Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #1 Louisville

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2012

It is truly a testament to the coaching ability of Rick Pitino that last season’s offensively challenged Louisville team made the Final Four after finishing the regular season seventh in the conference. The Cardinals had trouble scoring and dealt with a rash of injuries all season, and yet when most of the dust had cleared, there was Pitino and his team, scrapping with an overpowering Kentucky team in the Final Four. In the end, Kentucky was too much, but now the roles have reversed. The team in Lexington has a lot of questions to answer, while the team in Louisville returns four of its top six scorers, including the reigning conference defensive player of the year and one of the favorites for this season’s conference player of the year. Assuming some of the team’s underclassmen progress as expected and most of the team can stay healthy, there are very few squads in the country who can match the Cardinals’ combination of talent and depth. Now it will be up to Pitino and his staff to put all the pieces together. There are still plenty of questions about where the offense will come from and the roster’s one weakness may be its lack of an accomplished outside shooter. But the Cardinals’ defense was the most efficient in the country last season and it should be almost as good if not better this season. Anything less than a return trip to the Final Four will probably be viewed as a disappointment, especially if that team in Lexington makes it back instead.

2011-12 Record: 30-10, 10-8

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Final Four, lost to Kentucky 69-61.

Rick Pitino Has Louisville Poised To Make A Repeat Run To The Final Four

Schedule: Just a quick glance at the Cardinals’ non-conference slate should make it plainly obvious that Louisville will have little trouble with the opposition in the early part of the season. A December trip to Memphis and the home bout with Kentucky right before the New Year represent what should be the only two challenging non-conference opponents Louisville will face. As for the conference schedule, aside from a four-game stretch in the middle of January where a home date with Syracuse is sandwiched between road games at Connecticut and Villanova and then Georgetown, the rest of the conference slate should be manageable for a team as experienced, deep, and physical as the Cardinals.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big East M5: 10.30.12 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on October 30th, 2012

  1. Mike DeCourcy at The Sporting News released his comprehensive Big East preview yesterday. DeCourcy selected Louisville as the league’s top team and Peyton Siva as MVP. Where he strayed from the preseason consensus was in ranking St. John’s last in the conference and heaping praise on South Florida point guard Anthony Collins, who made TSN’s All-Big East team and, DeCourcy argues, single-handedly saved Stan Heath’s job last season. He also contends that Mick Cronin isn’t getting enough credit, calling his Cincinnati tenure “one of the most impressive coaching achievements of the past decade.” The highlight of the guide might be this farewell to Notre Dame: “There’s almost no way to get to South Bend easily, almost nowhere to eat, almost nowhere nice to stay, almost no chance to beat the Irish at home.”
  2. Yesterday’s Hartford Courant ran a great piece on Kevin Ollie’s newly promoted Assistant Head Coach, Glen Miller, and the circuitous route that led him back to coach in Storrs. Judging from quotes from Ollie’s right-hand man, the coaching transition at UConn has been pretty painless this offseason: “Kevin is not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re all cut from the same cloth as Coach [Calhoun]. We understand how this program became successful and how it can continue to be successful.” The story offers a rare depiction of the kind of personal adversity a lot of coaches endure in order to seize a great opportunity. In the first year after Miller left Penn to rejoin Calhoun’s staff in 2010, he spent most of his free time driving the nine-hour round trip to visit his family in Pennsylvania and tend to the storm-damaged home they were desperately trying to rent out. Miller’s description of his recruiting trip to Northeastern in the early ‘80s is also worth a read if you enjoy anecdotes about Jim Calhoun’s laconic, Ron Swanson-esque personality.
  3. In other Big East-related human-interest pieces, Mark Story from The Lexington Herald-Leader sheds some light onto Elisha Justice’s decision to transfer from Louisville to NAIA program Pikeville (KY). At the time, the move had been a head-scratcher to Louisville fans: while Justice may have been buried in the depth chart this year, he had repeatedly articulated an interest in coaching after college and an enthusiasm for learning under Rick Pitino. But as the Herald story reveals, Justice’s primary motivation was a yearning to be closer to his grandfather, who was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. The former Kentucky Mr. Basketball has come to terms with the fact that he may have turned his back on an opportunity to win a national title this year: “I came home for my family, to spend as much time with them as I can, while I can,” he says. “Whatever happens at Louisville [this season], I’ll never regret that.”
  4. In light of potentially nightmarish post-Sandy travel conditions, St. John’s announced that its season opening exhibition game against Sonoma State has been postponed from Thursday to Saturday night. Elsewhere in Big East country, Villanova and UConn both rescheduled or cancelled practice activities today, as their campuses were shut down by the hurricane. Basketball obviously takes a backseat under these sobering circumstances, but it will be interesting to see if the storm adversely affects the play of any Big East teams in its path as they open exhibition play this week.
  5. Two Big East programs remain in the running for elite power forward prospect Tyler Roberson, who yesterday announced he had trimmed his list to Syracuse, Villanova, and Kansas. The news might be most encouraging for Villanova fans because his visit to their Midnight Madness last weekend was apparently persuasive enough to lead Roberson to cancel his impending trip to Kentucky: “Although I was only at Villanova for a day I felt at home and knew after the visit that I didn’t need to take my last visit.” The 6’8 New Jersey four-star plans to commit in the next couple of weeks according to Adam Zagoria.


