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Category:NCAAB
Posted on: November 10, 2008 11:17 pm
 

Big East Preview 13, St. John's Red Storm

Here is a program with a history of excellence that hasn't been performing of late.  They have a good coach in a tough position, and it's a long shot that this season will be much more successful than last.  Are there reasons for hope in Jamaica, NY?  I think so, but I think the Johnnies will have to hang in there through another rough ride.  They get a chance at tournament play in the NIT Season Tip Off, and have plenty of opportunities against ranked teams on the schedule.  Even if they have the rough season that's expected, they could spoil the party for someone, or perhaps multiple someones.
2007-2008
Results:

11-19 Overall, 5-13 Big East (14th)
No postseason play

Roster:

Otoja Abit                    
Liam Biesty              
Malik Boothe             G
Justin Burrell             F
Mike Cavataio          
Dele Coker               F/C
Matt Duell                   G
Sean Evans                F
Paris Horne             G/F
Tomas Jasiulionis   C
DJ Kennedy             G/F
Eugene Lawrence   
Anthony Mason, Jr.   F
Rob Thomas             F
Larry Wright               G
2008-2009
Departures:

Abit, Biesty, Cavataio, Lawrence, Wright

No major losses here.  Larry Wright's transfer to Oakland puzzles me.  Does he think he has a shot at an NCAA tournament there?  I understand it's close to home for him.  He's probably the biggest loss from the list above; he averaged 9.1 points in under 20 minutes and so was one of the few capable of averaging double figures.

Arrivals:

Terrell Lewis                    G  (Redshirt)  Not an arrival as such, but since he didn't play last year I thought I'd mention him here.  Could he emerge as a leader in the backcourt?

Quincy Roberts                G
Tyshawn Edmondson    G
Phil Wait                            C

All of these guys were rated 2 stars at Scout.com, so I doubt the ability fo any of them to really change things.  Still, bringing in three new guards (two true freshmen and a redshirt) to a backcourt that didn't have much going for it is a positive development.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games
:     Long Island, Cornell (NIT Season Tip Off, other possible opponents include: Purdue, Oklahoma, Arizona, Boston College, Davidson, UAB, Georgia, James Madison, Loyola (MD), Loyola (Chi), Florida Atlantic, Eastern Michigan, Mississippi Valley), Howard, St. Francis (NY), NJIT, Bethune-Cookman, Marist, Miami (FL), Duke

There are plenty of winnable games on that schedule, but Duke and Miami are almost certain losses.  Cornell is probably the better team, but if St. John's manages a win there they'll have a manageable matchup with Boston College or Loyola (MD), possibly putting them in the NIT final four.

Two Time Opponents
:     Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Seton Hall

All of those teams are probably better than the Red Storm (though Seton Hall is certainly debatable) but this is a more than fair slate.

Remaining Roadies
:     Providence, Pittsburgh, Villanova, West Virginia, Marquette, DePaul

Except for DePaul, those are all places I have to think it will be very tough for this team to go play.  I envision at best one or two road wins in conference.

Home Games:     Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida, Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown

Factoring in the visits of Cincy and SHU, I'd say St. John's has four good shots to win at home.  They could also upset a team or two there, which I don't see them doing on the road.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
      They win two rounds in the preseason NIT, and don't get blown out of the arena by Purdue in the third round game.  Lewis steps up as a leader from the outside, supplementing a competent frontcourt duo of Mason and Burrell.  Last year's youngsters (most of the team) improve their game significantly, and they knock off a couple of top 25 squads over the course of the season.  They win 4 or 5 conference games and add another in the BE tournament.  Even the best this team could be is not an invitee to the NCAA, NIT, or CBI tournaments though.

Worst Case Scenario
:
     Cornell makes the tipoff a forgettable experience.  Lewis is unable to be a real scoring threat, and what the Johnnies saw (last year) is what they get (this year) from the kids that came in together.  The new freshmen are lost in the tough league.  They only manage 3 noncon wins, and even fewer in conference.

My Take:
     This is not a good team.  There are some things to like in the frontcourt (Mason, Jr. and Burrell) and some potential in the form of seasoning on last year's notoriously young roster.  Only four guys coming back from last year averaged more than 5 points, though, so it will take collective improvement rather than one guy really coming on to make any kind of difference.  The kids'll be better, but will they be better enough?  I have serious doubts.  The incoming talent is of limited help, as well.  I want to like this team, but the closer I look the less reason I see for immediate optimism.  I think improving on last year's 14th place finish is a long shot.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 8, 2008 5:29 pm
 

Big East Preview 12, South Florida Bulls

This may have been the most difficult of these previews to pull together (though Seton Hall was tough too).  I started without a ton of knowledge about this team, and all sorts of changes happened to the roster.  Some of the new freshmen were listed at some sources and not others, so I had to go figure out what the deal was.  A couple of rosters I checked had conflicting information on the two transfers.  A bunch of underclassmen were apparently cut from the team.  So bear with me while I try to break this one down.  Some of my statements may seem brutal.  they aren't meant that way, but South Florida is in a tough spot.
2007-2008
Results:

12-19 Overall, 3-15 Big East (15th)
No postseason

Roster:

Mobolaji Ajayi              F
Solomon Bozeman    G
Orane Chin                  F
Dante Curry                 G
Mohamed Esseghir   F
Kentrell Gransberry    C
Chris Howard              G
Dominique Jones       G
Eddie Lovett                
Amur Saaka                  F
Jeses Vedejo               G
Aris Williams                F

2008-2009
Departures:

Esseghir, Gransberry, Lovett, Bozeman, Chin, Curry, Saaka

Gransberry alone is a big loss.  He was their most consistent player, averaging a double-double last year against very solid competition.  The sheer number of players leaving is also alarming, as only 5 of last year's Bulls return.  To give you an idea what that does to their frontcourt, the best numbers for a returning forward or center is Ajayi's 2.7 points and 3.8 boards a game.  That's going to put a lot of pressure on the new guys.

