Roster reports and offseason team news from the Big East.
Cincinnati hasn't made the NCAA Tournament in Mick Cronin's three years as coach, so any rumblings about his job security could be expected. The school put some of that to rest this summer, however, by giving Cronin a two-year extension and tying to the Bearcats through the 2013-14 season.
That's a sign of confidence in the program, which Cronin had previously stoked by declaring the Bearcats "back" despite a late-season collapse that saw the team drop from being a strong NCAA Tournament contender to suffering a first-round Big East tournament loss to woeful DePaul. But even discounting the predictable spin, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.
Deonta Vaughn is the most prominent of the four returning starters for 2009-10. The scoring guard will be joined in the backcourt by Cashmere Wright, who was expected to have a big impact a year ago before missing the season with a torn ACL. That's a big change, because it allows Vaughn to slide over from the point and focus more on scoring than distributing, giving him the opportunity to do what he does best and put the ball in the basket. Larry Davis and Dion Dixon are also back, and a late signing brings Virginia high-school phenom Jaquon Parker into the mix as well..
Yancy Gates made the Big East's All-Rookie team a year ago and solidifies the frontcourt. That will get even bigger when Ibrahima Thomas is eligible in mid-December after sitting out per NCAA requirements. The 6-11 transfer from Oklahoma State offers badly-needed size in the paint, along with returning center Anthony McClain.
For Cronin to get the chance to play out those added two years on his contract, he'll need to turn last season's 18-14 record into something that at least gets the team to the NIT. He's confident that will happen, and the talent appears there to make it a reality.
The Huskies early offseason went about as well as could be expected for the UConn faithful. In this case, that's not such a good thing, and the added wrinkle was that Jim Calhoun's health once again became a major story.
As expected, Hasheem Thabeet declared for the NBA Draft. It would have taken the most optimistic fan in Storrs to believe that a center as big and defensively adept as Thabeet would come back for his senior season would ignore the lure of the NBA when he was assured of being a top pick. Sure, his offensive game still isn't perfect and there are parts of his game he needs to work on, but he'll be doing that at the next level instead of under Jim Calhoun's guidance.
He joins a pair of other starters that have played their last game for the Huskies. Point guard A.J. Price and forward Jeff Adrien both completed their senior seasons and began their dreams of becoming NBA players. Replacing the trio will be a key challenge heading into the season, with Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson becoming even more important to the program.
Ater Majok declared for the NBA Draft as well, but then pulled out at the last minute. That doesn't necessarily mean Majok will ever play for the Huskies, as he might still pursue professional opportunities overseas because of his family situation, but given the program's history of turning raw big men into NBA talents his best option is likely to stay in Storrs and try to follow that path.
Scottie Haralson also left Storrs, though not for the draft. The reserve guard wasn't happy with his playing time as a freshman and saw no light at the end of the tunnel, so he transferred to Tulsa.
Teams that go 0-for the season in Big East play tend to have a lot to worry about in the following offseason, but fretting over players declaring early for the NBA Draft would seem to be a rare occurrence. If they were good enough to go pro early, how were they not good enough to get their college a win or two in league play?
But it wouldn't be a Jerry Wainwright DePaul team if it didn't put its fans through the emotional wringer at every opportunity, and both Dar Tucker and Mac Koshwal decided to test the waters. Ultimately, the program got one bit of good news and one bit of bad news, as Tucker signed with an agent while Koshwal decided to return to school.
Ironically, Koshwal might have been the better bet to make an NBA roster. As a sophomore, the 6-10 forward/center came close to averaging a double-double with 12.2 points and 9.6 rebounds a game.
His return gives the Blue Demons one of the best big men in the country, and with Will Walker's emergence as a scorer at the end of the 2008-09 season DePaul looks to have as much offensive potential as has been seen in the Wainwright era.
Tucker would have made a big difference had he stayed Transfer Eric Wallace is eligible after sitting out the 2008-09 season, and forwards Mike Stovall and Tony Freeland add depth to the frontcourt. If Jeremiah Kelly can build on his freshman season and run a capable point, the Blue Demons could be better than the recent past.
