Big East Conference Preview (Part Two)

Big East Conference Preview (Part Two)
Oct 25, 2005, 12:01 am
Projected order of finish

1-5. Check back Tomorrow
6. West Virginia
7. Cincinnati
8. Pittsburgh
9. Notre Dame
10. Rutgers
11. Depaul
12. Marquette
13. Providence
14. St. John’s
15. Seton Hall
16. South Florida

The middle of the pack in the New Big East is very much up for grabs. With TV time, national attention, and potential NCAA tourney bids up for grabs, a team in this conference probably needs to at least finish in the top seven or eight to feel safe about being included in the field of 64 at the season's end. It still isn't clear just how many bids a 16 team conference will receive, and there is much concern from coaches around the league that the worst teams in the league will struggle getting exposure. These are the teams fighting to stay above water, so to speak. West Virginia likely belongs with the first group, but teams like Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Cincinnati will be battling it out for program legitimacy this season. Rutgers has struggled recently, but there are several things working in the favor of the Scarlet Knights. An easy schedule, a standout recruiting class, and the presence of rising star assistant coach Fred Hill gives Rutgers the nod over several other programs trying to claw their way up from the bottom.

West Virginia

2005 Record: (24-11, 8-8)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Louisville in the Elite Eight
Head Coach: John Beilein

Key Losses:

F Tyrone Sally (12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
C D’Or Fischer (7.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg)

SG Alex Ruoff, Brooksville, FL
SF Joe Alexander, Hargrave Military Academy
C Rob Summers, jr, transfer from Penn State

PG – 6’2 JD Collins, sr
SG – 6’6 Johannes Herber, sr
SF – 6’4 Mike Gansey, sr
PF – 6’5 Franklin Young, jr
C – 6’11 Kevin Pittsnogle, sr

PG – 6’2 Darris Nichols, so
SG – 6’4 Patrick Beilein, sr
SF – 6’7 Joe Alexander, fr
C – 7’0 Rob Summers, jr

In what would become one of the most inspiring Cinderella stories in the history of March Madness, the West Virginia Mountaineers managed to knock off #2 seed Wake Forest in a truly epic battle. They next battled Louisville right down to the wire, just missing out on an improbable Final Four appearance. This was a .500 Big East team spreading the floor, refusing to miss, and sending the most powerful programs in the nation scrambling. Now, the question that every college basketball fan wishes they had the answer to - can John Beilein and the Mountaineers do it again? It’s highly doubtful that the team will be able to shoot 18-27 from beyond the arc (as they did against Louisville) on a regular basis. Two key interior performers, Tyrone Sally and D’Or Fischer, are gone. However, the outside shooters remain. Don’t think for a moment that Mike Gansey, Kevin Pittsnogle, Johannes Herber, and Patrick Beilein won’t be tearing up the nets on a nightly basis. The loss of Sally might be the most critical, as his athletic presence in the lane was very crucial for a team that had very little explosiveness from other sources. In the end, it is hard to categorize this team as your typical Elite Eight squad returning the majority of its roster. The things that made last year’s run so magical are the same reasons it doesn’t make sense to get too optimistic about the Mountaineers in 2006. Nonetheless, West Virginia has a lot of crucial weapons back and will be in the mix in the upper half of the Big East.

Mike Gansey (12.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) was a revelation in March, and his 29 point outburst against Wake Forest is a moment that this writer will never forget. He attacked the basket, hit contested perimeter jumpers, and created his own shot at will. Gansey knows he’s not going to beat people with his athleticism, and has found ways around that. He’s actually a great all-around player, contributing as a ball-handler, passer, and scorer. Expect Gansey to develop into Beilein’s go-too scorer, if he can carry over the attacking mentality he showed late last season into a new year.

