Media Timeout: The Birth and Death of Rivalries After Realignment

Posted by Will Tucker on December 26th, 2014

College basketball places huge emphasis on individual games — showdowns between top-ranked teams, annual rivalry clashes, single-elimination tournaments — but it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture from time to time. Each month, the Media Timeout will review emerging trends in how fans and journalists watch, follow, and talk about the sport.


Conference realignment in recent years has reshaped the college basketball landscape in both obvious and subtle ways. To paint the timeline in admittedly broad brushstrokes, it started with Colorado and Nebraska abandoning the Big 12 for the greener pastures of the Pac-10 and Big Ten, respectively. In the scramble for leagues to position themselves for the eventual “superconference” paradigm, the Pac-10 would add Utah to complete the Pac-12; the Big Ten would go on to poach Maryland and Rutgers; the SEC, Missouri and Texas A&M; the Big 12 reloading with TCU and West Virginia. Most of the Big East diaspora – Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame basketball, and eventually Louisville – settled in the ACC, and the Big East experienced its own dramatic transformation to a basketball-centric league as a result. Those shifts trickled down through many of the mid-major conferences, including the Mountain West, Conference USA, and Atlantic 10, weaving a convoluted web of migration across the country.

realignment europe

The War in Prussia Had Nothing on Conference Realignment

The consequences of those migrations are still revealing themselves several years later. Nowhere have they been more tangible to fans than in the separation of traditional rivals and the formation of new rivalries, sometimes taking root in unexpected places. Rivalries have long been fluid entities, in spite of our tendency to mythologize and idealize a bygone era of college basketball – one in which meritocracy trumped TV revenue, recruiting was an even playing field, and geography and shared heritage determined which schools became rivals. In 1980, for example, Depaul-Marquette was a big deal; Syracuse-UConn wasn’t that big of a deal; and Louisville and Kentucky had played each other only 12 times, ever.

So with that in mind, let’s pay homage to several of the casualties of conference realignment, before turning our attention to budding rivalries that may take their place. We’ll also look at existing rivalries that are being preserved despite changes in conference affiliation.

Rivalries Lost

Duke-Maryland: The rivalry between Duke and Maryland had lost some of its luster by the time the Blue Devils closed out the series by claiming their 13th win in the final 16 meetings: Overall, the Blue Devils held a commanding 114-63 advantage over the Terrapins. But there’s no question that this rivalry’s demise was a significant loss for college basketball fans. This is especially true for fans in D.C., where both schools have a significant alumni presence (College Park is about nine miles from the Capitol Building; Duke places a large number of alumni in the nation’s power cities). On the hardwood, the series experienced a golden age at the turn of the 21st century, when the teams traded national championships and were fixtures at the top of the ACC standings. While the rivalry may have lost some of its competitive edge in recent years, it never lost the element that truly set it apart: vehement hostility. From JJ Redick’s phone number, to the $500,000 in property damage recorded during the 2001 College Park riots, to the imperious “Not our rival” chants serenading Maryland players in Cameron; the discontinued series left big shoes to fill in terms of sheer animosity.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 16th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

With only two weeks left before conference play gets under way, eight Big East teams remain squarely in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. While it might be too early to draw any definitive conclusions, it’s something to monitor as the season progresses. Currently both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm project six Big East teams into their fields, with two others — Creighton and Providence — on the outside of the bubble. Coming off a light weekend of Big East action, below are three key takeaways.

