Keon Lawrence…Reinstated At Seton Hall?

Posted by jstevrtc on November 21st, 2009

From Zagsblog comes the news today that Seton Hall junior guard Keon Lawrence will be reinstated to the team within the next week, in time for the Pirates’ game against Long Island next Saturday.  This news comes twelve days after Lawrence’s November 9th arrest for driving the wrong way on the Garden State Parkway and causing a two-car accident.  At that time, he was charged with DWI and driving with a suspended license.  No blood test was performed at the scene, but two sets of blood tests — one done at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and another done later by the New Jersey State Police — revealed Lawrence’s blood-alcohol level to be below the legal limit of 0.08, despite initial reports of the contrary.

Let’s get the most important aspect of this out of the way, first:  we think it’s a miracle and we’re incredibly happy that nobody was seriously injured in this thing.  Someone obviously could have been killed, and thank God that didn’t happen.  But that’s the point.  When this happened, there was evidently ample reason to charge Lawrence with DWI and take him to the hospital to draw blood, and for coach Bobby Gonzalez  to issue an immediate and indefinite suspension to Lawrence (admittedly, he had enough reason to suspend Lawrence just with the suspended license charge).  So we know alcohol was involved.  We don’t know anything about Lawrence’s constitution or his liver’s ability to process alcohol, but maybe he’s the kind of guy who’s blottoed at some level below the arbitrary 0.08.  That’s speculation on our part, but it barely matters.  What really matters is that Lawrence knew how many things he was doing wrong when he got in that car that night, which was also a mere four nights before playing his first game for SHU after transferring from Missouri and sitting out a whole year.  We don’t know Lawrence personally, and he might be a great kid.  But this was one bad decision after another, and someone, including Lawrence himself, could have paid the ultimate price.

That in mind, doesn’t three early-season games sound a little light as far as a suspension?  We’re all for second chances, here, and we pride ourselves in not being one of those sites that just goes out and finds reasons to pick on 18-to-22 year-old kids so we can pass judgment and appear clever.  But…decisions that break various laws and that could kill you or others = three games?

We’ll say this — if Lawrence has learned his lessons regarding this whole issue, that’s great.  That’s what matters in the end, that people learn from their mistakes and change their behavior accordingly.  That’s the object of any punishment.  We hope he learns to take full advantage of all the opportunities he’s been awarded.  But reinstating Lawrence after a mere three games after an incident like this makes it look like the Seton Hall program didn’t take this whole thing very seriously at all.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #3 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2009


Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

Predicted order of finish:

  1. Villanova
  2. West Virginia
  3. UConn
  4. Cincinnati
  5. Louisville
  6. Georgetown
  7. Syracuse
  8. Seton Hall
  9. Pittsburgh
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Marquette
  12. South Florida
  13. Rutgers
  14. Providence
  15. St. John’s
  16. DePaul

Preseason Awards.

  • Player of the Year. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
  • Newcomer of the Year. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Breakout Player of the Year. Kemba Walker, UConn

big east logo

All-Conference First Team.

  • Kemba Walker, UConn
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
  • Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown
  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

All-Conference Second Team.

  • Jerome Dyson, UConn
  • Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
  • Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia
  • Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette

All-Conference Third Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville

All-Rookie Team.

  • Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
  • Peyton Siva, Louisville
  • Maalik Wayns, Villanova
  • Dante Taylor, Pitt
  • Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova

Read the rest of this entry »

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09.14.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on September 14th, 2009

In the last week or so, we’ve noticed that the days are distinctly shorter than they were, which means only one thing…  darkness.