The rest of the Mountaineer backcourt returns as well, and that’s definitely a good thing. Johannes Herber (8.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and coach’s son Parick Beilein (8.3 ppg), both seniors, draw defenders away from the basket with their shooting ability, and are heady enough to just keep up in other aspects of the game. The team is in good hands with senior floor general JD Collins (3.8 ppg, 3.3 apg), who acquitted himself quite nicely against pressure defenses in the NCAA tourney. If Beilein needs an extra ball-handler or penetrator, sophomore Darris Nichols (3.0 ppg) can step in. He is more than ready to step in for Collins as the starter next season.

The frontcourt battles are likely where Coach Beilein has his work cut out for him, though the West Virginia system isn’t overly reliant on big men. Sticking with the theme of perimeter shooting, specialist Kevin Pittsnogle (11.9 ppg) went ballistic in the tourney and earned himself an NBA tryout later in the spring. The pre-draft camp wasn’t a successful foray, and thus Pittsnogle returns. He isn’t an active rebounder and shies away from contact in general, but any 6’11 player that is as comfortable shooting the ball from twenty five feet as from five is going to be a factor. It seems as though Beilein has only grudgingly played Pittsnogle over the years, but he really doesn’t have a choice this season.

Tyrone Sally and D’Or Fischer are gone, and with them goes any semblance of a presence closer to the basket. While neither player is irreplaceable on their own, their strengths allowed the rest of the team to do what it does best – spread the floor and shoot. The replacement for Fischer is likely Rob Summers, a transfer from Penn State. Summers didn’t set the world on fire as a Nittany Lion, but is yet another dangerous outside shooter than Beilein will try to utilize. PF is a bigger problem, even if Beilein is perfectly comfortable playing an undersized or combo guy here. Undersized is what he has, in 6’5 junior Frank Young (3.3 ppg). Young is athletic and will put up a fight, but one can’t help but think Beilein could use a little extra beef here. Another possible contributor is freshman Joe Alexander, who has impressed with his length and athleticism in the preseason.

With a veteran laden lineup and a system that kicked into gear in shocking fashion last spring, West Virginia is a team primed to have another successful season. However, it remains to be seen whether the Mountaineer shooters can continue the momentum that was created during last season’s late streak. Beilein’s system makes it easier on his players, but there still has to be somebody in the middle to get some easy baskets. What happens on an off night? It’s very likely that this team will finish better than the 8-8 it did a season ago, but also very hard to believe that the Mountaineers will be able to take down teams like the Wake Forest of last year on a consistent basis.

Recruiting Update: Beilein needed to recruit some bodies for next fall, and he has done just that. There will be at least seven new faces on campus next fall, including another perimeter oriented big man in Butler transfer Jamie Smalligan. The preps here will completely revamp the perimeter attack. The group is led by wings Devan Bawinkel and Desean Butler, who signed despite interest from other big time programs. Wing forward Wellington Smith and big man Jacob Green are also names to keep an eye on. All in all, a successful recruiting haul for Beilein, who hadn’t had much luck in recent years.


2005 Record: (25-8, 12-4)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Kentucky in the 2nd round
Head Coach: Andy Kennedy

Key Losses:

SG Nick Williams (8.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
SG Vincent Banks
SF Roy Bright (4.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
PF Jason Maxiell (15.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg)

5’10 PG Devan Downey, Chester, SC
5’11 PG Domonick Tilford, Loiusville, KY
6’6 SF DeAndre Coleman, Stone Mountain, GA
6’7 PF Cedric McGowan, Kilgore (TX) JC
6’9 C Ronald Allen, jr transfer from Xavier (LA)
6’10 C Abdul Herrera, Miami, FL


PG – 5’11 Jihad Muhammad, sr
SG – 6’8 Armein Kirkland, sr
SF – 6’7 James White, sr
PF – 6’7 Cedric McGowan, jr
C – 6’6 Eric Hicks, sr

PG – 5’10 Devan Downey, fr
PG – 6’2 Chadd Moore, sr
SF – 6’6 DeAndre Coleman, fr
C – 6’9 Ronald Allen, jr
C – 6’10 Abdul Herrera, fr