Arrivals:

Augustus Gilchrist      F/C  (transfer from Maryland) Gilchrist is the only player on this roster I've had the privilege to see play live, and he does have loads of talent.  He was dominant at times last season, but also inexplicably a non-factor in some games.  He will have to improve his consistency if USF wants to have any kind of inside presence compared to the rest of the league.  He will be eligible to play as of December 14th, and there 2 or 3 tough games for the Bulls before then.

Mike Mercer
                 G   (transfer from Georgia)  He averaged 136 and 4.4 his last season on the court, and he's done his time.  He should be a big help to Jones in the backcourt...a place where the Bulls have more strength than a lot of people probably realize, but still probably not enough to win a lot of Big East games.

Gaby Belardo               G
BJ Daniels                    G
Mitch Emory                  F
Eladio Espinosa          F
Justin Leemow            G
Alex Rivas Sanchez     C
Gene Teague              F/C

This is something of a patchwork roster, featuring the five returning players and two transfers outlined above and seven freshmen.  The freshmen class is two three star recruits (Espinosa and Sanchez), two two star recruits (Belardo and Teague), a high school quarterback (Daniels), a high school walk-on (Emory) and the 110th ranked junior recruit...in New York City (Leemow).  That isn't to say it is empty of gifted athletes, but there isn't anyone who seems to have the potential to step into Big East competition and be dominant as a freshman.

As an aside here, I want to say that I think the USF coaching staff did a great job.  The program is in a tough position because it doesn't have a history of success and is 1) in the Big East and 2) is in Florida.  So they have to compete with not only Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia etc but with Florida, Tennessee and the rest of the SEC...not to mention some schools from less dominant conferences where kids might have a better chance to get to an NCAA tournament by making a run in the conference tourney.  So grabbing players where you can is what they have to do...as well as attacking the problem with numbers to try to find those diamonds in the rough.  Just getting nine new players of any caliber at once is impressive for this school.

The Schedule

Nonconference Games
:  Southern Methodist, Virginia, High Point, Northeastern, UAB, Central Florida, Niagra, Vanderbilt, Murray State, Wright State, Oral Roberts, Iona

I don't like the way this slate shook out for them.  They have three games (at least) where they should be outmatched (UVA, UAB, and Vanderbilt) and none of them is really a statement win if they score the upset.  Two of those three are before Gilchrist is eligible.  The rest of the slate is filled with mediocre but not cupcake teams.  Yuck.

Two Time Opponents:  DePaul, Louisville, West Virginia

Only DePaul looks like a team USF should be able to play with.  It is a fair draw, though, as it is something of a Big East cross-section.

Remaining Roadies:  Pittsburgh, St. John's, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Seton Hall, Rutgers

As if it weren't enough of an uphill battle, the Bulls must visit the courts of all 4 preseason top ten teams in the conference.

Home Games:  Syracuse, Villanova, Marquette, Providence, Georgetown, Cincinnati

So the Bulls wound up getting the best (so they'll be dominated) and worst (so the bad teams have a better shot to beat them) conference teams on the road, while the very solid middle of the conference visits Tampa.  The schedule makers were not kind here.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
    Somehow the Bulls get to December 14th with just one loss, behind guard play good enough to make up for the lack of experience up front.  When Gilchrist returns, they close out he ooc on a winning streak, though I doubt they can beat Vanderbilt even with the full team.  As the season progresses, the freshmen up front improve and combine with Gilchrist to be more effective than expected in the paint.  That's enough to open things up, and the guards really start scoring.  Someone from that enormous freshman class comes through in a big way, and the Bulls avoid the basement in the Big East.  The absolute best I would expect from this team is a 12th or 13th place finish and no postseason.  A moral victory would be if the Bulls can win one game in the Big East tournament.

Worst Case Scenario:
   OK, this is the worst worst case scenario I've done so far.  Gilchrist retains his inconsistencies, and Mercer is rusty after a year off the court.  Only Jones is a big-time scorer.  The frontcourt is bad at times, completely absent at others.  Out of seven freshmen, none averages double figures.  They lose four before Gilchrist gets in there, and even his insertion in the lineup isn't much.  They go down 3 more times in the noncon, for a 5-7 ooc mark.  That nasty Big East schedule gets them, and they only manage to win two conference games and finish in last place.  The 12th place team smokes them in the Big East tourney's opening round, and they limp out of the season 7-24.

