2008-09 Conference Primers: #1 – Big East

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2008

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

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

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


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

So without further ado, here is your conference breakdown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where 2008-09 Happens: Reason #4 Why We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2008

Shamelessly cribbing from last spring’s very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season a little over a month from now.  We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube. 

#4 – Where Virtually Unstoppable Happens

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11.03.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on November 3rd, 2008

T-minus one week until the first games…

  • Pitt’s Sam Young may be changing positions (from PF to SF) to shore up the Panthers’ three-point shooting.
  • Xavier’s presumptive PG, freshman Mark Lyons, was ruled ineligible to play this season, putting XU in a pinch at the PG position unless IU transfer Jordan Crawford’s waiver to play immediately is approved by the NCAA. 
  • AP All-Americans – Hansbrough, Harongody, Griffin, Collison, Curry  
  • Some exhibition games – Notre Dame, Louisville (who struggled), and Purdue.
  • A fine interview with a player who almost pulled off one of the greatest first-round NCAA upsets ever.  Here’s a hint – Alonzo Mourning was involved.
  • Parrish’s non-BCS top 15 and all-americans.  Jameson Fleming provides us with his nine sensational sophomores – where’s Patrick Patterson, JF!?!
  • In case you missed it, SI had an in-depth article outlining the mess that Tom Crean inherited at Indiana, including allegations of drug use and 19 “F”s on the Hoosiers’ report cards last year.
  • We’re still not sure if this is a joke or legit, but the idea of PETA getting involved in a Memphis player’s weight issues is simply bizarre.
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10.23.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 22nd, 2008

Only two weeks left (no, not the election… the first games!)…

  • Remember Nate Miles?  He’ll be playing for the College of Southern Idaho next year. 
  • Gary Parrish all-americans:  Curry, Collison, Hansbrough, Harongody & Griffin.  We only disagree on one (wanna guess which?).  While we’re at it, here’s his top 40 guards
  • Big East media picks – UConn, Louisville, Pitt, Notre Dame in that order.  POY – Harongody.  ROY – S. Samuels, G. Monroe.
  • The Stephen Curry show at Davidson’s Midnight Madness. 
  • Georgia Tech’s D’Andre Bell will miss the season after getting diagnosed with spinal stenosis (the same injury TJ Ford had a while back) – he averaged 7 ppg last year and is considered one of the Jackets’ top defenders. 
  • This will be a fantastic story if Santa Clara forward John Bryant has a great year after being stabbed in an altercation last month. 
  • Don’t know how we missed this one, but UCLA great John Wooden turned 98 last week, and subsequently had his car taken away from him by his family.  Ouch.
  • Must… Resist… Urge… 
  • Basketball Interview Challenge does a great job interviewing hoops personalities.  For example, we had no idea that former Michigan great Cazzie Russell was coaching for an art school in Savannah, GA.   Keep it coming, JZ. 
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10.15.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2008

 There’s a lot of news out there today…  which only means one thing…

  • Goodman continues on his crusade to expose the underbelly of the game with today’s lead – the father of UK’s new hotshot recruit, Daniel Orton, was paid three times over the summer to give talks at Billy Gillispie’s camp.  This is completely legal, by the way.  Discuss. 
  • Too many preseason/holiday tourneys?  ESPN announced today that the Diamond Head Classic will begin in 2009 at the University of Hawaii.  It will finish up on Christmas Day, which will provide a nice collegiate alternative to the annual Shaq-Kobe matchup in the NBA.
  • Please read this, “conference fans.”  It’s even truer in basketball.
  • Is it sad or compelling that this endorsement could tip North Carolina to Obama in three weeks? 
  • Ok, great.  Players are graduating more than they used to.  But is that because they’re committed to the degree program or schools are making it easier to get that degree?
  • A quick Class of 2009 recruiting update from NW Wins, as well as a nice overview of the likelihood of Carolina running the table in the regular season this year.
  • WAC coaches pick Nevada to win their conference, while Big South coaches/media picked Winthrop to win it again. 
  • NBCSports picks AJ Price, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Tyler Hansbrough and Luke Harongody as its all-americans.  We’re just not feeling Price, sorry UConn fans.
  • Parrish thinks that this year’s Florida squad will be quite a bit better than last year’s, and we can’t say that we really disagree with that.
  • Andy Katz assures us that KU’s 2008 national title is safe in light of the re-opening case of Darrell Arthur’s HS transcripts.  You know, because we were worried, or something.
  • He also gives his preseason view of 37 teams that he thinks can make a run next March.
  • Hey, we’ve always been Stacy Dales fans, BC!  Even when she was married to someone named Schulman.  Looks like we may not be able to root out Psycho T for her attention, though. 

