Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Archive for the ‘Big East Report’ Category

Big East Report, Edition II

Posted by Zach on December 9, 2008

Power Rankings

1. Pittsburgh (9-0)
12/13 vs. UMBC (W), 12/17 vs. Siena (W), 12/21 @ Florida State (W)
2. Connecticut (8-0)
12/15 vs. Stony Brook (W), 12/20 vs. Gonzaga (W), 12/26 vs. Fairfield (W)
3. Louisville (5-1)
12/13 vs. Austin Peay (W), 12/18 vs. Mississippi (W), 12/20 vs. Minnesota (W)
4. Notre Dame (6-2)
12/13 vs. Boston University (W), 12/20 vs. Delaware State (W), 12/22 vs. Savannah State (W)
5. Syracuse (8-0)
12/13 vs. Long Beach State (W), 12/15 vs. Cleveland State (W), 12/17 vs. Canisius (W)
6. Villanova (8-0)
12/9 vs. Texas (L), 12/11 vs. St. Joseph’s (W), 12/14 @ La Salle (W)
7. Georgetown (6-1)
12/13 vs. Memphis (W), 12/20 vs. Mount St. Mary’s (W), 12/23 vs. Florida International (W)
8. Marquette (7-1)
12/13 vs. IPFW (W), 12/16 @ Tennessee (L), 12/19 vs. Western Carolina (W)
9. West Virginia (6-1)
12/9 vs. Davidson (L), 12/13 @ Duquesne (W), 12/20 vs. Miami (OH) (L)
10. Seton Hall (6-1)
12/9 vs. Cal Baptist (W), 12/13 @ St. Peter’s (W), 12/20 vs. IUPUI (W)
11. Cincinnati (6-1)
12/13 vs. Xavier (W), 12/15 vs. Charleston Southern (W), 12/18 vs. Mississippi State (W)
12. Providence (6-3)
12/17 vs. Jackson State (W), 12/20 @ Boston College (L), 12/22 vs. Bryant University (W)
13. St. John’s (7-1)
12/14 vs. Bethune Cookman (W), 12/20 vs. Marist (W), 12/27 vs. Miami (FL) (L)
14. South Florida (3-3)
12/14 vs. Niagara (W), 12/16 vs. Vanderbilt (W), 12/20 vs. Murray State (W)
15. DePaul (4-2)
12/10 vs. Morgan State (W), 12/13 @ UCLA (L), 12/17 vs. Liberty (W)
16. Rutgers (5-3)
12/10 @ Princeton (W), 12/14 vs. Delaware State (W), 12/20 vs. Bryant (W)

National Title Contenders

Pittsburgh Panthers: I moved Pitt past Connecticut into #2 in my national Top 25 for taking care of business unlike any other team in the nation. They’ve simply dismantled their opposition in the early going without showing any signs of slipping up. They defeated tournament-bound Miami (OH) by 29, a decent Akron team by 19, destroyed Vermont by 29 and their two closest wins were at the Legends Classic over Texas Tech (13) and Washington State (14). Looking at their next few games, it’s entirely possible Pitt enters a showdown @ Louisville on January 17 with a perfect 16-0 record if they can win @ Florida State on December 21. Like any Pitt team, this version features a proficient offense, tantalizing defense and total control of the boards.  Levance Fields has turned into an outstanding point guard at 7.0 APG, Sam Young one of the best all-around players in the conference at 20.8 PPG and 6.2 RPG, DeJuan Blair is an automatic double-double if he can stay out of foul trouble (15 and 13 thus far), and Jermaine Dixon is the perfect freshman to finish off this balanced Pitt squad with his tremendous defense. Whether Pitt has the pure talent to outlast Connecticut, Notre Dame or Louisville is another question, but for now they’re the best team in the strongest conference in America.

Star Player: Sam Young- 20.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 53% FG, 37% 3pt

Connecticut Huskies: I still feel Connecticut will be playing North Carolina in Detroit for all the marbles in April, but I had to move them behind Pitt for the way the Huskies dodged La Salle and Buffalo while the Panthers have wiped out everyone on their schedule. Connecticut’s story this season is balanced scoring- they have five different players averaging double-figure scoring, including two question marks heading into this season in Craig Austrie and Jerome Dyson, and that list does not include preseason all-Big East A.J. Price, who will surely be at 10+ PPG once he’s 100% healthy and playing with more confidence. Not many freshmen have transitioned comfortably to the college game like we witnessed a season ago with Durant, Love, Mayo, etc. but one that has contributed positively is Kemba Walker. Walker is averaging 12.0 PPG with 3.0 APG off the bench, showing the quickness, scoring ability and court vision that made him such a dynamic force out of New York. The big test for Connecticut will come on December 20 when they face Gonzaga in Seattle. They’ll need Price playing at a higher level to win that game.

Star Player: Hasheem Thabeet- 14.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.1 BPG, 67% FG

Final Four Contenders

Louisville Cardinals:
I wouldn’t have wanted to be a participant in Rick Pitino’s practices the days following the Cardinals shocking upset at the hands of Western Kentucky. Louisville completely melted down in that game- Samuels wasn’t a factor due to a constant double team, the team shot 27% as a whole, and point guards Terrence McGee and Edgar Sosa were atrocious. Louisville shouldn’t be planning any trips to Detroit in March unless they can find a reliable point guard, because without one Terrence Williams, Earl Clark and Samuels all are lost in the offense. McGee has been terrible both shooting (25%) and distributing (1.44 A/T) while Sosa continues to regress from what could be his peak during his freshman year in that second round game vs. Texas A&M. This team certainly has talent and Samuels has been their best player, but can guys like Clark and Williams have huge scoring games when it matters? From what I’ve seen, this could be another regional semifinal/final flameout.

Star Player: Samardo Samuels- 16.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 65% FG, 74% FT

Notre Dame Fighting Irish:
The 102-87 defeat at the hands of powerhouse North Carolina is certainly excusable, but losing to Ohio State in Indianapolis with Harangody in the lineup? Even though the Buckeyes appear to be breaking out behind Evan Turner, Mike Brey will tell you his team should not have lost that game. They faltered primarily because Kyle McAlarney finally had a poor shooting performance- 3/11 FG, 0/6 3pt, 0/0 FT- and guys like Jackson, Hillesland and Ayers didn’t provide enough scoring support for Harangody. That’s what worries me about this team- anyone with a true post presence on offense and defense like Thabeet, Samuels, Tyler Smith, Blake Griffin, or, as we saw, Tyler Hansbrough, can limit Harangody and force Notre Dame to shoot threes until they go out of style. Notre Dame is an excellent outside shooting team, but even the best can hit a cold streak and see their season end abruptly.