My Take:
    Don't be fooled by the large recruiting class; as I mentioned above it's good work but those freshmen aren't as good as a whole lot of others in the conference.  Maybe someone will shine, but it will take time.  Also, though, don't be fooled by the long list of leaving players.  They lose seven guys, but apart from Gransberry they were awful.  Gilchrist and Mercer are nice additions, and Jones is a very good guard.  I just don't believe that Gilchrist and a couple of reasonably talented freshmen are enough to make a frontcourt worthy of the Big East.   I have no idea if the huge turnover of players will result in a better or worse team, but the roster they ended up with doesn't stack up in the Big East.  They very well could finish last, because they are inexperienced and because they got a stinker of a schedule.  I don't think it's clear that they are the worst team in the conference, though, because a couple of others are in bad shape as well.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 6, 2008 12:42 pm
 

Big East Preview 11, Seton Hall Pirates

I believe Seton Hall was a better team than they appeared last year.  They have a bit of talent.  It may be difficult for them to be anything more than "better than they appear" once again in 2008-2009.  They are typically an afterthought in the Big East conversation, perhaps especially this year.  Will they be able to make people regret that with some surprises?  Will they fade to the bottom of the pack, instead?  My thoughts may surprise you.
2007-2008
Results:

17-15 Overall, 7-11 Big East (11th)
Eliminated first round Big East tournament (Marquette)

Roster:

Larry Davis                G
Mike Davis                F/C
John Garcia              F/C
Paul Gause               G
Eugene Harvey         G
Jeremy Hazell           G
Brian Laing               G/F
Jamar Nutter              F
Augustine Okosun    G
Brandon Walters       F


2008-2009
Departures:

Larry Davis, Laing

Brian Laing is a huge loss for this team.  His 18.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game had him in the conversation for BE player of the year.  Can anyone replace his production?  Davis is a different matter.  He played a lot of minutes, but they weren't terribly productive ones.

Arrivals:

Melvin Oliver            C
Jordan Theodore   G

That's the freshman class, and it isn't an impressive one.  It is not a good sign that the freshmen don't compare to most other Big East classes when the returning players finished 11th last season.

Robert Mitchell     F (transfer from Duquesne)  Here is the solid addition to this year's team.  He sat out 07-08 as a transfer, but his numbers at Duquesne were very good.  He could add a lot of what was lost with Laing's graduation.  The Big East should watch out for him.

Herb Pope             F (transfer from New Mexico State)
Keon Lawrence    G (transfer from Missouri)

This is a pair of talented but troubled players.  I believe both will have to sit out 2008-2009, but if anyone has information to the contrary please let me know.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games
:   St. Francis (NY), Columbia, USC (Peurto Rico Tipoff, other possible oponents include: Chatanooga, Memphis, Fairfield, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Xavier), Delaware, Monmouth, California Baptist, St. Peter's, IUPUI, James Madison, Fairleigh Dickinson

They shouldn't lose any games other than the Peurto Rico Tipoff, which features 3, maybe 4 teams better than them.  If they can make a strong showing in that tournament, it might make a difference come season's end.

Two Time Opponents
:  Connecticut, St. John's, Rutgers

Four of those six games are very winnable, and the Pirates likely want revenge for last year's loss to Rutgers.

Remaining Roadies:  Syracuse, Notre Dame, DePaul, Marquette, Louisville, Cincinnati

Seton Hall had better perform well at home, because in this third of the BE schedule I see only one game they should win.

Home Games: West Virginia, Villanova, Providence, Georgetown, South Florida, Pittsburgh

Not an easy slate by any means.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
      The five leading scorers, after Laing, that return all add a few points to their averages by virtue of some extra minutes.  Robert Mitchell steps in to Big East play the way he left A-10 play, and contributes 15 or more per game.  While they struggle on the boards, they distribute the ball well enough to win all the ooc games they should.  They stun USC in the Puerto Rico tip off, and finish third there behind Memphis and Xavier.  They take four BE games against St. John's and Rutgers, two more on the road, and two more at home.  That 8-8 record is enough for a top half finish, and an NCAA invite.

Worst Case Scenario
:
     Mitchell can't quite translate his game to the Big East.  No real leader emerges, and while the returning players improve it just isn't enough.  They get nailed in the tipoff tournament, and lose a couple early games that they really shouldn't.  The Big East is too much for them, and they only manage to split against the easier repeat opponents, and add one home and one road win. The resultant low seed in the Big East tournament means another loss and an end to their season.

My Take:
     A lot of people will probably write this team off completely with the loss of Brian Laing.  That will be felt, but I'm not ready to dismiss them as irrelevant just yet.  Honestly, with the transfer of Mitchell, I think this team will have about the same amount of talent as last season.  He isn't Laing, but the combination of his insertion into the lineup and the improvement of the many returning players should just about equal the production lost from Laing.  They underperformed last year, so if they play to their potential this year they could play in the postseason.  They aren't quite NCAA worthy, but they will likely battle it out with Cincinnati and Rutgers for 11th place...and could even sneak into 10th if anyone "above" them has a disappointing year.  If they do so, and beat a bottom feeder in the first round of the BE tourney, they could garner an NIT invite.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 5, 2008 2:00 pm
 

Big East Preview 10, Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Certainly it will be a stiff battle for Rutgers in conference, perhaps less so with (aside from UNC) a reasonably easy set of ooc games.  There isn't anything to say to change the fact that they are in a difficult position.  Still, with last year's last place finish, there is room only for improvement, and there are some bright spots.  I'm unsure if they are bright enough to say great things for the program, but I think a lot of the future will turn on this season.  How big a step are they poised to take?
2007-2008
Results:

11-20 Overall, 3-15 Big East (16th)
No postseason

Roster:

Thomas Askew
Corey Chandler        G
Mike Coburn              G
Anthony Farmer        G
Kofi Genfi                   F
Jaron Griffin             G/F
JR Inman                   F
Byron Joynes
Courtney Nelson
Hamady N'diaye       C
Earl Pettis                 G/F
Charlie Rigoglioso  
Justin Sofman          G/F


2008-2009
Departures:

Askew, Joynes, Nelson, Sofman

In terms of points and rebounds they really aren't losing much.  There is nowhere to go but up, and returning most of their players, includin Inman, Chandler, and Farmer will go a long way toward realizing a few more wins.

