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
Posted on: October 27, 2008 8:37 pm
 

Big East Preview 5, Louisville Cardinals

Another of the preseason favorites in the Big East.  I think they're my pick to win the conference regular season (which doesn't necessarily imply that I think they are its best team).  There's a lot going on with this team, what with departing players and new faces, a bit of a fiasco wth one now infamous Caracter, and a coach who is ideal to lead a situation like that.  Below is my breakdown of why I think they're so good, and what I think their upper and lower limits are.
2007-2008
Results:

27-9 Overall, 14-4 Big East (2nd)
Eliminated in Big East tournament second round by eventual champion Pittsburgh
Elite Eight, lost to North Carolina

Roster:

Derrick Caracter         F
Earl Clark                   G/F
Terrance Farley          C
Preston Knowles       G
Andre McGee              G
Stuart Miller                 G
David Padgett            F/C
Juan Palacious          F
Will Scott                     G
Jerry Smith                  G
Edgar Sosa                G
Lee Steiden                F
Terrence Williams     F

2008-2009
Departures:

Caracter, Farley, Miller, Padgett, Palacious, Scott

Teams that make the Elite Eight and lose six players tend not to return there, but some see Caracter's leaving as a blessing.  Padgett and Palacious open a hole, but it looks like they have an answer to that.  I have to add, though, that the Cards struggled when those two were injured and out of the lineup.

Arrivals:

Reginald Delk   G (transfer from Mississippi State)  He is being lost in the shuffle, with the impressive recruiting class below grabbing a lot of headlines and the returning stars taking the others.  I think his impact will be felt, though, because he adds another option in the backcourt.  This isn't a team that lives and dies by its guard play, but they can mix it up back there and Delk makes it that much easier.

George Goode        F  (redshirt)
Terrence Jennings F
Kyle Kuric                 G
Samardo Samuels F
Jared Swopshire     F

So, this team goes from Padgett, Palacious, and Caracter up front to Samuels, Swopshire, and Jennings (perhaps Goode).  They lose a lot up front, but Samuels is the best athlete on that list.  His showing in the Red vs. White scrimmage tells me that he will step right in.  Swopshire and Jennings may need more time, but may prove to be an improvement over their predecessors by season's end.  Ateam that was dominant in the paint last year and lost the whole crew might actually be better in the paint by this March.  I'm five teams into my previews, and so far only DePaul has a less than stellar recruiting class.  Wow.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games
:  Morehead State, Western Kentucky, Indiana State, Ohio, Lamar, Austin Peay, Mississippi, Minnesota, UAB, UNLV, Kentucky

This to me is the (almost) perfect nonconference slate.  It starts easy, then ramps up as the Big East games approach.  My only criticism is that it could use a truly dominant opponent (which MAYBE UNLV is).  The Cards could realistically sweep this, and it isn't completely filled with cupcakes.

Two Time Opponents
:  Notre Dame, South Florida, West Virginia

This is a sampling of the Big East: one of the frontrunners, a second-tier team, and a bottom feeder.  Very fair.

Remaining Roadies:  Villanova, Rutgers, Syracuse, St. John's, Cincinnati, Georgetown

They avoid traveling to some of the more difficult arenas.  Their two toughest road games may be against teams they also get at home (ND, WVU).

Home Games
:  Pittsburgh, Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall

There are four teams in the BE making most preseason top tens...Louisville is one and they host the other three.  They DO also go to South Bend, but I think they have the most favorable BE schedule of the four favorites.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     The new frontcourt steps in and dominates much like the old from day 1.  Sosa, Smith, Clark, and Delk spread out the scoring out of the backcourt and rotate the hot hand.  They cruise through the early season, notching big wins over UNLV and Kentucky.  They manage to get Pitt and UConn in the early going, and split with Notre Dame...powering them to a regular season Big East crown.  They get at least to the semifinals of the conference tournament, earning them a 1 or 2 seed.  In the NCAAs, they avenge last year's loss to North Carolina on their way to a Final Four or perhaps even a national title.