  • What, no Matt Doherty?  Carolina celebrated its 100 years of basketball with a blowout extravaganza two Fridays ago featuring such UNC luminaries as Dean Smith, Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Phil Ford, Larry Brown, Antawn Jamison, George Karl, Julius Peppers and a bunch of other dignitaries, both past and present.  The tribute video they presented at the beginning of the evening should be mandatory viewing for every recruit that steps into Chapel Hill (sidenote: 2010 #1 Harrison Barnes and several others were there), but the featured event was the scrimmage, nicknamed the “Professional Alumni Game,” where the White team (starters: Raymond Felton, Brendan Haywood, Marvin Williams, Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse) defeated the Blue team (Vince Carter, Jawad Williams, Dante Calabria, Sean May and Ed Cota) 113-92.  It sounds great and all, but it was the trotting out of that old Carolina/Dean Smith warhorse, the Four Corners offense, that just about made this writer puke.  Let’s sully one of the greatest collections of collegiate talent ever put together in a single place at a single time by reminiscing and celebrating one of the biggest abominations the game has ever witnessed.  For you youngsters, the 4C was largely responsible for the implementation of the 45-second shot clock in the mid-80s, and is widely ridiculed as one of the worst inventions of the modern game.  Bad, bad idea, Heels.  As another sidenote to this Carolina joyfest, did anyone else feel that MJ’s acceptance speech at the HOF induction last weekend was completely petty and mean-spirited?  From our cheap seats, it appears that more than one Jordan Myth was defused this weekend (h/t TBL).
  • Memphis Appeals.  Last week Memphis sent its timely notice of appeal to the NCAA based on the Derrick Rose Scandal, arguing that the Tigers’ 38 wins and NCAA Tournament runner-up appearance from 2007-08 should not be removed from the history books.  Among the findings that led to the penalties, the only one that Memphis is appealing is the violation involving Derrick Rose’s SAT score.  This is presumably because it is also the most difficult one to prove (cf. with Memphis getting cold-busted for providing illicit airfare and hotels to Reggie Rose).  The school, now represented by “NCAA defender to the stars” Mike Glazier, has thirty days to present its arguments to the NCAA Infractions Committee, and their argument is going to undoubtedly hinge on the seeming inconsistency of Derrick Rose being cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse prior to his freshman season only to be later deemed ineligible after the fact.  Sadly for Memphis, in this case and in the real world, what is an apparent inconsistency is incongruent with the fact that the justice system (and the NCAA) doesn’t work like that.  The bottom line is this: so long as the Clearinghouse made a good faith effort to determine the basis for Rose’s initial eligibility (and we presume it did), the revelation of later evidence indicting Rose’s SAT provenance has no bearing on the initial assessment.  The NCAA had no basis to believe that Rose had cheated on his SATs until the allegations surfaced after his freshman year.  The real-world analogy would be if the police did a cursory investigation of someone related to a crime and found no evidence to initially support their involvement, only to receive credible information a year later that the person investigated might have indeed committed the crime.  Rose was no more “cleared” than any of us are – there is no “get-out-of-jail-free” card that we can present in perpetuity; if additional information comes to light, it is entirely reasonable for conditions to change in response.  Furthermore, the fact that Rose then ignored three letters from ETS (who administers the SAT) questioning his score, and two other letters from the NCAA requesting an interview, does not help his case.  Unless he plans on showing up to the NCAA hearing on Memphis’ behalf with evidence to the contrary (LOLable), we’re afraid that Memphis is going to be forced to eat those 38 wins and the $600K they stand to lose here.  Maybe Josh Pastner could simply request that Rose write him a check?
  • Back To Renardo Sidney.  The NCAA stated last Friday that Mississippi St.’s Renardo Sidney is not certified to play this season because his family did not turn over the financial documentation that they requested as part of the investigation into how the Sidneys afforded to live in high-end homes in the LA area.  Or as they put it, Sidney is “not certified due to non response.”  The NCAA went on to say that if or when the Sidneys send the information requested (and not a stack of random papers they found in someone’s locker), then his certification will be re-evaluated.  What does all this mean?  Basically, the NCAA doesn’t want to get caught with its pants down again, as in the cases of OJ Mayo and Derrick Rose where they certified players as initially eligible only to watch as those same players danced on the NCAA Clearinghouse’s grave en route to the NBA.  Sidney’s attorney is threatening lawsuit, and we suspect that his argument “that the Sidney family has to establish the existence of non-violations” probably has some merit, but none of this may matter given we’re only two months from the first games and the justice system moves slower than molasses.  It’s unlikely that MSU will risk playing Sidney while the wheels of justice are turning simply because they don’t want a Rose giveback of all the Ws they’re anticipating this season.
  • Vegas Watch: Big Ten.  VW got his third installment of the major conference previews up today, and once again we were invited along for the peep show.  What’s interesting about the Big Ten ratings is that we all pretty much agreed that Purdue is the best team in the conference in 09-10, but (at least for our money) Michigan St. is the team more likely to do damage in the NCAA Tournament.  Another good exercise, and the league is looking at being way up – up to seven solid NCAA bids this season.  For the ACC and Big 12 ratings and discussion, see these posts.
  • Quick HitsSlam Magazine: finished its Top 25.  Arizona St.: more than just Harden and PendergraphParrish: why Butler is no Boise.   Goodman: 25 players you should know for 09-10, and his all-americans (John Wall for POY = bold).  Incredible Shrinking Center: Memphis’ Pierre Henderson-NilesJim Griffin: RIPJohn Pelphrey at Arkansas: agreedSeton Hall: extends Bobby Gonzalez to 2015Florida St.: haven’t we heard this song before?  Travis Ford: wow, how do you get a 10-year extension after one year on the job?  Larry Eustachy: Gillispie has a diseaseFreshmen: here’s the top 20 for 09-10Memphis: down to 8 scholarship playersBlue Ribbon: go ahead and order it.
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Thou Shalt Not Tech the Cheerleaders…

