ATB: Upset Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on January 29th, 2009

afterbuzzer1The Lead. There were seven ranked teams playing conference road games tonight, and only three of them survived.  One of the survivors, the Greatest Team of All-Time, did so by a sliver.  It’s a rough life playing on the road in the conference, and did anyone else notice that the calendar is turning to February very soon?  The shortest month of the year is when all those gaudy 20-2 records suffer scrutiny, as great teams start to hit their stride, and merely good ones begin taking their lumps.  We have a sneaky suspicion that it began tonight – let’s lock in for the ride.

Game of the NightWake Forest 70, Duke 68. This game was everything that was anticipated, and a little more.  Sick dunks, clutch shooting, and some tremendous hustle and defense were the markers on both ends of the court.  Oh, and one really bad call.  Call us crazy, but we’re not sure how you call a travel on Duke when a player is lying beneath him on a rebound, but the call was moot (Wake still would have possession on the inevitable and ensuing jump ball).  Still, as we watched this game, we had much the same sentiment we had two weeks ago when Wake “upset” North Carolina, which was, Wake appears to have the superior talent on the floor.  Now, the Deacs certainly showed signs of youth and inexperience in the last few minutes (missed FTs, poor decision-making) when Duke fought back to tie the game, but we never once thought Duke might actually win the game (ok, one time, and that was when James Johnson failed to hustle after the rebound after Jon Scheyer missed what would have been the go-ahead three – but no others).  Wake’s defense was once again spectacular, harassing the Duke shooters into 33% from the field (and 18% from three), including nine blocks and ten steals.  But the fact of the matter is that Duke plays every possession and Wake tends to take some off (both mentally and physically), and that’s why the Deacs didn’t run away with it in the second half.  Wake got dub-dubs from Al-Farouq Aminu (15/10, including a filthy follow flush, below) and James Johnson (13/11) to help pick up for Jeff Teague (11 pts on 4-14 FGs), who Duke swarmed all over the court.  Duke got good nights from their only two consistent scorers, Kyle Singler (22/12) and Gerald Henderson (20/8, including a nasty flush in his own right, also below), but Scheyer struggled (2-10 FGs) and there was no other production for the Blue Devils.  Wake has now won five of its last six home games against Duke, and definitely gotten a huge leg up on the ACC regular season race with wins over Duke, UNC and Clemson so far.  One final note:

HEY WAKE FANS!  This delayed rushing the court nonsense has to end.  You’re a top five team.  You’re a national title contender.  Act like it.

Life On the Road is Tough.

  • Villanova 67, Pittsburgh 57. Just another night in the Big East, right?  Playing in the last college basketball game in the Spectrum (site of the greatest NCAA Tournament game of all-time), VU’s Reggie Redding channeled Christian Laettner and went 10-10 from the line for 18 pts.  It also helped that Villanova was able to get DeJuan Blair in foul trouble and limit his effectiveness in the form of 7 pts in only twenty minutes of action.  This game, along with the Louisville loss two weeks ago, showed just how vulnerable the Panthers are when Blair is not on the floor – in the four games this season where he has had 4+ fouls, Pitt has been outscored by 4 total points and is just 2-2 in those contests.  In all other games, they’re +324 total points and 16-0.  No other player in America has such a huge impact.
  • Providence 100, Syracuse 94. In what was a wild game at the Dunk (luckily Jonathan Xavier wasn’t out on supervised release), Providence nailed ten threes against the SU zone and held on down the stretch for a victory that now puts the Friars in a tie for third-place in the Big East.  Who saw that coming?  Syracuse nailed twelve threes on its own but simply could not get necessary stops at any point in the second half against the PC shooters, particularly Sharaud Curry (22 pts) and Marshon Brooks (17 pts).  Syracuse, who has now lost four of its last five games in this rugged league, was led by Jonny Flynn’s 35 and Eric Devendorf’s 27, but Paul Harris didn’t bring much (8/6) and Arinze Onuaku was ineffective in fifteen minutes based on recent swelling in his knees.  If PC can get to nine wins in this league (and they should, with 2 games against Rutgers and one against S. Florida), they should be in good shape for an NCAA invitation.  Cuse has now lost four of five and has five more tough games upcoming – they need to win a couple of those to stay in the middle of the pack of the league.
  • Cincinnati 65, Georgetown 57. Georgetown has now officially fallen apart.  Was it really only thirty days ago that the Hoyas went into UConn and eviscerated the Huskies with such precision?  Now they’re 3-5 in the Big East with a road trip to league leader Marquette this weekend.  And possibly even worse news – Dajuan Summers turned his ankle tonight and may not be available for a couple of games down the line.  Georgetown already had a minuscule bench – how are the Hoyas to be expected to replace their best wing scorer?  Cincy might be making a Providence-type run of its own now, after having won four of their last five games to move to 4-4 in the conference.  But the bigger story of this game is of course what has happened to Georgetown, and can they recover?
  • UNC 80, Florida St. 77. It looked as if UNC was going to take its third loss of the season tonight in Tallahassee, but Ty Lawson’s running floater from THREE (see below) made sure that wasn’t going to happen.  FSU stormed back in the second half behind Toney Douglas’ 24 (32 for the game), but the Noles couldn’t take advantage of a poor shooting night from UNC (38%) and a single-figure scoring night from Tyler Hansbrough (first time in 56 games).   We’re becoming more and more convinced that this UNC team is the same team as last season.  In Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller, they have two one more scoring option, but their defense is still marginal at best for a supposedly “great” team, and it’s not going to surprise us when these Heels drop 2-3 more games this conference season because of it.  Wasn’t tonight, though.

