Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

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

Jeremy Hazell can score.

No one has questioned that. Ever.

He’s averaging 22.9 PPG. He put 41 on West Virginia. He’s hit 30 four times.

No, the issue for Hazell isn’t putting up points. Its how he gets his points.

Prior to Thursday night’s game against Louisville, an argument could have been made that Hazell was the most selfish player in the Big East, if not the entire country. Yes, Hazell is an outstanding three-point shooter, but he only makes 32.5% of his attempts from deep.

Why?

Because Hazell has a bit of a problem with shot selection. He has a knack for hitting some incredibly tough shots, but far too often he forces quick shots, challenged shots, early in a possession. There is nothing wrong with taking a tough shot at the end of a shot clock, or the end of the game, or even when you’ve knocked down three or four jumpers in a row – your proverbial heat check.

But there is something wrong with taking the number of forced jumpers that Hazell was taking early in the season. Take a look at some of the shooting performances Hazell has had this season:

  • In a win over Monmouth, Hazell scored 26 points, but was 9-23 from the floor and 5-14 from three.
  • In a loss at Temple, Hazell finished with just 11 points while shooting 4-17 from the field and 1-11 from three.
  • Hazell’s two best scoring outputs of the season came in back-to-back losses against West Virginia and Syracuse, when he went for 41 and 38 points, respectively. But in those two games combined, Hazell was just 26-64 from the floor and 10-34 from three.
  • Hazell scored just 13 points on 5-20 shooting, 2-8 from three, in a loss at UConn.

And while he has had his economic scoring performances, those are, for the most part, few and far between.

Now fast forward to Thursday’s game against Louisville. Seton Hall picked up a win in a do-or-die game for the Pirates at-large hopes as they played arguably their best basketball of the season.

While there were some line-up changes – most notably using Keon Lawrence strictly off of the ball – the biggest difference was Hazell and his shot selection. The 6’5 junior finished the game with 25 points, but he only needed 12 shots to do so, hitting nine and making 3-6 from deep. He played 39 minutes, and in those 39 minutes, Hazell took just a single bad shot.

And it was an awful shot. With just four minutes left on the clock and the Hall up 12, Hazell airballed a deep three with a good 30 seconds on the shot clock after the Pirates had broken the Louisville press.

Doris Burke, who was doing the color for the game, ripped him. The twitterati ripped him. No doubt Bobby Gonzalez ripped him.

(Side note: Burke is a very underrated commentator. She really knows the game, she breaks it down in an insightful manner, and she does it in a way that makes what she is explaining seem very basic. Bill Simmons may disagree, but Burke should be spending more time away from the sideline.)

But while ripping him for taking a poor shot with a big lead late in the game, you must also commend him. Hazell’s mindset is “shoot, shoot, shoot, score, score, score”. He has always looked for his best shot first, and the best shot for the team second. But tonight, it was different. Louisville chased Hazell around all night, for the most part having a defender in his jock everytime he caught the ball.

What happened as a result is that driving lanes opened up. Post up opportunites became available. And for maybe the first time in a game I’ve seen Hazell play, he didn’t take it as a personal challenge. He didn’t try to prove that he could score despite an opponent’s game plan centering around slowing him down. If he didn’t have a shot or a lane to drive on the catch, he moved the ball. This meant that guys like Jordan Theodore, who played a fantastic game, going for 17 points and 4 assists on a season-high 11 shots, and Keon Lawrence and Eugene Harvey had an opportunity to take advantage of those driving lanes.

Seton Hall has a lot of talent on their roster. How much? Well, that’s tough to say, but I think I’m far from the only person that believes this team is much better than their 11-6 (2-4 in the Big East) record would indicate.

Tonight, the Hall played their best game of the season and picked up arguably their biggest win of the season. The reason why is that Jeremy Hazell, the most talented player on a talented roster, gave his teammates the opportunity to show how good they are.

Hopefully, he will learn from that.

