a very good all-around player, and he still has the range. The front line of Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku, and Wesley Johnson you know about. The x-factor for this team is going to be Kris Joseph. He’s athletic, he can defend, and he can score points in a hurry off the bench.
Villanova is 6-0 on the season, and their guard play, which is the Wildcats’ biggest strength, has yet to hit peak performance. Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher are both still trying to find that consistency this season. But with Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns playing well, and Dominic Cheek starting to show his promise as a playmaker on the wing, Nova’s back court is more than deep enough to allow the starters a chance to find their rhythm. The issue is up front. While Antonio Pena has been great thus far (12.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG), Maurice Sutton is still too weak to really be a force in the paint, Taylor King is a two-guard at heart, and Isaiah Armwood is just not ready to be an impact player. With Mouph Yarou set to miss the season with Hepatitis B, the Wildcats are going to struggle on the glass. They will need to continue to force turnovers and get easy baskets if they want to offset that.
4. Cincinnati (5-1). The Bearcats had a great showing out in Maui. While Deonta Vaughn, Lance Stephenson, and Cashmere Wright still seem to be figuring out of to play with and off of each other, Yancy Gates is quietly becoming a monster in the paint. There seem to be two issues with this team right now: how is Mick Cronin going to handle the angry outbursts and immature moments from Stephenson? At times, it has gotten in the way of his play. And will he be able to continue to soothe Vaughn’s ego enough that he doesn’t have a problem with his numbers dropping this much? Winning should be able to help with that, however.
5. Connecticut (4-1). The Huskies have two problems that could develop into fatal flaws this season. Kemba Walker is still not ready to manage a team in the half court. Playing end-to-end he excels, as there may not be a better player in the country as far as creating on a fast break. Defensively, he is a terror. But in the half court, he seems unsure of what he is supposed to do. That only comes with time and experience, and hopefully for Husky fans, that experience comes quickly. The other issue is rebounding. Contrary to what people say, this is not a big UConn team. Charles Okwandu is not yet ready to be more than a seven footer. Gavin Edwards is 6’9, but he struggles against stronger and bigger opponents. Sticks, as athletic as he is, has too much of a tendency to disappear during games. Alex Oriakhi is really the only strong interior player this team has, and while he is a monster on the glass, it is a lot to ask of an 18 year old kid. Hopefully, the addition of Ater Majok helps with that.
6. Georgetown (6-0). The Hoyas’ big three of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Greg Monroe can match-up with anyone “big three” in the country. The issue is what they are going to get outside of that. The Hoyas don’t have much of a bench to speak of, so continued production out of Jason Clark and Julian Vaughn is critical. Clark has been sensational this season, as he has created points with his defense, hit threes at an excellent rate, and really performed well in the Hoyas offense. One note about Monroe: one of the knocks on him coming into this season was that he didn’t have a right hand. He still doesn’t, but a big reason that his shooting percentage is down 100 points from last year is that he has made a concerted effort to go that way against some of the Hoyas cupcakes.
7. Louisville (4-1). Its tough to get a read on this Louisville team. They blew out a bad Arkansas team in St. Louis, played inconsistently in their three games at Freedom Hall, then lost on the road to a good UNLV team in a game that Rick Pitino said was the toughest environment he ever coached in. Edgar Sosa has looked pretty good in the early going, as has Samardo Samuels. Reginald Delk as been a very pleasant surprise as well. But Terrence Jennings has struggled to get minutes as he can’t guard his shadow, and Jared Swopshire has been solid, but he is a long way from Terrence Williams and Earl Clark. I’m still withholding judgement on the Cardinals.
8. Marquette (6-1). The Golden Eagles have gotten great play out of their forwards, as Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler have feasted on the mismatches they get offensively. They’ve also gotten balanced production out of Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom, Mo Acker, and David Cubillan in the back court. But what happens when they face a team like Florida State, who has guys with size and athleticism to put on Hayward and Butler?
9. St. John’s (5-0). The Johnnies have been quite the pleasant surprise, as DJ Kennedy is playing as well as anyone in the conference. The most promising news? Anthony Mason, Jr. hasn’t even played this season as he recovers from a hamstring injury. Wins over Siena and Temple, the latter in a de facto road game, will look good at season’s end.
10. Notre Dame (5-1). Luke Harangody has been playing great, Tim Abromaitis looks like a solid replacement for Scott Martin, and Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson make up a solid all-around back court. But the same issues are there for the Irish — do they have enough inside?
11. Seton Hall (5-0). Jeremy Hazell is as dangerous a scorer as there is in the conference, but his numbers are down this season as the Pirates have so many options offensively. Herb Pope has been a pleasant surprise, averaging a double-double, and Eugene Harvey has been playing very well at the point. But SHU has yet to be truly tested, their best win coming on the road at Cornell.
12. Pittsburgh (5-1). Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker have played well, and while the Panthers played Texas tough, Pitt struggled against some inferior opponents. Can’t get a real feel for this team until Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown are both back in the line-up.
13. DePaul (4-1). The Blue Demons have beaten Northern Iowa and St. Joe’s and played Tennessee very tough. They have an excellent defensive team. But they will be with their best big man Mac Kowshal for 4-6 weeks with a broken foot. Will Walker has looked like an all-league player through five games.
14. South Florida (6-1). The one loss is a three point defeat to South Carolina. Dominique Jones, Gus Gilchrist, and Anthony Crater are a solid 1-2-3, but the Bulls need to win against a couple quality opponents before they get the bump.
15. Providence, (4-2). The Friars get the nod over Rutgers. Vermont beat Rutgers, Providence beat Vermont by 42.
16. Rutgers (4-2). Do the Scarlet Knights have anything outside of Mike Rosario?