The Hoyas fell from grace during the 2008-09 season, dropping from the top 10 to the NIT. The early part of the offseason didn't go any better.
Georgetown lost DaJuan Summers a year earlier than expected, as the junior forward declared for the NBA Draft. Unlike other underclassmen who waited until the last minute to make their decision, he was a quick commit who immediately began the process of finding an agent.
Also exiting was sophomore Omar Wattad, who elected to transfer. That makes eight players in four years who have left John Thompson III's program early. Summers and Jeff Green turned pro, while Wattad is one of six transfers during that span.
Had there been a ninth member of the team to leave early, the program would really be in trouble. But freshman center Greg Monroe ended the suspense early and elected to stay in school rather than test the waters. Monroe may not have quite lived up to the hype of his arrival on campus, but in fairness that would have been hard for anyone less than Alonzo Mourning to accomplish, and he was good enough to instantly become one of the top big men in the conference.
Six other scholarship players return, but that still represents a strong core for Thompson to work with. Though Jessie Sapp graduated, Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark form a strong backcourt. Monroe joins Julian Vaughn, Nikita Mescheriakov and Henry Simms in the paint.
It has been a scandalous offseason for coach Rick Pitino. In April came charges that Karen Sypher, the ex-wife of Louisville's former equipment manager, tried to extort Pitino for $10 million. She claimed the two had a sexual encounter six years ago. The story blew up again in August when Pitino admitted having sex with the woman, but denied giving her $3,000 for an abortion. He says he gave it to her for health insurance purposes.
The hiring of an old friend to the staff also fueled speculation about how long Pitino might be thinking of remaining as head coach.
Ralph Willard filled Pitino's top assistant coaching vacancy, which fostered reports that the former Pitt, Western Kentucky and Holy Cross coach was there to serve as a bridge to the next generation when Pitino left.
Not many of Willard's age and stature resign a head coaching position to become an assistant, even at a school like Louisville. But Pitino likes having a veteran assistant at his side who is experienced enough to know his stuff and confident enough to tell the coach when he thinks there's something wrong, and Willard fills that role.
On the court, the Cardinals will be missing some big pieces from the squad that made it to the regional finals a year ago. Earl Clark declared for the draft and will skip his senior season, joining Terrence Williams as a key loss for Louisville. Andre McGee and Will Scott were both seniors a year ago, and the team will miss them in the backcourt.
Pitino also lost a couple of committments for his 2010 recruiting class. Forward Justin Martin reopened his recruitment, while Jeremy Tyler will skip his senior season and play professionally overseas.
Coach Buzz Williams will have a very different team in 2009-10. However, he'll have at least one big star to build around.
Lazar Hayward decided not to join teammates Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews as they embark on their NBA dreams. Instead, the rising senior opted to come back to school, serving as the leader and unquestioned No. 1 scoring option on a team that badly needs him.
For the team to be successful, some of the players who rarely saw the court a year ago will need to join Hayward and step up as top talents. David Cubillan rarely played as the backup to all-everything McNeal as a junior, but will likely begin the fall as the starting shooting guard in 2009. Maurice Acker was expected to take over the point for Dominic James, but he left the team.
Jimmy Butler, who came to campus with a reputation as a scorer but tailored his game to rebounding and defense in deference to his teammates, will get the chance to show if he can fill up the nets like he did in junior college.
In addition, the 2009-10 squad will have seven new players, so it will definitely be different. One big change is that a lot of the new recruits are big men, in the form of 7-2 Youssoupha Mbao, 6-10 Brett Roseboro and 6-7 Jeronne Maymon. That could help Hayward see some time at the wing forward, his likely position at the next level.
Christmas came early for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey this offseason. On June 15, to be precise.That was the deadline for underclassmen to pull their names out of the NBA draft, and the day when Luke Harangody decided to return to South Bend for his senior season.
Harangody is one of the best players in college basketball, earned Big East Player of the Year honors in 2007-08 and could leave school having totally rewritten the Fighting Irish record book. But that and a series of summer workouts for NBA personnel couldn't get him the first-round or early second-round guarantee that he was seeking, so he chose summer school instead.