Worst Case Scenario:
   They have a little trouble figuring out who is who up front, apart from Samuels.  The guards distribute the ball well, but no one averages better than 10 or 11 a game.  They lose their last two nonconference games, and limp into Big East play on a losing streak.  They right the ship against South Florida, but then get upset at Villanova and lose at home to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.  Things go better later, but the three early Big East losses are enough to keep them from the title discussion and they finish in the 5-7 range in the conference.  They win themselves into the quarterfinals in the BE tourney, but can't beat the team they face there.  In the NCAA tournament they outplay their seed, but fail to get past the Sweet Sixteen.

My Take:
    I think Louisville has the inside track to the Big East regular season crown, as stated above.  The reasons are that they return a lot of talent, supplement it with perhaps the Big East's best freshman, and have the "easiest" conference schedule of the frontrunners.  Even if they don't win, they should be in the hunt.  I suspect that one of the other talented teams will keep them from sweeping both BE titles, but they could end up with a number one seed easily, because winning the Be will carry a lot of weight.  They are legit as a title contender.  Now on to my concerns.  They have a TON of talent up front, and Samardo Samuels should step right in...but the other guys might not be ready so immediately.  I'm not in love with any one of their guards, though they are very deep at the position.  I don't think there's a lot of dropoff from Clark and Sosa to Smith and Delk, and even Kurik could get into the mix.  I don't really think they have an elite outside shooter though.  The biggest criticism of the Cards is that they are young in their strength (in the paint) and that all their experience is in the backcourt, which isn't where the bulk of their talent lies.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 26, 2008 4:21 pm
 

Big East Preview 4, Georgetown Hoyas

Sorry to those who have actually been reading these.  I got a little behind.  Hopefully I can pound out one late tonight and get a little more on track.  This one is one of the more interesting teams, in the Hoyas.  They lost a lot, but are bringing in a very solid recruiting class.  Can they hang in the Big East with the new blood?  Will the Hibbert loss be as huge as it seems?  Where will they finish amid nine or ten teams with real NCAA aspirations?


2007-2008
Results:

28-6 overall, 15-3 Big East (1st)
Lost Big East Championship game to Pittsburgh
Eliminated second round NCAAs (Davidson)  [and let me say, that was one TOUGH half-region...Kansas State, Wisconsin, Davidson, Georgetown...all for the right to play Kansas.  Ouch.]

Roster:

Tyler Crawford               G/F
Patrick Ewing, Jr.            F
Austin Freeman              G
Roy Hibbert                      C
Bryon Jansen                   F
Vernon Macklin                F
Nikita Mescheriakov       F
Jeremiah Rivers             G
Jessie Sapp                    G
Dajuan Summers           F
Jonathan Wallace           G
Omar Wattad                   G/F
Chris Wright                     G

2008-2009
Departures:

Crawford, Ewing, Hibbert, Macklin, Rivers, Wallace

That's quite a list, highlighted by Hibbert.  When six players go from a team that had such great results the last two years, it leaves some shoes to fill.

Arrivals:

Julian Vaughn      F  (transfer from Florida State) with so many players leaving, this was good news for the Hoyas.  Still, he didn't really light the world aflame at FSU, averaging just 13.3 minutes and 3 points.  I expect him to have only limited impact.

Greg Monroe        F
Jason Clark         G
Henry Sims          C

This group makes Georgetown the third of the four teams I've previewed so far with an outstanding recruiting class.  Monroe should be a nice tandem with Summers, and Sims and Clark should be great in the future.

The schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Jacksonville, Drexel, Wichita State, American, Savannah State, Memphis, Mount St. Mary's, Florida International, Duke

Two tough ones in Memphis and Duke, and a couple of dangerous but "easy" ones.  I'm not sure that slate will prepare them for the conference season, sine Duke comes later...

Two-time Opponents:  Syracuse, Marquette, Cincinnati

Really not a bad draw.  Two second-tier teams, and one on the outside looking in.  All three are very dangerous opponents, though.