Other Scores of Meandering Interest.

  • Ohio St. 72, Michigan 54. Is it safe to now say that Michigan has officially come back to earth? – this loss to OSU is four of their last five.
  • Louisville 80, South Florida 54. Louisville is really starting to play like the team we thought they’d be back in October.  A second half 22-3 run finished off USF, behind 16 from Edgar Sosa (averaging 13 ppg in his last three).
  • Memphis 85, East Carolina 64. The Tigers won their 48th in a row against CUSA competition behind Antonio Anderson’s 28/8 assts.
  • Davidson 92, Chattanoooga 70. Stephen Curry had 32/5/8 assts in another easy win for the Wildcats.
  • St. Joseph’s 68, Richmond 58. Watch out, but with tonight’s road win, SJU is now 5-0 in the A10.  And Ahmad Nivins (15/14) is a beast.
  • Kansas 68, Nebraska 62. Kansas got itself in an early 13-pt hole but was able to rally back and stay unbeaten in the Big 12.
  • Xavier 69, Charlotte 47. XU improved to 6-0 in the A10 behind a dominant performance from their defense, holding Charlotte to 31% shooting.
  • Florida 83, Georgia 57. Nick Calathes had a triple double (20/13/10 assts) in another game on the Dennis Felton death watch.
  • LSU 79, Tennessee 73. We think that Tennessee is pretty much garbage this year, and the fact that LSU can go into Knoxville (after losing to Xavier at home) confirms it.
  • Northern Iowa 59, Illinois St. 55. NIU continues to roll right along in the MVC (now 9-1).
  • Northwestern 77, Indiana 75. IU continues to get so very close to winning one of these games, but they can’t seem to get over the hump (now losing ten in a row).
  • Connecticut 71, Depaul 49. Not every Big East road team lost tonight.  Depaul is an abomination, and Jerry Wainwright should be fired for this (0-8) disaster.
  • Kansas St. 88, Missouri 72. Mizzou had been rolling (4 Ws in a row), so this was a minor shocker.  We guess 12-22 from three will do that, though (KSU).
Share this story

After the Buzzer: Opening Weekend Wrap

Posted by rtmsf on November 16th, 2008


News & Notes.  First, a few notable pieces of news from the weekend.

  • As many as six of Arizona’s players could be ineligible for their opener Monday against Florida Atlantic in the Preseason NIT.  This relates to the ‘big mistake’ that Lute Olson made by allowing a letter with his name affixed to it go out to boosters seeking financial support for a local AAU Tournament (an NCAA violation).  The named players may have received impermissable expenses during this AAU event.
  • We’re shocked, shocked we tell you, in finding Ole Miss and West Virginia (of all places) received Fs in a minority hiring report.  Not sure what’s up with Dayton, though.
  • South Carolina starting guard Brandis Raley-Ross will miss 3-4 weeks with a sprained left knee.  Similarly, Villanova guard Dwayne Anderson will join teammate Shane Clark on the injury roll with a stress fracture in his left foot – he’ll be out indefinitely.
  • This Quinnapiac racial threat thing is just getting more and more bizarre – now the victim is harassing one of the other victims?  Get a grip, folks.
  • And here’s another example of Nebraska pushing into the gray area with the rules relating to their supposedly non-public scrimmage with Marquette last week.

Game of the Weekend. Duke 82, Rhode Island 79. Maybe it was the light blue uniforms.  Mere days after barely surviving Brown, URI nearly pulled off a major upset by going into Cameron Indoor Stadium and leading the Blue Devils most of the way before losing at the end in a hard-fought 82-79 battle.  Jimmy Baron’s 24 (8 threes, several of which were ridiculous) led the way for the Rams, but the Devils scored on their last seven possessions to erase a 7-pt deficit with four minutes to go.  Duke was led by Kyle Singler’s 21/5/5 assts and Jon Scheyer’s 23, but it was Duke’s defense that put the Devils in danger of breaking their 62-game home court non-conference winning streak (dating back to 2000).  They gave up 10-14 from three and allowed URI to shoot 55% from the field.  This game was on the U, so of course we couldn’t actually watch it – if anyone did get to see it, feel free to leave comments below.

