BIG EAST NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-The Big East will now be playing 18 conference games instead of 16. Prior to this season, teams played some conference foes twice, and others not at all. At least now everyone plays everyone at least once.
-Louisville, Georgetown and Marquette, the three top preseason teams, are all playing each other twice. Louisville is also playing on the road against Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Providence, which are all teams that look to be very strong. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has expressed disappointment in the scheduling, but it shouldnt be that much of a factor. The selection committee knows who plays a tough schedule and factors it in. I do agree that within the league, there is no real fair way to create a balanced schedule unless they opt to play 30 conference games. I just dont think that a team is going to be left out because they finished behind someone in the league standings who played a weaker schedule. Villanova got in safely as a #9 seed last year last year despite finishing behind Syracuse, who wasnt selected at all.
-Since going to the 16 team format in 2005-2006, 14 teams out of 32 possible have made the NCAA Tournament, and five of the teams currently in the lineup have gone to the Final Four since 2003. They must be doing something right. From a basketball standpoint, and perhaps even from a football standpoint as well, I believe the league would be better served by splitting in half, but one cannot deny the fact that this experiment of a superconference has been a success so far. BIG EAST TEAMS
-LOUISVILLE started the season off sluggishly last year, and struggled with their shooting in particular. They began to pick it up around February and went from being out of the NCAA Tournament picture to eventually earning a #6 seed and advancing to the second round. The Cardinals, who return four starters and most of their bench, appear to be one of the nations top teams this season and should be considered a Final Four candidate. Its hard for anyone to match their athleticism. Guard Edgar Sosa
came on strong down the stretch, and he should get some help from Earl Clark
and Jerry Smith, who is a good outside shooter. Center David Padgett
has battled injuries in his previous two seasons, but if he can stay healthy he gives the Cardinals a strong inside presence. If this team can improve its shooting and stay healthy (no one has suffered more from injuries than Louisville the past three or four years) then this is a team that can go to the Final Four.
-GEORGETOWN was a Final Four team last year, and should be in the mix again this year. The Hoyas lost forward Jeff Green
to the NBA, but the four other starters are back, including Roy Hibbert
, who is an All-American candidate that helps make the Hoya frontcourt one of the best in the nation. Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace
make up a very solid, experienced and proven backcourt as well. In addition to having the offensive weapons they need, this is a tremendous defensive team. They won the Big East championship last year, they went to the Final Four, and four of those starters are back. You do the math. This team is fantastic.
-MARQUETTE has their top seven players back from a team that was 21-4 and ranked #11 in the nation at one point last year. They sort of collapsed down the stretch and didnt make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but that was partly due to the fact that guard Jerel McNeal
had injured his thumb. They are now back at full strength, and if they can stay healthy they are a team that could advance deep into the NCAA Tournament. In addition to McNeal, Dominic James
and Wesley Matthews make up a very talented backcourt. Marquette is as good at the guard position as just about any other team in the country. They have a decent frontcourt with Ousmane Barro and Dan Fitzgerald back as well. Freshmen forward Trevor Mbakwe should be an asset underneath, which would make the Golden Eagles even stronger.
-CONNECTICUT had a very sub par season by their standards last year where they went just 17-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament. That was due in large part to the fact that they had nine new players on the team, and were extremely young. They also shot the ball poorly. The Huskies did, however, have one of the best statistical defenses in the country. They need to improve on the offensive end, though. Guard Jerome Dyson
is a good shooter, and forward Jeff Adrien
was able to score some points as well. Those two, along with the other three starters they have returning indicate that the talent is there. They should be able to get back to the Top 25 and stay there this season.
-PITTSBURGH has always been a very gritty defensive team, and this year definitely wont be any different. Three starters are gone from last years Sweet Sixteen team, but head coach Jamie Dixon seems confident that the guys they have this year can step up and contribute right away. Mike Cook and Levance Fields are back in the starting line-up. Guard Ronald Ramon, who is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation, could earn a starting spot this year as well. The biggest question marks for Pitt fall in the frontcourt, which is dangerous for a team that likes to play as physical as the Panthers do. If some of the newcomers can step up then this should be a solid Top 25 team.
-SYRACUSE felt like they were snubbed from last years NCAA Tournament, and that fact alone could be a motivating factor for the Orange this season. This team lost their entire frontcourt from last season, but has some pretty talented young players who should be able to step up right away. Center Arinze Onuaku
didnt play last season because of injury, but will get his chance this year, and the Orange need him. Freshmen forwards Donte Green and Rick Jackson were highly touted recruits that could end up playing a lot of minutes right away. Guards Eric Devendorf
, Paul Harris
and Andy Rautins bring experience and talent to the backcourt. Id be shocked if the Orange missed the dance this year.
-PROVIDENCE returns four staters, but none of them are center Herbert Hill
, who averaged over 18ppg last year. They do have two really talented guards in Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku. Manhattan transfer Jeff Xavier is also eligible to play this year and should be able to contribute. Forward Geoff McDermott
is a good rebounder who averaged just under ten a game last season. If someone else can step up and make up for the absence of Hill, this should be an NCAA Tournament team.
