Category:NCAAB
Posted on: March 31, 2009 1:11 pm
Edited on: March 31, 2009 1:19 pm
 

No dog, or 'Cat, in the fight but...

My thoughts on the Calipari-to-Kentucky business:

Coach Cal is a great coach going to a great program, so in that sense it's a good fit.  Calipari does, however, have a past with a few question marks (in terms of rules violations) and has a distinct personality that I'm not sure translates perfectly to UK.  The thing is, when you're a premier program your list of acceptable hires is short to begin with, so if you can agree to terms with a guy like Calipari you have to get it done.

What does it mean for Kentucky?

Honestly, it's difficult to say.  It should bring stability and a new approach, on and off the court.  It probably brings in some players Kentucky hadn't counted on that could go a long way toward getting right back in the tournament and doing some damage.  But part of all this depends on what it means for Memphis.

So, what does it mean for Memphis?

I have already seen comments about Memphis's likely descent back into the regular ranks of CUSA as early as next season.  I don't see that happening, to be honest.  I certainly think they will be hard-pressed to keep the conference win streak in tact with a new coach, but they are still an attractive destination for coaches and players.  The new hire they bring in will not have the track record of Calipari, but they certainly have the clout to pull off a great hire.  The real question is: how much of that fantastic recruiting class bolts?  That will help answer what this means for Kentucky as well.  If Memphis can manage to convince a significant part of that class to return, and get another CUSA title with some damage done in March, it's possible that they could come out if this while hardly mising a step.  If the class exits, en masse, to follow the coach...along with a current roster member or two...then the program could be in serious trouble, for the short term at least.

So, the burning question for both schools is: which players were coach-loyal, which were program-loyal, and whose minds can be changed?  For Memphis there's the additional caveat: what recruits might their new hire bring along?

Every year when this coaching caousel begins, I get bothered by programs' lack of loyalty to their coaches, and by what a departing coach can do to a program.  I don't understand the win-or-be-fired mentality at the college level, because frankly while we're educating kids we should be teaching them about sportsmanship rather than giving them a "winning is everything" attitude.  This whole SOP extends all the way to recreational leagues for eight-year-olds, and frankly is part of why this nation's economy did what it did. (I won't go into the details of why I feel this way, as this is a sports site and I would have to leave the realm of sports to adequately explain my reasoning.)  Aside from that, it's a real shame that when a coach departs it has to come with a significant loss of players as well...leaving a program potentially in shambles.  I understand that the decommitting rules are in place to protect the kids - a noble goal - but I think perhaps they should be revisited.  Better minds than I could perhaps find a more equitable way to change coaches.

Posted on: March 20, 2009 7:40 am
Edited on: March 20, 2009 1:50 pm
 

Maybe "power league" teams are just better

This year's NCAA Tournament Field features only 4 at-large bids from non power conferences.  It's created a bit of a stir, including some comparisons to football's BCS system.  Dick Vitale and Michael Wilbon are two experts of note to cry foul.  While I agree in general terms that the little guy gets snubbed, this year I don't think that many more than four "mid-majors" deserved an at-large selection...and honestly it was quite hard to find 65 worthy teams, period.  One also must consider that in this format, they supposedly get the best team from every conference.  While the field may not contain the 40th or 50th best team (see Creighton, St. Mary's, San Diego State) it will contain teams somewhere around the 250th best (see Morehead State, Alabama State) to compensate.  Now, of course when there's a conference tournament upset, the field may wind up with the second-best, or even the eighth best or so, team from some leagues while missing out on the best...but that's a product of the automatic bid rules and not the Selection Committee.  I'm one who advocates modifying, rather than discarding, the automatic bids but that's a tangential point.  A second argument for the little guys is that Memphis deserved one of the one seeds for being the only team with 3 or fewer losses.  As we'll see later, I think Memphis was seeded exactly correctly and if anything is less talented than the best of the 3 seeds.

 

Consider this year's field, and how we got to so few non-power teams.  First, Southern California and Mississippi State snagged unexpected bids for the 'BCS' leagues.  Some conference winners like Temple and Cleveland State snagged bids, probably from more deserving little guys.  Once the bracket came out, the only team in that really surprised anyone was Arizona...and maybe Wisconsin.  While I find Arizona's inclusion a minor travesty, I still think they will either beat Utah or give them a tough game, and that very belief begs the question: is it really so out of line?  The thing people are missing is that Arizona wasn't included because they play in the Pac 10.  They were included because they're ARIZONA.   It's an equally bad reason, but the distinction is important.  I'm not sure why the college basketball world is turning a one-team argument into a conference argument.  Returning to the other "surprise," I'll discuss Wisconsin in relation to the 3 closest representatives of the little guy.  San Diego State got their profile by scoring one truly good win and avoiding any horrible losses.  They added a second good win in the league tournament, but apart from that they really just beat a lot of teams below RPI 50.  Now, I believe they should have been in over Arizona, partly because of a 3-game sweep of UNLV (whose RPI WOULD have been top 50 if not for those 3 losses) but stacked next to Wisconsin a case can be made that the Badgers did more to impress despite their lower RPI.  Then there's Creighton, who notched zero top 25 wins, 2 top 50 wins, and lost twice to teams outside the top 100.  Oh, one of their top 50 wins was RPI 47 Illinois State...a team that BEAT them twice in three chances and went on to lose the conference tournament.  I'm sorry, but that's just not an NCAA tournament resume.  Then there's St. Mary's, and frankly I don't see their argument either despite the nice win over Utah State.  They had almost as many losses outside the top 100 (2) as they did wins against the top 100 (3).  3-4 against the RPI top 100 just isn't getting it done, injured player or not.  So, what that all means is that, basically, the only real snub here was San Diego State being discarded in favor of Arizona...and let me now reiterate that that isn't really a league versus league decision.