Posted by rtmsf on January 6th, 2009

Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences.  When he’s not writing, he serves as a basketball official in various New Jersey amateur leagues.

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – In the course of my basketball life there is an officiating schedule. It is something I have done for two decades now and enjoy quite a bit. It also gives a different perspective on the game. For instance, before getting into officiating I never watched how a player set a screen while covering a college game. Now, it’s something watched closely courtside as it reveals how fundamentally sound a player may be.

At any rate, Monday night brought an assignment in the North New Jersey Suburban League, a sixth grade boys game between South Orange and West Orange. Entering the gym I noticed the West Orange coach was New Jersey Senator Richard Codey. He was acting governor of the state for a time and may be our next one down the road. Codey also has a passion for basketball and a close friendship with Bobby Gonzalez of Seton Hall. It is known that Codey has spoken to the Seton Hall University president on more than one occasion in support of Gonzalez. Likewise he has conversed with Gonzalez a good number of times.

We get going and early on South Orange gets out to a lead. Codey shows a little of the mentor that works about a half mile down the road by debating a few calls or no calls. Still, he is working hard genuinely teaching and encouraging his kids. On one play I call a three seconds on his player. “His foot wasn’t in the lane,” Codey protests, “Coach it was,” I answer politely,”plus I gave him about five seconds.”

Ray Would Never "T" Up This Crew

Ray Would Never "T" Up This Crew

During a time out, my partner comes over and tells me Codey wants a Technical on the South Orange cheerleaders. “Why,” I ask. “He said they are too loud and he can’t think” I suggest to my partner let’s just move on.

South Orange is too fast and athletic. The margin is in the thirties the second half. He might not agree with every call but overall Codey isn’t a problem to work with . He’s really in a teaching mode despite the score and at times gives a theatrical arms up in desperation on an unforced turnover. With 13 seconds to go South Orange is up 32 and calls time out to set a play. “Time out with 13 seconds left,” he says to me as if to say why? “Coach, I know what you’re saying,” I answer, “my partner and I commented on it.  We agree it’s not right, let’s just get it finished.” The game plays out the final seconds with a home win in the books. Codey commends us but adds, “you really should have ‘T’d’ those cheerleaders.” Provided they do not intentionally interfere with play, curse, or taunt,  there is no way to call a technical (which would be assessed to their team) on them.  My reply is I’m certain they can’t be ‘T’d’ but (taking a political route) I promise to check the ruling with my association.

“See you tomorrow at the ‘Rock’ (Prudential Center for Seton Hall-Villanova),” I said. “I’ll be there,” he replied.