Other news and notes:

  • Believe it or not, but Greg Monroe is currently the third leading scorer for Georgetown. Why? Because Austin Freeman is averaging 19.6 PPG over the last eight games while Chris Wright is posting 18.8 PPG over that stretch. That’s not to say Monroe isn’t important. In fact, it is pretty tough to argue against Monroe being their most valuable player. He’s their best rebounder, their best post defender, and without a doubt the player that the Hoyas run their offense through. Watching him work out of the high post – find cutters, putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim – is a thing of beauty. But what Georgetown didn’t have last season was potency on the offensive end, and both Freeman and Wright and developed into guys that can go for 20 on a given night. More importantly, they have become players that can create their own shots in the half court. Hell, Pitt is one of the best defensive teams in the country, and Wright was getting to the rim at will on Wednesday night. I know Georgetown runs a system, and I know JT3′s goal is to get the best shot for the team, but there are times when, as a coach, you need to say “f*** it, here’s the ball, go get me a basket”. Right now, the Hoyas have two guys that can do that.
  • The Big East is being touted as a very good conference again this season, but the teams in the middle of the pack have quite a bit of work to do to guarantee themselves a bid to the tournament. The top five – Villanova, Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia, and Georgetown – can be considered all but locks at this points. But after that, who is a tournament team? Notre Dame? Cincinnati? UConn? Louisville? Seton Hall? Marquette? Granted, .500 in the Big East, as long as there are a couple of good wins sprinkled in, should be enough to garner a bid this season with the Pac-10 down, and outside of Seton Hall and Marquette, every team listed is at least .500 in the league. But for the fans of the teams on the bubble, don’t sleep easy just yet. Combined, those six teams have amassed just four tournament quality wins (excluding games between two of the listed teams): Cincinnati’s win over Maryland, UConn’s win over William & Mary, and Marquette’s wins over Xavier and Georgetown. That’s shaky ground to stand on.
  • Congratulations must be given to DePaul, who got five points from Mike Stovall in the final 9.7 seconds of the game, including a fadeaway jumper with 0.7 seconds left for the win, as they picked up their first regular season Big East win since the 2008 season. As for Marquette, this is just another in a season’s worth of tough losses. Their four losses in Big East play have come by a total of six points, and their three losses in the non-conference were by a total of 14 points.
  • “I feel like during the game, we gave up. And we can’t get better, we can’t improve, if we give up on games. The high school I went to, no matter what the score is you gotta play till the game’s over and I felt like we just gave up at the end.” That quote is from Rutgers freshman Dane Miller, who had 26 points, 8 boards, and 6 assists in a 94-68 loss to Villanova. That’s not a good thing to hear.

TEAM OF THE WEEK:  Syracuse Orange

The Orange solidified their status as one of the Big East elite as they beat both West Virginia and Notre Dame on the road this week, improving to 5-1 in the conference and 18-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to Pitt. The guy that impressed me the most this week was Brandon Triche. Triche had a terrible start to the game against West Virginia, but made a number of crucial plays during the game-deciding run. For a player that wasn’t ranked in many top 100 lists coming out of high school, Triche is now averaging 10.4 PPG and 3.2 APG, starting at the point for the #5 team in the country.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK:  Scottie Reynolds, Villanova

Is there a conference that has more player of the year candidates? Wes Johnson, Luke Harangody, Jerome Dyson, Da’Sean Butler, Ashton Gibbs, Lazar Hayward, Greg Monroe. But the favorite right now hasto be Scottie Reynolds. If the numbers he’s posted this season – 18.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.4 APG – aren’t enough, the plays he made down the stretch at Marquette, against Louisville, and against Georgetown (among other) may change your mind. For the week, Reynolds averaged 18.0 PPG, but it was his 27 point performance, on 8-15 shooting, and tiebreaking basket against a Georgetown team that had overcome a 17 point lead that earned him the nod.

POWER RANKINGS:

(Side note about the power rankings: Yes, I know that Pitt beat Syracuse, and I know that Georgetown beat Pitt, which should mean that Georgetown is ranked above Pitt and Pitt above Syracuse. But, for that to happen, Syracuse would then be the fourth best team in the Big East. They aren’t the fourth best team in the Big East, in fact I think they are the best team in the Big East. So instead of ranking the teams – at least 2-4 – based on head-to-head wins, I’m sticking with putting them in order of who I think is the best.)