Share this story

Big East Morning Five: 11.29.11 Edition

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 29th, 2011

1. The Big East revealed the second installment of its men’s basketball weekly awards on Monday. Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph earned the Player of the Week award as he led the Orange to an NIT Pre-Season Tip-Off  win, averaging 19.0 points and 9.5 rebounds in the tournament including 18 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals in the final against Stanford.  Rookie of the week honors went to Connecticut freshman center Andre Drummond who responded to his newfound starting role by posting averages of 11.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in three games, including a near triple-double in the Bahamas against Florida State (12 PTS, 10 REB, 7 BLK).  As for the Honor Roll, Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall checks in with his second consecutive appearance (10.3 PPG, 9.0 APG) powered by double-doubles against La Salle and Robert Morris;  Sophomore Cleveland Melvin has DePaul off to a 4-1 start and backed up his Old Spice Classic All-Tournament Team selection with this conference honor; Georgetown senior guard Jason Clark who averaged 23.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in Maui including 26 huge points in an overtime victory over then No. 8 Memphis; Seton Hall double-double machine and last week’s Player of the Week, Herb Pope, posted two more double-doubles, raising his Big East-leading season total to five; and West Virginia’s Kevin Jones only had one game this past week but he made it count racking up 23 points, 10 boards and two blocks in a win over Morehead State.

2. Last week was a rough week overall for the Big East with a slew of losses but for the most part the top of the league held serve and maintained their Top 25 rankings. Connecticut, on the heels of their 68-63 upset at the hands of Central Florida, represented the only Big East team to record a drop in the Associated Press poll as they slid four spots to #8.  Syracuse shook off the Bernie Fine controversy to win in the Garden and earned a one spot promotion to #4 while Louisville bit back at the injury bug and jumped up a notch to #6 while Marquette (#16) and Pittsburgh (#17) stood pat as compared to last week to help the Big East maintain a total of five ranked teams. Georgetown is within shouting distance of becoming the sixth, receiving 46 votes which would be good for 30th, and has a date on Thursday with #12 Alabama in the SEC-Big East Challenge that could propel the Hoyas into next week’s poll with a victory (assuming they get by N.J.I.T on Saturday).

3. Speaking of the Big East’s less than glorious week, there are currently seven teams with two or more losses in the early going: Notre Dame, South Florida, Providence, Villanova, Cincinnati, St. John’s, and Rutgers.  Clearly the most, and perhaps only, surprising inclusions on this list are Cincinnati and Villanova as they were predicted to finish fifth and eighth respectively in the Big East pre-season coaches poll.  Presbyterian over Cincinnati was a clunker for sure but even including the Blue Hose’s (had to work that in) 3-3 record, the teams that beat Villanova and Cincinnati are a combined 18-5, including a now ranked St. Louis squad (#25).  Further, Villanova gave up the last ten points of the game in a one-point loss to Santa Clara. As far as the single-loss teams go, Pittsburgh and Connecticut falling to inferior teams has to be mentioned, but it is not time to panic just yet. Plus this gives us yet another chance to remind you where UCONN was when the Big East tournament began last year and where they ended up.  OK, enough with the ifs and buts.  Here’s the bottom line: While it is not likely this year’s ninth place finisher takes it the distance again, all that has gone on thus far is a testament to the truth lying somewhere between the conference not being as strong and deep as it was a year ago and the fact that there are simply so many good players and coaches out there today that the big boys need to bring it at a high level every night or risk getting tripped up.