Star Player: Luke Harangody- 23.0 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 51% FG in 6 games

Elite Eight Contenders


Syracuse Orange:
Typical of this Syracuse team to look like a true Final Four contender in Kansas City with wins over Florida and Kansas, then nearly collapse at the Carrier Dome in two tilts with ACC-bottom feeder Virginia and Ivy League threat Cornell. In both games Syracuse trailed at halftime before going on a second half run and ultimately winning, meaning coach Jim Boeheim likely reminded them (in yelling fashion) of their losses against the entire Atlantic 10 conference in non-conference last year that ultimately left them on the outside looking in. Jonny Flynn has been sensational, leading Syracuse to their win over Kansas with 25 points and the game-tying three and willing them to victory over Cornell with 24 points and 6 assists on 10/16 FG. Paul Harris is starting to really turn on the engines with two straight 20+ point outings and Eric Devendorf is becoming more and more comfortable. Andy Rautins could still improve on his 32% from deep.

Star Player: Jonny Flynn- 19.5 PPG, 5.4 APG, 55% FG, 44% 3pt

Sweet 16 Contenders

Villanova Wildcats: Villanova has skyrocketed to #12 in the latest coaches poll because of their flawless 8-0 record, but I say let’s hold off on judgment of the Wildcats until we see how they fare against Texas tonight at the Jimmy V Classic. Their two best wins this season are against Rhode Island and a victory at Pennsylvania, and I have to question Jay Wright scheduling possibly the weakest team in Division 1- Houston Baptist- directly prior to facing Abrams, Mason, James and the Longhorns. Villanova appears to be guard-oriented yet again this season led by double-digit scorers Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. Stokes has transferred his hot finish to his freshman campaign to this season, hitting a remarkable 51% from deep in the early going. Why Villanova could be a true contender is the post presence of Dante Cunningham down low.

Star Player: Dante Cunningham- 17.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 57% FG

Georgetown Hoyas:
The Hoyas are a difficult team to figure out in the early going. We hear about their phenomenal defense, yet when they faced a truly elite and athletic team (Tennessee) they surrendered 90 points and collapsed down the stretch. They also looked like another porous jump shooting team in the contest prior vs. Wichita State. Then they throttle Maryland and destroy American and you’re back to thinking John Thompson has his team contending for another Elite Eight. They certainly have excellent players like DaJuan Summers and Austin Freeman, but both can disappear at any time. Greg Monroe has been impressive. Chris Wright (3.9 APG) needs to step up his point guard play to provide the Hoyas with a distributor opening up good looks for Summers and Freeman outside.

Star Player: Greg Monroe- 13.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 64% FG

Marquette Golden Eagles:
They really needed that home win over rival Wisconsin, while only giving up 58 points, to quiet some major question marks following a stunning loss to Dayton in Chicago. Marquette has already surrendered 88 points to Chicago State, 80 to Milwaukee, 89 in the loss to Dayton and 81 to Central Michigan. We know this team can score with anyone in the nation- Jerel McNeal is a phenomenal scorer who has improved his jump shot mightily, Wes Matthews is averaging 20+ PPG and Lazar Hayward is a 6’6 forward with a great three-point shot that’s nearly averaging a double-double- and that should carry them deeper into the tournament. The defense is the wild card and clearly needs to improve under Buzz Williams. They face Tennessee on the 16th in a huge contest for both teams.

Star Player: Jerel McNeal- 18.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.8 APG

NCAA Tournament Contenders

West Virginia Mountaineers:
A win over Davidson tonight at the Jimmy V would be huge for Bob Huggins and his Mountaineer team, especially because I’m questioning whether they have the ingredients to return to the NCAA Tournament this season. The wins over Iowa and Mississippi are alright, but neither appear to be headed into March play, and the collapse against Kentucky clearly didn‘t impress. Of course, they probably only need to finish 9-9 in this Big East to sneak into the field. Devin Ebanks (6.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG) has been quite the disappointment in the early going.

Seton Hall Pirates: Barring a major slipup which is possible with this team, Seton Hall should cruise through the rest of their non-conference schedule. Unfortunately, their wins in Puerto Rico against USC and Virginia Tech don’t look quite as impressive. Much like West Virginia, Seton Hall likely needs to finish 9-9 with a win in the BET to make the field. Jeremy Hazell is averaging 23.3 PPG and is one of the best outside shooters in the nation.

Cincinnati Bearcats:
Cincinnati, Seton Hall and West Virginia are basically tied here, but I had to move Cincy down a bit due to their 47-point performance against Florida State in Vegas. Otherwise, they’ve taken down UNLV by 2 in an essential road game and outplayed UAB 87-80 on their home floor this past Saturday. If Cincy can continue to go 9-deep and receive production from secondary players other than Vaughn and Williams, they could also sneak in.

Bottom Feeders

Providence Friars: A one-point victory over Rhode Island at home and a Charlotte collapse in Anaheim saved what could have been a 4-5 non-conference slate for new coach Keno Davis. Sharaud Curry is still trying to get completely healthy.

St. John’s Red Storm: A loss in Boston College in a game they played pretty well is the lone blemish for the Johnnies, but their schedule has been a joke. Losing Anthony Mason for the season pretty much quells any hope for postseason play.

South Florida Bulls:
USF has faltered in two heartbreakers at Virginia and at UAB in overtime while also falling to Central Florida. Their non-conference slate the rest of the way is fairly easy (lone threat is Vanderbilt), so they’ll have some confidence heading into conference play.

DePaul Blue Demons: DePaul barely escaped Illinois-Chicago and winless Indiana State before falling to California by 10 and putting up 36 points in 40 minutes @ Northwestern. Jerry Wainwright should watch for that pink slip soon, and it won’t be because of the economy.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: Bottom line: Rutgers beat Marist by 2, Robert Morris by 4, lost to St. Bonaventure by 1 in OT, lost to Lehigh by 5, beat Rider by 4 and lost to Binghamton by 10. Best of all, their best player-Mike Rosario- appears to have not quite the most positive attitude about the situation.