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

  1. Butler and DePaul both lost their edge in the closing minutes. It was a tough Sunday for two teams in drastically different situations. Butler brought its #15 ranking into Knoxville – a difficult environment for any visiting team – while DePaul tried to prove that its 6-3 start was for real. Butler showcased its defensive stinginess in the first half versus the Vols, only to give away a 12-point lead and crumble in the final minutes. Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow struggled as perimeter defenders against Tennessee’s longer, more athletic guards, allowing them access into the lane time and time again. But if Tennessee’s 59.3 percent second half shooting wasn’t enough of an issue, Kellen Dunham’s tendency for poor decision-making made matters worse. The junior took 11 of his 14 field goal attempts from beyond the arc and then proceeded to use the second half to pass up open looks and dribble into traffic. If the Bulldogs can’t generate consistent stops, they turn into a much less effective team too dependent on getting Dunham open looks. On another note, it might be in Chris Holtmann’s interest to give rising freshman Kelan Martin more playing time; the 6’6″ wing is averaging just as many points as Jones (10.8 PPG) but in half the time (16.1 MPG). Meanwhile, DePaul managed to commit enough turnovers in the closing minutes of its game on Sunday to blow a solid lead against Illinois State. To be honest, the Blue Demons’ starting lineup is remarkably competent on the offensive end; Myke Henry has emerged as a true leader, with Jamee Crockett and Tommy Hamilton IV adding wing and inside dimensions. But as with prior years, many of the same issues remain: turnovers and defense. Oliver Purnell will have to find a way to fix at least one of those weaknesses before the program takes another step forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Column of Enchantment: On Mark Emmert, the Big East & Christian Slater…

Posted by Joseph Nardone on December 11th, 2014

Well, it looks like the idea of amateurism that the NCAA held so close to their hearts is about to die as horrible a death as all the victims in True Romance. This is according to — kind of — Mark Emmert, who is notorious for railing against the notion of paying players anything more than the always decreasing value of a college scholarship. Over the past few days Emmert has gone on a crusade concerning college basketball players, the NBDL, and letting student-athletes test the marketplace. Altruism at its finest? Probably not.

NCAA president Mark Emmert

NCAA president Mark Emmert is Open to the Idea of Something (USA Today Images)

First thing’s first. It is clear that fancy pants Emmert is entertaining the idea of letting kids test the market but remain eligible to play hoops for free because he can see the writing on the wall. Between civil suits, possible labor law infractions, as well as a combination of common sense and logic, the foundation of the NCAA is essentially crumbling. The days of universities making tons of loot off the back of free labor seems like it is to become extinct like the dinosaurs and Cuba Gooding Jr’s career. Emmert, who often has as much foresight as a lobster looking to move to the desert, is attempting to keep the NCAA as relevant as humanly possible.

Unfortunately, the reason why Emmert seems to be focusing so much on the amateur hoops is because the amateur football might already be a lost cause. Rumors have been around long enough involving the Power 5 splitting from the NCAA that Emmert knows that the governing body of college sports has probably taken enough body blows that it might want to throw in the towel on its fictional idea of amateurism. I mean, it is that broken concept which has put them in this spot anyway. Might as well take a stab at college basketball because it relies so heavily upon the NCAA Tournament for its large portions of money. So, Since the NCAA is known to make up rules as it goes, even as far as overstepping their jurisdiction, there are probably no bylaws which state that the NCAA has to stay married to whatever it actually is that they believe amateurism is supposed to be.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 8th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

Another week of games, another week of wins for the Big East. As we move into the last few weeks of the non-conference schedule, these games gain additional significance; they represent a team’s last few chances to stockpile resume-enhancing wins before the conference gauntlet begins. A number of Big East teams were able to do just that last week. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the past week of action.

St. John's Stunned Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday (credit: Syracuse.com)

St. John’s Stunned Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday (credit: Syracuse.com)

St. John’s steals a win at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse rarely goes down easy at the Carrier Dome, but the Orange’s streak of 55 consecutive non-conference home game victories came to an end on Saturday as D’Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene IV taught the Orange a few things about three-point shooting. In the past, the Johnnies had seemingly always managed to lose these key games down the stretch by way of turnovers or poor shot selection. But this time, the more experienced group played under control and found ways to score over the 2-3 zone inside. While Harrison paced the team throughout the game, hitting timely threes or mid-range shots, it was Greene who helped to close it out, scoring 11 points in the final 4:08 of action. Forwards Chris Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer were largely neutralized on the offensive end, but Harrison and Greene converted with stunning efficiency, combining for a white-hot 8-of-14 shooting night from beyond the arc. After failing to capitalize on their chance to take down Gonzaga, St. John’s made the most of its chance this time around. The historically volatile group of unbelievably athletic guards and forwards seems to be calming down and coming together this season, at long last.