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Checking in on the… Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 26th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

The Big East is proving why it is the best conference in basketball, as the 16 teams in the conference have lost a grand total of five games. I mean, Seton Hall barely sneaks into the top 10 in the conference and they are 4-1 with wins over USC and Virginia Tech early on. To be fair, most of the games that have been played at this point in the season have come against cupcakes, but a Big East team has already knocked off a marquee team in every other major conference (UConn has beaten Wisconsin and Miami (FL), Syracuse beat Florida and Kansas, Notre Dame beat Texas, and Seton Hall beat USC).

Power Rankings (AP, Coaches):


1. UConn 5-0 (#2, #2) – It is pretty tough to argue with UConn atop the BIAH Big East Power Rankings. They are 5-0 and coming off of a victory in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. More on the Huskies in a bit.

2. Notre Dame 4-0 (#8, #8) – Notre Dame gets the nod at #2 because of their win over Texas in Maui. Now that Kyle McAlarney has found his stroke (13-23 from the floor, 11-20 from deep in his last two games after starting the season 2-13), it is clear that the Irish are going be able to put up points with anyone. Their biggest question mark right now is defense and rebounding. Against Texas, Notre Dame was out-rebounded 45-33 and gave up 15 on the offensive glass.

I know that the Irish have two first-team all-conference players on their roster, but PG Tory Jackson is just as, if not more, valuable than both McAlarney and Luke Harangody. He is the guy that makes the potent Irish offense run. He is as quick as they come and can get into the lane against just about anyone, but he plays under control and rarely picks up a charge. When he gets into the paint, he is just as good at finishing as he is at drawing a defender and finding an open man (he’s led the Big East in dimes the last two years). To top it off, he has been knocking down his perimeter shot this season.

3. Louisville 2-0 (#3, #3) – It is tough to gauge the Cardinals at this point in the season. They have played just two games, both cupcakes and both blow outs, and they won’t really be tested until mid-December. What we do know thus far is that freshman Samardo Samuels looks as good as advertised – he’s averaging 21 ppg and 5 rpg through two games. The ‘Ville also got good news when Terrence Williams was healthy enough to play in their first two games (he underwent minor surgery after tearing the meniscus in his knee). He’s not there yet offensively (6-17 from the floor, 14 points in two games), but he has been filling up the stat sheet as usual (9.0 rpg, 5.0 apg, 3.5 spg, 1.5 bpg).

4. Pitt 5-0 (#4, #4) – The Panthers, like the Cardinals, are undefeated but have yet to really play anyone. They have, however, been getting phenomenal play out of their big three of DeJuan Blair (17.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 71%, but he missed the Belmont game on Tuesday with swelling in his knee), Sam Young (19.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 60% FG), and Levance Fields (13.6 ppg, 7.3 apg, 1.0 t/o’s). While Pitt lost Blair for the Belmont game, they got some good news with the return of wing Gilbert Brown.

The key to the season for this Pitt team is going to be their wing play, which is a big reason why Sam Young, the Panthers best perimeter shooter, is playing on the wing this year. It is still early, but the early indication is that after Fields (10-19) and Young (5-16). If someone can step up and knock down shots (back up PG Ashton Gibbs is trying to, he’s 5-11 from deep), they will see a lot of the court.

5. Syracuse 5-0 – The ‘Cuse are for real this year. They are 5-0 with wins against Florida and Kansas (in what was essentially a road game) and have looked unstoppable on offense at times. But they have also looked disinterested and lackadaisical at times as well, especially defensively. The Orange start and end with the play of Jonny Flynn, who has reinforced the notion that he is one of the best PGs in the country. Flynn is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch (and I am a UConn fan saying that). While Flynn may be the best player on Syracuse, he is far from all that they have. Paul Harris is just as tough as always, but has added a 15-17 foot jumper that you must defend. Arinze Onuaku has gone from a 275 lb fat boy to 275 lb of muscle (seriously, he looks like he should be on World’s Strongest Man). Kristoff Ongenaet, Rick Jackson and freshman Kris Joseph all are going to be able to provide hustle, rebounds, and defense inside. And they’ve gotten back the two things they were missing last year – perimeter shooting from the wings (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins) and another guy that can penetrate and score or create shots for others (Devendorf). But the biggest change I see in this year’s team is that Jim Boeheim has them playing a lot of man-to-man, which makes it all-the-more difficult for a team to prepare for the Orange. Boeheim has himself a tough team that is going to make some noise this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference. 