4. Jim Boeheim has found himself moving closer to the center of the Bernie Fine controversy as discussed here at RTC Big East yesterday. The latest has a number of public cries by interested parties, including support and advocate groups for sexual abuse victims, for the head coach’s job whether by firing or resignation.  While Syracuse officials have remained tight-lipped, the NCAA is keeping tabs and issued the following statement on Monday:

NCAA President Mark Emmert spoke today with Chancellor Nancy Cantor to let her know the NCAA is carefully monitoring the developments at Syracuse University, and Chancellor Cantor pledged her full cooperation in determining the facts. The accusations of child sexual abuse reported in the media involving a former assistant men’s basketball coach are deeply troubling. Furthermore, to have similar allegations involving coaches at two of the nation’s major universities saddens every member of the Association. As facts emerge, we will determine what actions may be necessary regarding NCAA bylaws. As always, criminal justice proceedings, if any, take precedence over any NCAA actions.”

In further news, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick’s concerns were heard and addressed as Syracuse police agreed to provide Fitzpatrick’s office additional information regarding the case after he called them out as failing to provide.

5. Louisville continues to roll with the punches and get wins despite the revolving door to the trainer’s room.  One game after junior guard Peyton Siva returned from an ankle injury, sophomore guard Elisha Justice was forced to miss last night’s game against Long Beach State after breaking his nose in practice. Despite the continued shuffling of personnel, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals continued their winning ways, surviving foul trouble and fighting off tough 49er squad en route to a 79-66 victory. Senior guard Chris Smith led the charge with 18 points, including four three-pointers, in 33 minutes of action. Siva turned the ball over six times, but also stuffed the stat sheet with eleven points, three rebounds, five assists and five steals. Freshman Chane Behanan continued his solid play with 13 points and seven rebounds. Louisville (6-0) faces a test on Friday versus #20 Vanderbilt (5-2 after last night’s overtime loss to #11 Xavier) in their leg of the SEC-Big East Challenge.

Share this story

Louisville at Butler: It’s Still Going to be a Good Game… Right?

Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 18th, 2011

In college basketball they say the coaches are the stars.  Thank goodness for that because when No. 8 Louisville (2-0) takes on reigning two-time national runner-up Butler (1-1) on Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse the marquee value on the rosters will not possess the sizzle it might have had a year, or even a couple of days, ago.  While many may need to rifle through programs and online game trackers to identify players, the head coaches certainly require no introduction in a game that will prove an ample test of their considerable skills.  And let’s face it, as we scour through a November slate that includes several undercard match-ups leading up to the Big East’s main events, we need something to sink our teeth into!

Pitino Will be Working Hard Against Butler

Rick Pitino is faced with the challenge of heading into a tough road venue with a team that has been besieged by injury. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish certainly are not coming through that door, and where is Greg Kite when you need him anyway?  With junior leader and point guard Peyton Siva doubtful for the game following the recent long term losses of backcourt mates Wayne Blackshear, out six-to-eight weeks due to shoulder surgery, and Mike Marra, gone for the season with an ACL tear, the Cardinals are especially thin right now, particularly at the point.  While Pitino said Siva’s injury could impact his availability beyond Saturday, he also left the door open for a cameo appearance should the game situation dictate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference.

A Look Back

The Big East had been questioned coming into the season.  I did it myself.  They didn’t have their usual firepower up top. Their preseason player of the year candidates — the Austin Freemans and Corey Fishers and Kris Josephs of the world — barely make a peep on NBA Draft boards. And the bottom of the league? Don’t get me started on the bottom of the league.

But is it possible that, while looking at the Big East’s faults, we happened to overlook just how deep the conference is?  Yes, apparently.  The early season tournaments aren’t just an entertaining way to kick off a normally bland start to the college basketball season. They also act as a gauge, a way to measure how each respective conference stacks up against one another.

And the Big East was, in a word, impressive, in the 2010 installment of the early season tournaments:

  • UConn beat Wichita State and upset Michigan State and Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational.
  • Syracuse beat Michigan and Georgia Tech to win the Legends Classic.
  • Notre Dame notched wins over Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin to with the Old Spice Classic.
  • St. John’s beat Arizona State in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout.
  • Pitt won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic by beating Maryland and Texas in NYC.
  • Georgetown won the Charleston Classic with a win over NC State in the finals.
  • Villanova lost to Tennessee in the finals of the Preseason NIT.
  • West Virginia beat Vanderbilt in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off before losing to Minnesota in the finals.