In one fell swoop, Cincinnati went from a near-powerhouse program, solidified by a history of winning and prepared for a deep tourney run this spring, to a shell shocked team with no long-term coach and little hope for the future. Maybe Nancy Zimpher’s decision to fire Bob Huggins could be understood by somebody ignoring the sports angle, but she has essentially destroyed Bearcat basketball for the time being. The temporary hiring of assistant Andy Kennedy may have kept most of the players from ditching town, but the post-2006 future of this program is looking very dark. Do you think the Big East is happy with its new member at the moment? Beyond the administrative drama, which is almost an oxymoron because Huggins was Cincinnati basketball, this team still has a chance to be decent in 2006. There are four impact seniors to lead the way, namely wing James White and big man Eric Hicks. These two are more than capable of leading a team to an NCAA berth. However, even personnel-wise, this is already a team that is hurting beneath the surface. The losses of Roy Bright (legal issues), Vincent Banks (family issues), Tyree Evans (legal issues), and Ivan Johnson (opted to transfer after Huggins was fired) leave the Bearcats with little depth beyond the starting five. This team remains talented and is still going to put up a fight in the Big East, but the morale blow coming from the loss of Coach Huggins and the off-season roster attrition might be a double whammy too difficult for Kennedy to overcome.

Cincinnati’s leading scorer should be 6’6 mountain of a man Eric Hicks (13.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg), who definitely plays bigger than any other 6’6 post player in the country. He has come a long way since nearly quitting the team as a freshman. Much like his former partner in crime Jason Maxiell, Hicks makes up for his lack of size with physical ferocity, incredibly explosive legs, long arms, and a motor that doesn’t stop. Hicks is impossible to move in the paint, and will attack the action relentlessly on either side of the ball. With Maxiell graduated, look for Hicks to put up some very impressive numbers.

Unfortunately, Hicks will receive double and triple teams all season, as there aren’t any other proven options in the paint. Touted junior college transfer Ivan Johnson was slated to start at the four, but backed out once he learned about the fate of Huggins. He will now suit up for Oregon this fall. Thus, junior college transfer Cedric McGowan is the odds on favorite to win the power forward spot, though it is likely by default than anything McGowan has proven. The other post players on the roster are NAIA transfer Robert Allen and raw freshman Abdul Herrera. Both have the physical ability to develop into players, but aren’t ready for consistent minutes at the moment. Freshman athlete DeAndre Coleman is a natural wing that may have to cover some post minutes if things get too ugly.

The backcourt situation is a bit more stable at the moment, and will feature two of the most talented players in the conference in seniors James White (10.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Armein Kirkland (10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.5 apg). Both are long, lanky, athletic, and multi-talented. White hasn’t lived up to the Vince Carter comparisons he was saddled with out of high school, but remains a unique talent. He defends with the best, and handles the ball well. His biggest weakness is that he hasn’t developed go-to scoring skills, especially from the perimeter. Kirkland is the better natural scorer of the pair, but has a lackadaisical approach to the game. He is a lazy defender, shows poor body language and hasn’t made use of his immense natural gifts. Both players have all the tools to play at the next level, and will be asked to use them this fall.

The point guard slot falls by default to the volatile Jihad Muhammad (10.4 ppg, 2.7 apg), whose shot selection and decision making seemed to get worse as the season went on. He is capable of being a good defender and getting into the lane on the offensive end, but too often shot Cincinnati out of games instead of initiating the offense. He will be pushed by freshman Devan Downey, who makes up what he lacks in size with scintillating quickness and scoring ability. Also back for his senior season is Chadd Moore, who had previously given up basketball due to chronic back problems. He could provide a steadying presence in the backcourt, if he can stay on the floor.

It’s hard to know what to expect from the Bearcats this season. This isn’t going to be the same team it would have been with Huggins at the helm, and depth issues probably were going to be a problem even with the legendary coach. Hicks must find a way to manage inside, and give his talented teammates in the backcourt a chance. The fact that White and Kirkland will be auditioning for an NBA audience all season long could be a distraction, or a motivating tool. Point guard play is also an issue. Can Kennedy reign in Muhammad? This team could be decent - without the recent developments, they would be preparing to fight for the Big East title in their first season as a member. However, the Bearcats could just as easily fold under the weight of what just took place. It’s a shame, because this could have been a special team.

