Playing Catch-Up: How The Big East Has Fared To DatePosted by mlemaire on November 16th, 2011
Since the Big East microsite was a little later to the 2011-12 season than some of its other brothers and sisters, let’s take a few moments to get caught up on where things stand heading into this year. These 16 teams are listed in no particular order.
Syracuse: Projected preseason Big East co-champs (with Connecticut) by the coaches and currently ranked No. 5 in the country by the Associated Press, the Orange are talented, deep and 3-0 to start the year. They captured the coveted de-facto New York state title with easy wins over Fordham, Manhattan and Albany. Through those three games, ten players have logged at least 30 minutes of playing time. The early stat leaders have been 6’7” senior forward Kris Joseph (16.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) who notched his 1000th career point against Manhattan, and 6’8” junior forward James Southerland (13.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG). However it is likely individual numbers will not tell the story as the wealth will be spread around Syracuse’s vast depth. You know the names.
- Guards: Scoop Jardine (senior), Brandon Triche (junior) Dion Waiters (sophomore) and Michael Carter-Williams (freshman)
- Forwards: C.J. Fair (sophomore) and Rakeem Christmas (freshman)
All of the above along with a fit and productive sophomore center Fab Melo will keep Jim Boeheim and the air horn busy all year long.
Louisville: The good news is that Louisville is 2-0 as they prepare for this weekend’s matchup against Butler. The bad news is the Cardinals are already thinner then when they started the season, having lost versatile role player Mike Marra for the season because of a knee injury suffered against Lamar. The team might be deep enough to absorb the loss of Marra, but they will be thin up front, especially if sophomore center Gorgui Dieng (7 RPG, 4.5 BPG) is continuously in foul trouble. As is often the case with Rick Pitino-coached teams, the Cardinals played suffocating defense in holding both Tennessee-Martin and Lamar below 30 percent from the field and that defense will keep Louisville competitive all season long. Freshman Chase Behanan (12 PPG, 12.5 RPG) looks the part of a double-double machine, but he will be in danger of wearing down if he consistently has to play more than 30 minutes per game.
Pittsburgh: Everybody knew that Pittsburgh would have one of the better starting lineups in the conference this season, but after two games, the jury is still out on how deep Jamie Dixon’s bench goes. Rider only dressed nine players on Saturday and Pittsburgh still needed to come behind in the second half to win. Ashton Gibbs (22.5 PPG) is going to shoot a lot and will be in contention for the conference’s scoring title. Tray Woodall (52.9 3PT%) seems to have drastically improved his shooting and will be dangerous offensive weapon, and Nasir Robinson and Dante Taylor help form a rugged and experienced frontcourt. But if the Panthers want to contend for the conference crown this season, a lot will depend on the development of roles players like Talib Zanna and freshmen Khem Birch, John Johnson, and Cameron Wright.
Villanova: Hopes are high for a Wildcats team that is eager to get the sour taste of last season’s dismal collapse out of their mouths, but Jay Wright’s team is definitely going to have its fair share of close games. ‘Nova survived La Salle in overtime last night to start the season 2-0 heading into Friday’s game against Delaware, but the same old problems that plagued the Wildcats last year reared their ugly head again. Maalik Wayns (22 points on 5-16 shooting) and James Bell (15 points on 4-12 shooting) will need to take better shots. Jayvaughn Pinkston (back after being suspended last season for his role in an off-campus fight) and Markus Kennedy will need to provide solid frontcourt minutes in support of Mouphtao Yarou, who needs to blossom into the impact player everyone thought he would be out of high school. It’s a tall order, but if everything falls into place, they will be tough to beat.
Rutgers: Coach Mike Rice might have high hopes for his team this season, but he might be the only one with such optimism. After squeaking by perennial powerhouse Dartmouth, a Miami team missing its best player easily handled the Scarlet Knights in Coral Gables last night. There are pieces in place, such as rugged forward Gilvydas Biruta (eight points and 11 rebounds against the Hurricanes) and versatile wing Dane Miller (12 points and six rebounds against Dartmouth). Rice also boasts a talented group of freshmen who will be thrown into the fire immediately, including Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, and Eli Carter. But this team is too young and too thin at every position to realize Rice’s hopes – at least this season.
Marquette: While Mount St. Mary’s and Norfolk State can’t be considered quality competition, coach Buzz Williams has to be pleased with not only his team’s 2-0 record thus far, but also the balanced and deep squad he has assembled this season. Darius Johnson-Odom (20.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 55.6 3FG%) and Jae Crowder (19.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG) are two of the better players in the conference and will be the focal points on offense, but ten players are averaging at least 15 minutes per game for Williams. It seems unlikely that the Golden Eagles will play ten-deep all season long, but there is a lot of talent all over the roster, including Oregon-transfer Jamil Wilson and sophomore forward Davante Gardner. It appears as if Williams will rotate Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue at the point guard position, but both players have proved capable of running the team and the two could feed off each other to create the best kind of problem a coach could ask for.