Upset of the Weekend. Mercer 72, Alabama 69. The middle of the SEC looks pathetic so far this season.  Already there were the Friday night debacle at Kentucky (VMI) and the near-miss at Arkansas (SE Louisiana); well, tonight Mark Gottfried was back to his old underachieving tricks.  The Crimson Tide are projected to be in the SEC West mix for a division title and NCAA bid, but tonight’s game exposed some serious issues with this team.  First, other than Ronald Steele (the good news for Bama fans is that he finally appears healthy), who put up 25 pts tonight, and JaMychal Green (17/12/3 blks), where will points come from?  Alonzo Gee contributed a mere four points, and only one other player reached double figures (Mikhail Torrance).  Perhaps even more importantly, the Tide were outrebounded by the smaller Bears, 49-32, which is simply inexcusable for an SEC team with vastly superior size.  (like anyone in Alabama cares about hoops right now…)  As for Mercer, this is becoming old hat for them.  You may recall last year that Mercer went into USC and dropped the Trojans in their home opener, 96-81.  They then promptly lost their next five games en route to an 11-19 campaign – will this year be any different?  James Florence led the way for Mercer with 23/6/5 assts.

More Upsets.

  • Northeastern 70, Providence 66. New Friar head man Keno Davis didn’t want to start like this.  Providence is facing a tough enough conference season in the Big East; they didn’t need to put themselves behind the RPI eight-ball with an opening home loss to a mid-major.  Northeastern has a good team, but what happened to Sharaud Curry (1-8 for 2 pts)?  Matt Janning killed PC with 24/6 on 10-14 shooting.
  • Portland 80, Washington 74. Ditto for Lorenzo Romar.  Washington is a trendy pick to make some noise in the Pac-10 this year, but if the Huskies find themselves on the bubble next March, they will lament losing this game.  Jon Brockman had 30/14, but he got absolutely no help on the inside (Quincy Pondexter in particular laid an egg with zero points).  An old bugaboo killed Washington – the free-throw line (19-32, .594).  Nik Raivio (Derek’s little bro) led a balanced Portland attack with 19/7 rebs.

How’d #1 Look? UNC 86, Penn 71. The nation’s #1 team had a solid, if spotty, performance without reigning POY Tyler Hansbrough and their best defender Marcus Ginyard on the court Saturday.  Six players reached double figures, including two freshman bigs, Tyler Zeller (18 pts) and Eric Davis (10/14).  Bobby Frasor played 21 minutes, despite reports late last week to the contrary.  Penn managed to get the game down to a ten-point deficit with four minutes remaining behind 11 threes and a big game from guard Tyler Bernardini (26 pts), but they never seriously threatened.  All in all, considering what UNC didn’t have on the court in this game, we’d have to believe Roy feels pretty good about his team’s performance.

Mid-Major Corner. These games matter on resumes in March.

  • George Mason 80, Vermont 79 (OT). This looked like a tremendous battle of mids in Burlington, VT, on Saturday.  GMU’s Darryl Monroe was awesome, tallying 19/17 including a beastly nine offensive rebounds and the game-winning FTs with 0.7 showing on the clock.  Marquis Blakely, his counterpart on Vermont, was equally effective, going for 24/8/4 stls/4 blks in a game that was back-and-forth until the last possession.
  • Butler 58, Drake 48. Butler held Drake to 31% shooting and 14 first-half points in a methodical road win between two prominent mid-majors.  Is Drake finished now that Keno Davis is gone?
  • UNLV 65, San Diego 60. An undermanned USD team with three players serving suspensions still nearly pulled the upset at UNLV Saturday night.  This game was close throughout until UNLV, led by Wink Adams’ 19/4, made six key FTs down the stretch.  Rob Jones led San Diego with 19/10/4 assts.
  • Creighton 82, New Mexico 75. Incredibly named P’Allen Stinnett (30 pts) and Booker Woodfox (26 pts) led a huge second-half surge for Creighton (19-3 in the final three minutes) to start its season off with a nice win.

    FIrst Looks. Some coaches had their first games at new schools this weekend.