Recruiting Update: Recruiting is an altogether pointless endeavor for Cincinnati at the moment. Huggins had 7’2 big man Jason Bennett wrapped up, but Bennett is looking at other options now. Meanwhile, the state of Ohio continues to unleash wave after wave of standout prep talent.


2005 Record: (20-9, 10-6)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Pacific in the first round
Head Coach: Jamie Dixon

Key Losses:

G Yuri Demetris (3.8 ppg)
PF Chevy Troutman (15.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
PF Mark McCarroll (2.4 ppg)
C Chris Taft (13.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg)

5’10 PG Levance Fields, Brooklyn, NY
6’6 F Sam Young, Hargrave (VA) Military Academy
6’8 PF Tyrell Biggs, Nanuet, NJ
6’8 PF Doyle Hudson, jr, Roane State (TN) CC

PG – 6’2 Carl Krauser, sr
SG – 6’1 Ronald Ramon, so
SF – 6’6 Sam Young, fr
PF – 6'9 Levon Kendall, jr
C – 7’0 Aaron Gray, jr

PG – 6’1 Levance Fields, fr
SG – 6’3 Antonio Graves, jr
SG – 6’2 Keith Benjamin, so
SF – 6’6 John DeGroat, sr
PF – 6’8 Tyrell Biggs, fr
PF – 6’8 Doyle Hudson, jr

The resurgence of Pittsburgh basketball was based on toughness. Ben Howland didn’t recruit the most talented kids, but he recruited the meanest, most physical players he could find. In the backcourt, players like Brandin Knight and Julius Page thrived by gritting it out and simply wanting it a little more. The Jamie Dixon era has begun, and that “tough” mentality is nearly gone. Last year’s roster was loaded with premier talent, but the Panthers missed a player like Jaron Brown. Outside of holdover Carl Krauser, the guards were young and undersized, and Dixon had a major distraction in attempting to get Chris Taft to play up to his potential. After an early postseason exit the Panthers regroup, with Dixon’s task being to integrate several talented youngsters as key contributors. Carl Krauser passed up the chance to turn pro to return for his final season, while Canadian Levon Kendall made headlines for single-handedly defeating the US U-21 team in Argentina with a 40 point outburst. As for that tough guy, Dixon might have found him in freshman Sam Young. The backcourt remains undersized and lacking in toughness, but there is enough here for Pittsburgh to have a fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance as a realistic goal.

Carl Krauser (16.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.9 apg) isn’t the perfect player, as his attempts to turn professional proved, but he certainly saved Pittsburgh’s season by returning for his senior season. Krauser is feisty, physical, tenacious off of the dribble, and sometimes seems to will the ball into the hoop. He isn’t the greatest perimeter shooter, but knows how to compete and run a team in the Big East. He won’t give up any ground on the defensive end. This is the youngest team that Pitt has fielded in quite some time, and it falls on Krauser to help meld these players into an effective unit. Freshman Levance Fields has some serious potential as a floor general, and was slated to step right in and start until Krauser made his decision to come back.

