2009-10 Conference Primers: #3 – Big EastPosted by rtmsf on November 5th, 2009
Rob Dauster of Ballin is a Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.
Predicted order of finish:
- West Virginia
- Seton Hall
- Notre Dame
- South Florida
- St. John’s
- Player of the Year. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
- Newcomer of the Year. Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
- Breakout Player of the Year. Kemba Walker, UConn
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
- Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
- Peyton Siva, Louisville
- Maalik Wayns, Villanova
- Dante Taylor, Pitt
- Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova
What you need to know.
Brutal. Loaded. Legendary.
Depending on your perspective, any of those words could have described the Big East last season. Brutal in the sense that two teams that had spent time in the top 10 (Notre Dame and Georgetown) ended up missing the NCAA tournament because they couldn’t handle the rigors of conference play. Loaded when you consider that at one point during the season, nine Big East teams were ranked; that’s more than a third of the top 25. Legendary, as it is the only time one league has had three #1 seeds.
However you put it, the Big East was one of the strongest conferences of all time in 2008-09. Seven teams made the tournament; five reached the Sweet 16; two made the Final Four; seven teams had 20-plus wins.
But with the amount of talent departing the league, especially at the top, you will be hard-pressed to find any analyst predicting another season like that. All told, the Big East lost nine guys – four of which were lottery picks – to the draft, and that doesn’t even include talents like Jeff Adrien, Levance Fields, Eric Devendorf, Kyle McAlarney, or Marquette’s three guards.
So while the Big East will be down compared to last season, this is still a conference with a number of quality teams.
Predicted Champion. Villanova (NCAA Seed #2). The Wildcats will once again be a guard-dominated team. With veteran leader Scottie Reynolds and dynamic junior Corey Fisher joined by freshmen studs Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, expect Villanova to continue to thrive by spreading the floor under Jay Wright’s tutelage. The two things that Villanova is losing is the frontcourt play of Dante Cunningham and the toughness and versatility that guys like Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark provided. But with Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding (when he returns from his semester suspension) back and Antonio Pena joined in the frontcourt by Duke transfer Taylor King and freshmen Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou, the Wildcats will be a much more dynamic offensive team.
- West Virginia (NCAA Seed #3). The Mountaineers aren’t going to out-talent anyone this year. Unless Devin Ebanks significantly improved his offensive repertoire, Da’Sean Butler will be the only guy that you can legitimately call a “threat” on the offensive end. That said, Bobby Huggins doesn’t have any false notions of his team. This is a group of kids that is tough, strong, and athletic. With six guys along their front line that are essentially interchangeable, the Mountaineers are going to win by defending and by hitting the glass. They did catch a break as both Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant, the only two point guards on the roster, were both reinstated after being suspended indefinitely during the off-season due to off the court issues.
- UConn (NCAA Seed #4). The Huskies lost as much as anyone in the league last season as Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien and AJ Price are all gone. But it may be a blessing in disguise for the Huskies. UConn’s roster is now loaded with athletes and dynamic playmakers which will allow Jim Calhoun to run a much more uptempo system than last season. Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson make up the most athletic backcourt in the country. These two are going to wreak havoc atop the UConn press this season. Add Stanley Robinson into the mix, and UConn has three guys that will be all over the court making plays with their god-given ability. Outside of those three, there are a lot of question marks. How good will Gavin Edwards be? Can UConn’s touted freshman class perform at a high level immediately? Is Ater Majok as good as advertised?
- Cincinnati (NCAA Seed #6). Deonta Vaughn has been one of the best players you’ve never heard of the past two seasons. The kid can flat out score the basketball. The problem for Cincy during those two seasons has been that they haven’t had another reliable offensive threat and,without a point guard, Vaughn had to play there where he is much less effective. Insert Lance Stephenson and Cashmere Wright. You know about Stephenson – the troubled teen from Lincoln high school who may just be the best incoming scorer in the country. But do you know about Wright? He was a heralded freshman point guard last year, but he blew an ACL before the season started. With the best 1-2 scoring punch in the Big East, a point guard to run the show, and a bevy of big men headlined by Yancy Gates, the Bearcats are a darkhorse to make a run to the top of the Big East.