Connecticut: A 13-point win and a 12-point win aren’t exactly the way you would expect a Top-5 team to dispatch outclassed opponents, but the defending national champions are still 2-0 heading into tomorrow’s game against Maine. Jeremy Lamb (25 PPG, 5 RPG, 2.5 SPG) has blossomed into the all-around star everyone expected him to be, and despite six turnovers against Wagner, point guard Shabazz Napier seems to have come into his own as well. Big men Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond have started slow out of the gates as both are shooting under 40% from the field, but that isn’t going to last long and both players should improve greatly as the season goes on. After averaging less than 10 minutes per game last season, sophomore forward Tyler Olander (7.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG) has averaged 34.5 minutes in the two games this season. If he and fellow forward Roscoe Smith can become dependable role players and defensive assets, it could go a long way towards UConn’s hopes of repeating.
DePaul: There is no question that after winning just one conference game last season and seven games total, that coach Oliver Purnell has his work cut out for him rebuilding this roster. It appears as though his overhaul is starting to bear fruit as his young team has comfortably started 2-0, albeit against the likes of Texas Pan-American and Mississippi Valley State. Senior guard Jeremiah Kelly (17.5 PPG, 5.0 APG) is one of the team’s elder stateman and best perimeter scorer, but Purnell’s best player might be sophomore forward Cleveland Melvin (16.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG), a multi-skilled forward looking to build on an excellent freshman season. Behind those two, the Blue Demons will rely on sophomores Brandon Young and Moses Morganand freshman Charles McKinney for offense, and senior center Krys Faber to anchor the post. The Blue Demons probably still don’t have enough depth or talent to compete in the Big East right now, but they do seem to at least be headed in the right direction.
St. John’s: The Red Storm has a lot to be happy about heading into Thursday’s marquee showdown with Arizona. Coach Steve Lavin is back on the sideline after his bout with prostate cancer and the team currently sits atop the Big East standings at 3-0. But they have plenty to be concerned about as well. Needing a second-half comeback to beat William & Mary, and beating Lehigh by five points aren’t exactly going to inspire confidence for a team that lost so many senior contributors and will rely primarily on newcomers. God’s Gift Achiuwa (17.7 PPG, 8.5 RPG) and Moe Harkless (16.7 PPG, 6 RPG) form a talented if undersized frontline, and point guard Nurideen Lindsey (16.3 PPG, 4.7 APG) appears capable of running the team as long as he takes care of the ball. But, as RTC colleague Zach Hayes astutely pointed out, this team will only be able to play seven-deep for so long, and the newcomers will almost assuredly take their lumps as the competition gets better.
Providence: The Friars were the only Big East team to make a coaching change coming into this season, hiring Ed Cooley to clean up the carnage left behind by Keno Davis. Cooley and company are off to a good start at 2-0 with a 72-61 home win over a game Fairleigh Dickinson squad, followed on Monday by a big early statement victory as underdogs on the road versus Fairfield (82-70), Cooley’s former team and one with NCAA Tournament aspirations. Providence is painfully thin and is currently playing with just eight scholarship players. They could get help as they await the hopeful return of redshirt sophomore forward Kadeem Batts (suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules) and freshman guard Kiwi Gardner (academic issue under appeal with the NCAA). Regardless, the Friars will rely heavily on the guard trio of Vincent Council (19 PPG, 6 APG, 4 RPG), Gerard Coleman (17.5 PPG, 2.5 APG, 5 RPG) and rising star Bryce Cotton (20 PPG, 3 APG, 1.5 RPG) for offense and leadership. Coleman, a starter a year ago, will come off the bench this season. Cotton established career scoring highs in both games. The Friars take to the floor next on Saturday at home versus Florida A&M in the first leg of the South Padre Island Invitational.
Seton Hall: In their lone contest thus far the Pirates were given all they could handle by St. Francis (NY), overcoming a nine-point deficit with six minutes to play to force overtime, and came away with a 75-71 victory behind a career-high 25 points from senior point guard and team captain Jordan Theodore. This is a young team that will look to replace the offense left behind by its two leading scorers from a year ago: Jeremy Hazell (19.8 PPG) and Jeff Robinson (12.1 PPG). Theodore and fellow senior Herb Pope appear poised to fill the void. Pope (25 points, 14 rebounds against St. Francis) returns healthy after being slowed last year with a heart issue and could contend for the conference’s rebounding title. Sophomore guard Fuquan Edwin (7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG last season) will provide additional scoring punch, while the freshman trio of Aaron Cosby, Haralds Karlis and Freddie Wilson will also see meaningful minutes. Head coach Kevin Willard hopes to get some much-needed frontcourt help soon as 6’9″ freshman forward Brandon Mobley, currently recovering from shoulder surgery, is expected to return in December. However they will be without 6’9″ freshman center Kevin Johnson for the year as he was ruled academically ineligible in late October. The Pirates host Virginia Commonwealth on Thursday.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers hold the dubious distinction of snapping the Big East’s season-opening 28-game winning streak following their 70-60 loss to a very good Kent State team. The setback leaves West Virginia at 1-1 as the conference defectors and legal opponents did score a 78-71 win over Oral Roberts on Friday in a game that saw a fourteen point first half WVU lead shrink to one with 2:44 to play in the game. With the departure of leader and glue guy Joe Mazzulla, the Mounties will turn to seniors Darryl ‘Truck’ Bryant and Kevin Jones (both at 16 PPG through two games) for leadership and production on yet another young Big East team that will spend time trying to find itself early on, but in the meantime may be spending more time finding itself on the business end of some inspirational Bob Huggins ‘motivational sessions’. 6’9″, 260-pound junior forward Deniz Kilicli (11 PPG, 9 RPG) will provide physicality, and highly regarded newcomer Jabarie Hinds has the keys and will learn on the job at the point. Fellow freshmen Aaron Brown, Gary Browne and Keaton Miles have already seen plenty of action as the team looks to gel and challenge the top half of the conference. Alcorn State is up next on Saturday in Morgantown.