 

So, in the sports world, how do we prove an argument most effectively?  With results.  And after a day of NCAA tournament games and a week of NIT games, I think we already have a few that are telling.  What's happened so far to help my argument?  In the NCAA Tournament, LSU handled Butler. Yes, the final score was close but the game was controlled by the Tigers from the opening tip.  Remember that LSU didn't even win the league tournament of inarguably this year's weakest power conference, while Butler was one of those four at-large bids.  Texas A&M simply outclassed BYU.  This game wasn't close, and it wasn't pretty for the Cougars.  Remember that Texas A&M is approximately the sixth best from the Big 12 and that BYU was another of those 4 at-large bids.  It was an 8-9 game, so BYU was in just as good a position to win.  Purdue beat Northern Iowa without much trouble, and UCLA beat VCU, also without much trouble despite a 1-point final...and there went two of the nation's favorite upsets.  Note: that's the Northern Iowa team that wound up winning Creighton's league.  At the top of the NCAA field, Memphis and others made the case that the Tigers were not worthy of a one seed.  While Memphis struggled with Cal State-Northridge, winning by 11 only because of a very late surge the following happened elsewhere:  Connecticut won by 56 without its coach, North Carolina won by 43 without its best player, and Fellow 2 seeds Duke and Oklahoma won by 24 and 28, respectively.

 

Then down in the NIT, Notre Dame (10th-12th best in the Big East) has beaten UAB (third best from CUSA) and New Mexico (4th or 5th best in MWC).  Penn State (8th best in the Big Ten) has beaten George Mason (second best in the Colonial) and Rhode Island (among the tops in the A-10).  Of the four losers above, three of them are close to the top of three of the best non-power conferences.  Extending the NIT angle a bit, Kentucky, Auburn, and Florida (about 4th-6th in the SEC, again the weakest power conference) have beaten UNLV, Tennessee-Martin, and Jacksonville.  Virinia Tech beat A-10 runner-up Duquesne.

 

Is there a results-based counterargument?  Of course, but it's weaker.  Davidson beat South Carolina...but remember that Davidson was purportedly the best team from the Southern Conference while South Carolina was the seventh-best the SEC had to offer.  New Mexico beat Nebraska, but this is another case of the top half of one league beating the bottom half of another...and the Lobos only split in two such games.  St. Mary's beat Washington State, but here the same argument applies.  St. Mary's is clearly the second-best the WCC had to ofer while Washington State was at best 6th in the Pac 10.  Tulsa beat Northwestern...and are we noticing a trend?  2nd-best in CUSA versus 9th-best in the Big Ten.  That leaves just one game for the little guy to hang its hat on so far, and that's Western Kentucky over an Illinois team playing without one of its team leaders.  I suppose you could look at the lone BCS team to lose in the CBI or CIT (St. John's to Richmond) but this is an especially weak argument since other, better BCS teams (including Cincinnati from the Red Storm's own league, for example) refused bids to these tournaments.  Oregon State is the only other such team in one of those tournaments. They beat Houston.

 

Now, I love the little guy and will be a staunch advocate for their inclusion in general.  I get tired of them getting the shaft.  But I still feel that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee gets it right for the most part.  This year their decision to invite mostly power-conference teams is looking better and better, aside from the one very glaring snub.  I don't make this case lightly, because at one point I thought the Mountain West was the first non-power conference ever to have a solid agument over the best power league...but as things have worked their way out I see that I was wrong on that score.

 

 

Posted on: March 8, 2009 12:13 am
Edited on: March 8, 2009 12:56 am
 

Revisiting BE predictions and tourney preview

Well, I previewd the Big East season what seems both like eons ago and yesterday.  So how did I do?  Am I an idot, a genius, or something in between?  In other words, should you take anything I say about the Big East tournament?  Well, it's time to grade myself!

 


 

What I said:

  1. Louisville (NCAA) They're my pick thanks to an easier schedule than the Huskies
  2. Connecticut (NCAA) They have the most talent, but a very rough road.
  3. Pittsburgh (NCAA) I pick them here largely because they get my next two teams at the Peterson Events Center, where they don't lose many games.
  4. Syracuse (NCAA) Someone will oust one of the "top four" and my pick is the Orange. I choose them because I believe they have the best combination of returning scorers and new talent from my "tier three" teams.
  5. Notre Dame (NCAA) I choose them to be bumped from the top four because I believe they are the least set up for the long haul. Their talent makes them capable of beating any team, but its concentration in two or three players makes them vulnerable.
  6. Villanova (NCAA) Experience wins my vote among some hard to separate squads.
  7. West Virginia (NCAA) The Mountaineers return more talent than most realize, and have an excellent recruiting class. They will have the best defense of several BE teams relying on forwards and no center up front.
  8. Marquette (NCAA) I hate to pick a team with this much talent this low, but teams 1-7 are that good.
  9. Providence (NCAA) They have the schedule to make something of a run, and more talent than you think.
  10. Georgetown (NIT) There. I did it. The Hoyas are reloading and I think it costs them. If they prove me wrong (higher than 8th place) I'll eat my crow.
  11. Seton Hall (NIT) I throw them up here largely because of Cincinnati's injuries, but also recognizing that here are some good pieces in place here.
  12. Cincinnati (CBI) They were going to be my surprise NCAA pick until they lost three players. Watch out for this team in 2009-2010
  13. Rutgers (none) They have enough players I like to keep them out of the bottom three.
  14. St. John's (none) Down at this level, experience is king, and they have grown together as a team and are well-coached.
  15. DePaul (none) I give them a slight edge over the Bulls.
  16. South Florida (none) I could really see a 1-17 conference record here, with a home win over DePaul.

Lovingly copied and pasted from my earlier entry.  Overall, not too shabby.

 


 

What happened, and my grades:

Final Big East standings

1. Louisville 16-2 (correct) [A+]      I think I nailed this one in every way.  Picked them, and for the right reason.  They were too good to not take advantage of a little more favorable schedule than the other frontrunners.

2. Pittsburgh 15-3 (plus one) [A-]    I don't penalize myself much because I was a game away from getting 2 and 3 right...I had the right two teams, in the right order, and I think assuming a split in games between top 5 teams is perfectly reasonable.

3. Connecticut 15-3 (minus one) [A-]     See above.

4. Villanova 13-5 (plus two) [B-]     I was pretty close on Nova, but dead wrong on Notre Dame...and so the grade for THIS team is still reasonably high.