The rest of the perimeter options are smallish, shooting specialist-type guards. Junior Antonio Graves (7.8 ppg) was a last-minute addition two years ago, and has acquitted himself well since then. Sophomore Ronald Ramon (6.8 ppg) is an outside shooter that can handle the ball a little bit. He struggled a bit at the end of the season, but has the tools to develop into a very effective combo guard. Junior Keith Benjamin (2.2 ppg) hasn’t made much of an impact in his first two years, but that could change if he can stay healthy this winter. Nobody in this guard trio is over 6’3, and none really jump out athletically either. That is why freshman Sam Young is so important. Lauded for his athleticism, toughness and intensity, Young is a natural power forward that has developed a perimeter game in recent years. He has the edge as the opening night starter at small forward over senior John DeGroat.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question marks come in the frontcourt, where the presence of Chevon Troutman, and to a lesser extent Chris Taft, will be sorely missed. Two juniors that are ready to try their hand at starting are PF Levon Kendall (3.5 ppg) and C Aaron Gray (4.3 ppg). Kendall shocked the world when he shot 16-22 from the floor in Canada’s upset win over the US U-21 team this past summer, but it appears that the huge game might have been more of an aberration than a sign of a player ready for stardom. Nonetheless, Kendall is skilled enough to be a major factor for this team. Gray is a true 7-footer with a good feel for the game and nice touch on his back to the basket post moves. While neither player is a guaranteed starting caliber player, they provide the keys for Dixon in the task of rebuilding the frontcourt. Thick freshman Tyrell Biggs, junior college transfer Doyle Hudson, and Young will provide the backup minutes.

Jamie Dixon has done quite well for himself in his first years as a head coach, but Ben Howland’s influence on this program is fading further and further into the past. Last season was a step away from what this Panther program used to do best, and Dixon must find his program’s identity. Having Krauser for an extra season helps, and players like Ramon, Kendall, and Gray are talented enough to emerge. A slip back into the middle of the pack is certainly a possibility, but there is enough talent here to stay in the upper half of the conference and potentially make up for last season’s early tourney exit.

Recruiting Update: Dixon continues to do enough to get by recruiting-wise. Fans have a reason to be excited about top 100 wing Gilbert Brown, who fills the need for a more traditional wing. Power forward Austin Wallace also recently committed. Wing Adrion Graves and former Tennessee commit Tyler Smith are two other possibilities. Herb Pope is a very impressive athletic specimen who has verbally committed for 2007. There has been speculation that the commitment may not hold, but the Panthers will have a special player if Dixon can get him on campus in two years.

Notre Dame

2005 Record: (17-12, 9-7)
Postseason: NIT, lost to Holy Cross in 1st round
Head Coach: Mike Brey

Key Losses:
PG Chris Thomas (14.2 ppg, 6.7 apg)
PF Jordan Cornette (4.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
PF Dennis Latimore (7.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg)


6’1 PG Kyle McAlarney, Staten Island, NY
6’7 SG Ryan Ayers, Blue Bell, PA
6’8 F Zach Hillesland, Toledo, OH
6’11 PF Luke Zeller, Washington, IN

PG – 6’2 Chris Quinn, sr
SG – 6’5 Colin Falls, jr
SF – 6’4 Russell Carter, jr
PF – 6’8 Rick Cornett, sr
C – 6’11 Torin Francis, sr

PG – 6’1 Kyle McAlarney, fr
SG – 6’7 Ryan Ayers, fr
F – 6’9 Rob Kurz, so
PF – 6’9 Omari Israel, jr
PF – 6’11 Luke Zeller, fr

The past two seasons have been very disappointing for Notre Dame basketball fans. Despite having two premier talents in Chris Thomas and Torin Francis, the Fighting Irish have faded down the stretch and just missed the NCAA Tournament two years in a row. Thomas is gone, though that might be either bad or good, depending on which fan you ask. Thomas was the unquestioned go-to scorer, but he often took too much upon himself - either by taking bad, untimely shots, or by simply not moving the ball enough. Francis, especially disappointing a season ago, is back for his senior year. Chris Quinn moves over to point guard, which could lead to an offense that flows a bit better than it did under Thomas. A deep freshman class will be crucial in providing depth. Mike Brey needs to get things turned around to save his job, and has the pieces to do so. He is also helped by the schedule makers, which have given the Irish former C-USA teams to face twice, rather than their tougher, traditional Big East rivals. However, this is far from a sure thing. The Irish underachieved on both ends of the floor last year, and it remains to be seen whether Mike Brey can get this group to play to its potential.