Advertisements

Posted in Big East Report | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big East Report

Posted by Zach on November 26, 2008

Connecticut Wisconsin College Basketball

I’ll be writing a Big East report hopefully every week for the rest of the season to keep you updated on the strongest conference in the land. Here’s my first edition:

Power Rankings (Record) Next Three Games and Prediction
1. Connecticut (5-0)
11/29 vs. Bryant University (W),  12/1 vs. Delaware State (W), 12/4 @ Buffalo (W)
2. Louisville (2-0)
11/30 vs. Western Kentucky (W), 12/6 vs. Indiana State (W), 12/7 vs. Ohio (W)
3. Pittsburgh (5-0)
11/28 vs. Texas Tech in NJ (W), 11/29 vs. Wash St/Miss St in NJ (W)
4. Notre Dame (4-0)
11/26 vs. North Carolina in Maui (L), 11/30 vs. Furman (W), 12/2 vs. South Dakota (W)
5. Syracuse (5-0)
11/28 vs. Virginia (W), 12/1 vs. Colgate (W), 12/3 vs. Cornell (W)
6. Marquette (4-0)
11/28 vs. Northern Iowa in Chicago (W), 11/29 vs. Dayton in Chicago (W), 12/2 vs. Central Michigan (W)
7. Georgetown (2-0)
11/27 vs. Wichita State (W), Next two games at the Old Spice Classic
8. Villanova (4-0)
11/28 vs. Towson (W), 12/2 @ Penn (W), 12/4 vs. Houston Baptist (W)
9. West Virginia (3-0)
11/28 vs. Iowa in Vegas (W), 11/29 vs. Kentucky/Kansas State, 12/3 @ Mississippi (L)
10. Seton Hall (4-1)
11/29 vs. Delaware (W), 12/2 vs. Monmouth (W), 12/9 vs. Cal Baptist (W)
11. Cincinnati (4-0)
11/28 vs. Florida State (W), 12/6 vs. UAB (W), 12/13 vs. Xavier (L)
12. Providence (3-1)
11/27 vs. Baylor (L), Next two games at the Anaheim Classic
13. DePaul (2-0)
11/26 vs. Detroit (W), 11/29 vs. Indiana State (W), 12/3 @ California (L)
14. St. John’s (5-1)
12/1 vs. St. Francis (W), 12/8 vs. NJIT (W), 12/14 vs. Bethune Cookman (W)
15. Rutgers (3-1)
11/26 vs. Lehigh (W), 11/30 vs. St. Peter’s (W), 12/3 @ Rider (W)
16. South Florida (2-1)
11/29 vs. Northeastern (L), 12/3 @ UAB (L), 12/6 @ UCF (W)

Final Four Contenders


Connecticut Huskies:
I picked the Huskies to win the national title before the season, and nothing in their play early in the season is suggesting that was a foolish selection. Connecticut won the Paradise Jam in rather easy and proficient fashion after a brief struggle with La Salle in the first round, defeating two ranked teams in Miami and Wisconsin by double digits. The offense hasn’t suffered even as A.J. Price has yet to play at 100%, led by the emergence of Jerome Dyson and overpowering ability of Hasheem Thabeet down low. Defense has been the most encouraging early-season trend for coach Jim Calhoun, though. Other than a poor performance against La Salle, Connecticut has not surrendered more than 63 points in any of their other four games, giving up less than 60 in three of the four. The Huskies don’t face another difficult opponent until December 20 when they make the trek to Seattle and battle Gonzaga.

Star Player: Jerome Dyson: 18.2 PPG, 3.4 APG,  1.8 SPG, 56% FG, 43% 3PT

Louisville Cardinals: Rick Pitino set up an early season schedule in which the Cardinals don’t play in any hyped preseason tournament and instead face more and more difficult opponents as the non-conference season rounds out in December, where they’ll play Mississippi, Minnesota, UNLV, UAB and Kentucky. So far, it’s been total domination for Louisville against both Morehead State and a respectable South Alabama squad, winning by a combined 160-95. Samardo Samuels has carried his huge start over from the preseason, quickly turning into the go-to player in the Cardinal offense. Pitino even called Samuels the second best freshman he’s ever coached behind Jamal Mashburn. Terrence Williams is still getting healthy and Pitino hopes to continue shuffling Terrence McGee and Edgar Sosa at the point guard position, creating competition and changing the lineup based on the specific matchup.

Star Player: Samardo Samuels: 21.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 77% FG, 89% FT

Pittsburgh Panthers: Much like Connecticut and Louisville, the Pitt Panthers have also been overly impressive in the early going, scoring 80+ points and allowing less than 70 in four of five home games. The normally stout Miami (OH) defense that held UCLA and Wright State hostage were completely overwhelmed by the Pitt offensive attack, surrendering 82 points in the contest. Coach Jamie Dixon has to be pleased by the play of his point guard Levance Fields coming off major foot surgery. Dixon knows Field is the most indispensable member of the Panthers (just look at how they played with him sidelined last year) and has certainly played like an elite point guard thus far. DeJuan Blair produced a jaw-dropping line in their latest game against Division II Indiana (PA): 21 minutes, 13/14 FG, 27 points, 18 rebounds.

Star Player: DeJuan Blair: 17.5 PPG, 13.3 RPG, 71% FG

Notre Dame Fighting Irish: The Irish pulled off a nail biting win over Texas in the Maui semifinals last night, winning 81-80 and cementing a victory that could mean the difference between 2 and 3 seed come March. Other than Texas, Notre Dame hasn’t been too tested; they dominated USC Upstate at home and lead throughout against 0-5 Loyola Marymount as a Maui tune-up before crushing flailing Indiana. The epic test will be tonight against #1 North Carolina, who may or may not score 150 points if Notre Dame follows their defensive effort against Texas with more of the same. The ACC Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough and Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody will do battle in the post. You should probably watch this game.

Star Player: Luke Harangody: 25.0 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 1.3 APG

Sweet 16 Contenders

Syracuse Orange: I wrote about this at length in my Day After post, but this Syracuse team is miles ahead of where they stood last year in November. I watched both of their games in Kansas City and came away very impressed by the point guard play and floor presence of Jonny Flynn, the rebounding/defense of Arinze Onuaku, and their ability to spread the floor with Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins. Paul Harris isn’t a bad weapon himself. We’ll see if Syracuse has the defense to finish in the top five in this loaded conference. They should cruise against the rest of their non-conference schedule (Virginia, Cornell and Cleveland State are their hardest games) before traveling to Memphis in late December.