Arrivals:

Austin Johnson        F
Greg Echenique      C
Patrick Jackson       F
Christian Morris      C
Mike Rosario           G
Tomasz Kokosiski  F
Mike Kuhn                G

This class is certainly deep (in fact, the math doesn't seem to add up.  I'm assuming someone's a walk-on).  Echenique is the prize, but Rosario should help out the backcourt right away.  It looks like the Knights might have something of an inside presence, which along with the sheer number of recruits and added experience of the returning players should make a difference.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Marist, Delaware, Robert Morris, Saint Bonaventure, Lehigh, St. Peter's, Rider, Binghamton, Princeton, Delaware State, Bryant, NJIT, North Carolina

Well, North Carolina looks like the only unwinnable game there.  I expect Rutgers to lose one or two more as well, because they aren't so good that they'll storm through, but there is room to maybe match last year's 11 wins before conference play even starts.  I had thought Rutgers was supposed to play in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament...does anyone know what happened there? 

Two Time Opponents:  Providence, Syracuse, Seton Hall

Two of those opponents are better teams than Rutgers (and the third is debatable) but none of them are real powerhouses (although Syracuse is probably top 25 material).

Remaining Roadies:  Connecticut, Cincinnati, St. John's, Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame

Home Games:  Pittsburgh, Marquette, Louisville, DePaul, West Virginia, South Florida

Even though the conference overall is better, Rutgers wasn't nailed with an awful schedule through it.  The bottom of the league is worse around them, so they should improve on last year's three wins.  How much is an open question.

The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
         The returning players step up their game a bit, having learned together and grown together.  Echenique gives them enough in the paint to beat the lesser BE team and even hang with a couple of the heavyweights.  Rosario gives them enough backcourt help to really ramp up the scoring.  The rest of the recruiting class finds its role, providing an influx of talent and depth.  Rutgers screams through the ooc schedule, losing only to North Carolina and improving on last season's 11 wins already.  The improvements lead to 6 or 8 Big East wins, and a surprise finish in the top 10, upsetting Cincinnati, Providence, or both.  This finish puts them in a position to pick up a win in the BE tournament, and that win lets them hit 20 and get to the NIT.

Worst Case Scenario:
    While the three returning players who averaged double figures continue to produce, the large freshman class isn't really ready to go when the season opens.  While they find their way, the Scarlet Knights lose 5 or 6 nonconference games, putting them in a difficult position.  They begin a tough opening to Big East play by losing their first six games there, and are only able to pick up 4 or 5 conference wins.  Still, they shouldn't finish in last place even with their worst effort.

My Take:
      The players who are leaving were, well...terrible.  All of the decent players return, and the new recruiting class consists of seven players, two of them 4-star recruits.  THIS Rutgers team is clearly better than THAT Rutgers team.  Some of the bottom teams in the league are worse than last year's version, as well.  So, the Scarlet Knights WILL win more games than last year, and almost certainly won't finish in last place.  Still, a bunch of decent freshmen doesn't stack up to the competition.  There isn't much room for Rutgers to move up the standings.  I believe an 11th-13th place finish is the most likely, with Cincy's roster losses changing from the 12th-14th place projection I would have made.  It is still a little bleak for Rutgers fans, but this year will be a step in the right direction, and if they snag Dominic Cheek for the '09 class they could be pretty decent the following season.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: November 2, 2008 2:15 pm
 

Big East Preview 9, Providence Friars

Providence is drawing a lot of attention as this year's dark horse team, with the return of Sharaud Curry.  Now that Cincinnati has taken some hits to its roster, Provy is really the only candidate for that role, because nine other teams are being projected into the NCAA field and the rest of the pack is simply not that talented.  Their MO is great guard play without much up front, and it appears that will continue into 2008-2009.  They are the kind of team that can get on fire in terms of scoring against almost any defense, and thus are very dangerous.  They have a great chance to make an argument for the Big East in the Anaheim Classic.  Saint Mary's, Wake Forest, Baylor, and Arizona State are all receiving votes in preseason polls but none is so strong that Providence couldn't upset them.  A strong showing, or even a victory, in this tournament by the Big East's supposed tenth strongest team would plant and early and strong image.
2007-2008
Results:

15-16 Overall, 6-12 Big East (12th)
Lost 1st round Big East tournament (West Virginia)
No postseason tournament

Roster:

Chris Baudinet         F
Marston Brooks      G/F
Charles Burch          F
Luke Burchett           G
Sharaud Curry          G
Weyinmi Efejuku      G
Ray Hall                     C
Randall Hanke        F/C
Jonathan Kale           F
Alex Kellogg               F
Geoff McDermott      F/G
Brian McKenzie         G
Jamine Peterson      F
Dwain Williams        G
Jeff Xavier                  G
2008-2009
Departures:

Burch, Williams

Burch was a non-factor up front last season, but Williams contributed 11 points per game.  Those points should be easily replaced by a healthy Sharaud Curry, and his impact could be yet greater.