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Big East Stock Watch: Butler and Seton Hall Rising

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 4th, 2014

It’s been close to three full weeks since the season tipped off, and despite most teams only playing between six and seven games, some of the results have been drastic enough to change some of the predictions that were made at the start of the season. Some teams have won games they weren’t expected to; others have lost games that they should have won. But at the end of the day, a team will only go as far as its talent takes it. Below is a list of Big East candidates whose outlook has been revised, for better or for worse.

Stock Up

Kellen Dunham and Friends

Kellen Dunham and Friends Have Two High-Quality Wins on Their Resume Already

Butler: The word outperform can’t be used in a discussion about Big East teams without first mentioning Butler. Butler was originally pegged to finish seventh in the league standings, tied with Marquette and just three votes ahead of ninth. Instead, through seven games, the Bulldogs find themselves at 6-1 with neutral floor wins over both North Carolina and Georgetown. So, why the discrepancy from prediction to performance? Without the scoring of graduated Khyle Marshall (14.9 PPG) and transferred Elijah Brown (6.8 PPG), many thought that the team’s already inefficient offense would go from bad to worse. As a primary example, Butler shot 31.4 percent from three (306th in the country) and 65.6 percent from the line (311th) last season, marking the second lowest effective field goal percentage the Bulldogs have had in their last 13 seasons. Everyone knew Roosevelt Jones, who played such an integral part in the team’s 27-9 season two years ago, would be back from injury, but he had always served as more of a play-maker than a true scorer. Kellen Dunham, the team’s leading scorer, was the only returning player who averaged more than 7.5 PPG.

What changed has been the contributions of everyone else on the floor. Senior Alex Barlow has been a tough, fearless point guard on the defensive end alongside forwards Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz, each of whom has more than held his own on the low block against bigger opponents. Despite ranking in the bottom third nationally in effective height, the Bulldogs are 58th in limiting opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage. Additionally, Butler has been adept at forcing turnovers and playing physical interior defense, forcing teams to beat them with outside shooting (which they haven’t, at least not yet). Above all though, the biggest surprise has been the play of 6’6″ freshman forward Kelan Martin. Martin received a handful of offers at the D-I level, mostly from mid-major and mediocre high-major schools, but he was not touted as a difference-maker coming into this season. Yet the freshman has shattered all reasonable expectations: In just 16.3 minutes per game, he has averaged 10.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. Butler has historically used short rotations, but Martin has proven his worth by playing both inside and outside. With Dunham and Jones in foul trouble against North Carolina, for example, it was Martin who stepped up in the second half, chipping in 17 points and six rebounds. At this point, nobody can question Butler’s talent as they have played themselves into the Top 25. Its biggest question marks will remain on the offensive end, where foul trouble has sometimes depleted the team’s proven scorers in an already limited rotation.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 1st, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

After a long week of preseason tournaments, which often featured days of consecutive games for a team, the Big East has just two undefeated teams remaining: Villanova and Seton Hall. The conference at a whole has continued to play competitively and currently stands at 48-12, ranking 4th in Kenpom’s conference rankings. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the past week of Big East action.

JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)

JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova finally showed up to play. After their first three games, some had already begun to question whether Villanova truly deserved their preseason #12 ranking. The team as a whole struggled mightily with its outside shooting – something they relied upon heavily last season – and up until last week, held unconvincing wins over Lehigh and Bucknell that weren’t decided until the closing minutes. Yet when the national spotlight was on, the Wildcats came through. The team handily defeated #14 VCU with quick, effective ball movement and a penchant for taking care of the ball. Then, following their statement win was a gripping victory over #19 Michigan, in which the Wildcats escaped after several lead changes in the last few minutes. Finally, they capped off the week with a 31 point rout over Delaware. Junior center Daniel Ochefu should be the frontrunner for Most Improved Player in the Big East. The 6’11 center has shown a newly developed array of post moves that have added a frontcourt dimension unseen in previous Villanova teams. In a league without much talent disparity, Villanova has established themselves as the top dog, head and shoulders above the rest. They will be playing with a target on their backs all season as every opponent will be seeking a resume building victory when they step onto the floor to face the Wildcats.