5. Marquette 12-6 (plus three) [D]     I was wrong about what this team was capable of without any size.  They would have a double bye if James hadn't been hurt (I think they go 2-2 or even 3-1 down the stretch without him) and I cannot take any extra credit for being right that they'd struggle at the end sine they probably wouldn't have healthy.

6. Syracuse 11-7 (minus two) [B]    Well, I was basically at coin-flip status on whether Cuse or Nova would sneak into the top 4..and I picked the wrong one.  But, Cuse did finish in the top third to make me look like less of an idiot.

7. West Virginia 10-8 (correct) [A+]    I got another one right!  this one I take credit for, because I was one of few people I saw willing to pick the Mountaineers higher than the 9th or so most folks said.  They always exceed expectations, and this year they have more talent (though much of it is young) than most are aware.

8. Providence 10-8 (plus one) [A]     I think I deserve a lot of credit for picking Providence to finish ninth, even though they in fact finished eighth, because ninth was better than most gave them, and the only reason I had them at 8 instead of nine was a very reasonable assumption that Notre Dame would finish in the top half of the league.  I'm only penalizing myself for ND once.

9.  Cincinnati 8-10 (plus two)  [C]   I didn't think cincinnati could finish this high after all those injuries, and they were a couple of "shouldv'e hads" here at the end from serious NCAA tournament contention.  I give them a ton of credit, but me little credit since I thought their injuries were killer.

10. Notre Dame (minus five) [D-]     I don't give myself an "F" because I DID have them out of the top 4 and I said "they are capable of losing to (St. John's) or beating (Louisville) anyone.  I had no idea they'd wind up THIS bad with that much talent, though.

11. Seton Hall (correct) [A]     I remember when some Pirates fans called me out for picking them to finish outside the top ten in the league and being the last team from the league into the NIT...

12. Georgetown   (minus two) [A+]   OK, I didn't get the spot exactly right, because Cincy surprised me a little, but man was I right about this team.  I don't have to eat all that crow I was afraid I'd have to eat!  Go me!  (Really, I'm proud of this pick...I even called Gary Parrish out when he counted GTown as one of his favorites to win the National Title, saying "I'm not convinced they're even one of the top 8?[forget the number] teams in the Big East')

13. St. John's (plus one)  [C+]    I said the right things about them, but I'm mad at myself because I picked them to finish in this spot first but changed my mind before posting, instead giving the spot to Rutgers...

14. South Florida (plus two)  [C]   I was wrong, but not all that wrong.  Gilchrist was a bigger shot in the arm than I thought, and they were WAY better than DePaul.

15. Rutgers (minus two) [C+]    I'm surprised with this low a finish, because they had some pieces in place to be better than this.  Still, I wasn't that far off on my pick.

16. DePaul   (minus one)  [B]   I didn't pick them dead last like I should've, but that's as much due to my error in judging the Bulls.  Why is a team with Koshwal and Tucker this bad?

 

That gives me a GPA of (with + and - counting for a third) of 2.95...so it's a "B" minus.  Not great, but not too bad when predicting an 18-game leagu season with an unbalanced schedule.  I feel pretty smart, but not ingenious.  A genious would've broken the right way on Cincy, St. John's and been a little closer on Notre Dame.

Also, I picked:  9 teams NCAA, 2 teams NIT, and one team CBI.  I think instead we will see 8 teams NCAA (I think Provy sneaks in, and if not there's room for BE tourney damage from the next three) and 4 teams NIT (how can the NIT NOT take the BE leftovers...espcially with Seton Hall's season-ending win over cincy?).  So I had the right total (12) of postseason teams but drew the line in the wrong place.  Now that that new retardo tournament for the basketball impaired has been announced, I think there's a good chance St. John's lands there...but I couldn't have known about that silliness when I picked.

 


 

The next set of predictions:

Big East Tournament Opening Round


9 Cincinnati defeats 16 DePaul.  Do you see an 0-18 league team winnign one in the garden?  Not I.

10 Notre Dame defeats 15 Rutgers.  Notre Dame is desperate to get through this thing and frankly better than Rutgers.

11  Seton Hall defeats 14 South Florida.  The Pirates have more playmakers, and would probably like to play in the NIT over the CBI.

12. Georgetown defeats 13 St. John's.  Another desperate team facing an opponent with less talent.

 

Big East Tournament Second Round

9 Cincinnati defeats 8 Providence.  OK, I contradicted myself.  I said PC would get into the dance, and they probably won't if they lose this one.  Still, it's tough to beat a team thrice in a year.

10 Notre Dame defeats 7 West Virginia.  I struggled with this pick, but ultimately I take the team in more dire need.  ND is good when they play together.

6 Syracuse defeats 12 Seton Hall.  Boeheim has his players getting the most of their abilities now, and as such they will be too much for the Pirates.

5 Marquette defeats 12 Georgetown.  Even James-less The Eagles are pretty good.

 

Big East Tournament Quarterfinal Round

1 Louisville defeats 9 Cincinnati.  Despite claims otherwise, they are worthy of the top seed...Pitt and UConn are perhaps better, perhaps not, but U of L is Final Four caliber and Cincy is not on that level.

2 Pittsburgh defeats 10 Notre Dame.  I don't think the Irish have a win this big in them playing a rested Pitt team after playing two of their own.  I pick Pitt over WVU here if that happens too...though as I said, three wins against one team is hard.

6 Syracuse defeats 3 Connecticut.  I went against my better judgment on this one because Cuse does play well in the Garden.

4 Villanova defeats 5 Marquette.  These teams were evenly matched when James was healthy, so now I think the 'Cats have a big edge.

 

Big East Tournament Semifinal Round

2 Pittsburgh defeats 6 Syracuse.  Pitt is the only team who plays better here than the Orange, and they make it 8 of the last 9 championship games.

1 Louisville defeats 4 Villanova.  As long as T-Will stays hot I think this is a safe pick.

 

Big East tournament Championship

2 Pittsburgh defeats 1 Louisville.  Homer?  Not really.  I just think Pitt was left with a sour taste in its mouth after losing a tight one at Freedom Hall, and they always come to play in the BE tournament.  And really, when was the last time Pitt didn't lose to U of L in the regular season only to avenge it in the conference tournament?  This time, it's for the championship.