Arrivals:

Trey Anderson     G
Bilal Dixon            F

I actually have only seen Anderson mentioned at one source; can any PC fans confirm?  As for Dixon, I don't think he is enough to fix the problems up front...but he could make a difference between having no inside presence and having a small one.  Will he be both ready to contribute and able to stand up to some of the big-time players in the conference?

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Northeastern, Dartmouth, Sacred Heart, Maine, Baylor (Anaheim Classic, other possible opponents include: St. Mary's, UTEP, Wake Forest, Cal State-Fullerton, Arizona State, Charlotte), Brown, Rhode Island, Jackson State, Boston College, Bryant

Providence has an excellent opportunity, or a tough challenge, depending upon point of view.  The Anaheim Classic could tell us a lot about whether they are ready to make a move.  Only BC really looks like a challenge outside of the tournament, though.

Two-Time Opponents
:  Cincinnati, Villanova, Rutgers

This is a very good slate for a team trying to move up the conference standings.  They get an injured Cincy squad, a weak Rutgers team, and Villanova is a similar team.  Not bad at all.

Remaining Roadies
:  Georgetown, Seton Hall, Connecticut, West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville

Home Games:  St. John's, DePaul, Marquette, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

It is also key to the Friars' hopes that they avoid dangerous trips to Pitt and ND.  They do travel to Louisville and UCONN, but they won at Connecticut last year.  All in all, they have exactly the schedule they need to surprise some folks IF they can execute.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Six players (Curry, Efejuku, Hanke, McDermott, McKenzie, and Xavier) average double figures, and Kale, Kellogg, Peterson, and Bilal rotate well enough to constitute effective forward play.  They shock everyone by winning the Anaheim Classic and finishing the OOC slate undefeated.  They take a few lumps in Big East play, but finish in the top half of the league...perhaps as high as sixth.  They run with that in the Big East tournament, solidifying a good NCAA seed with a good showing there.  Once in the NCAAs, they win one or two to cap a very successful season.

Worst Case Scenario:
    Curry struggles to rediscover his form, and the weakness in the frontcourt is exploited many times.  The guard play isn't enough to get past Baylor, so they wind up in the 4th/6th place game in the Anaheim Classic.  Boston College takes them down, and they add another loss in the noncon to a weaker opponent.  Once Big East play starts, they find themselves in over their heads, and slip as far as 11th or 12th place.  They don't win enough in the BE tourney to land much credit, missing the NIT and ending in the CBI.

My Take:
     This is essentially the same team that finished 12th in the Big East last year.  Yes, the league overall is stronger...but the very bottom is weaker.  The Friars stand almost no chance of finishing worse than last season, and should be at worst the tenth place team.  They have the kind of talent to make an NCAA run, and the key difference from last year is that a healthy Sharaud Curry replaces Dwain Williams.  They have questions to answer in the frontcourt, and only Hanke has shown much, BUT they have four options to rotate and match up.  They really could make a run based on their schedule, because their repeat opponents are not overwhelming and the nonconference features a mostly easy slate with one chance to make a very big statement.  They do not belong in the same conversation as the botom feeders in the Big East, but I'm not yet convinced they should be classified with the nine teams many are projecting into the NCAA field.  Just a few games will make the difference for them between a top half finish and the NCAA tournament and a 9 or 10 finish and an NIT invite, I believe.  I think they are one of ten teams in the conference that will be among the 65 best in the nation, but at least one of those ten will be left out...my guess is the Friars will be the odd man out on Selection Sunday.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 30, 2008 7:50 pm
 

Big East Preview 8, Pittsburgh Panthers

Well, this is the one I've been waiting to do, certainly.  There are high expectations in Pittsburgh, with a great group of returning players.  Some think this might be Pitt's best chance to crack the Sweet Sixteen finally, but that's something Pitt fans have heard quite a lot the last few seasons.  I like what I see, but wild hope is mitigated in my eyes by a lot of unanswered questions.  Obviously my bias will show through here, but I have tried to be objective in applying the knowledge I have.
2007-2008
Results:

30-9 Overall, 10-8 Big East (7th)
Won Big East tournament
Eliminated second round NCAAs (Michigan State)

Roster:

Keith Benjamin      G/F
Tyrell Biggs              F
DeJuan Blair           C
Gilbert Brown         G/F
Mike Cook                F
Cassin Diggs        G/F
LeVance Fields       G
Tim Frye                   G
Gary McGhee           C
Maurice Polen        G/F
Ronald Ramon        G
Austin Wallace         C
Brad Wanamaker    G
Sam Young               F
2008-2009
Departures:

Benjamin, Cook, Ramon, Diggs, Wallace

A lot of activity here.  Cook missed most of the season, so he essentially was lost prior to this, but he appealed for a medical redshirt and was denied.  Ramon and Benjamin will be missed, but Ramon was not the shooter a lot of Pitt fans thought he was and Benjamin was really only great when Fields was out and he stepped into the vacuum.  Diggs was let go for scholarship room.  Wallace red shirted one year and was injured the next.  Pitt decided his injury ended his career.  I believe the greatest impact here may be on Pitt's defense, because I think the pieces are there to make up for the scoring.  Cook was an excellent defender, and Ramon really stepped up that part of his game, even while his shooting faded.  Benjamin was a very high energy guy.  I don't know if the new guys will be able to bring quite as much to the defense, especially outside.