Remaining Roadies:  Connecticut, Note Dame, Seton Hall, South Florida, Villanova, St. John's

That starts tough, but softens up a little.

Home Games:  Pittsburgh, Providence, West Virginia, Rutgers, Louisville, DePaul

The Hoyas Big East slate isn't all that rough as such things go, but they open it in a gauntlet.  How's this for a stretch of games: @ Connecticut, Pittsburgh, @ Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse, @ Duke, West Virginia? Ouch!  Four of those are in most people's preseason top tens, and the other three are very talented, and in the case of Provy and 'Cuse very hungry, teams.

The Outlook
Best Case Scenario
     Sims is ready to go on day one, and makes people forget about Hibbert right away (well, almost).  Summers and Monroe add their wieght and make the Hoyas dominant up front.  The returning guards step up their game a level, and while they don't have a real star back their they have the shot when they need it.  They enter Big East play undefeated, including a statement win over Memphis.  Even in the face of the brutal seven-game stretch mentioned above, they get out with only one or two losses, setting the stage for another run at a conference title.  They fall short of that, but finish in the top 3.  They have a good BE tournament showing, and are rewarded with an excellent NCAA tournament seed.  They lack the experience for a real run to a championship, but again impress with a Sweet 16 or even Elite Eight appearance.

Worst Case Scenario
:
     Sims, Monroe, and Clark aren't ready to be their best when the rough late December/early January stretch rolls around.  They take a loss to Memphis first, then lose 5 or 6 of 7 from December 29-January 22.  Having dug themselves such a hole, they finish tenth in the conference.  The BE tournament isn't much kinder, and their opening round win isn't enough to propel them into the NCAA field.  They have a reasonable showing in the NIT, and regroup for a 2009-2010 season in which they have a chance to do something special.

My Take:
     I like this Hoyas squad.  BUT.  They are very reliant on an (admittedly talented) incoming class, which I don't think is a formula for great success in this conference.  I believe there are four teams clearly better than the Hoyas in this league, and four OTHER teams that are on roughly equal footing.  I don't believe their newcomers will be ready for the rough opening they have to conference play, especially Sims.  He has to face Thabeet, Blair, and Harangody in his first three conference games, and there isn't much depth behind him at the position.  This team has enough talent to be an NCAA tournament team.  I know I sound like a broken record here, but that just isn't enough to challenge in this league.  I believe they will sneak into the NCAAs, finishing somewhere between 7th-9th in the league.  I wouldn't be surprised if they landed in the NIT, though, nor would I be surprised if they finished fourth or fifth.  There is just really that great a range of possibility here.  The reason I err on the low side is that they are one of the few Big East teams to have lost so much, and their recruiting class, while very solid, isn't really better than several others.  Inexperience will hurt them; the question is how much.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 22, 2008 4:16 pm
 

Big East Preview 3, DePaul Blue Demons

I will be as forgiving as I can, but his is a not very good team in a powerhouse conference.  I have to feel a little bad for the Demons, because they had some succesful seasons, which got them an invite to the expanding Big East.  I feel like they are the only school to have not really benefitted from the move.  South Floirda has been futile in basketball as well, but at least they built up a pretty good football program from the move.  In any case, be forewarned that this preview is less optimistic than the previous two.
2007-2008
Results:

11-19 overall, 6-12 Big East (13th)
No postseason play

Roster:

Michael Bizoukas        G
Draelon Burns             G
Karron Clarke               F
Cliff Clinkscales          G
Jabari Currie                G
Wesley Green              C
Adam Handler              F
Mac Koshwal                C
Kenechukwu Obi         C
Matija Poscic                C
Mario Stula                    F
Dar Tucker                    F
Will Walker                    G
Eric Wallace                  F
Joshua Washington    G

2008-2009
Departures:

Burns, Clarke, Clinkscales, Green, Handler, Washington

Losing Draelon Burns to graduation will really hurt this team.  He was the only star last year, and no one appears ready to take on that mantle, especially not at Guard.  Clarke represents another 25 minutes a game.  The rest of the pack were not real contributors, but those two leave holes.