 

Posted on: February 16, 2009 11:07 am
 

Number 4 Pittsburgh visits Number 1 Connecticut

What a game scheduled for tonight.  Jerome Dyson's injury takes just a little bit off the luster of this game, but this is two teams deservedly in the top 5 full of players with superlatives going toe-to-toe for favorite status is one of the toughest leagues ever.  The winner probably gets a stranglehold on a 1 seed in March, and heck, the loser stays in line for one provided they can split the two games these teams will play.  So how will it turn out?  It's so close that a lot of things need to be considered.  Here's how the matchups work 1-5:


PG LeVance Fields versus AJ Price

I give the edge to Fields, because he leads the nation in Assist to Turnover ratio and is on an incredibly hot streak (56 assists to 6 TOs in the last 5 games) He has had 13 or more assists in three of those.  Price is a little bit better scorer, though, so it's not a really huge edge.

SG Jermaine Dixon versus Kemba Walker/Craig Austrie

This one's a push for me.  Dyson would've given a big edge to the Huskies, but without him Walker and Austire will need to step up.  They are capable, but Dixon has come on in Big East play and found his shot...and he's a second weapon to really drive in to the basket.

SF Sam Young versus Jeff Adrien

The fact that these two guys aren't the key matchup of the game shows just how good these teams are.  I give the edge to Young because both guys are averaging a double-double but Young has significantly more points, and he can get anyone to bite on that ball fake.  Like the previous positions, though, it's close.

PF Tyrell Biggs versus Stanley Robinson

This one goes to Robinson.  Biggs is a quality player, but inconsistent...so is Robinson, but his good is a little beter and his bad isn't as bad.  The game may hinge more on the play of these two guys than most realize.

C DeJuan Blair versus Hasheem Thabeet

This is the matchup everyone's been looking for (outside of either of these guys vs. Blake Griffin, maybe).  Both are the best in the nation at something (Blair at offensive rebounds, Thabeet at shot blocking).  I think Blair is the better scorer with better touch, but Thabeet's presence will certainly neutralize at least some of that.  Both kids are true athletes, and the matchup should be great to watch but is too close to call.  IF the game is called tightly, the edge here goes to UConn because they work the whistle better than any team in the country and Blair has noted problems with ticky-tacky fouls.  All else being equal, I'll give it to Thabeet.

So, among the starters 2 Pitt players and 2 Connecticut players have an edge in my opinion, but all 5 are very close battles...These teams are strong at the same positions but in different ways.  It makes this almost the perfect basketball matchup.


Moving to the bench, though, there are still some interesting matchups.  I'd have easily given the edge to the Huskies were Dyson still healthy, but now I'm not so sure.  In fact, it seems to swing the other way for me because it emasn that either Walker or Austrie will not be the sixth man.

Pittsburgh's bench features Gilbert Brown, who hasn't lived up to his potential thus far but is a very talented athlete who finally started making an impact recently, Brad Wannamaker who's a bit of a surprise of late, Ashton Gibbs who has the best 3-pt. percentage in the Big East (though he barely qualifies), Gary McGhee who will get destroyed by Thabeet but can hold his own against the Husky bench, and Nasir Robinson who may get some minutes if McGhee has it rough.

Connecticut's bench, however, features Kemba Walker (unless it's Austrie) who may be the best freshman guard in the league, Gavin Edwards, who has played some quality minutes and is something like Wannamaker in potential, Scottie Haralson who hasn't really been scoring, and a bunch of role-players averaging less than a point per game.  So the Dyson injury really hurts this team in terms of depth, and the bench edge now goes to Pitt.


Even though I have the starting 5 basically even and give the bench edge to Pitt, I can't pick my Panthers to win this tough road game.  The reason is that I'm not sure Connecticut will NEED many minutes from their bench because their starters are almost never in foul trouble.  Pitt, on the other hand, plays a very physical game that may land them in foul trouble, especially on the road against the team with the best FT differential in the league.  If it goes down that way, several minutes will be Pitt's reserves against Connecticut's starters...and Pitt's bench, while strong, is not nearly as good as UConn's fantastic starting lineup.  Final Pick:

Connecticut 75

Pittsburgh 69.

Posted on: November 14, 2008 1:27 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2008 9:46 pm
 

Final thoughts on the upcoming Big East season

Now that every team has been previewed, it's time for me to collect my thoughts. This league is probably one of the toughest in history to predict, but I'm going to take a shot at it. First I'll arrange the teams by tiers, then I'll project the finish, and finally I'll have some thoughts on how the conference teams will do in the preseason tournaments. I had about 80% of this finished when my browser crashed before, so this is more hurried and probably has dropped in quality; apologies for that.

I believe that the nine-team-in projection is not at all far-fetched, and that as many as 12 might see some postseason play or other. It will all depend on nonconference performance and the new conference tourney format. I'm excited for the first Big East games tonight, starting at 7 PM, and can't wait for the season in general. Now, on to business...


Tiers of Teams

Stratifying the league even this way is difficult. There are four preseason title contenders, and I agree that they're the most likely winners, but I doubt they finish 1-4. The next groups of teams are hard to separate, with a lot of teams bearing hugely talented rosters and similar weak spots. Regardless, I think I have come up with a reasonable, though admittedly subjective, set of crieteria for differentiating what we've got. (Each tier is listed alphabetically)

Tier One:

Connecticut, Louisville

These teams have the best combination of talent, balance, and depth to be the clear-cut favorites. They aren't the only two who could win the league, but I'd be surprised if either finished outside the top 4.

Tier Two:

Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

These teams have a ton of returning talent, but lack either the balance (Pitt) or the depth (ND) to be favored over the above teams. The next group of teams could easily displace either of these, but I'd be surprised if either finished lower than sixth.

Tier Three:

Marquette, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Between tiers three and four is in my opinion the toughest place to draw a line. The distinction I drew is that these four teams I believe have the biggest chance to sneak into the top four, and would surprise me the most to finish out of the top half of the league.