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Villanova Doesn’t Need a Star; It Has a Team

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 26th, 2014

Save for a few hiccups and misfires on the recruiting trail, Jay Wright has kept Villanova in tournament contention throughout his entire 14-year coaching tenure with the team, a track record matched by few. Many remember his success from the tenacious four-guard lineups in 2005 and 2006 or the Scottie Reynolds-led final four team in 2009, and while recent years have been filled with early tournament departures, the Wildcats have continually remained in the picture. His success can be attributed to a number of factors, but above all its his adaptation to changing personnel. While the team has made the NCAA tournament in nine of the previous 10 seasons, the playing style has been remarkably different. Wright has transitioned the team from a fast-paced drive and dish offense centered around guard play and outscoring opponents to one centered around team defense and a balanced, unselfish scoring attack. For the past several seasons, Villanova has not had what NBA scouts would categorize as a star player. There are no one-and-done’s, no lottery pick athletes. Instead, Wright has recruited a group of hard working four-year players who bring a variety of skillsets and offer multi-positional diversity. What this does is build a brand of basketball built around teamwork, help defense and selflessness, and its success can be seen through the Wildcats’ play over the last two games at the Legends Classic.

JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)

JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)

Despite struggling against the likes of Lehigh and Bucknell, everything seems to have clicked on Monday night when Villanova took on VCU and the HAVOC defense that has make Shaka Smart famous. But when reviewing the box score, there isn’t a single player that can be pointed to for the reason behind the team’s 24 point rout of VCU. Villanova as a team dished out 20 assists on 29 made baskets and committed just nine turnovers in the process, against a team that had forced a remarkable 60 turnovers in the three contests before it. Four players scored in double figures and the team’s leading scorer is averaging 12.5 points, accounting for a mere 16.2% of the team’s total scoring output. The balanced offense is complemented with a balanced defense. The Wildcats are not particularly quick, or tall, but the team has a number of interchangeable parts, allowing them to effectively switch on ball screens or play help defense in the lanes.

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Big East Weekend Wrap

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 24th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

Continuing its hot start, the Big East finished off another strong week and as a whole, stands at 30-2. For most teams, the competition picked up after a week of tune-up type games. Sensing a higher state of importance, a number of Big East teams stepped up, pulling off upsets and recording marquee, resume-building wins (Creighton, Providence). Others, however, floundered and either lost to underwhelming competition (Marquette) or narrowly avoided ugly losses (Villanova, St. John’s). Below are four key takeaways from the past week of Big East action.

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

  • Creighton might not be so bad after all. I’ll admit, I had Creighton ranked #9 in the Big East coming into this season. I thought the loss of McDermott, and three other starters, would have a monumental impact on the offense’s fluidity and efficiency. Instead, head coach Greg McDermott’s playcalling, ball movement, and overall offensive scheme appear to have remained the same. This is largely in part due to the emergence of senior point guard Austin Chatman, who has been near flawless at keeping all of the Bluejays’ newcomers on the same page (2.1 turnovers per 40 minutes). On Wednesday, Creighton squared off against the 18th ranked Oklahoma Sooners and rallied from 18 down to steal the show. Surprisingly, the Bluejays shot poorly all night, just 8-26 from three and 37.5% overall, but Isaiah Zierden and Toby Hegner are doing their best to fill the Manigat/Wragge roles on last year’s squad: finding open space on the floor and draining threes at crucial points in the game. Chatman, the lone returning starter, knows exactly how to run the offense after four years in the system, and has found success by driving and drawing defenders, and either getting to the line or dishing to open teammates. The 6’0 guard posted a 17 point, 11 rebound, six assist statline against the Sooners.
  • Kris Dunn is the real deal. Normally, Creighton would receive the top headline in the Big East for its win over #18 Oklahoma, but Dunn’s performance this week was just too impressive to ignore. Dunn’s role on the 5-0 Friars is not as a primary scorer, that’s LaDontae Henton‘s job. Instead, Dunn serves as a distributor and offensive coordinator, putting teammates in a better position to score. The 6’3 sophomore was a highly touted McDonald’s All American out of high school, but spent much of last season on the bench after a season-ending injury just two weeks into the season. Anyone can recognize how important senior LaDontae Henton is to Providence, who scored a career high 38 points in a huge win over Notre Dame today and is averaging a league-leading 19.8 points per game. But Dunn, who got off to a rough start in his first game has completely turned things around and is largely responsible for the Friars’ hot start. He is now averaging 8.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game with just 17 turnovers through five games, including a remarkable 14 assists against Navy. Dunn was a major question mark coming into this season, and with a depleted Friars backcourt following Bryce Cotton’s departure, his continued success will be vital to Providence’s. The Friars offense runs at a completely different rate when Dunn on the floor, and now the question will be whether he can avoid foul trouble and stay on the floor long enough in close games: he played just 21 minutes versus Notre Dame, and is averaging 3.3 fouls per game.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 17th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