Measuring less than 6-foot-7 without shoes, Harangody didn't have the size to impress the NBA. But he has the game to cause a major matchup problem for the rest of the Big East, which hasn't figured out how to keep him from dominating the paint.
What he's looking for now is something better than an NIT berth and a trip to the semifinals, which the team settled for a year ago after a disappointing regular season. He'll have to do so without graduating seniors Klye McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, Zach Hillesland and Luke Zellar, so developing chemistry with all the new faces will be key for both him and point guard Tony Jackson.
When DeJuan Blair emerged as a superstar, it helped the Panthers earn the No. 1 ranking and come agonizingly close to the Final. Unfortunately for coach Jamie Dixon, Blair may have been too good for the program's own good.
Blair left school early for the NBA Draft, and stayed in when it became apparent he'd be a first-round pick. Sam Young, Levance Fields, and Tyrell Biggs graduated, leaving Dixon without the cornerstones of his team over the past couple of seasons.
That's not to say there's not a promising future. Rising sophomore Ashton Gibbs and incoming freshman Dante Taylor made the Under-19 Men's National Team, which Dixon coached. Gilbert Brown, Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamaker join Gibbs to form a strong group of perimeter players.
The key will be the inside game. Without Biggs and Blair manning the paint, a lot of pressure falls on the shoulders of players like Gary McGhee and the incoming freshman to fill the void. Dixon looked big to fill his recruiting class, with three of the four true freshmen at 6-7 or taller, and all will have the chance to win time right away.
Dwight Miller will be one name to watch. The redshirt freshman sat out his first year on campus, and the native of the Bahamas is still a work in progress, but at 6-8 he has the size to play in the paint. Taylor will likely start at power forward from his first day on campus, since Dixon isn't shy about playing freshmen and he's a McDonald's All-American and capable of contributing right away.
Keno Davis had a successful first year on campus as the Providence coach, taking a senior-laden crew back to the postseason by earning an NIT bid. In 2009-10, however, he gets the first chance to really put his stamp on the program.
Weyinmi Efejuku, Geoff McDermott, Jonathan Kale, Randall Hanke, and Jeff Xavier are the key members of the 2008-09 squad who exhausted their eligibility and won't be back in 2009-10. Luckily for Davis, one of their classmates as freshmen will be back for one more year thanks to an injury that helped seal the fate of predecessor Tim Welsh.
Point guard Sharaud Curry will be a redshirt senior in 2009-10, and the leader of the team. Brian McKenzie and Marshon Brooks are also back to man the perimeter. But with only six players returning -- two of whom redshirted a year ago -- the incoming seven-person class will be the key to the Friars success.
The biggest bets to play right away are the two juco transfers. Kyle Wright is a 6-6 swingman who averaged nearly 18 points a game and shot 41 percent from three-point range while also pulling down close to five rebounds a night. He could win time early on the wing.
Russ Perementer is a scorer and rebounder who at 6-9 is big enough to defend the paint. James Still and Kadeem Batts are freshmen bigs who will look for time as well, with Johnnie Lacy, Duke Mondy and Vincent Council in the backcourt.
Some of the freshmen may redshirt, as Davis is a big fan of not wasting a year of a player's eligibility for mop-up work. Jamine Petersen and Bilal Dixon found that out a year ago as they sat on the bench in street clothes during games after working hard all week in practice. If that experience helped prepare them for bigger things in 2009-10, and if the newcomers step into the groove and play well right away, Davis will go a long way towards shoring up the support among the demanding Friars fan base.
At the end of another disappointing season in 2008-09, almost everyone associated with the Rutgers program agreed that the team needed more time in the gym. The players likely would have preferred a vacation. Coach Fred Hill obliged with a little bit of both.
The basketball team spent nine days in Spain and the Canary Islands in late May, playing four games against professional teams and enjoying the sights and the cultural experience. The biggest beneficiary among the seven players who went was probably forward Patrick Jackson, who led the team in scoring and went 7-17 from three-point range.
Other questions remained unanswered. The Scarlet Knights would like to find a true point guard this offseason, allowing Mike Rosario to concentrate on scoring. Corey Chandler and Mike Coburn are the leading contenders to fill that role, but the battle is still ongoing heading into the summer.