Tier Four:

Georgetown, Providence

I believe one of these two teams will be left out of the Big Dance, and neither looks to me to have the talent to sneak into the top 4. Either one could surpass some of the teams in tier three, though, if things break the right way.

Tier Five:

Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall

These are the teams between NCAA rosters and terrible. I don't believe any is capable of squeezing into the top half of the league, but the one who puts together the best resume will probably land in the NIT. I think any of these could be competitive in some other conferences out there.

Tier Six:

DePaul, South Florida, St. John's

This is the dead weight. A 13th place finish would be a major victory for any of these three teams. I hate to be that harsh, but there's just no comparison between these rosters and most others in the Big East.



Projected Final Standings:

I'm not kidding when I say how hard this is. So before you flame me, homers, for having your team too low, remember that I've probably considered every legitimate argument your team has and decided that the others' have slightly more weight. Finishing tenth in this conference is not an insult...that team will be a very good one whether it's my pick or not. So before you say there's "no way" it could be your team, really consider the competition. I believe anyone but my top five could actually end up in the ten spot. OK, no more hedging, here's my order.

  1. Louisville (NCAA) They're my pick thanks to an easier schedule than the Huskies
  2. Connecticut (NCAA) They have the most talent, but a very rough road.
  3. Pittsburgh (NCAA) I pick them here largely because they get my next two teams at the Peterson Events Center, where they don't lose many games.
  4. Syracuse (NCAA) Someone will oust one of the "top four" and my pick is the Orange. I choose them because I believe they have the best combination of returning scorers and new talent from my "tier three" teams.
  5. Notre Dame (NCAA) I choose them to be bumped from the top four because I believe they are the least set up for the long haul. Their talent makes them capable of beating any team, but its concentration in two or three players makes them vulnerable.
  6. Villanova (NCAA) Experience wins my vote among some hard to separate squads.
  7. West Virginia (NCAA) The Mountaineers return more talent than most realize, and have an excellent recruiting class. They will have the best defense of several BE teams relying on forwards and no center up front.
  8. Marquette (NCAA) I hate to pick a team with this much talent this low, but teams 1-7 are that good.
  9. Providence (NCAA) They have the schedule to make something of a run, and more talent than you think.
  10. Georgetown (NIT) There. I did it. The Hoyas are reloading and I think it costs them. If they prove me wrong (higher than 8th place) I'll eat my crow.
  11. Seton Hall (NIT) I throw them up here largely because of Cincinnati's injuries, but also recognizing that here are some good pieces in place here.
  12. Cincinnati (CBI) They were going to be my surprise NCAA pick until they lost three players. Watch out for this team in 2009-2010
  13. Rutgers (none) They have enough players I like to keep them out of the bottom three.
  14. St. John's (none) Down at this level, experience is king, and they have grown together as a team and are well-coached.
  15. DePaul (none) I give them a slight edge over the Bulls.
  16. South Florida (none) I could really see a 1-17 conference record here, with a home win over DePaul.
So there it is. Teams 8 and 9, whether they are my picks or not, had better 1) excel in the ooc and 2) not flame out in the BE tournament. If that happens it will get the top 12 a chance to play in a postseason tournament. Of course, teams 9-12 had better win those opening round games, too...



The Big East in preseason tournaments

Connecticut - Paradise Jam
They get an opening round matchup with La Salle that should be an easy win. Anything short of winning this tournament would be something of a failure, but Miami, San Diego, and Wisconsin are all very dangerous. I'd most like to see the SD - UCONN matchup in the final. I'll say UCONN wins it, but it won't be easy.

Georgetown - Old Spice Classic
There' a very winnable opening round game against Wichita State, followed by a matchup with Siena or Tennessee. That second round game could be tough for the Hoyas to win. I think they face Tennessee (though Siena could surprise some folks) and lose. That would put them in the 3rd/5th place game with either Gonzaga or Michigan State, both games I think they would lose. With its 5th place finish, I think we will learn that Georgetown isn't a top 25 team just yet.

Notre Dame - Maui Invitational
OK, I have said that I think Indiana could stun Notre Dame in this opening round game for a number of reasons. Understand that that only means I give them about a 10% chance. Notre Dame should win that game. If they avoid that crazy upset, I believe they will defeat Texas and face UNC in the title game. Anything could happen there with Hansbrough out, or even with him playing 80%. This is an opportunity for the Big East to really flex a muscle early.

Pittsburgh - Legends Classic
This almost doesn't deserve mention, but it is a preseason tournament...Pittsburgh first hosts Akron and Indiana (PA) (Fairleigh Dickinson, though in the tournament, doesn't count as part of the tournament in tonight's game @ Pitt). If Pitt loses either of those...OK, let's not think about that, but even if they do they meet Texas Tech in the semifinal and then either Mississippi State or Washinton State in the final. If Pittsburgh doesn't win the thing it will be a major failure.

Providence - Anaheim Classic
This is to me one of the more intriguing preseason tournaments, as it is loaded with teams trying to sneak into the national discussion but no clear powerhouses. There will be no easy games for the Friars, but I'm going to say they knock off Baylor, Arizona State, and Wake Forest consecutively to take home the title and secure one heck of an ooc resume. I realize I'm out on a limb, but Providence is better than the attention they're getting, and I look for them to prove it in a big way.

Seton Hall - Puerto Rico Season Tip Off
The Pirates will be without transfer Robert Mitchell for this tournament, and because of that I think they lose to USC with little contest. I do think they can win the loser's bracket and capture fourth place, though, with Chattanooga and Missouri as the likely opponents.

St. John's - NIT Season Tip Off
Cornell is a better team than St. John's, so I will say the Red storm likely go home early. However, if they pull that upset, the next round against Boston College or Loyola (MD) is easier. Again, I expect one-and-done, but if they win the first they might just win two. I see very little chance of further advance than that.

Syracuse - CBE Classic
This is the same format as the Legends Classic but less of a joke. Syracuse has all but assured wins in LeMoyne and Richmond to get things going, followed by a tough smeifinal against Florida. I say that Syracuse gets it done, beating Florida and then the defending champs. I think Florida will be the tougher of the two games, but this is the Orange's Chance to say "we're here."