- Louisville (NCAA Seed #7). The Cardinals will look similar to last year’s team on paper. They once again have a four man backcourt rotation that will defend all over the court and knock down threes (Peyton Siva, Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles, Jerry Smith). They also have a number of good big men, headlined by Samardo Samuels, Terrence Jennings, and a couple of talented freshman. There are two very big question marks for Louisville, however. First, how are they going to handle all the off-season distractions, from Rick Pitino’s well-publicized restaurant transgressions to the emergence of intrastate rival Kentucky to the off-season arrests of Jennings and Smith? More importantly, how are they going to replace Terrence Williams and Earl Clark? Not only were those two devastating playing the second line of the Ville’s 2-2-1 press, but they were the players that Pitino ran his offense through last season. For Louisville to be a top 25 team, Siva and Sosa are going to have to step up and become playmakers.
- Georgetown (NCAA Seed #8). The Hoyas are a team that I am having a tough time placing this season. Back is Greg Monroe, who might be the most talented big man in the country and a perfect fit to play the high post in JTIII’s Princeton offense. Back are guards Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark, who will be able to match up with any backcourt in the league. But after that, there are a lot of question marks. Can the Hoyas replace DaJuan Summers? Do they have enough depth to be one of the best teams in the league? Are they going to be able to rebound the ball this year? One benefit may actually be losing Summers and senior Jessie Sapp, who were reportedly cancers in the locker room.
- Syracuse (NCAA Seed #10). Syracuse has had a rough go of it since March. Gone is Jonny Flynn, the number six pick in the draft. Gone are Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf, who were all but forced out by Jim Boeheim. And do I need to mention their debacle with Le Moyne this week? The good news for Jim Boeheim is that he returns both Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, who, when they want to be, are one of the most formidable frontlines in the league. Boeheim also gets Wesley Johnson in uniform this year, who may prove to be one of the best scorers in the Big East. Boeheim also adds talented point guard Brandon Triche, who is not Jonny Flynn, but will be a better distributor and ball handler. If Andy Rautins can become an upper-echelon player, and guys like Scoop Jardine and the Cuse freshman can be impact players on the perimeter, the Orange shouldn’t fall too far.
Bubble your pleasure, bubble your fun.
- Seton Hall (NIT). This is the most talented squad that Bobby Gonzalez has had at Seton Hall. With Jeremy Hazell, Eugene Harvey, Robert Mitchell and big man John Garcia all returning, and talented transfers Herb Pope, Jamel Jackson and Keon Lawrence joining the fray, this Pirate team will be able to score with anyone. But can they defend?
- Pitt (NIT). Pitt lost four starters from last season. Then Gilbert Brown was suspended. Then Jermaine Dixon hurt his foot. Twice. With all that turnover, do the Panthers have the talent to make the dance? Ashton Gibbs sure is good enough. So are Brad Wanamaker and Dante Taylor, who may be the best freshman big man in the league. Who else is going to step up?
- Notre Dame (NIT). Luke Harangody. His presence alone makes Notre Dame an NCAA contender, as a season where he averages 25 and 12 won’t be a surprise to anyone. But with Scott Martin tearing his ACL, do the Irish have another scorer on their roster? Tory Jackson is a solid point guard, and Mike Brey has been vocal hyping up redshirt sophomore Tim Abromaitis, but I’m not sure this team has the horses surrounding ‘Gody to be a tourney team.
- Marquette. The Golden Eagles lost way too much after Buzz Williams’ first year at the helm. But Lazar Hayward is one of the most overlooked stars in the country.
- South Florida. With Gus Gilchrist, Dominique Jones and Ohio State transfer Anthony Crater, the Bulls have some talent at the top. The rest of their guys leave much to be desired.