Rumors had the program attached to a couple of junior college talents to add to the backcourt mix in the fall, showing that there's a void there that the coaches are less than comfortable with. Chandler is the player the coaching staff would like to see emerge and seize the job, as he was a highly-rated point guard in high school, but he's been better at getting to the basket than he has been at distributing the ball since arriving at Rutgers.
The backcourt is the key issue because the frontcourt looks, for a change, deep and solid. Greg Echenique and Hamady Ndiaye have both shown the ability to hold their own against Big East frontcourts, though the coaching staff would certainly like to see some more consistency from Ndiaye. In addition to Jackson's emergence as a scorer overseas and the eligibility of Florida transfer Jonathan Mitchell, the incoming recruiting class is full of big bodies, with the biggest being 6-11 center Brian Okam.
It was a disappointing 2008-09 season for the Pirates and coach Bobby Gonzalez, who were shut out of the NIT for a second year in a row despite a winning record and some solid wins. However, at least the early weeks of the offseason offered some slight consolation.
Seton Hall went 0-for the fall signing period, but picked up a couple of big-time players in late spring. Ferrakohn Hall, a 6-8 incoming freshman from Memphis, will join a revitalized Pirates frontcourt. Jamel Jackson will help add some punch to the backcourt.
That's big for a team that had few healthy bodies to work with by the end of the season, hindered by both injuries and an unfriendly NCAA. While Keon Lawrence, Herb Pope, Jeff Robinson and Melvyn Oliver sat in street clothes, the rest of the team was often a foul or two away from calling on the walk-ons.
On the other hand, the 2009-10 team has something unfamiliar to Gonzalez: depth. Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell, Jordan Theodore and Lawrence give Gonzalez a plethora of different options with his guards. John Garcia, Robert Mitchell, Pope, Robinson and Oliver man the paint. If the freshmen can step in and contrubute right away, Gonzalez can turn up the defensive heat and rely more on the pressure defense he's been known for.
The news hasn't all been rosy, as Mike Davis and Brandon Walters both decided to transfer. Garcia's knees always make him an injury risk, and if he winds up missing time there's still not a lot that looks like a true center on the roster.
Much like every other year in South Florida, this offseason has seen a big dose of roster churn. Coach Stan Heath hopes that the results of all the player movement leads to something new and different at the school; a winning team.
Entering are the six new players for the 2009-10 recruiting class, with junior college All-American Jarrid Famous poised to make a big early contribution. Gone are a pair of transfers, as well as the graduating seniors Jesus Verdejo, B.J. Ajayi, and Aris Williams. Mike Mercer is also gone after being dismissed midseason for violating team rules.
There are also two new assistants. Dan Hipsher left the program to take a job at Alabama, while Byron Samuels was asked to leave by coach Stan Heath. Jeremy Cox and Eric Skeeters replaced them, and the new voices may help get through to the players.
Coming back, however, is Dominique Jones. He and Chris Howard form a good and experienced backcourt. Anthony Crater will boost that area as well when the Ohio State transfer becomes eligible for the second semester.
Augustus Gilchrist should step up as a sophomore and anchor the frontcourt. Alex Rivas is the other big body returning, though Famous and freshman Toarlyn Fitzpatrick will have something to say about the playing time as well.
Heath has lightened up the nonconference schedule, hoping to avoid the slow starts that have historically plauged the team. If the Bulls can stay afloat through the early going and not lose their confidence, they could surprise some teams in Big East play.
Every year is a big year for coach Norm Roberts at St. John's. It seems like every February starts the calls on talk-radio stations demanding his ouster, and every year he skates by and gets another chance.
The controversy hasn't hurt on the recruiting trail, and Roberts has a strong four-man class coming in. Junior college transfer Justin Brownlee could see immediate time in the frontcourt, and fellow juco Dwight Hardy will also be hard to keep off the court. So will freshman phenom Omari Lawrence, one of the biggest signings of the Roberts era. Point guard Malik Stith rounds out the class.