1. Villanova: 17-1, 6-0

Last Week: 1/17 vs. Georgetown 82-77, 1/20 vs. Rutgers 94-68

Next Week: 1/23 @ St. John’s, 1/27 vs. Notre Dame

2. Syracuse: 18-1, 5-1

Last Week: 1/16 @ West Virginia 72-71, 1/18 @ Notre Dame 84-71

Next Week: 1/23 vs. Marquette, 1/25 vs. Georgetown

3. Georgetown: 14-3, 5-2

Last Week: 1/17 @ Villanova 77-82, 1/20 @ Pitt 74-66

Next Week: 1/23 vs Rutgers, 1/25 @ Syracuse

4. Pitt: 15-3, 5-1

Last Week: 1/16 vs. Louisville 82-77 OT, 1/20 vs. Georgetown 66-74

Next Week: 1/24 @ Seton Hall, 1/28 vs. St. John’s

5. West Virginia: 14-3, 5-2

Last Week: 1/16 vs. Syracuse 71-72, 1/20 @ Marshall 68-60

Next Week: 1/23 vs. Ohio State, 1/26 @ DePaul

6. Cincinnati: 13-6, 4-3

Last Week: 1/16 vs. Notre Dame 60-58, 1/20 vs. South Florida 78-70

Next Week: 1/24 @ Louisville

7. Connecticut: 12-6, 3-3

Last Week: 1/17 @ Michigan 63-68, 1/20 @ St. John’s 75-59

Next Week: 1/23 vs. Texas

8. Notre Dame: 14-5, 3-3

Last Week: 1/16 @ Cincinnati 58-60, 1/18 vs. Syracuse 71-84

Next Week: 1/23 vs. DePaul

9. Louisville: 12-7, 3-3

Last Week: 1/16 @ Pitt 77-82 OT, 1/21 @ Seton Hall 77-80

Next Week: 1/24 vs. Cincinnati

10. Marquette: 11-7, 2-4

Last Week: 1/17 vs. Providence 93-63, 1/20 @ DePaul 50-51

Next Week: 1/23 @ Syracuse, 1/26 vs. Rutgers

11. Seton Hall: 11-6, 2-4

Last Week: 1/21 vs. Louisville 80-77

Next Week: 1/24 vs. Pitt

12. Providence: 11-7, 3-3

Last Week: 1/17 @ Marquette 93-63

Next Week: 1/23 vs. South Florida

13. St. John’s: 12-6, 2-4

Last Week: 1/17 vs. DePaul 67-47, 1/20 @ UConn 59-75

Next Week: 1/23 vs. Villanova

14. South Florida: 11-7, 1-5

Last Week: 1/16 vs. Rutgers 73-64, 1/20 @ Cincinnati 70-78

Next Week: 1/23 @ Providence

15. DePaul: 8-10, 1-5

Last Week: 1/17 @ St. John’s 47-67, 1/20 vs. Marquette 51-50

Next Week: 1/23 @ Notre Dame, 1/26 vs. West Virginia

16. Rutgers: 9-9, 0-6

Last Week: 1/16 @ South Florida 64-73, 1/20 vs. Villanova 68-94

Next Week: 1/23 @ Georgetown, 1/26 @ Marquette

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 30th, 2009

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

Here we are on the brink of Big East play. What does that mean? MID-SEASON AWARD TIME!!!

Co-Players of the Year: Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia and Wes Johnson, Syracuse

Depending on who you ask, these two are in the mix for the national player of the year. Butler (16.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg) has been the best player for West Virginia, even sliding over and playing some point guard in the past few games as Joe Mazzulla works his way back from a shoulder injury and Truck Bryant battles ankle and groin injuries. Butler may not be West Virginia’s best NBA prospect, but he has been the Mountaineers’ most valuable player this season. He is their best scorer in the halfcourt, and is quick becoming their best creator. He can step outside and knock down a three or run the point just as well as he can post up a smaller defender. He’s also hit two game-winners in the last two weeks.

Johnson has really lived up to the excessive hype he had in the preseason. He is averaging 17.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.3 spg, and 2.0 bpg while shooting 51.1% from three. His length, athleticism and versatility has been his biggest assets; he makes it so difficult for opposing players on the baseline in the Cuse zone; he plays like a three on the offensive end, but blocks shots and rebounds like a four on the defensive end; and most importantly, he can really score, be it in transition or in the half court set. Think the love child of T-Mac and Shawn Marion. Scary, right?

Freshman of the Year: Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati

Born Ready wasn’t quite born ready, but 11 games into the season, its pretty clear that Stephenson is going to be a player in this league. Stephenson has averaged 12.5 ppg and 2.4 apg, but more than the numbers he has put up, it has been what he hasn’t done that has been most important – this kid is not a distraction. Yes, he does have his outbursts (his reaction at the end of the Gonzaga game and his yapping at Chris Mack in the Xavier game come to mind), but what 19 year old doesn’t? Cincy has struggled a bit early in the season as they haven’t quite lived up to some of the lofty expectations, but none of that has been Lance’s fault. He makes smart plays, he makes unselfish plays, and, most importantly, he simply makes plays.