After an 11-game slate of games for the Big East’s 10 teams,  the league remains perfect. While none of those 11 games were against top competition, wins are wins at this point in the season and losses here can really damage a team’s NCAA Tournament resume. Despite the relative talent imbalance between most of the Big East teams and their opponents, some of these games were shockingly close and may have provided wake-up calls for teams and players who were still stuck in preseason mode. For others, it could be a sign of things to come. Below is a list of five key takeaways from the weekend’s Big East action.

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

  • Villanova came out flat, shooting 3-of-23 from deep in the first half before finishing 8-of-33 (24.2%) on the night. Those off nights were a major concern for this team last season when the offense sputtered and failed to create easy baskets when the three-point shot wasn’t falling. Starting guards Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono combined for 10-of-28 shooting from the floor while senior wing Darrun Hilliard shot just 4-of-18 and 1-of-9 from deep. The Wildcats forced enough turnovers (28) and got enough points in transition to put Lehigh away, but the win was not a comfortable one by any means. The Wildcats’ shooting numbers are worth watching moving forward.
  • Creighton swept its weekend slate, finishing 2-0 against Central Arkansas and Chicago State by a combined 45 points. The biggest question for the Bluejays coming into this season was how the team would respond without its offensive centerpiece, Doug McDermott. While neither of the above teams was strong enough defensively to provide an answer to this question, the offense continued to fire on all cylinders. Creighton hoisted up a whopping 56 three-point shots in the two games, making just 19 of them, which is disappointing for a team that led the country in this category at 41.5%. Yet the offense was the same free-flowing, unselfish and pass-heavy one we saw last season. Senior center Will Artino was highly efficient with his touches in the paint in limited minutes, with sophomore Isaiah Zierden providing strong scoring output off the bench. Look for Toby Hegner to make a name for himself this season: the 6’9 freshman contributed 17 points and seven rebounds, including 3-of-6 shooting from deep.

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Big East Conference Preview: Xavier, Georgetown & Villanova

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 14th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff. The bottom tier was released earlier this week; it can be found here. Yesterday: the middle tier of the conferenceToday: the top tier, including Xavier, Georgetown and Villanova.

#3: Xavier

Xavier's Matt Stainbrook is a Load on the Blocks

Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook is a Load on the Blocks

Xavier’s projected top three finish is less a testament to the team being talented and more a statement about the lack of quality, NCAA-caliber teams in the Big East this season. But that’s not to say the Musketeers will be a bad team. Senior Matt Stainbrook, arguably the conference’s most talented big man, will play a crucial role in serving as the team’s go-to scorer and anchor in the paint. While the 6’10” center has not been considered a primary option in his career, he has started in almost every game dating back to his first two years at Western Michigan. Coming off a season in which he averaged 10.6 points on 55.6 percent shooting (second in the Big East) and 7.4 rebounds (5th in the Big East) in just 24.4 minutes per game, head coach Chris Mack knows what he has in Stainbrook. With the departure of leading scorer Semaj Christon to the NBA, Stainbrook will be the team’s number one option. Also gone from last year’s NCAA Tournament team are two additional starters: junior forward Justin Martin (transfer) and senior forward Isaiah Philmore (graduation), who together combined for 29 percent of the team’s total points per game.