Star Player: Jonny Flynn: 21.0 PPG, 4.8 APG, 1.8 SPG, 56% FG, 75% FT, 46% 3pt

Marquette Golden Eagles: The Golden Eagles have cruised at home against easy competition, scoring an absurd 386 points in four games against Houston Baptist, Chicago State, Milwaukee and Texas Southern. They have to be encouraged by the aggressive play of Wesley Matthews, Lazar Hayward continuing to develop his inside/outside game, and Dominic James running the offense with more efficiency. The defense could pose a problem for Marquette, though. They’ve given up 298 points in those games against barely D1 competition.

Star Player: Wesley Matthews: 22.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 4.0 APG, 49% FG, 88% FT

Georgetown Hoyas: The Hoyas have played just two games so far this season, saving their November legs for a loaded Old Spice Classic beginning tomorrow in Orlando. Wins over Jacksonville and Drexel don’t really provide one with a barometer of whether Georgetown can continue their success this season, but this tournament surely will. They should handle Wichita State before facing Tennessee/Siena on Friday and possibly Michigan State, Gonzaga, Maryland or Oklahoma State on Saturday. It’ll be our first opportunity to see Greg Monroe on a national stage.

Star Player: Greg Monroe: 17.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 68% FG, 89% FT

Villanova Wildcats:
Jay Wright is allowing his young team to ease into the season with softer non-conference opponents like Fordham, Niagara, Monmouth and Towson while some of his more experienced conference foes face tougher opposition early. The most encouraging early-season trend for Wright has to be the emergence of Dante Cunningham as a potential superstar in the post. He exploded against a weak Fordham team for 31 points and 11 rebounds on 11/17 shooting.

Star Player:
Dante Cunningham: 18.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 63% FG, 73% FT

Bubble Teams


West Virginia Mountaineers
: West Virginia has cruised against Elon, Delaware State and Longwood at home, surrendering just 143 points in those three games. Freshman Darryl Bryant has been a real surprise thus far, making up for the early struggles of Devin Ebanks, who has just 8.0 PPG on 33% shooting.

Seton Hall Pirates
: Two wins over USC and Virginia Tech will go a long way come March if the Pirates are sitting on the bubble. If their defense remains improved and Jeremy Hazell keeps stroking it from the outside, Puerto Rico could prove no fluke.

Cincinnati Bearcats:
Cincinnati has beaten up on inferior opponents at home in the early going to build a 4-0 record. Deonta Vaughn and Alvin Mitchell are playing well, but the real story has been balanced scoring: ten players are averaging 3+ PPG.

Providence Friars:
Keno Davis received a rude welcome in his first home game as head coach of the Friars: losing to hot shooting Matt Janning and Northeastern. They scored 100+ points in their next two against Dartmouth and Sacred Heart, but gave up 80+ in both of those contests.

Bottom Feeders

DePaul Blue Demons:
DePaul has played two games thus far: defeating Albany by 11 at home and squeaking out a road win against UIC 67-63. Will Walker and Dar Tucker, one of my breakout candidates, have been the offensive stars.

St. John’s Red Storm:
St. John’s has received solid play from Stanley Burrell and sophomore D.J. Kennedy, nearly toppling BC in Chestnut Hill. Their happiness was soured when they received the news Roger Mason Jr. will miss the rest of the season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights:
Freshman point guard Mike Rosario appears to be the real deal. Unfortunately Rutgers slipped up badly on Sunday, losing at home by one to St. Bonaventure.

South Florida Bulls:
USF hung with Virginia on the road last week, losing by two points. That close loss doesn’t look as good now that South Florida lost to Liberty Tuesday night.

Posted in Big East Report | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big East Preview Roundup

Posted by Zach on November 3, 2008

Here are all of my previews: 1. Connecticut, 2. Louisville, 3. Notre Dame, 4. Pittsburgh, 5. Marquette, 6. Georgetown, 7. Syracuse, 8. Villanova, 9. West Virginia and 10. Providence, 11. Cincinnati and 12. DePaul, #13-16

First Team
G- A.J. Price, Connecticut
G- Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
F- Sam Young, Pittsburgh
F- Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
C- Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut

Second Team
G- Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
G- Jerel McNeal, Marquette
F- Terrence Williams, Louisville
F- Jeff Adrien, Connecticut
F- Earl Clark, Louisville

Third Team
G- Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame
G- Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati
G- Austin Freeman, Georgetown
F- Lazar Hayward, Marquette
C- DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh

Player of the Year:
1) Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
2) A.J. Price, Connecticut
3) Sam Young, Pittsburgh

Defensive Player of the Year
: Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
Breakthrough Player: Austin Freeman, Georgetown
Freshman of the Year: Samardo Samuels, Louisville
Coach of the Year: Jim Calhoun, Connecticut
Dark Horse Player: Dar Tucker, DePaul
Dark Horse Team: Georgetown
NCAA Teams: 10
NIT Teams: 2
CBI Teams: 1

Top Five Games

1) Connecticut at Louisville (February 2)
2) Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (January 31)
3) Connecticut at Notre Dame (January 24)
4) Louisville at Notre Dame (February 12)
5) Louisville at Georgetown (February 23)

Big 12 preview up Wednesday and Bracketology on Thursday, while Tommy should have his ACC preview done by next Monday. Not sure if Pat feels like contributing to the site at any point with his Pac-10 preview.

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , | 27 Comments »

Big East Preview: #1 Connecticut Huskies

Posted by Zach on November 3, 2008

1. Connecticut Huskies– Coach: Jim Calhoun (23rd season)

PG- A.J. Price (SR):
Whether Price is fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in the first half of the shocking loss to San Diego in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is the biggest question mark for this Connecticut team. Price is their sparkplug point guard who also happens to be their most dynamic scorer. He shines in big games, averaging 20 PPG in the seven games Connecticut played against ranked teams last season. He runs a spectacular point guard for Jim Calhoun, leading the Huskies in assists last year. When Price went down and the backcourt turned into a Wiggins-Austrie duo, the drop-off was painfully clear. By all accounts Price is 100% healthy and possibly in the best shape of his life. Price is a preseason All-Big East selection after leading Connecticut in scoring 13 times in 07-08. Price is the one player in the nation I see making the biggest leap forward this season, and the main factor for why I believe Connecticut is the team to beat in this loaded conference.