All-Conference Teams

1st team

  • Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: 24.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg
  • Jerome Dyson, UConn: 19.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.7 apg
  • Lazar Hayward, Marquette: 19.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg
  • Dominique Jones, South Florida: 18.6 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.8 rpg, 2.2 spg
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia: 15.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg

2nd team

  • Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall: 23.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.2 spg
  • Stanley Robinson, UConn: 17.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg
  • Scottie Reynolds, Villanova: 17.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg
  • DJ Kennedy, St. John’s: 16.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg
  • Greg Monroe, Georgetown: 15.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 3.0 apg

3rd team

  • Andy Rautins, Syracuse: 9.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 2.5 spg
  • Herb Pope, Seton Hall: 13.8 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg
  • Samardo Samuels, Louisville: 16.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg
  • Antonio Pena, Villanova: 13.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg
  • Gus Gilchrist, South Florida: 18.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg

Biggest Surprise – team: Syracuse

If I have to explain this to you, you should be reading Perez Hilton and not Rush the Court.

Biggest Surprises – player: Kevin Jones, West Virginia and Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame

We knew that Jones was good. He’s long, he’s strong, he’s athletic, and he has a nose for the ball, which makes him a perfect fit for a Bob Huggins-coached team. But did anyone expect him to be West Virginia’s best low post player? He has given the Mountaineers a true low-post threat, he can knock down threes, and he attacks the offensive glass very hard. 15.1 ppg and 7.6 rpg is just the beginning for this kid.

Tim Abromaitis is a different story. He barely played as a freshman and redshirted last year, and when Scott Martin went down with an ACL injury in the preseason, a chance was given and Abro has made the most of it. He is averaging 15.8 ppg while shooting 50.7% from three, giving Notre Dame another option if defenses collapse on Harangody. If he can bulk up a bit and become a better rebounder, Abro may be an all-conference player when it is all said and done.

Biggest Disappointment – team and player: Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati

I really thought that the Bearcats were going to make a push for the Big East crown this season. With Vaughn teaming up with Stephenson and Cashmere Wright on the perimeter and Yancy Gates anchoring a big, physical front line, I thought this team had the roster to be a factor. But with Vaughn’s early season struggles, Cincy has lost three games in the non-conference, and has yet to look like a contender. For the first time in his career, Vaughn is averaging below double figures at just 9.8 ppg, but lets face it – he is just too talented to struggle for a full season. I’m not writing off the Bearcats just yet.

The runner-up for most disappointing team is Seton Hall. The Pirates have a ton of talent, but they just don’t have the team chemistry to compete with the big dogs. I’m not talking about the players getting along. They may very well be best friends. What I mean is that this team just doesn’t play well together right now. Jeremy Hazell, as good as he is, seems to be more concerned with finding his best shot of offense as opposed to the team’s best shot. Herb Pope is a load on the block, but he can’t hit free throws, turns the ball over too much, and seems lost offensively at times. Eugene Harvey, Keon Lawrence, Robert Mitchell, Jeff Robinson – these guys over-dribble and don’t consistently take good shots. Seton Hall could easily be 2-0 in the league right now, but instead they have dropped two heartbreakers early on, and in a league as balanced as the Big East is, that is going to be a tough thing to overcome.

Coach of the Year: Norm Roberts, St. John’s

The Johnnies are flirting with the bubble this season, and with a good performance in the Big East, the Red Storm could very well make it back to the tournament this season. And keep in mind that St. John’s has done this without Anthony Mason, Jr., playing a minute yet this season and with Justin Burrell missing a few weeks with an ankle injury.