Roundup: So, I see four preseason tournament champions (Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Syracuse), one runner-up (Notre Dame) and two top half finishes (Georgetown, Seton Hall) for the Big East. The lone one-and-done I suspect will be St. John's. 

Note tournaments that I couldn't find brackets for include: West Virginia and DePaul in the Las Vegas Invitational, Cincinnati in the Global Sports Classic, Villanova in the Philly Classic, Marquette in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, and South Florida in the San Juan Shootout.  Of those, the most important game I'm aware of is a WV-Kentucky matchup, which I'll go ahead and pick the Mountaineers to win.


So, there you have it, my complete opinion on Big East basketball '08-'09. Thanks to everyone who took the time to bother reading all this the last few weeks; I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together. Let me know what you think, even if you think I'm an idiot, because I want to hear it! Also, check out the Second Annual year-long Big East thread for constant discussion of all relevant Big East topics. Go Big East!
Posted on: November 13, 2008 5:20 pm
 

Big East Preview 16, West Virginia Mountaineers

Like the state itself, the Mountaineers usually get no love until after the fact.  Every year it seems the coaches pick them to finish several spots below where they finish.  Every year they are better than the prognosticators say they are.  They are well-coached and there is some new talent there to replace the old.  This year, the coaches picked them ninth.  Can they best the mark set for them yet again?  See what I have to say below.
2007-2008
Results:

24-10 Overall, 11-7 Big East (6th)
Lost in Big East tournament semifinal round (Georgetown)
Eliminated in Sweet Sixteen by Xavier

Roster:

Joe Alexander              F
Jarret Brown                G
DeSean Butler             F
John Flowers               F
Jacob Green                F
Darris Nichols             G
Joe Mazzula                 G
Alex Ruoff                     G
Jamie Smalligan        C
Wellington Smith        F
Josh Sowards             F
Ted Talkington            G
Will Thomas                G
Cam Thoroughman   F
Jonnie West                G

2008-2009
Departures:

Alexander, Nichols, Smalligan, Talkington, Brown, Green

Joe Alexander got hot at the right time for himself and his team, turning himself into a lottery pick.  Everyone is talking about his departure.  What has gone somewhat under the radar is the loss of Nichols, meaning the Mountaineers lose double-figures scorers both in the paint and outside the arc.  The others are negligible.

Arrivals:

Dee Proby        C  (JUCO transfer)   Well, the Mountaineers lack a true center, so he will help in that regard, but I doubt he's an improvement over Smalligan to any great degree.  It's just that I don't see a JUCO transfer going head to head with the Harangody, Thabeet, Blair, Samuels, etc. type players in this conference.

Darryl Bryant     G
Devin Ebanks   F
Kevin Jones      F
Cam Payne       G

That's a class the vast majority of teams in the country would and should envy.  It starts with Ebanks, ranked third nationally among SF prospects, and he has the talent to be better than Alexander.  The question is how fast he reaches his potential.  As with the departures, there's another guy among the newcomers being overlooked (I believe to most folks' error).  Kevin Jones is the 11th ranked PF, and will make a solid 1-2 punch up front in the years to come (assuming Ebanks sticks around).  I'm less high on the two new guards, especially alk-on Payne.  Proby may be a contributor, but I doubt he's ready to step up just yet.  One final note:  these are Huggins's recruits, and considering what he did with mostly someone else's players last year...

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games
:     Elon, Longwood, Delaware State, Iowa, Mississippi, Cleveland State, Davidson, Duquesne, Miami (OH), Radford, Ohio State, Marshall

Davidson, OSU, and Cleveland State make this a very tough ooc lineup.  There are plenty of cake games, but if WVU wins two of those three they will have made a very strong case for themselves.

Two Time Opponents:     Pittsburgh, Louisville, South Florida

I don't think that's as bad as it looks.  They get possibly the easiest team in the Big East, and the other two are rivalries.  They should sweep South Florida, and a split with Pittsburgh, Louisville, or both is very possible.

Remaining Roadies:     Seton Hall, Marquette, Georgetown, Syracuse, Rutgers, Cincinnati

Home Games:     Connecticut, St. John's, Providence, Villanova, Notre Dame, DePaul

To make up for home and homes with two of the heavyweights, the Mountaineers play the other two at home.  That road slate is consequently more manageable than most teams get in this league.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Ebanks starts strong and only gets better, helped by DeSean Butler and Kevin Jones to make a formidable frontcourt, even without a natural center.  Ruoff stays hot all year, and gets help from increased production from Joe Mazzula due to some extra minutes for him.  The rest of the roster comes in and plays with energy, making WVU deeper than they look on paper.  They continue the trend of knocking off at least one heavily favored team in the noncon slate (they missed last year until Duke in the Sweet 16, but previously: UCLA, Texas, LSU, Maryland, Florida dating back to '01-'02) in Davidson, and they manage to take down Cleveland State and Ohio State as well.  They go 4-2 in the Big East home and homes, losing only one home game in conference.  They add 3 or 4 road wins in the remaining slate, taking them to 12-6 or 13-5 in the league.  That's probably good for fourth or fifth place and a good seed in the BE tourney, where they show well.  Suddenly, WV is a 5 seed in the NCAAs and does not disappoint, representing the conference in another Sweet Sixteen if not more.

Worst Case Scenario:
    Though talented, the freshman class takes some time to warm up to NCAA competition.  It turns out that Ruoff and Mazzula were already giving about the best they could, and so little improvement comes from there.  The role players are not good enough, so when the starters have to take a seat they lose ground to their opponents.  This results in losses in two out of the three competitive nonconference games, and possibly even another ooc loss that shouldn't happen.  They get swept by both Louisville and Pittsburgh, losing as well to both Connecticut and Notre Dame at home.  They lose one more home game, and a couple on the road they shouldn't, dropping them to the neighborhood of 11-7 in conference.  With that resume, they are left out of the dance.  Theys ee what they can do in the NIT and CBI, and prepare for a resurgence in 2009-2010.