SG- Kemba Walker (FR):
Originally many pegged fellow freshman Nate Miles to start and give coach Calhoun more rebounding and size in his starting five, but with Miles’ dismissal I suspect Calhoun will opt to go small originally. Walker is a rough-and-tough Bronx point guard at heart who can handle the Big East from day one. A trio of Walker, Dyson and Price in the backcourt will be hard to match in all of college basketball, especially if Walker replicates some of his performances in the U18 FIBA games, where he took home MVP honors. Calhoun calls his prized freshman “cat-like quick”, a dynamic scoring guard who will look to push the tempo and add a new dimension for this team. Outside shooting is a bit of a question mark for Walker early in his college career (I don’t suspect he’s a one-and-done, but who knows), so he’ll look to feed shooters Price and Dyson on the wings and rack up the assists.

SG- Jerome Dyson (JR):
The emergence of Walker could spell Dyson to the bench once Robinson returns, but for now the junior will be pegged as the third guard for coach Calhoun. Dyson’s scoring average (12.5) actually dropped from his breakthrough freshman campaign (13.8) and many viewed his season as something of a disappointment. His three-point shooting (33%) needs to improve slightly, but Dyson does so many valuable things for this team. He’s an aggressive wing who attacks the basket with ferocity, drawing fouls and making free throws consistently (81%). He’s outstanding defensively, racking up nine steals in one game vs. St. John’s last season. I see Dyson thriving in a complimentary role to stars like Price, Adrien and Thabeet, making positive contributions in an offense where he can play fourth or fifth scorer.

PF- Jeff Adrien (SR): The Brookline, MA native is a Jim Calhoun favorite and for good reason. Adrien is a monster rebounding presence who routinely shoots over 50% from the floor on the season. He’s seemingly always in the right place in the paint to snatch a key offensive rebound for the Huskies. Could Adrien average a double-double in his senior campaign after tallying 31 total in his last two seasons? It’s definitely possible, considering Adrien finished last season at 14.8 PPG and 9.2 RPG. There are some clear weaknesses in Adrien’s game, most notably an absence of any threatening mid-range jump shot and porous free throw efforts. Still, the value far outweighs the negatives for this power forward. He’s not a superstar, but, much like Dyson and Thabeet, Adrien provides the Huskies with phenomenal contributions in certain areas (in his case, rebounding). Factor all of these players together and you have the most complete team in the nation.

C- Hasheem Thabeet (JR): The progress of one Hasheem Thabeet has been remarkable. Just two years removed from picking up a basketball for the first time, Thabeet was incredibly raw his freshman year, possessing no offensive qualities and proving sluggish and uncoordinated on the floor at times. Heading into his junior season, Thabeet is shooting 60% from the floor, adding an array of mini-hooks and short jumpers to a growing offensive repertoire. The blocked shots and rebounds are a given for the 7’3 Thabeet. This future lottery pick averaged a stunning 4.5 BPG last season to go along with 7.9 RPG and defensive player of the year honors. His free throws also improved from 51% as a freshman to 70% as a sophomore. What Thabeet provides on defense cannot be measured simply in statistics. Opposing guards are ultra-hesitant to test the post when Thabeet is manning the middle ready to swat your floater into the tenth row, and his size is nearly unmatched in college basketball. Only foul trouble will keep Thabeet from making a tremendous impact for Connecticut all season long.

Bench:
There’s no trade deadline in college basketball, but Connecticut should acquire freshman Ater Majok and junior Stanley Robinson right around midseason to add more depth and height. Many feel the Australian Majok is a future NBA talent with his 7’4 wingspan and 6’10, 225 pound frame. He’s very raw on the offensive end, but should provide excellent rebounding and defense right away. Majok may be eligible by late December. Robinson’s academic and personal issues means he won’t find the floor until the second semester, just in time for the depths of the conference season. Unless Robinson screws up again, Calhoun has yet another returning double-digit scorer, athletic rebounder and shot-blocker extraordinaire at his disposal. Craig Austrie is a valuable piece off the pine for Calhoun. He led the Big East in free throw shooting, can run the point without turning the ball over, and plays strong defense. Look for his playing time to drop with Walker on board, though. Freshman Scottie Haralson will be called on as the three-point marksman late in games, an area where Connecticut has struggled the last two years. Forward Gavin Edwards appeared in 30 games last year and hit 55% of his shots.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: A
Bench: A+
Coaching: A

Bottom Line:
I mentioned that Louisville was loaded in their preview. Believe it or not, Connecticut is even more loaded, even with the loss of Nate Miles. They have the ingredients for a Big East banner: senior point guard who can score and dish, the best defensive big man in the nation, excellent complimentary pieces, a deep bench, outstanding rebounders and shot blockers, and one of the best coaches in the nation. Whether Robinson rejoins the team and Majok can contribute immediately are two glaring question marks. This Connecticut team won’t fall victim to another early round upset, instead playing deep into March and contending for the national championship.

Key Non-Conference Games: Paradise Jam, 12/20 vs. Gonzaga (Seattle), 12/29 vs. Georgetown, 2/7 vs. Michigan
Key Conference Games: 1/24 @ Notre Dame, 2/2 @ Louisville, 2/25 @ Marquette, 3/7 @ Pittsburgh
Most Valuable Player: A.J. Price
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (National Champion)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Big East Preview: #2 Louisville

Posted by Zach on October 30, 2008

2. Louisville Cardinals– Coach: Rick Pitino (8th season)

PG- Andre McGee (SR): Along with K.C. Rivers of Clemson, McGee is one of the more underappreciated guards in the country. Hopefully observers of what should be a hyped Louisville team will notice all that this 5’10 senior provides as point guard and floor leader. McGee is the polar opposite of Edgar Sosa- he’s not nearly as explosive offensively, bur Pitino feels much more comfortable with McGee running his offense (and that’s a huge understatement). McGee broke out during his junior season by setting career highs in assists, steals, points and minutes played. Over the final nine games for Louisville with McGee entrenched at the point guard slot, he turned the ball over just nine times. He’s smart, unselfish, rarely makes crippling mistakes, and also plays better defense than Sosa. McGee is precisely the type of intelligent point guard championship teams need, and his emergence has made the Cardinals much deeper by bringing Sosa off the pine.  

