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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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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Morning Five: 11.10.09 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on November 10th, 2009

morning5

  1. Opening night went pretty much as predicted in terms of winners and losers, but we did see a couple of notable events.  Ohio State (16) rolled over Alcorn State 100-60 behind Evan Turner’s triple-double of 14/17/10; OSU’s only other trip-dub was in 1986 when Dennis Hopson drilled Ohio University with 27/11/10.  Elsewhere, Syracuse exorcised the Le Moyne demons and put Jim Boeheim into the 800-win club by beating Albany 75-43; California was up by as many as 18, then got a little more than they wanted from a very game Murray State squad, but the 13th-ranked Bears still prevailed 75-70; and defending champs North Carolina (6) started the celebration of their 100th year of college basketball by donning throwback uniforms (with red highlights!  *gasp!*) of the undefeated 1957 title team (a message being sent, there?) and spoiling Isiah Thomas’ coaching debut with Florida International by beating them 88-72.  If you need more information, we’ve got detailed writeups of each game in our After the Buzzer post from last night.
  2. You’ve heard enough from us — Luke Winn is all over last night with his Opening Night Impressions.  His points, as usual, are all right on the money, especially his concerns about Cal’s lackluster play and the “teams of November.”
  3. In the Syracuse win, guard Andy Rautins rolled his left ankle on an opponent’s foot and told the media afterwards, “It hurts.  I rolled it pretty good.”  He claimed that he would “take it day to day, see how it feels.”
  4. Seton Hall guard Keon Lawrence was arrested and charged with DWI and driving with a suspended license after crashing his car into another motorist while driving the wrong way just before 3 A.M. on Monday.  He and his passenger were taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries; although the exact value has not yet been released, his blood-alcohol level by blood testing was said to have been over the 0.08 legal limit.  Despite media reports of the DWI charge and the fact that he has been suspended from the SHU team, Lawrence is denying that either of those is true.
  5. With their win over FIU on Monday night, North Carolina (1,985) is within three games of all-time wins leader Kentucky (1,988).  Kentucky will get a chance to stretch the lead back out to four wins this Friday when they open their season against Morehead State in Lexington.  If both teams stay out of the loss column until then, they would be at 1,995 to 1,992 when they meet each other at Rupp Arena on December 5th.
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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

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

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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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09.14.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on September 14th, 2008

Still trying to get caught up on newsworthy items from the last few weeks…

  • Coach K, fresh off his gold medal coaching victory with Team USA, says that from now on, he’s going to enjoy wins at Duke more.
  • Kansas’ best returning player, Sherron Collins, apparently showed up for KU’s Labor Day trip to Canada fat and out of shape.  Bill Self was not pleased, benching the point guard for the trip.  The good news for Self and KU is that their highly-regarded twin recruits, Marcus and Markieff Morris, were declared eligible to play this season.
  • Smart, fellas.  KU national champions  Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur got some greenery and some females up in their rooms at the NBA Rookie Transition Program (where the dangers of such issues as greenery and females are ostensibly discussed), leading to a $20k fine for each of them.
  • Oklahoma freshman Willie Warren has already made an impression with his mouth, apparently.
  • New Mexico State’s itinerant forward, Herb Pope, will transfer to Seton Hall.  He is asking for a medical waiver (the “Tyler Smith Rule”) so that he can play this season.  Mizzou’s Keon Lawrence is also transferring to Seton Hall. 
  • Well, that’s disappointing.  UNC-Asheville’s 7’7 behemoth Kenny George will likely miss the season after another foot surgery.
  • Jeff Goodman checks in on Pat Knight as he begins his first full season as the head man at Texas Tech.
  • Gary Parrish has a nice insight piece on how mid-major programs strategize recruiting against the big boys on the summer circuit. 
  • Not quite the SEC deal, but get ready to see more WAC basketball on ESPN beginning next year
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