Predicted Order of Finish (from the coach’s pre-season poll, released at Big East media day):

  1. Connecticut (9)
  2. Louisville (3)
  3. Pitt (3)
  4. Notre Dame (1)
  5. Villanova
  6. Marquette
  7. Georgetown
  8. Syracuse
  9. West Virginia
  10. Providence
  11. Cincinnati
  12. Rutgers
  13. Seton Hall
  14. St john’s
  15. DePaul
  16. South Florida


WYN2K. You hear that? You know what that is? That’s the sound of RTC stealing my thunder.  I’m not much of a statistician myself, but just by looking at that pre-season poll I can tell you this – the Big East is loaded.  If you live outside of Big East country, then you are probably sick of hearing about how good the conference is, year in and year out. But facts are facts. Four teams are legitimate Final Four threats. Another six teams are, depending on who you ask, expected to be a part of the 65 team field. Three more teams have an outside shot at punching a ticket to the dance if they can catch a few breaks (transfers getting cleared, freshman getting eligible, etc.).  So in this day and age of college basketball, where “early entry,” “parity,” and “mid-major” have become household terms, how did one conference manage to stockpile so many good teams? Well, as you can see, the Big East is HUGE. There are sixteen teams spanning from Rhode Island to Wisconsin to Florida and everywhere in between. When you have that many teams in one conference, there are bound to be years where there are a lot of good teams, especially when so many of the schools have a rich basketball tradition.  This just happens to be one of those years where the Big East got lucky. Last season, 32 players were named to an All-Big East team (1st, 2nd, honorable mention, all-rookie), and only two of those players (WVU’s Joe Alexander and Syracuse’s Donte Greene) declared for the draft with eligibility remaining. Would Pittsburgh be as good as expected if Sam Young left? What about UConn without Hasheem Thabeet? Those two, and a number of other players, probably would be on NBA rosters right now if they left, but for whatever reason (a loaded draft class last year, smarts enough to know they weren’t ready, boosters offered them more than what they would get paid on a rookie’s salary) they decided to head back to campus.

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

Cellar Dwellars.  DePaul, St. John’s, South Florida, Rutgers

  • There are some talented players on these teams. Sophomore Dar Tucker of DePaul is a poster waiting to happen. South Florida’s Dominique Jones scored 17.1 ppg as a freshman. St. John’s has senior Anthony Mason Jr. and sophomore Justin Burrell to carry the load. But with the depth of the Big East this year combined with the loss of some talented seniors, none of these three teams really look like they have a shot at doing much. Rutgers might have the best shot of the group to make some noise, as Fred Hill has landed back-to-back talented freshman classes. Don’t be surprised if you hear the names Gregory Echenique and Mike Rosario (RU’s first Mickey D’s all-american) quite often during the season.

We Should Have Bribed The NCAA.  Cincinnati (NIT), Seton Hall (NIT)

  • Both the Pirates and the Bearcats are awaiting the NCAA’s word on whether or not they will have some key players in their rotation. After struggling with the remnants of the Cincy program in the wake of Bob Huggins, Mick Cronin finally has the program heading in the right direction. He brings back Deonta Vaughn, who is one of the most explosive scorers in the country, and gets former Texas forward Mike Williams back from an Achilles injury. Adding two talented freshman in Yancy Gates and Cashmere Wright only helped matters. But Wright tore up his knee in the first week of practice, meaning that Vaughn is, once again, their only real backcourt threat and that they must rely heavily on their front line, which could be bolstered by the addition of 7’2” center John Riek. The Sudanese refugee, who was considered one of the best prospects in the country two years ago but has battled knee problems, is dealing with eligibility issues but could be in uniform by December. 
  • Seton Hall’s situation is a little different. The Pirates lose leading scorer Brian Laing (18.6 ppg) but return a solid nucleus of Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and John Garcia. Bobby Gonzalez had also hoped to add transfers Herb Pope (New Mexico St.) and Keon Lawrence (Missouri) without having to wait the mandatory one year for a transfer by having each kid apply for the NCAA’s hardship waiver. Pope’s been denied, Lawrence’s application will wait until after the first semester, and freshman Melvyn Oliver is still waiting to be cleared academically, meaning the Pirates currently have only eight scholarship players.