SG- Jerry Smith (JR): Smith is the perfect player for Rick Pitino: he defends exceptionally well and can knock down the three-pointer. While his shooting percentage dropped from an uncanny 48% to a stellar 38% from his freshman and sophomore seasons, Smith became more of a complete player in the process. He notched 62 steals on the year and transformed offensively from a stationary three-point popper to someone who flies around the court and can drain jumpers on the move. While Smith could be a stronger passer, Pitino knows his role and will surely find plenty of minutes for an above average defender that can hit around 40% of his threes. Not many programs can rotate four guards as multi-dimensional as McGee, Sosa, Smith and Preston Knowles.

SF- Terrence Williams (SR): The Cardinals need Terrence Williams to recover from his knee injury in time for the Big East season (which he’s expected to easily do) in order to complete their squad. Williams is a super-athletic NBA prospect that scores efficiently, dominates on the glass, and passes with the vision of a point guard. It’s not an overstatement to say Williams can go off for a double-double, or even a triple-double, on any given night. Oh, and he also happens to be Louisville’s best defensive player. He’s beginning to cover up some holes in his game as his college career progresses. For one, he took way too many outside shots early in his career for someone with a below-average jumper. In his junior season, Williams took less threes and improved his FG% to 41%. Now, he’s focused on scoring closer to the paint and working for second chance opportunities. The real question: Can he improve his dismal 57% from the charity stripe as a senior? If he does, you have one of the best players in the country.

PF- Earl Clark (JR)
: Much like Williams, Clark projects to be a lottery selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. His athletic abilities are off the charts and his wingspan is an NBA scout’s dream. After a somewhat surprising return for his junior season in Louisville, Clark is looking to become one of the most feared forwards in the nation and lead the Cardinals to new heights. Clark showed his future stardom in the NCAA Tournament when he exploded with 14.5 PPG and 8.3 RPG in Louisville’s four games. Pitino hopes Clark can maintain that scoring ferocity the entire year while continuing to rebound and block shots, two of Clark’s clear strengths. He’ll need to adapt more playing inside as a four and continue to mature as a defender. 14 PPG and 9 RPG are reasonable expectations for the talented forward.

C- Samardo Samuels (FR)
: The emergence of Samuels as a Kevin Love-type producer for Louisville is the wild card. As talented and hyped as Samuels is (and he deserves the accolades, including being named USA Today’s National High School Player of the Year), he’s still going to be expected to bang down low with the best of the Big East like Hasheem Thabeet, Luke Harangody and DeJuan Blair. Can he handle the workload and expectations? I’d say yes. Samuels is an advanced scorer and rebounder for his age who will take pressure off Clark and Williams on the glass. He’s extremely powerful in the Eddy Curry mold and may be a one-and-done for Pitino. Luckily for him, this is the year Louisville fans expect a ticket to Detroit, and Samuels should be a huge part of that run. I have Samuels finishing a close second to DeMar DeRozan in terms of Newcomer of the Year.

Bench: Edgar Sosa and Preston Knowles will serve as depth in the backcourt for Louisville. Sosa expected to be the next great Louisville guard after dropping 31 on Texas A&M in the second round his freshman year. Instead, the guard who Pitino calls “immature mentally” will have to battle for playing time over those who are more mature mentally, namely McGee and Knowles. Sosa is a hard-nosed player who penetrates and defends well, providing explosiveness for Pitino off the bench. He could see more time at the 2-guard this season. Knowles is more of a complimentary piece who does the little things efficiently and will find minutes even with the talent on the roster. Freshman Terrence Jennings from Notre Dame Prep should help defensively right away with his shot-blocking and rebounding skills. He’ll need to develop offensively, but the Cardinals don’t really need more scoring in the frontcourt with Williams, Clark and Samuels. Mississippi State transfer Reginald Delk should also see minutes.

Backcourt: A-
Frontcourt: A+
Bench: B+
Coaching: A

Bottom Line:
There’s not much to dislike about this Louisville team. They’re perennially one of the top defensive teams in the nation and nobody expects that to change this season. They have the shooter in Jerry Smith, they have the intelligent point guard in McGee, the athletes and rebounders with Clark and Williams, the phenom in Samuels, and a bench that surely will provide enough insurance in case of injury. The only real question is if a team leader will emerge following the graduation of David Padgett. If Louisville stays mentally focused and scores enough points, which I expect will happen, they’ll be a Final Four team. I have them pegged for Detroit along with North Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/18 vs. Ole Miss, 12/20 @ Minnesota, 12/27 vs. UAB, 12/31 vs. UNLV
Key Conference Games: 1/17 vs. Pittsburgh, 2/2 vs. Connecticut, 2/12 @ Notre Dame, 2/23 @ Georgetown
Most Valuable Player: Terrence Williams
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Final 4)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Big East Preview: #3 Notre Dame

Posted by Zach on October 29, 2008

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish– Coach: Mike Brey (8th season)

PG- Tory Jackson (JR)
: Tory Jackson is the quarterback for the Irish. His quick speed and passing ability plays perfectly into Mike Brey’s fast-paced system and he’s the most reliable defender Coach Brey has. Jackson is a penetrating guard who could find Kyle McAlarney for an open three or Luke Harangody in the low block with his eyes closed. His tenacious style of play is infectious and he’s molded into the Irish floor leader.  Jackson is also a strong rebounder for a point guard, grabbing 13 boards against a tough Pitt team. The one weakness for Jackson is a porous outside jump shot and struggles from the charity stripe. He only shot 30% from three and a terrible 52% from the line last season- these obviously need to improve because Jackson cannot beat a defender off the dribble every single time. He comes about as close as anyone, though.