Notes

  • West Virginia is currently playing with five forwards in their starting line-up – Butler, Jones, Ebanks, Wellington Smith and John Flowers – as Truck Bryant battles ankle and groin injuries and Joe Mazzulla makes his way back from a shoulder injury. This creates two problems for the Mountaineers – they are struggling against pressure defenses and creating easy shots in the halfcourt, and they give up way too much penetration. This was completely evident against Marquette, as the Golden Eagles spread the floor, attacked gaps, and got a number of wide-open looks from three. But this is a good thing for WVU, believe it or not. Mazzulla is not going to be healthy this season (he’s playing right now with the inability to raise his left arm – he’s shooting free throws right handed as a lefty), which means that once Bryant gets healthy, they will have one true point guard. If injuries our foul trouble strikes later in the season, learning to play with five forwards now is better than learning in March.
  • UConn has two major achilles heels this season – depth and free throw shooting. The addition of Ater Majok is not going to be as influential as many believe. Majok is long and plays with energy, but he has no basketball IQ and he is nothing more than length right now – he’ll block a few shots and grab a few boards, but he’s a 12-15 mpg player at best. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel has played well in the last couple of games, but he is still learning what it takes to compete in the Big East. This is still basically a five player team. But the bigger issue will be free throw shooting. Neither Stanley Robinson nor Jerome Dyson are great free throw shooters, which is a big problem when you consider how often these two are going to get to the line the way they attack the rim. UConn is going to struggle to put points on the board, and a few missed free throws are going to make a huge difference. You can argue pretty convincingly that it cost them both the Duke and Kentucky games.
  • Villanova is not going to be a great team until they play better defense. KenPom has them at 89th in the country right now in tempo-free defensive efficiency. They give up too much penetration, allow too many open threes, and don’t have the size inside to prevent post-ups and defend at the rim. This team is really going to miss Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark, but hopefully getting Reggie Redding back will make a difference.
  • Jeremy Hazell scored 41 and 38 points in losses to West Virginia and Syracuse, respectively, but it took him 64 shots to do so. He needs to be more efficient and/or take better shots for the Pirates. Any above average guard in this league could put up those numbers with that many shots.
  • Chris Wright had 34 points in Georgetown’s win over Harvard, but lost in that was the fact that he still had 4 turnovers and just 4 assists. On the season, he is only averaging 3.5 apg and 3.0 turnovers.

Power Rankings

1. Syracuse – 13-0, 1-0

Last Week: 12/29 @ Seton Hall 80-73

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Pitt

2. West Virginia – 10-0, 2-0

Last Week: 12/26 @ Seton Hall 90-84, 12/29 vs. Marquette 63-62

Next Week: 1/1 @ Purdue

3. Villanova – 11-1

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Delaware 97-63

Next Week: 1/2 @ Marquette

4. Georgetown – 9-1

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Harvard

Next Week: 1/3 @ DePaul

5. UConn – 9-2

Last Week: 12/27 vs. Iona 93-74

Next Week: 12/30 @ Cincy 69-71, 1/2 vs. Notre Dame

6. Louisville – 9-3

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette 84-69, 12/27 vs. Radford 79-53

Next Week: 12/30 vs. South Florida 73-52, 1/2 @ Kentucky

7. Cincinnati – 8-3

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 vs. UConn 71-69, 1/2 @ Rutgers, 1/4 vs. Pitt

8. St. John’s – 10-2

Last Week: 12/23 vs. Bryant 80-44

Next Week: 12/31 @ Georgetown, 1/3 vs. Providence

9. Marquette – 9-4, 0-1

Last Week: 12/27 vs. Presbyterian 102-62, 12/29 @ Marquette 62-63

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Villanova

10. Notre Dame – 10-2

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 vs. Providence 93-78, 1/2 @ UConn, 1/6 @ South Florida

11. South Florida – 10-2

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 @ Louisville 52-73, 1/5 vs. Notre Dame

12. Seton Hall – 8-3, 0-2

Last Week: 12/26 vs. West Virginia 84-90, 12/29 vs. Syracuse 73-80

Next Week: 1/2 @ Virginia Tech

13. Pitt – 11-2, 1-0

Last Week: 12/28 vs. DePaul 65-52

Next Week: 1/2 @ Syracuse, 1/4 @ Cincinnati

14. Rutgers – 9-3

Last Week: 12/28 @ UNC 67-81

Next Week: 1/2 vs. Cincinnati

15. Providence – 8-4

Last Week: none

Next Week: 12/30 @ Notre Dame 78-93, 1/3 @ St. John’s

16. DePaul – 7-6, 0-1

Last Week: 12/28 @ Pitt

Next Week: 1/3 vs. Georgetown

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From the Student Section: Seton Hall Pirates

Posted by rtmsf on December 28th, 2009

Contributing writer Kevin Chupka will periodically interview a rabid student fan about all things basketball on the court and in the stands… a view from the student section.