Pretenders or Contenders?  Providence (NIT), West Virginia (NCAA #7)

  • I know what you’re thinking. Providence? Really, Rob? They haven’t been good since the days of Ryan Gomes and Donnie MacGrath (and even then, good might have been pushing it). But the Friars have the horses to sneak up on some people this year. They were as balanced as any team in the Big East last year, with six guys (five returners) that averaged at least 8.7 ppg.  PG Sharaud Curry, arguably their best player, is back from a stress fracture in his foot and they have added Keno Davis, last year’s national COY at Drake, as the head coach. Davis should have some success in his first year with the Friars if they follow the same spread floor style that was so successful at Drake. One key reason for that is big man Geoff McDermott, who is adept at playing on the perimeter and is a stat stuffer (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 5 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg). Remember, this Providence team, who battled the injury bug all year, swept UConn and beat Temple and Arkansas last seaso. The talent’s there, but consistency and healthy players will be the key to their season.
  • The Mountaineers are a different story. They really came on towards the end of the season, thanks in (very) large part to the emergence of Joe Alexander, who was probably the best player in the conference (maybe the country) for the last month-plus of the season and is now a forward with the Bucks. Left are a bunch of very good role players that fit into Huggy Bear’s system and play hard. Guys like Joe Mazzula, Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler. There are two major questions for the Mountaineers – who is going to play in the post and who is going to fill to void of “go-to guy” with Alexander gone. Freshman Devin Ebanks may be able to fill Alexander’s shoes with time, but the rest of the Mountaineers front line will be small (especially for the Big East) and inexperienced.

Worst of the Rest.  Syracuse (NCAA #7), Georgetown (NCAA #7), Marquette (NCAA #6), Villanova (NCAA #5)

  • I’ll be completely honest with you. I’m a UConn fan. I hate Syracuse. Despise them. I even hate the color orange. I didn’t even rank them in my top 25. Call it being biased, call it homerism, call it what you like. But I’ve had an epiphany – this team is really talented. Jonny Flynn is one of the best point guards in the country. Eric Devendorf is a very talented combo guard. Andy Rautins can flat out stroke the three. Paul Harris is a linebacker playing basketball. Arinze Onuake is a beast on the block. And this year, they actually have a deep bench filled with role players and hustle guys. They’re not quite in the top four, but Boeheim has himself his most talented team since Melo.
  • Georgetown lost a lot of very important players to graduation (Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr) and transfers (Jeremiah Rivers, Vernon Macklin). They are left with just four guys who were in their rotation last year – guards Chris Wright, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman and forward DaJuan Summers. They do add a great recruiting class, headlined by big men Greg Monroe and Henry Sims, but it will still be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. Part of the reason is that John Thompson III may have to change up his style of play from the Princeton Offense. Hibbert, Wallace, and Ewing were perfectly suited to a slowed down game, where as Sapp and Wright are quick guards that can make plays in the open floor.
  • Marquette has a new coach, but they will be the same team. By now, you must know about their three great guards – Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews – who, when combined with Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, make up one of the deepest, most explosive backcourts in the country. But, much like Villanova and West Virginia, Marquette needs someone to step up inside. It’s great when you have a bunch of guards that can score and make plays, but will Dominic James 40” vert help him against the likes of Luke Harangody or DeJuan Blair? Dwight Burke is going to have to make some big strides as a senior, or else the Golden Eagles will have to rely on a freshman and two JuCo transfers inside.
  • Remember that Villanova team from a few years back? The one with Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Mike Nardi? Well this ‘Nova team is going to be similar to that squad. Led by scoring machine Scottie Reynolds, ‘Nova has one of the best backcourts in the conference. But the key to their success this year will be the front court. Dante Cunningham, an athletic, 6’9 PF, has proven himself as a capable frontcourt player in the Big East, but the rest of the Wildcats frontline will need to step up if Jay Wright’s club wants to crack the top four.