SG- Kyle McAlarney (SR): After a suspension for marijuana possession kept McAlarney off the sidelines for the second half of 2006-07, he made absolutely sure he was going to return to the Irish stronger than ever. His three-point shot might be the best in all of college basketball, and he’s certainly the head marksman from deep in the Big East. He notched 32 points against Connecticut, 30 against Syracuse and 30 vs. Villanova, eventually leading the conference in three-pointers made and three-point field goal percentage. McAlarney came alive around December and never looked back, forming a dynamic inside-outside duo with junior Luke Harangody (focus too much on Luke and Kyle will torch you from outside). His clear weakness is defense and McAlarney is often beat by quick and athletic 2-guards. Many pegged Tennessee star Chris Lofton as the top three-point shooter in the nation before last season and he struggled mightily. Whether that’s the case with McAlarney is yet to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

SF- Ryan Ayers (SR): Ayers is the type of complimentary piece that every championship team needs. He plays off McAlarney, Jackson and Harangody exceptionally well by taking what he’s given and making smart plays. Ayers came to South Bend with an extensive high school resume and failed to live up to lavish expectations before his junior season. Ayers made definite contributions during Big East play last year with an accurate three-point shot (45%) and peaked with 17 points against defensively-tough Louisville. Whether Ayers can improve rebounding the basketball and playing consistent defense is certainly a question mark. Brey knows the importance of Ayers as a role player in this type of fast-paced offense and may be asked to shoot even more.

PF- Zach Hillesland (SR): Much like Ayers, Hillesland is an important cog for Brey and the Irish. He’s a multi-dimensional player who can mix it up down low with his 6’9 frame while also showing quickness running the fast break effectively with Jackson and McAlarney as a three rather than a four. He possesses a great feel for the court (third on the team in assists last year) and may mature into the senior leader the Irish need this season on and off the floor. He’s the likely candidate to replace the production of Rob Kurz (12.5 PPG) and will be asked to compliment Harangody in the paint, mainly by providing another option for Notre Dame should Harangody face a fierce double team. Unlike Ayers, Hillesland isn’t any three-point threat, but shot 50% from the floor last season, taking shots within his range and within the offense.

C- Luke Harangody (JR): When Luke Harangody arrived in South Bend as a freshman, many viewed him as nothing more than a promising, rugged post player who can provide key minutes, some inside scoring and grab a few offensive rebounds. He was somewhat hyped, but not even Mike Brey could tell you with a straight face he thought Luke would lead the Big East in scoring and finish second in rebounding in his sophomore season. You saw the progress in Madison Square Garden when he dropped 19 and 14 on Beasley. You saw the stardom emerge with his 40 points in Freedom Hall and his 32 and 16 against Connecticut. Harangody has progressed into one of the most efficient and productive players in all of college basketball: scoring, rebounding, hook shots, short jumpers, dunks, everything but threes. Harangody is even an above-average passer for a big man, capable of finding McAlarney outside when the double team arrives. Brey doesn’t mind that NBA scouts don’t see the Irish star oozing with potential. He’s more than happy to have his own Tyler Hansbrough for four years.

Bench: Luke Zeller is the unquestioned sixth man, providing yet another forward who can shoot from outside. He’s slightly behind the depth chart because of his lack of rebounding and aggressiveness down low, but those areas are progressing rapidly for his senior season. A former McDonald’s All-American, Zeller is looking to silence some critics in his last campaign at Notre Dame. Jonathan Peoples is a valuable third guard with an average shot and great passing instincts on the floor. Tyler Nash is a breakout candidate. The 6’8 sophomore will need to blossom from a player who provides key rebounding and grabs the occasional loose ball, possibly providing more replacement for Kurz in the post.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: A-
Bench: B
Coaching: A-

Bottom Line: I really like this Notre Dame team offensively. They led the nation in assists last season and can top 90 points on any given night. Tory Jackson is the perfect component to run the offense and Brey can tout the strongest inside-outside duo this side of Lawson and Hansbrough. You also know they’ll protect their home court. The question for the Irish is defense. Other than Jackson, they’re a below average defensive team who will find it difficult to win if their shooters and/or Harangody have a rare off-night. Believe me, it’ll happen in this conference. A stronger defensive effort is the difference between a Sweet 16 and National Championship team this season.

Key Non-Conference Games: Maui Invitational, 12/6 vs. Ohio State, 2/7 @ UCLA
Key Conference Games: 1/12 @ Louisville, 1/24 vs. Connecticut, 1/31 @ Pittsburgh, 2/28 @ Connecticut
Most Valuable Player: Luke Harangody
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Elite Eight)

(#2 team tomorrow afternoon)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Big East Preview: #4 Pittsburgh

Posted by Zach on October 25, 2008

4. Pittsburgh Panthers– Coach: Jamie Dixon

PG- Levance Fields (SR)
: It’s certainly been a battle for Levance Fields the last ten months as a Pittsburgh Panther. On December 20, Fields nailed the game-winning three pointer to defeat Duke at Madison Square Garden and move Pitt to 11-0. The next game in Dayton, Fields fractured a bone in his left foot and missed the next eight weeks, unable to practice even when Fields returned for the stretch run. In August, Fields discovered the same foot was fractured once again and now his full return in November for Pitt is in question. Without Fields, Pitt is a completely different team. They lack his leadership qualities, court vision and outside shooting. He’s an indispensable player for Coach Dixon, evident by their 8-4 record without his services (for Dixon, that’s less than stellar). Fields stars in big games- he shone in the win against Duke and averaged 21.5 PPG in the NCAA Tournament last year. Pitt is a potential Final Four team with Fields on the court and a possible middle-of-the-pack Big East team without Fields on the court.

SG- Brad Wanamaker (SO)
: The battle for the 2-guard spot could end up in the hands of freshman Ashton Gibbs by the end of the season, but for now we’ll peg in sophomore Brad Wanamaker. Taking over for the sharp-shooting Ronald Ramon is no easy task for Wanamaker, especially because he cannot shoot. He does everything else above average or better: rebounding, very physical on defense, second best passer on the team behind Fields. Dixon was hoping to have Mike Cook back and slide Gilbert Brown to the 2-guard. Instead, Wanamaker gets an opportunity and surely needs to improve on his 33% FG to hold down the starting spot on a team looking to go the distance.

SF- Gilbert Brown (SO)
: One of the reasons Pitt should be one of the top defensive teams in the nation this year is due to Gilbert Brown. Rather than clogging up the running game, this Gilbert Brown clogs up the other team’s top shooter. Dixon loves him because of his versatility and ability to play multiple positions. He’s an athletic swingman who has seen his shooting improve mightily over the course of his short college career. After not making a shot in February, Brown came alive and even scored 12 points on 6-10 shooting in the NCAA Tournament vs. Oral Roberts. Brown will never become as good of an offensive player as he is a defensive player, but some consistent improvement offensively, both shooting and penetrating, should take pressure off of Young and Fields to carry the load.