    • LSU 79, Jackson St. 65. Trent Johnson started his LSU career with a victory fueled by a late 17-6 run.  Tasmin Mitchell had 17/7.
    • Indiana 83, Northwestern St. 65. Devan Dumes scored 21 pts in Tom Crean’s Hoosier debut.  This was a good win for this program no matter what happens the rest of the way.
    • California 68, Pacific 56. Monty returned to coaching on the other side of the Bay by winning his first home game, a hard-fought victory led by Jerome Randle’s 24 pts and Patrick Christopher’s 18 pts.

    Statistical Oddities. More like, offensive offensiveness.

    • Manhattan 56, NJIT 32.  The abomination continues.  NJIT shot a blistering 23% in tying the NCAA record for consecutive losses (34).  Up next: @ Penn St. Monday night for the win, er, loss.
    • Washington St. 76, Mississippi Valley St. 25. Memo to MVSU: stop scheduling Wazzu.  In the last two years, Washington St. has outscored MVSU 147-51 (or, the score of one of Wazzu’s Pac-10 football games).

    Saturday Games of Interest.

    • Gonzaga 83, MSU-Billings 52. If Josh Heytvelt is once again healthy, this team is legit, and it appears that he is (15/8/3 blks).  Austin Daye added 15/12/4 blks for as talented a front line as there is in the country.
    • Tennessee 114, UT-Chattanooga 75. UT set a new record for assists (32) as it won its 33d straight home game in a rout.  Six Vols reached double figures, led by Tyler Smith’s 21/4/5 assts.
    • Memphis 90, Fairfield 63. Tyreke Evans came off the bench to lead the Tigers with 19/5/3 in his debut for Memphis.  Despite the blowout, Calipari was upset with his defense – the Tigers allowed Fairfield to shoot 50% from the field and 44% from three.
    • USC 78, UC Irvine 55. USC struggled for a half before blowing out UC Irvine behind freshman sensation Demar DeRozan’s 14/3.  Dwight Lewis added 18/7 and Taj Gibson 17/6.

      Sunday Games of Interest.

      • Florida 81, Bradley 58.  The Gators rode fourteen threes to an easy win over a decent Bradley squad.  Nick Calathes dropped 13/7/6 asst/4 stls, and Dan Werner had Walter Hodge each contributed 17 pts.
      • Clemson 76, Temple 72. Clemson held on after blowing a 14-pt second half lead by hitting some big FTs down the stretch in the Charleston Classic.  CU’s Trever Booker had 15/16, while Temple’s Dionte Christmas was relatively quiet with 14/5 and six turnovers.
      • Virginia 107, VMI 97.  No upset magic today for VMI, coming off of its miraculous upset at Kentucky.  UVa was led by Sylven Landesberg’s 28/8/8 assts, who set a freshman debut scoring record for the school.
      • Wisconsin 68, Long Beach St. 61. Marcus Landry’s (23/4/3 blks) huge three with 22 seconds remaining gave UW just enough cushion to avoid the home upset.  Of some concern for Bo Ryan will be the Badgers allowing 48% shooting from their Big West foes.
      • Michigan St. 100, Idaho 62. MSU cruised behind Chris Allen and Raymar Morgan’s twin 21-pt performances.
      • Holy Cross 73, St. Joseph’s 69 (OT). This is a really good early win for the Patriot League against an A10 stalwart.
      • Notre Dame 94, USC-Upstate 54. Luke Harongody blew up for 30/14, including his fourth career three-pointer, in a blowout at home.  Luke Zeller added 18/5 off the bench.
      • Kansas 71, Missouri-Kansas City 56. KU shook off a 1-13 shooting night from three to pull away from UMKC in the second half on the strength of their defense, which held their opponent to 29% shooting.

      On Tap Monday (all times EST).

      • Davidson (-17.5) v. James Madison – 6pm (NIT)
      • Connecticut v. Hartford (ESPN FC & 360) – 7pm
      • Boston College (-13.5) v. Loyola (MD)  (ESPNU) – 7pm (NIT)
      • Pittsburgh (-14) v. Miami (OH) (ESPN FC & 360) – 7pm
      • Purdue (-20.5) v. E. Michigan (ESPN2 & 360) – 7pm (NIT)
      • UAB (-10) v. Santa Clara – 8pm (NIT)
      • Missouri (-14) v. UT-Chattanooga  (ESPN FC & 360) – 8pm
      • Oklahoma St. (-11) v. N. Texas (ESPN FC & 360) – 8pm
      • Marquette v. Chicago St.  (ESPN FC & 360) – 8pm
      • Belmont v. Austin Peay – 8pm
      • Texas Tech v. Sam Houston St. (ESPN FC & 360) – 8pm
      • Oklahoma (-30) v. Miss. Valley St.  (ESPNU) – 9pm
      • Arizona (-18.5) v. Florida Atlantic (ESPNU) – 11pm (NIT)
      Share this story

      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.

      Share this story