- After spending time in Louisville, Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis has some strong convictions about this year’s Cardinals team: “They have depth, athleticism, and they are as good defensively as any team in America. And to state the obvious, they are very, very well-coached. In other words, the sky’s the limit. It says here they’re going back to the Final Four.” After gelling so well down the stretch last season on their run to the Final Four, it’s easy to see why Louisville is such a trendy championship pick this year, and Davis does a great job of outlining it in this piece. The Cards have a great mix of veteran leadership and young talent, they play tenacious defense as Rick Pitino-coached squads are wont to do, and they have a number of unique, dynamic players who should blend well on the court.
- Elsewhere on SI.com, Andy Glockner named the Big East as his second-ranked conference in his preseason conference power rankings, right behind the top-ranked Big 10. Glockner is also on the rapidly-filling ‘Ville bandwagon, saying the Cardinals “could be the best team in the nation.” Glockner goes on to say that Syracuse has “national title sleeper potential,” and has kind words to say about some of the conference’s second and third-tier teams like Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Marquette, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and even Connecticut. The Big East loses points here due to their weak teams at the bottom of the conference. The Big 12, SEC, and ACC round out the top five.
- Things haven’t been easy for Rutgers seniors Dane Miller and Austin Johnson. The two have not seen the postseason since coming to Piscataway, and would like to see that change in their final year. Mike Rice expects the two to have a big impact in leading this year’s Rutgers team, where he expects to see improvement due to added experience, strength, and depth. Last season, Rice was criticized a bit after setting rather lofty expectations for his team, stating that he saw his team going 10-8 in conference play. The Knights fell way short of that goal, going 5-13 in the Big East, but that hasn’t discouraged Rice, who is optimistic about this season:
“I like coaching this team,” he said. “I’m more excited and energetic after practice than I am when I start the practice. That’s always a good sign. It wasn’t like that last year. It was a drain. […] The players took the energy and focus. Now they’re giving it. It’s fun to be around and that’s important. We had some growing pains, but I think we should bear the fruits of that youth and inexperience.”
- Despite stating that he’s “walking side by side” with recently-retired coach Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie hasn’t been afraid to implement some changes to the normal Connecticut practice. One of these major adjustments is the implementation of live referees in practice. Shabazz Napier has already seen this move pay dividends: “You can tell it’s different. When you mess up, it’s good to have somebody on your back, but at the same time giving you that positive push. A lot of guys need that — keep pushing them.” Despite the change in coach and the fact that the Huskies will not be allowed to participate in any postseason play in 2013, the players seem to be coming together well as a team under Ollie’s brand of leadership, which will be important if he is to have the interim tag removed moving forward.
- Notre Dame made some notable adjustments to its normal routine as well, moving one day of practice to the South Bend Kroc Center. The move allowed the Fighting Irish to engage with the local community as well as benefit from a change in scenery. Mike Brey invited local kids to take part in Notre Dame’s lay-up lines, and from all accounts, everyone involved had a great time… except, perhaps, Jack Cooley, who really wanted to go down the water slide: “I asked if I could come here whenever, but they said that you needed a membership, so I don’t know.” One day, Jack, one day. In crucial Brey mock turtleneck news, because he has eclipsed the 5,000 Facebook ‘Like’ plateau, the Notre Dame coach will be wearing a pink mock in the upcoming scrimmage against D-II Quincy University in support of breast cancer awareness month.