By my count, that is six tournament titles and two second places finishes. Both of the second place finishes came via loss to a top 25 team. With the exception of Louisville, who didn’t play in one of these tournaments, each of the Big East’s top eight teams finished either first or second in their respective tournament. The ESPN/USA Today poll currently has five Big East teams in the top 25, and eight in the top 29. The AP poll looks even better, as those eight teams are all in the top 27, with Notre Dame also sneaking their way into the top 25.

The top of the Big East is a far cry from where it was in 2009, when they sent five teams to the Sweet 16, three to the Elite 8, two to the Final Four, and logged three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  But with the depth of this conference — among the schools already listed, keep in mind Seton Hall is playing without Jeremy Hazell and with half of Herb Pope and Cincinnati just beat Dayton 68-34 — there is no reason we shouldn’t expect another season with eight or nine potential NCAA Tournament teams come March.

Player of the Week: Kemba Walker, UConn

It has to go to Walker, as much as I would like to pass the award elsewhere. Kemba absolutely took the college basketball world by storm out in Maui. Coming off of a 42-point performance against Vermont, the Huskies point guard put the team on his diminutive back and carried them to a Maui Invitational tournament title. He averaged 30.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, and 2.7 SPG during the event, leading his team to wins over then top ten teams Michigan State and Kentucky and into the top ten of both major polls.

Team of the Week: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish stormed through Disneyland, taking home the title in the Old Spice Classic held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. Along the way, the Irish knocked off Georgia, Cal, and Wisconsin. There are a couple things that really impressed me about this team. For one, they are just as good defensively as they were last season. They held Wisconsin to 51 points two days after holding Cal to 44 points (and 5 in the first half!) The second thing that impressed me is the versatility they have in their lineup. The Irish can play big if they have too, using Tyrone Nash and/or Jack Cooley on the front line. But, as they did against Wisconsin, they can also go small, using essentially five perimeter players, with Carleton ScottScott Martin, and Tim Abromaitis on the front line. They also have a freshman point guard named Eric Atkins that proved his worth on this trip. He will allow Ben Hansbrough to play off the ball when need be. The third thing is their resiliency. The Irish were down 11 late in the second half to a good Wisconsin team before coming back and winning. Against Georgia, the Irish switched to a zone in the second half that helped then comeback from 12 down at the half.

Power Rankings: (last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pitt 7-0 (1)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Robert Morris 74-53, 11/27 vs. Penn 82-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Duquesne, 12/4 vs. Rider

Pitt looked like Pitt these two games. They smothered an overmatched opponent defensively, waiting for a big second half run to take control of the game. The Panthers are easily the best team in the Big East right now.

2. UConn 5-0 (9)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Wichita State 83-79, 11/23 vs. Michigan State 70-67, 11/24 vs. Kentucky 84-67
Next Week: 11/30 vs. New Hampshire, 12/3 vs. UMBC

The only thing I want to elaborate on from above is that the Huskies role players have been pretty impressive. Shabazz Napier is a playmaking point guard that is a tough defender. Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb are both impressive athletes with enough skills to be capable thus far. And Niels Giffey is the kind of all-around talent — defends, shoots the three, handles the ball — that UConn has been missing the last few seasons. The question is whether it lasts.

3. Villanova 5-1 (2)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. UCLA 82-70, 11/26 vs. Tennessee 68-78
Next Week: 12/4 vs. St. Joe’s

Villanova is desperately in need of a leader. Against Tennessee, the Wildcats just simply could not get into any kind of a rhythm offensively with their three back court stars struggling. Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns combined for 6-20 shooting from the field and six turnovers. And Corey Fisher? He finished the game 1-10 from the floor with five turnovers and just three points. Worst still, he didn’t seem like he wanted any part of the ball down the stretch. That’s not a good sign for the kid that was supposed to fill Scottie Reynolds shoes.

4. Georgetown 6-0 (3)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. UNC-Asheville 87-72
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Missouri in Kansas City, 12/4 vs. Utah State

Last week, we talked about how the Hoyas’ big men were playing better than expected. Well, this week, we should now talk about how the back court may actually be outperforming expectations. Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark are averaging a combined 47.2 PPG and 11.1 APG. Wright and Clark are both shooting over 45% from three. Freeman? He’s hitting an obscene 57.6% of his triples.