-VILLANOVA has just two starters returning, and the inexperience could hurt them this year. They have three very talented freshmen guards in Corey Fisher
, Corey Stokes
and Malcom Grant. They also have Scottie Reynolds
returning, who could turn out to be one of the best scorers in the league this year. If there is one area where the team doesnt appear to be all that strong its in the post. Forwards Donte Cunningham and Shane Clark
return to the lineup, but it will be difficult for them to fill in for Curtis Sumpter
, who was a tremendous player for the Wildcats last year. Still, they should be able to contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
-WEST VIRGINIA was 27-9 last season and just missed the NCAA Tournament. Bob Huggins takes over the head coaching duties, and that should mean that the program is in good hands. The loss of guards Frank Young will hurt, and being forced to play a much more athletic style of basketball than what theyre used to will be a big adjustment, but all and all this looks like a very good team this year. Alex Ruoff is a fantastic passing guard who averaged in double digits last year. Darris Nichols, Joe Alexander
and DeSean Butler all averaged in double figures last year and are all back. This team is a good shooting team, and a good defensive team, so Huggins definitely has the tools he needs to make the NCAA Tournament.
-NOTRE DAME will participate in the Paradise Jam and has a neutral floor game against Kansas State, but they arent playing their first true road game until January 12th when they travel to Marquette. People accuse this schools football team of scheduling too tough. Well, the basketball team more than makes up for it. Perhaps the football team and basketball team should reach some happy medium. The Irish are faced with the dilemma of replacing guards Russell Carter
and Collin Falls. Tory Jackson is back, and he will be a big time presence out on the perimeter, but he cant do it all by himself. Rob Kurtz and sophomore Luke Harangody
both averaged double figures and did a good job on the glass, so the Irish will depend on them quite a bit this year. Freshmen forwards Tyrone Nash and Carlton Scott should help out quite a bit underneath as well. They just need some players to step up out on the perimeter.
-SETON HALL was an exciting, fast paced team last year that returns some pretty talented guards this year, but they didnt have the size they needed to post a winning record. This year could be different. Eugene Harvey
, Brian Laing
, Jamar Nutter and Paul Gause all return to the lineup and can all be effective out on the perimeter. The Pirates are adding freshmen Brandon Walters and Michael Glover to the frontcourt, which should be an upgrade and give them some much needed help. Look for this team to be much improved this year. They could even turn out to be a dark horse and contend for a spot in the NCAAs.
-CINCINNATI had a very disappointing season last year where they won just 11 games overall and went 2-14 in conference. Head coach Mick Cronin, who was in his first year last year, walked into a situation where the cupboard was bare. He responded by landing an incredible recruiting class, and that alone should make this team much better this year. Unfortunately, theyve already been dealt a harsh blow. Forward Mike Williams
, a Texas transfer, will miss this season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Four starters are back, including guard Deonta Vaugn and forward John Williams
on (who also suffered a knee injury), who both averaged in double figures. The team has some experience to mix in with its new, young talent. Freshmen Alvin Mitchell and Anthony McClain should be a nice addition to the frontcourt, along with Marcus Sikes, who was a starter a year ago. This team may be a year away from getting back to the NCAAs, but the building blocks are definitely in place and we should see some improvement.
-DE PAUL lost Wilson Chandler
and Sammy Meija to the NBA, and although they have three starters coming back, this is a team that failed to make the NCAA Tournament last year despite having two NBA caliber players. One can only conclude that it will be even tougher for them to make it this year. Guard Draeion Burns is a good outside shooter, and hell really need to step it up for the Blue Demons this year. Some of the other young players on the team will need to step up and contribute as well. Head coach Jerry Wainwright is very good at what he does, but it doesnt look like he has the personnel he needs this year to compete against the giants in this league.
-RUTGERS was one of the worst shooting teams in the country last year, and as a result ended up winning just ten games. Three starters are back, and J.R. Inman was a decent scorer and rebounder, but their shooting definitely needs to get better if they want their win total to increase. Three talented freshmen guards are on the roster this year, and that may be exactly what Rutgers needs. If those guys can step it up and play with some of the experienced guys in the frontcourt, this team should be able to improve.
-SAINT JOHNS is moving in the right direction. They may not be to their destination yet, but at least theyre getting there, and last years 16-15 season was a big step forward. The problem is that they lost quite a bit of talent, and Anthony Mason
is the only returning starter who averaged in double figures. Seven freshmen join the roster this year, and while all are fairly talented, they probably arent going to be able to compete with the top teams right away, or win at a level that will get them to the NCAAs. Still, if they can all stay together and continue to improve, the future of the program may be bright.
-SOUTH FLORIDA hired coach Stan Heath, who was fired from Arkansas despite making the NCAA Tournament last year and laying the foundation for a very strong team this year. Thats the good news. The bad news is that that is the only good news. Arkansas improved every year under Stan Heath, but doing the same at South Florida may prove to be a much bigger challenge. Guards Chris Howard, Jesus Verdejo and Solomon Bozeman give the Bulls quite a bit of talent and experience. Center Kentrall Granburry, who averaged a double-double last season, returns at center. Aris Williams returns from a knee injury, and juco transfer Mobolaji Ajayi and freshman Orane Chin will make up the frontcourt. South Florida has not made the Big East Tournament since joining the league and is a combined 4-28 in conference play over the past two years, but appears to have some weapons this year and we should see some improvement.