Pirate Fans Eric SoHayda and His Friend Marie

The Seton Hall Pirates turned a few heads this week in their Big East opener. While the final score had many Pirates hanging their heads in defeat at the hands of a frighteningly good West Virginia team, the team fought back valiantly in the last minute from ten points down to send the conference kick-off into overtime. It was there that West Virginia remembered they were the #6 team in the country and sent the Pirates packing.  But in the fight Seton Hall did not fail to impress. While the praise from the media generally stopped at “improved” at the start of the season, the student section at the Prudential Center knew better and could see then what many see now.

Among those basketball seers was Pirate faithful fan and Seton Hall senior Eric SoHayda. “Most students expect to go dancing this year and as it always does, depending on who we face, we can turn some heads and win some games. Just getting to the dance is good, but we want to be great and that starts with getting to the second weekend,” says Eric.

It’s been on the minds of students in South Orange, NJ since coach Bobby Gonzalez arrived in 2006. He was tasked with turning the team into a contender in a talent-heavy Big East; recruiting on the same turf as UConn, Syracuse, Villanova St. John’s and in-state rival Rutgers is no small task.  While Gonzalez and the Pirates have had their fair share of bumps in the road, a talented bevy of transfers, all ready to play from here on out may be something of a new beginning.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2009

checkinginon

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

You all were waiting for it.  And it finally happened.

You may not have noticed due to the beer and football induced stupor you were in on Sunday, but the Big East had a pretty rough weekend. Louisville, Providence, DePaul, Notre Dame, Villanova, Cincinnati and Marquette all lost as the Big East went 7-7 over the course of Saturday and Sunday. That’s seven losses in two days from a league that had 20 losses over the first month of the season.  Throw in the losses that UConn and Pitt suffered in the Garden during the week, and nine different teams from the league lost this week.  The question now becomes, is this simply the Big East coming back down to earth – hey, they had to lose at some point, didn’t they – or is it a sign that the league is not quite as powerful as some of us speculated in the last few weeks?

Last season, the consensus was that the Big East was one of the strongest in the history of college basketball, but most of that strength was at the top of the league. Less than half of the teams in the Big East made the NCAA Tournament, but of the seven that did, five reached the Sweet 16, four made the Elite 8, and two reached the Final Four.  Can a league be one of the best even when 9 of the 16 teams don’t even qualify for the Big Dance?  Part of the reason there was so much hype regarding the Big East was that they started off so strong. At one point early in the year, nine teams were ranked in the top 25. Two teams that spent time in the top 10, Notre Dame and Georgetown, ended up missing the dance completely.

So, as any reasonable blogger would do, I’ll compare.  Last year on December 16th, the Big East was 116-28 as a league. This year? 119-29. That’s a one game difference in the loss column.  Crazy, right?  Now take into account the disastrous weekend the league just had, and it is pretty obvious that as of last Friday, the Big East was well beyond where they were at this same point last season, and last season the conference was considered one of the best ever.

There’s more.  Seven teams that got out to great starts last season fell way off as the year went along:

  • Seton Hall and St. John’s both started the season 8-1 before hitting a mid-year swoon and finishing 17-16 and 16-18, respectively. Both the Pirates and the Johnnies are much improved this season, and despite neither playing at full strength right now, St. John’s is 8-1 while Seton Hall is 8-0.
  • Notre Dame (7-2) and Georgetown (7-1 on Dec. 16th, 10-1 to start the season) both shot up the polls early in the season, but for a variety of reasons collapsed during the rigors of Big East play, finishing 21-15 and 16-15, respectively. Georgetown is 8-0 this season and once again approaching the top 10, while Notre Dame is 9-2.
  • Cincinnati started the year 7-2 and looked like a team that could compete for a bubble spot, but struggled during conference play as a result of their lack of balance offensively and finished 18-14. They are 6-2 this year and have much more help for Deonta Vaughn.
  • Providence looked like they could also compete for an at-large bid as they started the season 6-3. They are 7-4 this year, but don’t look like they will be a factor come March.

What does all this mean?  Could the Big East actually be better this season than it was last season?  Depends on what you mean by better.

No, they don’t have the same powerhouses at the top of the league. Sure, Syracuse, West Virginia and even Villanova and possibly Georgetown may compete for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, but will three of those teams be #1 seeds? Not with Kansas, Kentucky, and Texas around.  But the Big East is deeper this season. Teams like Marquette, Louisville, Pitt and UConn, traditional Big East powers, are going to occupy the middle of the league standings. Seton Hall, South Florida, St. John’s, Cincinnati and DePaul, teams that have been consistently at the bottom of the league, also look to be middle of the pack teams.  Does that make it a better league?