Arrivals:

Krystopher Faber     C
Devin Hill                   F
Jeremiah Kelly         G

All of these guys are three star recruits.  they all appear to ahve the potential to be contributors, but all lack star power.  I just don't see an impact player on that list, at least not one to fill the shoes of a Draelon Burns.  Faber is ranked 22 among centers, and will add some depth there.  Kelly would probably make a good third guard for a team that was set on starters, but I don't see him consistently hanging with Big East defenders as a freshman.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Albany, Illinois-Chicago, Detroit, Indiana State, California, Northwestern, Morgan State, UCLA, Liberty, Southern U., St. Louis, Alcorn State

DePaul will probably enter Big East play looking stronger than they did last year, because this year's ooc slate is much more forgving.  Only UCLA looks outright unwinnable for them.  Cal, Northwestern, St. Louis, and Albanay are potential slip-up games.

Two-time Oponents
:

Pittsburgh, Marquette, South Florida

I believe this demonstrates how overmatched DePaul is in the conference.  They get a reasonable sampling here (one preseason favorite, one mid-tier, and one bottom feeder) and could still easily go 1-5 in the games.

Remaining Roadies:

Providence, Syracuse, Rutgers, Louisville, West Virginia, Georgetown

Home Games:

Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, Villanova, St. John's, Connecticut

This home/road split is very fair.  They get a little of everything in both situations.

The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Koshwal and Tucker lead the way up front, while Obi and Faber put in some minutes when the frontcourt gets in foul trouble.  Walker ratchets up his game, and Kelly is a surprise star, averaging more than 10 points his freshman year.  They manage to swim through the nonconference games with just two losses (UCLA and someone else).  They sweep South Florida and manage to take one from Pitt or Marquette at home.  They take care of business at Rutgers and versus Seton Hall and St. John's, and add one or two upsets, giving them 7-8 Big East wins and keeping them out of the bottom four slots in the BE tourney.  Their one win in MSG gets them an invite to the CBI, or even the NIT depending upon their showing vs. the 5 seed.  Such a showing could inspire them to win a game or two there.

Worst Case Scenario
:
     Assume no injuries.  Only Tucker and Koshwal manage to average double figures.  The freshmen don't really provide a lift, and no one can fill the holes in the backcourt.  They only manage 7-5 before the conference games start, and they go 0-6 in their six "double games."  They only manage two Big East wins for an overall record of 9-21, get the last seed in the Big East tournament and are embarrassed by the likes of Cincinnati, Georgetown, or whoever lands in ninth.

My Take:
     This team is probably worse than last year, and certainly one of the four worst in this year's Big East.  They do have an opportunity to prove that they aren't terrible in a relatively weak nonconference schedule.  I don't believe they are a postseason quality team, but there are a few other weak teams in the bottom of the conference, and they might be good enough to feed off of them and win one in New York.  The bottom line is, though, last year's formula was to hope Burns was on, and maybe get a few points from someone else.  Now Burns is gone and the couple of major contributors who remain can't carry the load he did.  They are a team of mostly role players in a dominant league, and so 2008-2009 could be a very long year.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 20, 2008 6:38 pm
 

Big East Preview 2, Connecticut Huskies

This one was a little easier, because I'd already done a lot of the research knowing that Connecticut was one of the preseason Big East favorites.  This is the team that many think will be the best of that leviathan of a conference, and for good reason.  Do I agree?  Read and find out.
2007-2008
Results:

24-9 Overall, 13-5 Big East (5th)
Eliminated second round of Big East tournament (by 5 seed West Virginia)
Lost opening round of NCAA tournament (as 4 seed)

Roster:

Jeff Adrien                        F
Craig Austrie                   G
Kyle Bailey                       G
Donnell Beverly              G
Johnnie Bird                    G
Jerome Dyson                G
Gavin Edwards              F/C
Alex Hornat                       F
Curtis Kelly                       F
John Lindner                    F
Jonathan Mandeldove    C
AJ Price                             G
Stanley Robinson            F
Hasheem Thabeet          C
Jim Veronick                     F
Doug Wiggins                  G

2008-2009
Departures:

Bird, Hornat, Kelly, Wiggins

Only Wiggins is a loss to speak of, and his 18.9 minutes, 6.7 points, and 2.7 rebounds will be easily replaced by the newcomers.  Two of the others didn't even play in 2007-2008.  It makes me wonder why the Huskies had such an enormous roster to begin with.  Why have so many players you aren't going to use?