Notre Dame: Off to a 2-0 start with wins over Mississippi Valley State and Detroit. If Notre Dame were a stock we’d be buying. It seems every year the consensus knock the Fighting Irish back to the pack only to see them surge forward as the season goes on. Here we go again? The pre-season Big East Coaches’ Poll has the Irish coming in at ninth, presumably due to the loss of 2010-11 Big East Player of the Year Ben Hansbrough. Enter fifth year senior Tim Abromaitis (15.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG last season) who will be called upon to lead the charge once he completes a four-game NCAA suspension for playing in exhibition games leading up to a redshirt year in 2008-09. Abromaitis, upon return, will be flanked by sophomore point guard Eric Atkins (20 PPG, 5 APG), sophomore guard Jerian Grant, coming off a redshirt year, and senior wing Scott Martin (9.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG). Notre Dame lacks size and frontcourt depth, which could create problems in the rough-and-tumble Big East, but is something Mike Brey has encountered in the past and handled deftly.
Georgetown: Head Coach John Thompson III and his team would love to shed the NCAA Tournament one-and-done bug that has haunted them the past two seasons, but to do so this year they will have to get there first. Much of the talent that propelled Georgetown toward those bids has moved on and what little experience the Hoyas currently have has carried them through two blowout victories over Savannah State and UNC Greensboro. The going is about to get much tougher however as a date in Maui with Kansas (Sounds romantic! Hoya and a Jayhawk sitting in a tree…….), ranked twelfth by the Associated Press, awaits so seniors Henry Sims (13.5 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 4.5 APG), Jason Clark (13.o PPG, 3 RPG, 2.5 APG) and junior Hollis Thompson (20.0 PPG, 4 RPG, 2.5 APG) will have to remain consistent while their young but talented teammates develop. Where’s the beef you say? Navigating freshman Civics in DC we say, in the form of a class that is big on paper (ranked eighteenth in the country by Rivals.com) and in stature, consisting of 6’9” center Tyler Adams, a trinity of 6’8” forwards: Otto Porter, Greg Wittington and Mikael Hopkins to go with ESPN top 100 rated 6’5” shooting guard Jabril Trawick.
South Florida: Don’t look now but South Florida is 2-0 and may have found a pair of studs in 6’7” redshirt sophomore forward Victor Rudd, who has busted out of the gate to average 21 points per game, including a 30 point explosion Monday versus Marist, and recently signed 6’5” shooting guard Javonte Hawkins, a top-100 signing for the class of 2012. Break up the Bulls! South Florida is not deep but has size and talent up front, led by one of the better returning Big East big men in 6’10” senior Augustus Gilchrist (11.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG) and another emerging force, 6’8” forward Ron Anderson (13.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 61.5% FG). South Florida has a history of working the junior college and transfer circuits with success (see Jerrid Famous). Anderson may be the latest example. A Kansas State transfer who sat out the 2009-10 season, he averaged 5.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor last year. The Bulls look to extend the roll tonight against Florida Southern.
Cincinnati: Hopes are running high in The Queen City with the No. 20 Bearcats returning their top four scorers from a team that went 26-9 last year and scored a win in the NCAA Tournament. They currently own a 2-0 record after a couple of tune-up victories over Alabama State on Sunday and Jacksonville State on Tuesday. Cincinnati will likely not be challenged until they meet Tim Herrion’s Marshall squad in a post-turkey day match-up. Hometown hero and part-time villain, the burly 6’9” senior forward Yancy Gates (11.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG) represents the central figure on this team, but these Cats have multiple claws with which to scratch out their opponents. Senior guard Dion Dixon (17.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG), junior guard, and big time breakout candidate, Cashmere Wright (16.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.5 APG) and sophomore guard Sean Kilpatrick (10.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG) can all do damage. Add in 6’8″ potential stat-stuffer Justin Jackson (8.5 RPG) and what you have is a team that may only have to contend with its expectations to get where they want to go.