Yet the Musketeers still find themselves with a projected third place finish. Aside from Stainbrook, there are two reasons for this. First, point guard Dee Davis is back for his senior season. Davis has shown over his career that he can run an offense, averaging 4.7 assists per game last season (second in the Big East) with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5-to-1. Second, Xavier brings in guard Remy Abell, an Indiana transfer, and six new freshman in an incoming class that ranks as one of the best in the program’s history. Headlining this list is 6’5 forward Trevon Bluiett, who could very well be the conference’s second best freshman behind Isaiah Whitehead. Bluiett is a big time scorer at the wing, and he will most likely see immediate playing time in the starting lineup as the Musketeers’ depth at the wings is limited. Additionally, the development of rising sophomores Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis, who round out the starting lineup, will be instrumental in determining Xavier’s postseason success. Both players have shown flashes coming off the bench, but will need to find consistency if Xavier is to push for another NCAA Tournament bid. Given the team’s relatively weak non-conference schedule this season, the Musketeers will have to capitalize on their games versus projected conference front-runners Georgetown and Villanova.

#2: Georgetown

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Four Teams in the Preseason Top 10: Banner Year for the ACC?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 12th, 2014

The Atlantic Coast Conference looks poised to have a dominant season among basketball’s top conferences, boasting four of the nation’s preseason top 10 teams in Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. After a short one-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the latest former Big East team to join the ACC, while the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cavaliers are ACC mainstays — each hopes to carry the conference banner to the finish line in March. Virginia wants to defend its conference title and prove last season wasn’t a fluke; Louisville hopes to send a message in its ACC debut; and the Tobacco Road teams are hoping to make it back to their rightful place in the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Simply put, the ACC is going to be a war at the top of the standings, and each team has a major driver pushing it this year.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

This season marks the third time since 2002 that a conference has had four teams in the preseason top 10. Ironically, both of these instances came courtesy of the Big East. In 2011, the conference placed Connecticut and current ACC members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville within the top 10; and in 2008, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and another current ACC member, Notre Dame, topped the list. In each of those years, the ACC’s only two representatives were — who else? — Duke and North Carolina. This definitely speaks to the prestige of the basketball programs that the ACC has added in recent years, and it’s not implausible to think the ACC could place even more than four squads in the top 10 in coming seasons.

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Big East Conference Preview: Seton Hall, Providence & St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 12th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff on Friday. The bottom tier was released yesterday; it can be found here. Today: Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s make up the middle tier of the conference.

#6: Seton Hall

The Kevin Willard era hasn't been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era hasn’t been great so far, but this might be his most talented team. (Getty)

The Kevin Willard era at Seton Hall has not been a successful one by any stretch of the imagination. After a 21-10 season at Iona in 2010, Willard’s Pirates have continually found themselves outmatched by Big East opponents, producing just one subsequent season above .500 during his tenure. Yet you can’t argue with his recruiting results of late: In 2013, Willard brought in four-star point guard Jaren Sina, a highly-skilled passer and shooter who was coveted coming by many, with offers from the likes of Memphis, Villanova and Pittsburgh. This year Willard brings in a top-tier recruit in shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, who ranks #2 in the country at his position. Couple him with a 6’8″ four-star power forward in Angel Delgado, a strong rebounder for his size, and four other three-star recruits and Willard’s latest recruiting class was ranked 12th nationally as a result. Whitehead’s impact is expected to be immediate — the 6’4″ shooting guard was a McDonald’s All-American and has shown an ability to score in a number of different ways. It should come as no surprise that the media pegged him as the favorite to win this season’s Big East Freshman of the Year award. His talent, in addition to the return of backcourt mates Sterling Gibbs and Sina, will without question force opponents to play small in order to contest the Hall’s perimeter attack and stop transition buckets. However, the Pirates also lose three senior starters and junior forward Patrick Auda, and their collective loss of leadership will not go unnoticed. Rising senior Brandon Mobley will also need all the frontcourt help he can get from Delgado and redshirt freshman Rashed Anthony. The Pirates are expected to feature some three-guard sets, and should boast one of the best backcourts in the conference — the key will be finding ways to mask their relative lack of size in the paint, which wasn’t as big of a problem with Gene Teague. An NIT berth is certainly not out of the question for this young, talented squad, and it will completely depend on how well the backcourt gels over the course of the season. Read the rest of this entry »

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