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09.18.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on September 18th, 2008

Wouldn’t it be nice if this were Oct. 19 instead of Sept. 19?

  • Which Great White Hope is actually a better player? – maybe we’ll delve into that sometime soon.  Gary Parrish takes a look now.
  • The seemingly snakebitten AJ Price from UConn is supposedly all the way back from offseason ACL surgery.  In completely unrelated news, UConn has added Lojack to all of its campus laptops. 
  • In a somewhat odd twist, the NCAA directed Indiana to delay its response to the latest allegations from the Kelvin Sanctions scandal last spring.  The university now has until Sept. 26 to craft its response.  Someone go on vacation?
  • Seth Davis writes a pretty good recount of what five teams – Kansas, Missouri, Purdue, S. Illinois and Notre Dame – did on their Labor Day weekend trips.
  • Remember Illinois guard Jamar Smith? – he received 18 months probation for his alcohol violation stemming from his DUI arrest last spring.  He plans to play for S. Indiana next season (yeah, that’s what we said too).
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10.19.07 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on October 19th, 2007

More news and notes from a busy first week of practice.

  • Everyone is piling on Kelvin Sampson for his phone indiscretions.  AOL Fanhouse looks into the poor cell phone service excuse, while DeCourcy takes shots at IU’s compliance office.  One blogger wrote an open letter to Kelvin Sampson asking him to just go away.  Yesterday Sampson resisted talking about the issue at his press conference.
  • Speaking of Indiana coaches causing trouble, the NCAA instituted a point of emphasis this year on abusive behavior by coaches on the sideline.   M2M has the definitive take on this.
  • More IU-related content:  Bob Knight felt the need to talk about the MLB playoffs during his presser this week.
  • Basketball Prospectus is up and running (woohoo!) – the first post that captured our attention was this one on what makes an assist an assist?
  • MJ expects to watch his son sit the bench play at least once this year in Champaign.
  • On Monday it was official that Mike Hopkins would succeed Jim Boeheim at Syracuse upon his retirement; by Tuesday, it wasn’t official anymore.
  • So what really went down in practice between OJ Mayo and Daniel Hackett?  Was it an errant ‘bow or a flat-out haymaker to the schnozz?
  • One of the underrated coaches at an underrated program, Randy Bennett at St. Mary’s got a two-year extension (through 2013). 
  • Katz dissects the budding UCLA-USC rivalry, comparing it to UNC-Duke.  What he fails to mention is that SoCallers don’t care about college hoops nearly as much as the NCers.  That’s a Laker area, through and through.
  • Injuries, Suspensions, etc.
    • Is Brook Lopez planning on playing this year?  He’s already out for the first nine games – now he’s indefinitely suspended for breaking team rules, which means he can’t even practice. 
    • Wisconsin starter Michael Flowers is going on a leave of absence for the cryptic reason of “medical problems.” 
    • Notre Dame super-soph Luke Harongody will miss 3-6 weeks with damage to his thumb ligaments. 
    • Mizzou senior forward Darryl Butterfield was arrested for domestic assault and suspended indefinitely by the team.
    • Remember our pal Frank Tolbert?  The good state of Alabama did not agree with local prosecutors that Tolbert was drunk while stealing driving his SUV away from the towing lot.  He is not expected to miss any games.
    • A bunch of UK players are injured in various ways.  Oh, and Alex Legion isn’t hurt, but his mom is some kind of prophet.     
  • And more preseason chatter from various sources.
    • MSNBC has its preseason top 25 out (UNC #1).
    • Luke Winn spent the week slurping up whatever they’re selling in the RTP these days. 
    • Meanwhile, Jeff Goodman did a Tennessee three-step – Memphis, Vandy & UT
    • SEC:TGTBTD has it’s all-SEC teams ready – 3d Team, 2d Team, 1st Team (Chris Lofton, Jamont Gordon, Patrick Beverly, Richard Hendrix, Shan Foster).
    • Gary Parrish has his all-american teams + 10 ready (we like his balls to put Derrick Rose on the first team).   
    • Big 12 talk – apparently K-State is loading up on players, while KU is striking out on recruiting.  Yahoo asks if the Big 12 will ever win a title again, and oh yeah, Tom Osborne is the new AD at Nebraska.
    • Will Florida even make the NCAA Tourney this year?  Billy D. isn’t sure. 
    • Can UConn’s AJ Price stay away from the computer lab this year?  Jim Calhoun thinks he can. 
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