Crème de la Crème.  Notre Dame (NCAA #5), Pittsburgh (NCAA #3), Louisville (NCAA #2), UConn (NCAA #1)

  • Notre Dame returns basically the entire team that finished tied for second in the Big East, including reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody. While I can’t help but comment on his resemblance to a pot-bellied pig, you can’t argue with his production last year (23 ppg and 11 rpg in conference). While he is built like one of Charlie Weis’ lineman, he is actually incredibly nimble and has great feet and balance, which is one of the reasons he is able to scorer against bigger, more athletic defenders. Surrounding him will be shooters Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney (who was a 1st team all-conference performer), as well as Tory Jackson, who is one of the more underrated PGs in the league. Notre Dame is going to be a fun team to watch if you like games with a lot of scoring and a lot of threes.
  • Pitt is going to be a typical Pitt team, with a lot of big, strong, tough kids that are going to play rugged, in your face defense. Sam Young, who developed a deadly jumper out to around the three point line, and DeJuan Blair, a 6’7 270-lb mammoth inside, provide one of the toughest frontcourts to match up with in the country. The biggest questions for Pitt surround their backcourt. When will Levance Fields return from foot surgery, and will he be healthy? Can anyone on this team replace the three point shooting of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin?
  • Louisville, along with Pitt, is probably going to be the toughest defensive team in the conference. It starts with their backcourt, where they have five guys (Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles, Reginald Delk) that will really get after you on the perimeter. Earl Clark and Terrence Williams (who is coming off a torn meniscus and should be out another month or so) are both athletic, versatile players. T-Wills is more of a perimeter player and is the Cardinals best creator offensively, averaging more than 4.5 apg last year. Clark is more of a combo forward that will get his points off of fast breaks and cutting to the basket. Louisville loses their entire front line from last year, but they bring in a solid recruiting class, the star of which is Samardo Samuels, probably the best post recruit in America this year.
  • Last, but certainly not least, is UConn. The Huskies probably won’t be at full strength until December, as AJ Price is coming off of a torn ACL and freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson (who was last seen on a poster) are both going to be made eligible (hopefully) after the first semester ends. Regardless, UConn is loaded with talent. 7’3” junior and shot blocking machine Hasheem Thabeet returns, as does Jeff Adrien, the Huskies leading scorer and rebounder. Price will be joined in the backcourt by talented but troubled junior Jerome Dyson and Mickey D’s all-american Kemba Walker. UConn’s biggest question mark right now – can they win a big game? They were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, and are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournaments the last two years.

RPI Boosters.  The Big East RPI is going to be high enough, but here are some of the must-see non-conference match-ups (ignoring the possible match-ups in pre-season tournaments):

  • Wisconsin @ Marquette  (12.06.08)
  • Villanova vs. Texas and Davidson vs. West Virginia in NYC at Jimmy V  (12.09.08)
  • Cincinnati vs. Xavier  (12.13.08)
  • Memphis @ Georgetown  (12.13.08)
  • Marquette @ Tennessee  (12.16.08)
  • Gonzaga vs. UConn in Seattle  (12.20.08)
  • Syracuse @ Memphis  (12.20.08)
  • Kentucky @ Louisville  (01.04.09)
  • Georgetown @ Duke  (01.17.09)
  • Notre Dame @ UCLA  (02.07.09)

65 Team Era.  The Big East earned its chops as a basketball conference in the 80s, and that tradition persists to this very day despite the expansion of the league to it’s current sixteen-team iteration.  Last year the league earned eight bids to the NCAAs, and it’s difficult to envision a future scenario where the conference would ever get less than six bids again.  This obviously will skew their future numbers on a whole scale, but their stats to date are nothing to sneeze at (206-126, .620, 11 F4s, 4 titles).  With the power at the top of this year’s league, we could potentially see another 1985 F4 on the horizon (3/4 of the F4 were Big East teams – Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s). 

Final Thought.  The Big East is wide open this year. Every night is going to be a dog fight. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that any team from this league that makes it to the postseason is going to be battle-tested.

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