5. Syracuse 6-0 (4)
Last Week: 11/26 vs. Michigan 53-50, 11/27 vs. Georgia Tech 80-76
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Cornell, 12/4 vs. NC State

The most important part of two more unimpressive wins for the Orange was that Kris Joseph finally looked like the player many of us thought he was going to be all season long. Joseph had 22 of the Orange’s 53 points in the win over Michigan, then Joseph scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half — after fighting foul trouble in the first half — in the title game against Georgia Tech.

6. West Virginia 4-1 (5)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. VMI 82-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. American, 12/4 @ Miami

The Mountaineers played just one game since their impressive second place finish in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. In an 82-66 win over VMI. Casey Mitchell, once again, was the star, hitting for 25 points in the win. Kevin Jones hasn’t quite developed like many expected, but perhaps the bigger issue is that Truck Bryant was held out of the VMI game for “disciplinary reasons.”

7. Notre Dame 7-0 (8)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Georgia 89-83 2OT, 11/26 vs. Cal 57-44, 11/28 vs. Wisconsin 58-51
Next Week: 11/30 vs. Indiana State

See above – Team of the Week

8. Louisville 4-0 (7)
Last Week: 11/27 vs. Marshall 80-66
Next Week: 12/1 vs. FIU, 12/4 vs. South Alabama

There’s not much more to say about Louisville than we already have said. They are 4-0 and have five guys averaging between 11.0 PPG and 12.0 PPG. Most surprising? Walk-on point guard Elisha Justice, averaging 7.0 PPG and 2.0 APG.

9. Marquette 5-2 (6)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Duke 77-82, 11/23 vs. Gonzaga 63-66, 11/27 vs. Milwaukee 75-72
Next Week: 12/4 vs. Longwood

I’ve been high on Marquette all season long. They create quite a few matchup problems when they put their best lineup on the floor. But how impressive they were in a loss to Duke was erased in a close win over Milwaukee and a loss to Gonzaga. Marquette is always going to play close games, but until they start winning more impressively, the Golden Eagles have to slide.

10. St. John’s 4-1 (11)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Ball State 88-83 OT, 11/26 vs. Drake 82-39, 11/28 vs. Arizona State 67-58
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wagner

St. John’s looked like the St. John’s we expected this season. Playing four time zones to the west, the Johnnies rolled through the Great Alaska Shootout, capping their tournament victory with a come-from-behind win over Arizona State. St. John’s did it in the second half with a great press and on the back of 17.7 PPG from Justin Brownlee.

11. Cincinnati 5-0 (12)
Last Week: 11/24 vs. Savannah State 54-41, 11/27 vs. Dayton 68-34
Next Week: 12/1 vs. Wright State 12/4 @ Toledo

Cincinnati was flying far off of my radar, even with Sean Kilpatrick doing his best Lance Stephenson impression. But what the Bearcats did to Dayton? That just wasn’t right. The final doesn’t do that beatdown justice. The score at one point in the second half was 56-19.

12. Seton Hall 2-3 (10)
Last Week: 11/22 vs. Clemson 58-64 OT
Next Week: 11/29 vs. St. Peter’s

There’s not much to say about Seton Hall since last week. They still are operating without Jeremy Hazell, and Herb Pope still isn’t back into shape. The Pirates will be good, but we may have to wait until the Big East season to see it.

13. South Florida 4-3 (12)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Liberty 60-43, 11/26 vs. BYU 75-77 2OT, 11/27 vs. Texas Tech 64-61
Next Week: 12/1 vs. VCU, 12/4 @ Florida Atlantic

The Bulls looked impressive when they took a very good BYU team to double overtime. The next night, they proceeded to beat Texas Tech, and while the Red Raiders may not be a tournament team, its still a nice win for USF. Jawanza Poland and Ron Anderson look like they may end up being pretty good players one day.

14. Providence 5-1 (14)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. La Salle 73-84, 11/24 vs. Wyoming 84-77
Next Week: 11/29 vs. Central Connecticut, 12/1 vs. Northeastern, 12/4 vs. Rhode Island

The Friars are 5-1, but they haven’t beaten anyone of substance. The only borderline team they have played was La Salle, who they lost to by 11 points.

15. Rutgers 3-2 (15)
Last Week: 11/23 vs. Norfolk State 83-57, 11/26 vs. St. Joe’s 70-76
Next Week: 12/1 vs. NJIT

It looked like the Scarlet Knights had bounced back from an opening night loss to Princeton. That is until they lost to A-10 cellar dweller St. Joseph’s.