Arrivals:

Scottie Haralson      G
Charles Okwandu   C
Kemba Walker         G
Ater Majok                  F

There it is.  The freshman class the nation (of college bball fans, anyway) is going nuts about.  Even without Nate Miles, who I won't discuss in detail, it sounds like an imposing lineup on its own.  Add it to the list above, and you can see why this team is easy to like.  They will be especially deep and talented in the backcourt, which is something to think about when Thabeet grabs so many headlines up front.

The schedule:

Nonconference games:  Western Carolina, Hartford, La Salle, Bryant, Delaware State, Buffalo, Stony Brook, Gonzaga, Fairfield, Michigan

Wow.  Except for Gonzaga the Huskies should blow through that schedule.  They don't need a tough OOC schedule to be taken seriously, but they'd better avoid a hiccup.  Not that one would really hurt them much, assuming they do well in BE play.

Two-time opponents
: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Seton Hall

Ouch.  They're the favorites going in, but they have to play two of the other three front runners twice, and Pittsburgh and South Bend are notoriously difficult places to play.  Seton Hall should be easier.

Remaining roadies:  West Virginia, Cincinnati, St. John's, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette

Again, ouch.  Four of those six are very dangerous places to play.  Bad enough to get Pitt and ND twice, but adding a road game with Louisville is downright insulting.

Home games:  Georgetown, Rutgers, Villanova, Providence, Syracuse, South Florida

They probably wish they could swap their home and road Big East slate.  Not that the teams above are all pushovers, but it's a little softer.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Hasheem Thabeet silences all his critics, and fills the holes in his game, while newcomer Okwandu and returning backup Mandeldove spell him effectively.  Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson hold it down up front, and some of the new blood takes the pessure off.  Four guards average 10 points a game or better, with AJ Price leading the way.  This all on their way to sweeping the Big East crowns, and cutting down the nets in New York and Detroit.  They are bandied about in the conversation of ten best teams in NCAA history.

Worst Case Scenario
:
     Again, this does NOT include the possibility of a major injury.  Thabeet still struggles at times to be consistent.  The new guys aren't quite what the Huskies were hoping for, and the team can't get enough help up front.  The deep backcourt and Thabeet's shot blocking keeps them in most games, though.  They wind up with 6 or 7 Big East losses, thanks to an unforgiving schedule, can't get t done in New York, and again exit the NCAA tournament prematurely.

My Take:
     This team could well be as good as the prognosticators are saying.  I don't think they will win the Big East title, at least not the regular season, thanks largely to a brutal slate of road games.  They might be the best team in it, regardless.  I know they will be very solid, and have plenty of depth, at guard.  AJ Price, Jerome Dyson, and Craig Austrie would be enough, but with Haralson and Walker coming in that backcourt is insane...and that doesn't even count the possibility of one of last year's backups stepping up with some quality minutes.  I do question their depth up front, though.  Thabeet is talented, but I believe he is criticized for a reason.  He changes games, but I wonder what the Huskies' contingency is for when he's in foul trouble.  Okwandu is tall, but can he play with the other Big East Centers?  Mandledove was not an effective backup last year.  The same is true at Forward.  Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson are solid, but after that I wonder.  Majok sounds like the real deal, but is he, and will he be ready?  Even with those potential issues, this team can score from anywhere and will play excellent defense.  I believe my best case scenario above is much more likely than the worst.  I wouldn't hand any team the BE crown, though, because at least three teams have the talent to press them.
Category: NCAAB
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com