My Take:
     Be it known that I expect few teams to match the best or worst case scenarios I have provided.  West Virginia is no exception.  I like Ruoff, Butler, and Mazula as returning players, and think that Devin Ebanks will have an immediate positive impact.  I doubt he matches Joe Alexander's production right away, but he will be a better player at some point in his career.  It is worth noting that even Alexander wasn't as productive until late in the season, so if Ebanks progresses all year he could be right there in February/March.  The rest of the recruiting class I think is better than it's getting credit for.  Jones should add depth at least up front, and Proby will at least be a body in the middle.  The things I doubt about this team are 1) real depth at guard and 2) the ability to maintain the tenacious defense they had last year with the list of departing players.  Still, they look poised to me to finish better than the coaches predict once again.  I can't put them much higher than 7th or 8th until I see for sure the product on the court, but I wouldn't be surprised if they made a move higher than that when the dust clears.  Know that I don't consider an 8th place finish in the Big East unworthy...the 8th best team is going to be a very good one.
Posted on: November 12, 2008 9:03 pm
 

Big East Preview 15, Villanova Wildcats

Villanova is one of many Big East teams garnering a lot of preseason attention.  Returning the top seven (and nine of the top ten) scorers from a Sweet Sixteen team will do that.  Of course, the critics say 'Nova benefited from a weak slate of opponents (until Kansas), a sentiment with at least a small measure of credibilty.  A lot of experienced, battle-tested talent will go a long way, though, so good things are very possible for this team.  They expect to make some noise in the conference and in the postseason.  How loud will it be?
2007-2008
Results:

20-12 Overall, 9-9 Big East (8th)
Eliminated 2nd Round of Big East tournament (Georgetown)
Lost in Sweet Sixteen to eventual champion Kansas

Roster:

Dwayne Anderson        G/F
Shane Clark                     F
Jason Colenda               G
Dante Cunningham       F
Casiem Drummond      C
Corey Fisher                   G
Malcolm Grant                G
Andrew Ott                       F
Antonio Pena                  F
Reggie Redding            G
Scottie Reynolds           G
Corey Stokes                 G
Frank Tchuisi                 F
2008-2009
Departures:

Grant, Ott

Simply put, those losses don't matter.  At all.  5.6 ppg goes to Miami (Grant) and 0.8 ppg goes to Penn State (Ott).  The result is an intact roster from a very successful team.

Arrivals:

Russell Wooten        not an arrival per se, he has been on the roster but not played for two years.  I have to assume he's a non-scholarship player who won't be a factor.

Taylor King             F  (transfer from Duke)  He's sitting out the '08-'09 campaign, so this mention is just to note he's taking a roster spot.  He could be a big part of the next team, though, that will feature a very solid freshman class, or so it appears.

Maurice Sutton     F/C

He's the freshman class by himself, which I suppose makes since with only two players leaving.  25th ranked at his Center, he adds something where the Wildcats need it most.  If he could be the presence up front Drummond never was, it will do wonders.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games
:      Albany, Fordham, Niagra, Monmouth, Towson, Pennsylvania, Houston Baptist, Texas, Saint Joseph's, La Salle, Navy, Temple

We probably won't know a lot about Villanova after this slate, unless they beat Texas.  Sure, Temple and Niagra are dangerous teams, but the Wildcats should win those games.  If they lose to Texas, well Texas is a top ten team.  There isn't a lot of room to build a great resume on that schedule, so they'll have to do better than 9-9 in the Big East to be a tournament lock.

Two Time Opponents:     Marquette, Providence, Syracuse

None of the heavyweights, but none of the cake walk teams either.  4-2, or even 5-1, is achievable in these games.

Remaining Roadies:     Seton Hall, Connecticut, South Florida, West Virginia, DePaul, Notre Dame

Home Games:      Louisville, St. John's, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Georgetown

This is in my opinion a very favorable Big East schedule overall.  They avoid home and homes with any of the big four...and split the four games two home, two away.  They have enough easy teams on the road (Seton Hall, USF, DePaul) that a good home record will assure them an over .500 and top half finish in the conference.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Victoria Zdrok attends all the home games, and travels with the team, inspiring a competitive spirit.  The Coreys (Fisher and Stokes) help out by contributing about 10 ppg apiece alongside Reynolds.  Cunningham and Clark hold down the frontcourt, and the rotation of Drummond and newcome Sutton at center give Villanova the presence in the paint, offensively and defensively, that they lacked last year. That cumulative effect gets them the upset over Texas and a perfect ooc mark.  They win 5 in the home and home series, adding three or four more road wins.  At home, they win 4 or 5 more, for a record in the range of 12-6 to 14-4, with the high end enough to finish in the top 4 and get a double bye into the Big East tournament.  A good showing there gets them Regionally protected in the NCAA tournament, and an Elite Eight is in sight.

Worst Case Scenario:
     Zdrok instead goes to all the Georgetown games, having contracted late-developing Hoya lust.  There isn't quite enough improvement from the guards behind Reynolds to ramp up the scoring.  Drummond and Sutton struggle to compete inside, and consequently the Wildcats  have trouble against teams with solid frontcourts.  They get stunned by Niagra and Temple, also losing the big game to Texas.  They do manage to beat a few very good teams in the Big East, but wind up finishing ninth or tenth and missing the big dance.  They do well in the little dance, though, for some minor redemption.

My Take:
    Poorly placed Victoria Zdrok jokes aside...I mentioned above that nine of the top ten scorers return, including the top seven.  However, only the top three of those really produced a lot of points.  Clark, Pena, Anderson, and Stokes will have to cumulatively pick up ten points or so for Villanova to take the next step (I think they can do so, but it is an open question for now).  They, like many teams in the conference, have the talent for an NCAA tournament and will be a tough out if they get there.  Defense is what I believe will make or break 'Nova.  If Drummond and Sutton can be effective under their own basket, and Clark and Cunningham pick it up a little as well, they could be a force.  If not, they could be in for some long evenings against the stronger inside teams in the league.  That's a large part of the reason I see a huge range of possibilities for Villanova.  I won't be surprised if they sneak into the top four of the Big East, especially with their relatively favorable schedule, but I also won't be surprised if they finish ninth.  Until some games are played, the middle of this league is very hard to separate, so don't take that as an insult to the team.  The ninth place team in the Big East will be a pretty good squad.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 11, 2008 6:37 pm
 

