Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013
- New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
- Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
- One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
- Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG: “Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: “[Creighton’s] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton’s] product is shown nationally.”
- Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC‘s] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
Posted by Will Tucker on October 18th, 2012
- Big East Media Day took place yesterday and produced some excellent quotes. Ed Cooley stole the show with his dry and profane take on the Big East landscape. In response to his team’s last-place ranking in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Providence coach told the media “I like when we’re overlooked, we’re going to bite some asses.” Cooley also articulated his recruiting philosophy ––“I love the ‘us against the world’ mentality. I want guys that are edgy, pissed off” –– and praised Vincent Council as “the best point guard in the country.” Buzz Williams contributed a colorful metaphor of his own when he described Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom as “a really good drug for us… we became addicts to what they gave us every day.”
- The eccentric egos we’ve come to expect from Big East coaches were on full display when Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim traded barbs at Media Day. Pitino, a vocal advocate of Big East basketball, downplayed the significance of losing Syracuse to the ACC, and wondered aloud “how many fans they’re going to bring to Tobacco Road.” After catching wind of Rick’s comments, Boeheim went off: “He’s full of s**t if that’s what he really said. If he was in the Big 12 like he wanted to be, he’d be saying the Big 12 is the best. That’s the bottom line…I’m really tired of him saying what Syracuse should be or should have done because they would have left in a heartbeat. Everybody knows it.” Pitino responded by reiterating his point that while they won’t replace the fan presence of the Orange, conference newcomers Temple and Memphis will bring comparable basketball quality to the table. He also quipped that “I think [Boeheim’s] full of s**t, so we’re both full of it.”
- Speaking of Pitino, the Louisville coach heaped praise on interim UConn coach Kevin Ollie during interviews yesterday. He characterized the hiring as a “no-brainer” and said “there’s not a coach in the country Connecticut can hire that’s better than Kevin Ollie. He’s extremely bright; his players are going to love him. Technically, he’s very sound… Overachiever as a player, college and pro.” Learning of Pitino’s flattering comments, Ollie keenly observed “He still cut me [from the Celtics roster]. I wasn’t that smart.”
- The Hartford Courant produced some thorough and nuanced coverage of Media Day, including a piece on UConn players being unfazed by low expectations, heading into the season ranked in the bottom half of the Big East. Said Tyler Olander, “[In 2010], we went from 10th [in the Big East] to number one in the country. Preseason is preseason.” It’s a message of blue-collar work ethic that Kevin Ollie –– the consummate journeyman during his 13 seasons with 12 teams in the NBA –– is surely emphasizing heading into an otherwise bleak season with no postseason prospects. What’s becoming increasingly obvious in the aftermath of Jim Calhoun’s retirement is how much this Huskies team seems to adore Ollie. It will be interesting to see how the players respond with both their collective pride and their coach’s job on the line this year.
- The same day Mike Aresco revealed that Madison Square Garden is extending its contract to host the Big East’s postseason tournament, the Washington Post revealed that the Verizon Center has placed a bid to host the ACC Tournament. The home floor of the Georgetown Hoyas, which had hosted the tournament in 2005, is an appropriate choice for a conference in the midst of northern expansion. But the idea of Syracuse and Pitt playing on Georgetown’s home court in the ACC Tournament also highlights the acute absurdity of conference realignment.
Posted by Will Tucker on October 17th, 2012
- The biggest news of the morning is the release of the preseason Big East coaches’ poll. Louisville was almost unanimously pegged as the conference top dog as the Cardinals received 14 of 15 first-place votes. The other first-place vote went to Notre Dame even though the Fighting Irish ended up behind Syracuse in the overall voting. Peyton Siva was tabbed as the preseason conference player of the year, and joined by teammates Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan on the First Team and Honorable Mentions lists, respectively. Syracuse (CJ Fair and Brandon Triche) and Notre Dame (Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant) each placed two players on the team.
- To piggyback on the Media Day honors and rankings, it’s pretty wild for a player on the last-place team make the First Team All Big East list. If anything, it demonstrates the respect shared around the league for Providence senior Vincent Council, who has become somewhat of a conference institution despite his team’s performance over his tenure. But this evaluative disparity also underscores the opinion that Ed Cooley’s star freshmen won’t be around enough to make any real traction. As FriarBlog speculates, Providence hasn’t placed a player on the preseason First Team since Ryan Gomes in 2004.
- Georgetown will apparently square off on October 28 against North Carolina, in what is being uncomfortably described as a “secret scrimmage.” The Hoyas made the same trip a year ago, under an NCAA provision that allows a team to replace one of its preseason cupcakes with another Division I team so long as the game is privately held and no official score is kept. The lost (and newly found) Dream Team practice tapes have nothing on these games.
- UConn issued a press release on Tuesday announcing that the school has secured the initial funding necessary to break ground on a new basketball facility. In light of a $2 million gift from Mark and Rosalind Shenkman, the UConn Foundation revealed that it has raised 75% of the $32 million it needs to complete construction, and that the remaining $8 million will be sought through financing. The creatively named UConn Basketball Development Center will abut Gampel Pavilion on the former site of the now-razed Memorial Stadium. The new facility should foster a greater sense of geographical continuity for UConn basketball.
- Highly touted class of 2013 point guard Roddy Peters made his college decision yesterday morning, electing to take his talents to Maryland to play for Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins. Georgetown and Rutgers were among the impressive list of recruiting also-rans, which additionally included Kansas and UCLA. On Thursday, Georgetown gets another opportunity to bag a top-50 recruit when Memphis big man Johnathan Williams III makes his college choice.