- Rutgers. Mike Rosario is for real, and but outside of Gregory Echinique, there isn’t much else to be excited about on this roster.
- Providence. Keno Davis did much better than expected in his first season at Providence, but his second year is going to be much tougher. Make sure you get a chance to see Marshon Brooks play, however.
- St. John’s. Another year in the endless rebuilding process for the Johnnies.
- DePaul. Name someone on DePaul. I’ll wait. Mac Koshwal is solid, but Jerry Wainwright’s club will suffer through another tough year.
- Dec. 8, 2009 – Georgetown vs. Butler at MSG
- Dec. 9, 2009 – UConn vs. Kentucky at MSG
- Dec. 12, 2009 – Washington vs. Georgetown
- Dec. 13, 2009 – Cincinnati @ Xavier
- Jan. 1, 2010 – West Virginia @ Purdue
- Jan. 2, 2010 – Louisville @ Kentucky
- Jan. 17, 2010 – UConn @ Michigan
- Jan. 23, 2010 – Texas @ UConn
- Jan. 23, 2010 – Ohio State @ West Virginia
- Jan. 31, 2010 – Duke @ Georgetown
Key Conference Games.
- Jan. 11, 2010 – Villanova @ Louisville
- Feb. 8, 2010 – Villanova @ West Virginia
- Feb. 10, 2010 – UConn @ Syracuse
- Feb. 13, 2010 – Cincinnati @ UConn
- Feb. 15, 2010 – UConn @ Villanova
- Feb. 18, 2010 – Syracuse @ Georgetown
- Feb. 22, 2010 – West Virginia @ UConn
- Feb. 27, 2010 – Cincinnati @ West Virginia
- Mar. 2, 2010 – Cincinnati @ Villanova
- Mar. 6, 2010 – West Virginia @ Villanova
Fun With KenPom. Last year’s KenPom ratings for the Big East showed just how strong this conference was at the top. Even though it finished third in the overall standings behind the Pac-10 and the ACC, its top seven teams — Louisville, UConn, Pitt, Villanova, West Virginia, Marquette and Syracuse — were among the top 19 teams in America. Even Georgetown, who finished barely above .500 at 16-15, was rated as the #27 team in the country. The problem, as expected, was the bottom of the league. St. John’s, Rutgers, South Florida and DePaul were essentially mid-major teams last season, and their combined sixty Big East losses confirms it. It could be a while before we see eight teams from one conference (even one as large as the Big East) with so many teams that high in the ratings.
NCAA Tournament History. The Big East is 252-151 (.625) in its history in the Big Dance, which is second only to the ACC in all-time winning percentage. Of course last season the league set a record for sending three #1 seeds to the Tournament, and #1 UConn and #3 Villanova were the teams that broke through to the Final Four. Some people used that as evidence of the Big East failing to meet expectations, but the facts don’t really bear that out. Two of seven teams invited made it to the F4 and the league still represented half of the teams in the Elite Eight and put five teams into the Sweet Sixteen – these are not in any way numbers that should be taken lightly. The Big East’s record of 17 wins last year was second-most all-time to the league’s performance in 1985 (18-5), and only one team was defeated in the first round (WVU). It might be quite some time before we see another league put four teams into the Elite Eight (and for the record, it says here that Pitt would have beaten Michigan State had they been in that region instead of against Villanova).
Final Thoughts. Anyone expecting a repeat of last year’s Big East conference will be disappointed. So while the conference won’t be as top-heavy as it was last season, it should be much more competitive. They still should get at least seven, maybe eight, bids to the NCAA tournament. The winner of this league is going to be the toughest. Just look at the teams projected to be in the top five versus the second five. Nova, WVU, UConn, Cincy and Louisville are going to be rugged teams that rely on their defense to win games. Georgetown, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Seton Hall are all more finesse, offensive minded teams. Just something to keep in mind.