Player of the Week: Greg Monroe, Georgetown. Monroe carried the Hoyas to a 2-0 week against top 25 teams. On Tuesday against Butler, he went for 24 points and grabbed 15 boards while dominating in the paint. On Saturday against Washington, Monroe was much more of a distributor, as he went for 15 points, 8 boards, and 6 assists while orchestrating the Hoya offense. The most impressive part of his week was that he was seamlessly able to move between the roles of being a dominant post presence and being a a guy that the Hoyas can run their intricate offense through. While I still believe he needs to be assertive in the post for Georgetown to reach their potential, his versatility makes you realize just how good of a basketball player he actually is.

Honor Roll

  • Jamel Jackson, Seton Hall – Jackson scored 40 points and hit 12 threes off the bench in a 134-107 win over VMI.
  • Kevin Jones, West Virginia – Keep an eye on this kid. He averaged 19 ppg and 10 rpg in a 2-0 week for the Mountaineers, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds.
  • Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame – Fresh off of a 31 point performance, Abromaitis averaged 20.5 ppg in a 1-1 week for the Irish. His ability to shoot, score, and take prressure off of Harangody will be a huge factor in the Irish success this season. Full disclosure – I’m biased, Abro is a product of the same AAU program as me.

Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange.

Syracuse gets the nod thanks to their win over Florida in the SEC/Big East challenge in a game played in Tampa. What can I say about the Orange that hasn’t already been said too many times? Their ability to create points off of turnovers is astounding for a zone team, they can shoot, they are big, and they have a star in Wes Johnson. The Orange are arguably the best team in the East.

POWER RANKINGS

1. Syracuse

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Florida 85-73; 12/13 vs. St. Francis NY 75-51

Next Week: 12/19 vs. St. Bonaventure

See above.

2. West Virginia

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Duquesne 68-39; 12/12 vs. Coppin State 69-43

Next Week: 12/19 @ Cleveland State

The Mountaineers just keep rolling along, as they have been playing suffocating defense, overwhelming smaller, less physical teams. If there has been a knock on WVU this year, it is that they are not the most efficient offensive team. That could change once Devin Ebanks starts playing better. As I mentioned above, Kevin Jones might be the most pleasant surprise in the league this side of Abromaitis.

3. Georgetown

Last Week: 12/8 vs. Butler 73-65; 12/12 vs. Washington 74-66

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Old Dominion

I’m not completely sold on the Hoyas yet, but you can’t argue with their performance thus far. In depth analysis here.

4. Villanova

Last Week: 12/9 @ St. Joe’s 97-89; 12/13 @ Temple 65-75

Next Week: 12/19 @ Fordham

While you never want to lose a game, dropping a game on the road against a Big 5 rival is not the worst loss in the world. As you should know, you can throw the records out when rivals play, and it also serves to note that Temple is not a terrible team this season. They were a Greg Monroe layup away from winning at Georgetown. Two things to be concerned about: Nova allowed 53 combined points from Juan Fernandez and Ryan Brooks, and Antonio Pena was out played (especially on the glass) by Lavoy Allen, who had 17 rebounds.

5. UConn

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Kentucky 61-64

Next Week: 12/20 vs. Central Florida; 12/22 vs. Maine

Tough to knock the Huskies after their loss to Kentucky. UConn is going to be up and down all season. Their success is going to be a result of their effort. When this team is hustling defensively, crashing the boards, and attacking in transition, they are going to be able to compete with anyone in the league. But when they get pushed around inside like they did against Duke, UConn will look like a NIT team.

6. Cincinnati

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Miami OH 63-59; 12/13 @ Xavier 79-83; 12/16 vs. UAB 64-47

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Lipscomb; 12/22 vs. Winthrop

Like Villanova, take the loss at Xavier with a grain of salt. Losing a double overtime dogfight on the road against your rival isn’t a bad loss. The bigger worry should be the Bearcats offensively. Cincy can bang inside with anyone in the country, and they really have embodied their coach by playing intense defense, but until they become a more efficient offensive team and figure out how to utilize talents like Lance Stephenson, Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates, they are going to suffer some losses like this.