16. DePaul 1-4 (16)
Last Week: 11/25 vs. Oklahoma State 56-60, 11/26 vs. Cal St. Northridge 66-88, 11/28 vs. Stanford 74-81 OT
Next Week: 12/2 vs. Northern Illinois

The good news is that DePaul looked competitive in their losses to Stanford and Oklahoma State. The bad news? Stanford and Oklahoma State are going to be spending a lot of time at the bottom of their respective conferences. The worse news? DePaul lost by 22 to Cal St. Northridge.

A Look Ahead

  • …way ahead. In 2012-13, TCU will jump ship to the Big East, as was reported Monday afternoon. With the conference growing to 17 teams in basketball (assuming no defections in the meantime), let the scheduling and logistical nightmares commence, not to mention nightmares on the basketball court – the Horned Frogs haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1987.
  • Things cool down for the most part, now that the early season tournaments have wrapped up. The biggest highlights on the schedule for this week are a semi-road game for Georgetown, who faces Missouri in Kansas City, a visit to Syracuse from NC State, and another ACC-Big East date, as Miami hosts West Virginia. To dig a little deeper, VCU, whose performances against Tennessee and UCLA  turned a few heads in New York City, will make a trip to South Florida Wednesday.
Share this story

… and Four Teams Down

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

Every year teams come out of nowhere and burst into the top 25, while sports writers run to their keyboards to type the requisite “Where Did Team X Come From” story. I mean how many people saw Cornell coming last year? Who said last October that Butler would go on to lose the national championship game by just a couple of inches?  Conversely, there are teams that look great on paper in the preseason but fail to live up to the hype once the season starts. Think North Carolina last season. Why did the Tar Heels begin the year in the top 10 again?  Allow us to sort through the mess and pull out this year’s Cornells and North Carolinas for you. Missouri fans, get ready to be excited. West Virginia fans, start thinking of things to say in your hate mail.

On Monday we took a look at four teams that will be up this season.  Today we’ll examine four teams that will be down as compared to where they were last year.

#1) West Virginia

There's a Lot of Pressure on Kevin Jones to Produce This Year

No Devin Ebanks. No Da’Sean Butler. All kinds of problems for the Mountaineers, who are the only team from last year’s Final Four to begin the season outside of the AP top 25. Bob Huggins’ squad lost a lot of what made last year’s team so tough to handle with the depatures of Ebanks and Butler. The 2009-10 Mountaineers got by on their ability to suffocate opponents with their brutally physical play combined with Butler’s brilliance on the offensive end. Now much of the responsibility falls to forward Kevin Jones, who averaged 13.5 points per game as West Virginia’s third option. Can Jones step up his game this year when defenses single him out as the guy they have to stop? If Jones struggles, then the Mountaineers will have a hard time duplicating even some of the success they enjoyed last year.

Reports coming from preseason practices aren’t too encouraging. Huggins recently told the Charleston Gazette that freshmen Kevin Noreen and Noah Cottrill “look lost” at practice. And that was after Cottrill sparked rumors when he was introduced but didn’t participate in West Virginia’s Midnight Madness. There also was the case of Casey Mitchell, who was suspended for a violation of team rules but is now back with the team. These aren’t the kinds of stories that equate to success in the regular season. This year might be one to forget in Morgantown.

#2) Cornell

Such is the Life of a Mid-Major -- Seasons Like Last Year Come Around Once in Generation

The Big Red was the last year’s feel good story, upsetting Temple and Wisconsin en route to an unprecedented run to the Sweet 16. And what was the reward for America’s favorite brainiacs turned basketball stars? A return to obscurity.

Cornell lost its X&Os wizard in Steve Donahue when he opted for the greener pastures of the ACC, taking the head coaching gig at Boston College. The Big Red lost all-time leading scorer and 2010 Ivy League Player of the Year (Ryan Wittman), the sparkplug and catalyst of its NCAA Tournament run (Louis Dale) and six other seniors from last year’s squad.  That would be a lot of attrition for even a team like Duke to endure, and there’s no doubt Cornell and new coach Bill Courtney are headed for a big step backward this season.

The Big Red was predicted to finish third in the Ivy League, which would require a number of players to step up fill the voids left by the likes of Wittman and Dale. Cornell needs big seasons from proven players like point guard Chris Wroblewski and forwards Adam Wire and Mark Coury. Then the Big Red will need some of its unknown pieces (one if its four freshman or maybe junior transfer Anthony Gatlin) to emerge if Courtney & Co. hope to compete for a fourth straight league title.

#3) Purdue

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story