While Chris Thomas was a formidable individual, there were many times last season when his poor decision making in key moments cost the Irish wins. He desperately attempted to play the go-too role, and came up short at times. His replacement, Chris Quinn(12.6 ppg, 3.1 apg), is a more team-oriented player. Experienced, intelligent, and crafty, Quinn is a top-notch shooter as well. Quickness may be a question mark, but he has what it takes to play the position. Junior Collin Falls (12.6 ppg) retains his starting spot at the two, where he should add to his resume as one of the top long-distance shooters in the conference. He must continue to work on being more than a shooting specialist, however.

Brey will rely on several unproven commodities in the backcourt, but just because they are unproven doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. Junior slasher Russell Carter (3.5 ppg), very effective in limited minutes, will battle it out with freshman Ryan Ayers for the right to start. Ayers is long and skilled, but may need some time to adjust to division one basketball. The backup point guard role goes to freshman Kyle McAlarney, a New York City point guard who has received rave reviews since signing with the Irish. If McAlarney is ready, don’t be surprised to see Brey bump Quinn back to the wing at times.

Torin Francis (9.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) returns to anchor the frontcourt, and has one last chance to make his career at Notre Dame a success. Francis regressed quickly last season, after appearing to be ready for a breakout year. He has the physical attributes of a dominant post player, but struggles with poor hands, robotic movements and an even worse feel for the game. He tested the draft waters last spring, and found a lukewarm reception. Former frontcourt partners Jordan Cornette and Dennis Latimore are gone, and Francis is deserving of many more touches than he received last year.

The rest of the frontcourt is unproven, but full of promise. Senior Rick Cornett (3.7 ppg) has been waiting to start for three seasons now, and may be capable of putting in a productive senior season. Nonetheless, he will be pushed hard by freshman Luke Zeller. Zeller, a McDonald’s All-American last spring, is a perimeter-oriented big man with a great fundamental understanding of the game. Two other perimeter-oriented forwards with potential are sophomore Rob Kurz, and freshman Zach Hillesland. If Brey wants a burst of explosiveness and power off the bench, he may turn to junior Omari Israel.

This is a team that could go either direction. Will they continue to underachieve, perhaps wilt even further without their proven leader? Or could Thomas’ departure lead to increased roles, more balance, and bigger things? If Francis can be the man he is capable of being in the paint, this team has a real chance. Freshmen like McAlarney, Ayers, and Zeller could be crucial as well. This is a middle of the pack Big East team, but settling for another NIT bid is something that the Notre Dame program isn’t willing to do. The Irish need to take advantage of the relatively easy schedule before the new teams in the conference inevitably bulk up. Eventually, it is going to be NCAA Tourney or bust for Mike Brey.

Recruiting Update: Brey continues to recruit well, after a very solid haul in 2005. Touted big man Luke Harangrody is a physical presence, and is also considered one of the top 50 recruits of 2006. Speedster Tory Jackson, once considered a virtual lock for Michigan, is a top 100 recruit that picked the Irish this fall. Both players will be expected to contribute immediately on a very young Irish team next fall.


2005 Record: (10-19, 2-14)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Gary Waters

Key Losses:

PG Manny Quezada (2.8 ppg)
SG Ricky Shields (13.0 ppg)
SG Juel Wiggan (6.0 ppg)


6’1 PG Anthony Farmer, Millville, NJ
6’7 SG Jaron Griffin, Manchester, NJ
6’9 F JR Inman, Pomona, NY
6’10 PF Zack Gibson, Grand Blanc, MI
6’11 C Frank Russell, jr, transfer from Hampton

PG – 6’1 Anthony Farmer, fr
SG – 6’3 Quincy Douby, jr
SF – 6’5 Marquis Webb, jr
PF – 6’7 Ollie Bailey, so
C – 6’9 Byron Joynes, jr

SG – 6’7 Jaron Griffin, fr
F – 6’9 JR Inman, fr
PF – 6’8 Adrian Hill, jr
C – 6’11 Dan Waterstradt, so
C – 6’9 Jimmie Inglis, sr
C – 6’11 Frank Russell, jr