Arrivals:

Ryan Tiesi    G  (transfer from Bellarmine College) I have to wonder what the reason for this move was...he doesn't appear to have contributed even at Bellarmine.
Jermain Dixon  G (JUCO transfer)  He is probably a better shooter than anyone Pitt has had in a few years.  Whether he can translate his other abilities well enough to D-I play is yet to be seen.

Dwight Miller          F
Ashton Gibbs        G
Travon Woodall    G
Nasir Robinson    F

The first three are three star recruits, and Robinson four.  It's not quite as impressive a class as some others in the conference, but it makes Pitt a reasonably deep team.  Robinson should have immediate impact, and Woodall will likely get some valuable experience early while Fields is still hurt...experience that will make Pitt's depth better when it is needed.

Jonathan Baldwin and/or Michael Shanahan?

I mention these two because they are football players rumored to have an interest in walking on to the basketball squad.  Baldwin was a 4 star recruit who had accepted a scholarship to play basketball but elected to play football instead.  Shanahan I believe was a three star recruit.  It seems Baldwin may have rejected the idea, but Shanahan has expressed interest.  Either would answer some questions of depth at SF and SG, but I can't factor them in to my expectations because I don't know the chances of their joining the team.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Fairleigh Dickenson, Miami (OH), Akron, Indiana (PA), Belmont, Texas Tech, Duquesne, Vermont, UMBC, Siena, Florida State, Robert Morris

That's a pretty weak ooc, and I believe Pitt is better than all of the above teams.  However, especially without Fields, the trip to Texas could be dangerous, as could the game against a Siena team that will be hungry for a signature win, given the preseason scuttlebutt they are garnering.

Two Time Opponents:  DePaul, Connecticut, West Virginia

That's a representative cross-section of the Big East.  Very fair.

Remaining Roadies:  Rutgers, Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall

Home Games:   St. John's, South Florida, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Marquette

The BE schedule for Pitt overall is pretty favorable.  They play one of the other heavyweights twice, visit one, and host the last.  They avoid trips to Marquette and St. John's, where they often struggle (odd that they play so well at MSG unless it's to play St. John's), and they get Notre Dame at home...which makes a lot of difference.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Fields, Young, and Blair don't miss a step, and Gilbert Brown plays to his considerable potential.  Jermaine Dixon becomes Pitt's most reliable outside shooter in some time.  Tyrell Biggs improves, and Nasir Robinson steps right in to make the frontcourt depth considerable, and even Gary McGhee puts in some quality minutes in that regard.  Wanamaker matures, and along with help from Woodall and Gibbs provides backup to the starting guards.  All of this gels to win them a BE regular season title, lose no nonconference games, and play in (win?) an eighth BE title game in nine seasons.  They finally get past the Sweet Sixteen, perhaps all the way to the Final Four.  This team does not look like a championship winner, though, so I don't think they'd cut down the nets in Detroit even with their best season.

Worst Case Scenario:
      Blair has trouble head-to-head against several of the other elite centers in the conference.  Fields isn't quite the same after getting back from the injured foot, and Woodall isn't ready to run things in reserve.  Dixon can't produce at quite the same level in D-1, and guys like Biggs, Wanamaker, and McGhee fail to step in and replace the old guard.  The Panthers get upset in as many s 3 ooc games, lose all 4 games against the other preseason conference favorites, and thus fail to improve on last year's 10-8 BE record or 7th place finish.  They do get a game or two in MSG, because of how well they play there, but fall flat in the NCAA tournament as they did last season.

My Take:
     Pitt has possibilities to win either or both BE crown(s), and to make a Final Four run.  They have too many unanswered questions, though, for me to project them to have that kind of season.  They are deserving of their preseason ranking, but will have to answer most of the following questions in the affirmative to deserve it. 1) Will Dixon's transition be fairly smooth, and can he produce in D-1?  2) Can Biggs, Wanamaker, and McGhee (or most of them) improve upon their play from last year?  Wanamaker in particular has disappointed so far, and needs to mature.  Biggs hasn't been quite as good as advertised, either.  3) Is their "depth" actually depth and not a smokescreen?  As usual, Pitt has *a lot* of "pretty good" players.  That needs to translate (it usually does) to a sum greater than the parts.  4) Does either Baldwin or Shanahan walk on to further augment the depth?  This could be the difference between "really good" and "Elite Eight or more" perhaps.  5) Will Fields be healthy?  6) Will the freshmen have a positive impact?  Anyway, hidden within those 6 questions are about a dozen factors, and I think between 8 and 10 of these will have to fall the Panthers way for them to be the top ten team predicted by many.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 29, 2008 12:38 pm
 

Big East Preview 7, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

This is another team popping into a lot of people's preseason top ten lists.  They probably deserve it, because they return 4 of 5 starters and 7 or the top 8 scorers from a team that won 14 Big East games and 25 overall.  Everybody knows about their two stars, but the burning question is whether their supporting cast will be enough to carry them deep into the NCAA tournament.  This is a team of lofty expectations in a league with same.  How things go for them will turn on the ability of everybody on the roster after Harangody and McAlarney to step up their game a little.
2007-2008
Results:

25-8 Overall, 14-4 Big East (3rd)
Eliminated in second round of Big East tournament (Marquette)
Lost NCAA second round (Washington State)

Roster:

Tim Abromaitis          F
Tim Andree                 F
Ryan Ayers                G/F
Luke Harangody        F
Zach Hillesland         F
Tory Jackson              G
Tom Kopko                 G
Rob Kurz                     G
Kyle McAlarney           G
Tyrone Nash               G
Jonathan Peoples     G
Ty Proffitt                      G
Carleton Scott             F
Luke Zeller                 F/C
2008-2009
Departures:

Kurz, Proffitt

Proffit is not a major loss; Kurz is.  I don't see on the Irish roster a single player who will be able to step up and replace Rob Kurz's 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds.  Whether they can collectively do so is an open question.

Arrivals:

Ben Hansbrough
     G    (transfer from Mississippi State)  I like his potential, but he will have to sit out the 2008-2009 campaign.
Scott Martin               G    (transfer from Purdue)   Again, good potential but it'll have to wait a year.

Well, with two spots open and both filled by transfers who haven't done their penance, I have to figure Notre Dame's depth will take a small hit.  I understand Carleton Scott didn't see any action last year, so he might help with that...but I know nothing about the kind of player he is.

The Schedule: 

Nonconference Games:  USC Upstate, Loyola Marymount, Indiana (Maui Invitational: likely second round Texas, other participants are North Carolina, Chaminade, St. Joseph's, Alabama, and Oregon), Furman, South Dakota, Ohio State, Boston University, Delaware State, Savannah State, UCLA

That is ROUGH.  The Maui invitational field is strong, and even though Indiana should be down this year I wouldn't count them out against a squad Tom Crean is intimately familiar with.  If they beat Texas they'd likely face UNC, and if they lost the third round would feature Alabama or Oregon.  On top of that, they host Ohio State and visit UCLA.  Crazy.

Two Time Opponents
:  St. John's, Louisville, Connecticut

Doubles against possibly the two best teams in the league.  Brutal.

Remaining Roadies
:  DePaul, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Providence

Now that's five games against the other heavyweights, three of them on the road.  They also travel to the Carrier Dome and the Colisseum...and they're a much better team in South Bend.

Home Games
:  Georgetown, Seton Hall, Marquette, South Florida, Rutgers, Villanova

They could win all of those, but I don't know if they can beat both the Ville and UConn at home...They probably go 7-1 or 6-2.  All in all, they might have the number one SOS in the nation when the dust clears.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
      "Everybody Else" steps up in a big way, led by Ayers and Jackson.  Hillesland and Abromaitis surprise with sizeable contributions.  All of this spells a victory in the Maui Invitational, ending the discussion about an undefeated season for UNC early.  Still, I don't expect them to fly out to the West Coast and beat UCLA, especially looking at the schedule around that game.  Somehow they do manage to maintain that BE home wining streak, knocking off both preseason favorites, and they manage to win enough on the road to win the Big East.  They take the number one spot in the conference and run with it, sweeping both titles and getting a number one seed.  With it they play into the Final Four, where anything can happen, but I don't see them winning the title, especially if it requires a second game against the Tar Heels.

Worst Case Scenario
:
      The supporting cast isn't up to the task of filling Kurz's absence, and it shows up in a big way.  They get buried in the Maui Invitational, finishing between 4th and 6th after a disappointing loss to Indiana to open it.  They get beat by Ohio State AND UCLA as well, and the tough noncon haunts them as they limp into BE play.  They start that slate 4-0, though, and still finish in the top half of the league, probably no lower than sixth.  The worst this team can be isn't really very bad because of two big-time players.  They win one or two in the Big East tournament, securing a reasonable seed, and get through to at least the second round of the NCAAs again.

My Take:
       I've said before, with this exact phrasing, that Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney are among the best inside-out duos in the nation.  It's true, and that alone will carry them pretty far.  I think the absence of Rob Kurz will be felt, though, and that the rest of the roster is filled with average to slightly above average players.  Ayers and Jackson averaged 7.8 and 8 points, respectively, last season...but they also averaged 25.2 and 32.8 minutes.  This isn't a case of more playing time = more points, because there aren't many more minutes to be had.  It is nice to say that they return seven of their top eight scorers...but five of those scored 8, 7.8, 6.1, 4.5, and 3.3 points a contest.  That isn't impressive.  I am NOT saying that this is a bad team.  I do think they will be about equivalent to last year's team, because the added experience will balance Kurz's absence somewhat.  Harangody and McAlarney mean that they can beat any team in the nation on a given night, but their heavy reliance on those two also means that they can lose on any given night.  They just aren't set up to win a regular season title in that regard.  The Big East tournament is another matter...they could certainly win that, especially if they manage to finish in the top four.  As for the NCAA tournament...they will get in, I am almost certain, and they could win it or be eliminated in the first round.  I lack real confidence in this team because if someone shuts down Harangody just once, or if McAlarney goes cold at the wrong time, they are vulnerable.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 28, 2008 7:16 pm
 