Big East Preview 14, Syracuse Orange

Here's one of the more interesting cases in the Big East.  After two consecutive almost-but-not-quite years when many felt they were snubbed by the selection committee, the Orange return two players from injury but lose one star.  Will it be enough to get them into the NCAAs, and maybe the top 25, this time?  They'll have to overcome a pretty tough schedule to do so, including a bizarre CBE Classic tournament that features a championship round that apparently doesn't change even if the top-seeded teams lose.  Anyone have a better idea how that works?  Regardless, here it is.
2007-2008
Results:

19-13 Overall, 9-9 Big East (9th)
Lost 1st round Big East tournament (Villanova)
Eliminated 3rd round of NIT (Massachusetts)

Roster:

Ryan Cahak             G
Eric Devendorf         G
Jonny Flynn              G
Donte Greene          F
Paul Harris               F
Rick Jackson           F
Scoop Jardine         G
Arinze Onuaku         F
Kristof Ongenaet     F
Jake Presutti            G
Andy Rautins           G
Justin Thomas        G
Mike Williams         G/F
Sean Williams         C
Josh Wright              G

2008-2009
Departures:

Greene, M. Wiliams, Wright

Well, Greene was a real talent, but Devendorf's numbers were about the same when he was healthy.  If Devendorf didn't lose anything for good, they might not feel the loss of Greene all that much.  The other two were only minor pieces of the puzzle, and make room for the new guys below.

Arrivals:

Wesley Johnson 
          F  (transfer from Iowa State) I believe he has to sit out the 08-09 season, but he gets a mention just in case.  He averaged 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds at his old school.

Kevin Drew                    G
Brandon Reese            G
Mookie Jones                F
Kris Joseph                   F
James Sutherland       F

OK, there's a lot to talk about here, so I'll get to it.  First, Drew is a walk-on from the Lacrosse team and Reese is a "preferred walk-on" himself.  With all the other guards on the roster, I doubt they'll make much difference.  Next, I'm not sure that James Sutherland is joining the team this year...I found conflicting reports.  Kris Joseph and Mookie Jones, however, are for sure, and they're the 11th and 12th ranked high school SF, and 4-star recruits.  I know many people like to reserve judgment on freshmen, but when you bring in two guys rated that high for the same position (and maybe a third ranked 25 at SF in Sutherland) you have to think at least one of them will have an immediate positive impact.  Finally, it is fair to include Rautins as an "arrival" because he didn't play all last season.  He and the two scholarship freshman will make Syracuse a very deep team.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:     Le Moyne, Richmond (regionals of CBE Classic), Oakland, Florida (semifinal of CBE Classic; Syracuse will then play either Washington or Kansas), Virginia, Colgate, Cornell, Long Beach State, Cleveland State, Canisius, Memphis, Coppin State

That's quite the schedule.  Florida and Memphis will be tough, as will whichever of Washington and Kansas they play.  Cornell and Cleveland State are likely tournament teams, and should not be taken lightly.  This is a slate that's either an opportunity for Syracuse to make a strong early case or a chance to lose credibility fast.

Two Time Opponents
:  Rutgers, Villanova, Georgetown

That's a more forgiving set than most teams got, but is still not a picnic.  One of the Nova games is at a neutral site.

Remaining Roadies
:     South Florida, Pittsburgh, Providence, Connecticut, St. John's, Marquette

Home Games
:      Seton Hall, DePaul, Notre Dame, Louisville, West Virginia, Cincinnati

That's a pretty even home/road split.  It's getting harder to say something unique about everyone's Big East schedule.  The Orange, like everyone else, will have to win some tough games to stay alive in conference.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Harris and Onuaku add defense to their list of skills.  Devendorf is more mature after the injury, and that helps make his game very good.  Flynn runs the floor with the best of the nation's PGs.  The rest of the returning players (Jardine, Ongenaet, and company) are lifted by the good play of the starters.  Joseph and Jones make the team very, very deep up front with excellent play, while Rautins and a rotation of four or five other guards spell Flynn and Devendorf effectively.  All of this leads to first undefeated ooc play, including wins over Florida, Memphis, and the defending champs, second to an above .500 Big East mark - perhaps even good enough to sneak into the top 4 - and third, a deep run in the BE tournament.  The resume from there is good enough for a 4 or 5 seed and Sweet Sixteen or better.

Worst Case Scenario:
    The highly anticipated return of Devendorf goes sour when it is noted that his play has been hampered by the injury, and that his maturity never set in.  Rautins is unable to elevate his game from what it was in '06-'07.  The freshmen and returning backups are competive but not stellar.  The defensive concerns from last year return.  This causes them to lose to both Florida and Memphis, as well as either Cornell or Cleveland State.  A win over Washington is little consolation, because already the resume is looking familiar.  they again hover around .500 in the Big East, and lose some games they shouldn't, finishing again in that 8th or 9th place range.  They don't do enough in the BE tournament, and once again are left on the outside and have to get up for some NIT games.  Maybe they win it, or maybe they fold right away.

My Take:
     I believe that this is an NCAA tournament team; I even have them in my preseason top 25.  There are some questions, though.  They have four players we know will be very good in Devendorf, Flynn, Harris, and Onuaku.  The kind of play expected from those four alone SHOULD be enough to get them to the NCAA tournament.  What will determine if they are a top 25 team with a pretty high seed is the play of everyone else.  They don't have a true Center, so the defense inside the paint might still be weak.  They have two freshmen in Jones and Joseph who should help address that issue.  Rautins and Scoop Jardine will need to supplement the guard play of Devendorf and Flynn, as well, if they want to be an elite team.  What we know is that the Orange have a very good starting frontcourt and backcourt, and what I suspect is that the players mentioned above will make them very deep in both cases, as well.  I don't believe Syracuse will be capable of excellent defense, but they are capable of competent defense - an improvement over last year.  While I could see their tough schedule biting them, I think they are more complete than they have been the last few years, so if they miss the tournament they will have underachieved.
Category: NCAAB
 
 
 
 
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