That will be key, because if there has been one consistent factor in the Roberts era it's been the injuries. Anthony Mason Jr. applied for a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, but if that gets turned down his final two years on campus will largely have been spent in street clothes. Paris Horne, Justin Burrell, Malik Boothe and Rob Thomas also missed significant time.
If those players come back at full strength, the Red Storm could surprise in 2009-10. The Big East lost a lot of players to the NBA, and there should be an opening to make up some ground in the standings. That will be key to getting the vultures off of Roberts' back.
St. John's took a step forward in 2008-09, finishing 16-18 and making the College Basketball Invitational tournament. That isn't putting that team on par with the storied squads in the program's history, but it at least marked a postseason bid. It was good enough for the time, but a lot more is expected from the Red Storm faithful and Roberts doesn't have a ton of time to show that he can take them there.
Jim Boeheim has pretty much seen it all in his tenure at Syracuse, but this offseason marks one of the biggest challenges he's had at the helm of the program. He'll have a whole new team to work with in 2009-10, because there was a stampede out of school to take early entry into the NBA Draft.
Jonny Flynn said he'd return to Syracuse at the end of the season, but decided the first-round money was too much to ignore. That made sense. Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf also left for the pros, which made less sense, although in Devendorf's case he had already graduated anyway and had just been through a year where off-court issues dominated his season. In addition, little-used reserve forward Sean Williams decided to transfer to Cal State Fullerton.
Boeheim has his usual strong recruiting class to count on, and freshman Brandon Triche has a chance to see a lot of time right away. At 6-4, he's big enough to play anywhere on the perimeter but is a natural point who will be given a chance to run the show. Andy Rautins will start on the wing and will again be one of the better shooters in the game.
The frontcourt should be strong, with returning stalwarts Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson joined by Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson, who averaged 12 points a game before sitting out 2008-09 under NCAA rules. But all will have to show something special for the team to match the 2008-09 squad's trip to the Sweet 16.
Scottie Reynolds took Villanova to the Final Four with the biggest shot of the basketball season, his buzzer-beater that knocked off Pitt. It was reasonable for him to wonder what he could do for an encore, and check out the interest at the next level.
Fortunately for Jay Wright, that interest wasn't enough to convince Reynolds to leave school, and so the coach will have his star point guard back to run the show for another year.
That's big, because Wright already was faced with the task of winning without Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark. Those three, along with little-used reserve Frank Tchuisi, were seniors and played their last game for the Wildcats in the loss to North Carolina at the Final Four.
All will be missed, particularly Cunningham's work getting points in the paint. In his absence, Wright will be looking for a lot more from Antonio Pena. The redshirt junior started strong, but fell off quickly and never really got back on track. Taylor King will be in the mix now that he's eligible after transferring from Duke, Maurice Sutton could be a factor as well.
But with Reynolds back, the Wildcats should boast one of the strongest backcourts in the country. Alongside Reynolds will be fellow senior Reggie Redding and juniors Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, and given Wright's willingness to use three and four-guard sets as often as matchups allow, all should see a lot of playing time again in 2009-10.
In addition, the four-man freshman class is one of the strongest in the country. Guards Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns and forwards Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou will all have a chance to see the court right away.
West Virginia in 2008-09 was a squad that was built for the future at least as much as it was the present. The success the team enjoyed, reaching the semifinals of the Big East tournament and returning to the NCAA Tournament.
That team said goodbye to Alex Ruoff, the lone senior in the rotation. But it's got a lot more coming back to get the Mountaineer fans excited.
Start with the frontcourt, where Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks both return. Butler led the team in scoring at 17 points per game, while Butler averaged 10.5 as a freshman while leading the team in rebounding. Kevin Jones came up big as a freshman, and Wellington Smith and Cam Thoroughman add depth.
The guards are equally solid. Joe Mazzulla was expected to start and play a key role at the point in 2008-09, but injured his shoulder and missed most of the season. Truck Bryant came up big in his absence, and the two will be competing for time in 2009-10.
Bob Huggins also has his typically strong recruiting class. Dalton Pepper and Casey Mitchell each will have a chance to win the starting job that Ruoff's graduation leaves vacant. Deniz Kilicli and Danny Jennings could both make an impact in the frontcourt.