Big East Preview 6, Marquette Golden Eagles

I can't really talk about Marquette without talking about their coaching change.  They replaced an excellent coach with an unproven one.  But I am going to leave that largely out of the rest of my preview here, except where I need it to nudge me a little bit toward something, for two reasons: 1) I haven't really talked about coaches in these previews much and 2) my general approach to thoughts on new coaches is to give them the benefit of the doubt for a couple of years.  Marquette loses little from an NCAA tournament team, but its road there is a little tougher than the last.  What does this say for them?
2007-2008
Results:

25-10 Overall, 11-7 Big East (5th)
Eliminated 3rd round Big East tournament by Pittsburgh
Lost NCAA second round to Stanford

Roster:

Maurice Acker                    G
Ousmane Barro                 F
Lawrence Blackledge       F
Tommy Brice                      G
Dwight Burke                      F
Scott Christopherson       G
David Cubillan                   G
Dan Fitzgerald                    F
Robert Frozena                  G
Lazar Hayward                   F
Patrick Hazel                      F
Dominic James                G
Wesley Matthews             G
Trevor Mbakwe                  F
Jerel McNeal                     G
2008-2009
Departures:

Barro, Blackledge, Brice, Fitzgerald, Christopherson

No one here was a major part of Marquette's scoring.  In fact, it's a total of 12.6 points on 46.4 minutes, meaning that the average departing player scored 2.52 points and played 9.28 minutes.  Clearly, then, this roster still has NCAA tournament talent.

Arrivals:

Jimmy Butler      G    (JUCO Transfer)
Joseph Fulce     F     (JUCO Transfer)  These two guys played ball together in Tyler Texas, which helps.  Can they make a major difference?  I'm not sure.  I don't think they quite replace Nick Williams and Tyshawn Taylor, gone with Crean's departure.

Liam McMorrow  C   (redshirt)   He might be the best new piece, because Marquette lacked a true center last year.  I don't think he can hang with the big boys of the Big East, though.

Chris Otule          C

      The only true freshman coming in is another option at Center, but unimpressive and in my opinion less likely to succeed against Harangody, Thabeet, Blair, Samuels and company than McMorrow.  I don't believe this cast of newcomers stacks up with those from many other Big East schools, though Marquette returns all of last year's top-flight talent.  This is the area where Crean's depature WILL hurt, other areas I leave to be determined by the season.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Houston Baptist, Chicago State, Milwaukee, Texas Southern, Northern Iowa, Dayton, Central Michigan, Wisconsin, IPFW, Tennessee, Western Carolina, NC State, Presbyterian

That's a long - and not easy - ooc slate.  There are four very dangerous games there.  If they win through it will turn a lot of heads in their direction, but winning them all will be tough.

Two Time Opponents:   Villanova, DePaul, Georgetown

I don't want to call that easy, because 'Nova and G'Town are good teams, but by comparison...

Remaining Roadies:  Rutgers, Providence, Notre Dame, South Florida, Louisville, Pittsburgh

Home Games:   Cincinnati, West Virginia, St. John's, Seton Hall, Connecticut, Syracuse

Don't be surprised if the Golden Eagles are poised in the conversation for a BE title early but fade late.  They visit Louisville and Pittsburgh and host Connecticut, all late in the season, after a relatively soft opening to conference play and a forgiving set of repeat opponents.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     The impressive returning core of McNeal, James, Hayward, and Matthews all average between 13 and 15 points.  One of the new boys manages to keep the inside game afloat at Center, opening things up for the three stars and other roleplayers at guard.  They lose only one game in the tough nonconference slate, and get on a roll by winnning something like 11 or 12 of their first 13 Big East games.  Their last 5 games bring them somewhat back down to earth, but they finish in the top four for one of those automatic quarterfinal byes.  They play their way into the Big East title game, earning themselves a 3 seed if they lose, a 4 if they win.  A Sweet Sixteen, or Elite Eight finish with the right draw, is not entirely out of their reach.

Worst Case Scenario
:
    They show that they are still a little soft up front, and the guard play just isn't enough to elevate them very high in the Big East standings.  On top of that, they don't win any statement games out of conference...either because they lose to Dayton, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and NC State or because whomever they beat from that group has a disappointing season.  Despite a fairly strong start to BE play, they finish ninth in the conference and win only one game in the tournament.  There are too many other teams with similar profiles on the bubble, so they are bounced to the NIT.  They play deep into that tournament, and possibly win it.

My Take
:
    You have to like what they bring back, if not what they're bringing in fresh.  The four guys they return who averaged double figures last year are a solid core for any team, but they lack frontcourt depth in a conference full of teams that like to come at you in the paint.  Lazar Hayward can't be their whole game up front.  They will get excellent production from their guards once again, but will probably struggle to contain a lot of big time inside scorers.  I also doubt their ability to get enough second chance points.  Even with all of those concerns, they have too much returning talent to finish worse than ninth in the league, but I don't see them as likely to finish higher than sixth.  They aren't a worse team than last year's NCAA tournament squad, but neither are they appreciably better...and many Big East teams are.  I will be very interested to see how they handle the conference in Williams's second year as head coach when a lot of talent exits the league.  Don't get me wrong, there's talent here and they should make the NCAAs, but I don't really consider them among this year's elite in the conference.
Category: NCAAB
 
 
 
 
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