7. Seton Hall

Last Week: 12/12 vs. VMI 134-107

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Temple; 12/22 vs. Navy

Its pretty obvious that the Pirates are going to be able to score with just about anyone, but how well they defend this year is going to be the determining factor in where they end up this season. This team has so much talent. You should know about guys like Eugene Harvey and Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope, but how many teams in the country have a guy like Jamel Jackson on the bench, capable of scoring 40 in a game? Seton Hall will finally play at full strength when Keon Lawrence returns Dec. 19th.

8. St. John’s

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Georgia 66-56; 12/13 vs. Fordham 73-56

Next Week: 12/20 vs. Hofstra

DJ Kennedy is one of the most underrated players in the league, and have quite a few talented role players. When SJU finally gets Anthony Mason back (and that could be a few more weeks), this may be a team that can make the tournament.

9. Louisville

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Western Carolina 83-91; 12/16 vs. Oral Roberts 94-57

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Western Kentucky

Simply put, Louisville just isn’t playing well. Jerry Smith isn’t hitting threes, Terrence Jennings isn’t playing defense, and Samardo Samuels isn’t rebounding. Typical early season swoon for Louisville?

10. Pitt

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Kent State 71-59

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Mt. St. Mary’s

This isn’t your typical Pitt team, but getting Jermaine Dixon healthy and Gilbert Brown eligible will help this team get better offensively.

11. Marquette

Last Week: 12/12 @ Wisconsin 63-72

Next Week: 12/19 vs. North Florida

Marquette has now lost three of four before losing Jeronne Maymon, who left the team. Could that cost them Vander Blue as well? I’m not sure that the mismatches on the offensive end for Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler outweigh their ovewhelming lack of interior size.

12. Notre Dame

Last Week: 12/9 vs. IUPUI 93-70; 12/12 vs. Loyola D 85-87

Next Week: 12/19 vs. UCLA, 12/22 vs. Bucknell

Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough have been nice complimentary players for the Irish, but this group still needs to get better defensively on in the paint.

13. South Florida

Last Week: 12/12 vs. Central Michigan 56-59; 12/16 vs. Central Florida 69-65

Next Week: 12/19 vs. San Francisco; 12/20 vs. San Diego

I wonder how much the NCAA investigation (if there actually is one) will effect this team, that could get a boost from the return of PG Anthony Crater.

14. DePaul

Last Week: 12/10 vs. Mississippi State 45-76; 12/13 vs. Illinois Chicago 77-56; 12/16 vs. American 57-62

Next Week: 12/19 vs. Texas State

DePaul came back to earth when they played MSU. They really need to get Mac Kowshal back.

15. Rutgers

Last Week: 12/9 vs. Monmouth 66-52; 12/15 vs. Rider 80-70 OT

Next Week: 12/19 vs. NJIT; 12/22 vs. St. Peter’s

The Scarlet Knights may end up dropping down these rankings in the coming weeks as second leading scorer Gregory Echinique is out for eight weeks with an eye injury.

16. Providence

Last Week: 12/9 @ George Washington 110-97; 12/12 vs. Iona 73-82

Next Week: 12/21 vs. Yale

With guys like Greedy Peterson, Marshon Brooks and Sharaud Curry, the Friars can put up points. But defense and depth is going to be an issue all season long.

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Checking In On… The Big East

Posted by jstevrtc on December 2nd, 2009

checkinginon

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

Despite the holiday, loyal readers of RTC may have noticed something missing last week.

Where was Checking in on the Big East?  Without BIAH waxing poetic about the happenings within the nation’s biggest conference, how were you able function?

For that, I must apologize.  But, you see, it wasn’t all my fault.  For starters, the editors at RTC are ruthless.  Not only did they have me traveling up and down the eastern seaboard during the busiest travel weekend of the year, they forced me to cover the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT for RTC Live.

Brutal, those guys.  I guess that’s why they pay me the big bucks.

Anyway, I probably could have found the time to put together a recap for you, but apparently grandmas don’t realize that having dial-up isn’t the same as having the internet.  Old folks, you gotta love ‘em.  She made me a mean Thanksgiving leftover sandwich as a peace offering.  She’s not all bad, that one.  I forgave her, just like I hope you all will forgive me.

Back to the point, since we have a lot to go over, and seeing as the first few weeks of the college hoops season are a bit hectic, the structure of this post is going to be a bit different than future posts.  But never fear, as your trusty Big East expert is here to guide you through it.  So tuck the children in, strap on your seat belts, and, well, you tell them, B.B…

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #3 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2009

seasonpreview

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

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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

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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):

CONTENDERS

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

big-east-logo

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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