It is never easy to figure out what will happen with Rutgers on a given day. At times they will beat the conference favorite at home, before losing at the doormat’s gym in the same week. Gary Waters managed to keep his job, though he may have hired the man who will replace him if he is let go in recruiting master Fred Hill. Hill’s presence could have been what staved off a mass exodus this summer, and he is already making strides with local prep recruits. The Scarlet Knights have a deep roster, with a nice mix of veterans and a very talented freshman class. Quincy Douby is the go-to guy, while Waters will try to move former point guard Marquis Webb back to his natural wing position. This isn’t a particularly talented group, but Rutgers doesn’t need to be particularly talented to win at home. The new schedule is a plus as well, as the breakdown ensures that Rutgers will get six games against conference cellar dwellers, while avoiding Connecticut and West Virginia altogether. If this group could figure out how to win a road game or two, an 8-8 or 9-7 season isn’t completely out of the question. This could be the swan song for Gary Waters, and the Rutgers fan base might not even mind. If the presence of Hill can make a difference on the court, he might actually be delaying his ascension to the head coach position. It should be an interesting year in New Brunswick.

Junior Quincy Douby (15.1 ppg) was the subject of much scrutiny throughout the summer, as he didn’t really attempt to hide the fact that he was considering a transfer. As many times as the fan base braced for the worst, Douby never did leave. He returns to campus as the undisputed go-to scorer, and should benefit from the presence of Hill to help buffer a sometimes icy relationship with Waters. Douby has a bit of combo guard in him, but will play solely off the ball this season and must work at becoming a bit more consistent. Joining him on the wing will be Marquis Webb (6.4 ppg), a fellow junior that has struggled playing out of position at point guard. He now moves to the wing, where he should be able to use his toughness and athleticism more effectively.

Waters plans to throw freshman point guard Anthony Farmer into the fray immediately, which appears to be a good plan. The idea is that Farmer is a natural floor general. His presence will not only allow Douby and Webb to return to their natural positions, but should also allow Farmer to create better scoring opportunities for the two. Two other freshmen, true wing Jaron Griffin and combo forward JR Inman figure to be very much in the rotation. Inman is athletic and versatile, and may end up playing a role similar to what a Curtis Sumpter or Brandon Bowman currently fill.

The post rotation will certainly be deep, though there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about here. Sophomore power forward Ollie Bailey (9.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg) is talented, but his lack of size caught up to him in Big East play. Behemoth junior Byron Joynes (4.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) has made an inspiring turnaround in regards to his conditioning, and is on the verge of becoming a solid player. He still commits too many stupid fouls, but should be very effective this season when he manages to stay on the court. Other returning post options include lean sophomore Dan Waterstradt (2.4 ppg) and senior Jimmie Inglis (5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg). A player to keep an eye on is Adrian Hill, who was effective two seasons ago before being sidelined by a knee injury last fall. Although Hill is still not ready to go, he could be a factor before the season is over.

Overall, Rutgers has reason to be upbeat heading into 2006. There was no program blow-up. At any rate, Fred Hill is now on board, taking away the sting of any potential firing. The roster is deeper than it has been, and not without talent. With the unbalanced schedule, a more natural positional line-up and good incoming talent, the Scarlet Knights seem the most likely of the predicted cellar dwellers to jump up into the middle of the pack. It all probably adds up to less than an NCAA Tourney berth, but there is reason for optimism nonetheless.

Recruiting Update: While Waters’ roster is nearly full for 2006, the investment in Hill has already paid off. Local star Corey Chandler, ranked in the top 50 for 2007, gave his pledge after some urging on the part of Hill. Joining the team for 2006 will be promising sophomore Courtney Nelson, who was productive in his year at Richmond. Rutgers appears to still be in the hunt for local product and probable McDonald’s All-American Lance Thomas, a program changing wing forward who appears to be a long shot but has kept Rutgers on his list throughout his long and drawn out recruiting process.

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