PF- Sam Young (SR)
: No play has shown the vast improvement from the day he stepped onto the Peterson Events Center court to today as much as Sam Young. An average recruit out of a winning high school program that spent some time at Hargrave Military Academy before joining Pitt, Young appeared to be nothing more than a useful role player his first two season before exploding in his junior year and earning honorable mention All-America. Young finished first in scoring and second in rebounding for the Panthers 27-win squad last year, bursting onto the national scene with a dynamic Big East Tournament performance in which he took home MVP honors. Young’s outside shooting has drastically improved; he is now hitting 38% of his three-pointers. Look for Young to contend for Big East Player of the Year this season.

C- DeJuan Blair (SO): Dixon and his staff saw the upside of Blair when they recruited him just blocks from campus coming out of high school, but none could have foreseen he’d make such a positive impact during his first year in a Panther uniform. Blair finished fourth in the conference in double-doubles, fourth in rebounding and seventh in FG%, culminating in the Big East Rookie of the Year honor (along with Jonny Flynn). Blair needs to improve from the free throw line due to his physicality in the post and tendency to draw fouls (Blair shot just 63% last year), but that will come with less freshman jitters this season. His rebounding skills are nearly unmatched and Blair features a series of developing scoring post moves. The offense will surely revolve around Young, Fields and the sophomore Blair for Dixon and the Panthers.

Bench: Dixon lured in some backcourt depth and competition for Wanamaker at the guard spot opposite Fields, including the brother of former Maryland star Juan Dixon, Jermaine Dixon. He’ll need to contribute offensively from behind the arc along with incoming freshman Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall. Replacing Ronald Ramon’s production from outside is a huge factor. Forward Tyrell Biggs should be the first player off the bench for coach Dixon. He’s beginning to live up to his potential and may steal minutes from Brown. Center Gary McGhee may play a prominent role this season if he has to spell Blair when he gets into foul trouble. At 6’10, he provides much-appreciated height and rebounding off the pine.

Backcourt: B
Frontcourt: A-
Bench: B-
Coaching: A

Bottom Line: Pittsburgh has quietly molded into a 30-win mainstay on the national scene under the tutelage of Ben Howland and now Jamie Dixon, but they have yet to make a Final Four. Will this be the year? I have a hard time believing this team has the secondary parts or depth to reach that plateau. Don’t rule it out, though. Dixon has commented this may be his best defensive team ever, and the Big Three of Fields, Young and Blair is certainly a coach’s dream. The golden question: Can this team score enough points to contend with teams like North Carolina, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Duke on a national stage?

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/28 @ Texas Tech, 12/6 vs. Vermont, 12/17 vs. Siena, 12/21 @ Florida State
Key Conference Games: 1/17 @ Louisville, 1/31 vs. Notre Dame, 2/16 @ Connecticut, 3/7 vs. Connecticut
Most Valuable Player: Levance Fields
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Sweet 16)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Big East Preview: #5 Marquette

Posted by Zach on October 24, 2008

5. Marquette Golden Eagles– Coach: Buzz Williams (1st season)

PG- Dominic James (SR): After a debut season that culminated in Big East Rookie of the Year honors and a toe dip into the NBA Draft waters, James has yet to live up to the enormous expectations thrown on him after that electrifying first season in Milwaukee. His sophomore year saw a dip in production and an overall sense of disappointment. His junior year became riddled with wrist and ankle injuries while many saw James underachieving as a point guard, with opposing defenses daring him to shoot. James already has the athleticism, drive and man-to-man defensive skills to silence the critics. An improved jump shot from outside and continued progression setting up players like Hayward and Matthews in transition for easy baskets is the challenge this season for James. Whether James wants to play at the next level will largely depend on if scouts see definite improvement in those two facets of his game.

SG- Jerel McNeal (SR): While the Big Three for Marquette the last three years has been James-McNeal-Matthews, nobody of that group has really emerged as the true go-to player offensively. James is inconsistent and Matthews can be overly passive. McNeal decided late February he would vault himself from one of the most feared playmakers in the conference to one of the most feared playmakers in the nation heading into this season. Over Marquette’s last six games, McNeal exploded as the lights got brighter: 23 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 53% FG, 42% 3-PT, all well above his career averages. He came alive in the second round against Stanford, finishing with 30 points and keeping Marquette’s season alive with a series of circus threes. McNeal’s defense is slightly overrated in that he’s a risk-taker that either makes a highlight reel theft or gets burned, but overall his defense is excellent. Add the jump shot we saw late last year and you could have an All-America candidate.

SF- Wesley Matthews (SR): More than anything, Matthews needs to become more dependable offensively for Buzz Williams this season. Stolen from Wisconsin’s backyard in Madison, Matthews has shown glimpses of stardom during his college career, but his production tends to vary from game-to-game or half-to-half, often disappearing for long stretches in the offense. Williams knows Matthews has the body and the tools to be dominant, but whether he can maintain the proper aggressive mentality is the real question. He’ll need to use his 6’5 frame to help Hayward and Burke out with rebounding more this year, and it wouldn’t hurt if Matthews becomes the second scorer behind McNeal, taking pressure off James to make jumpers. Matthews totals in points, rebounds and assists all declined from his sophomore year to his junior year; that same decline cannot happen again if Marquette hopes to reclaim their Final Four glory from 2003.

PF- Lazar Hayward (JR): It wouldn’t shock me if Hayward morphs into the premiere player on this Marquette roster by March. The 6’6 junior does it all: he led Marquette in both rebounds per game and three-point shooting accuracy last season. He runs well in transition and can drain a variety of jump shots. He also shot free throws well (77%) for a big man who plays both the three and four. The strides Hayward made from his freshman to sophomore season were glaring and gives Buzz Williams plenty of hope that the cupboard won’t be left completely bare after this year. Like Matthews, Hayward will need to take on an increased rebounding role. He’ll also need to shore up his shoddy defense, even though it’s difficult when facing Big East power forwards with much more size.

C- Dwight Burke (SR): This is where Marquette could be vulnerable. They certain boast quite a trio on the perimeter, but the amount of frontcourt depth has to be giving Buzz Williams fits. Burke is a big-bodied senior who will likely start at the five this season. While Burke never hesitates to use all five of his fouls at his disposal and really has no offensive game to speak of, Williams just hopes Burke can take up space, rebound consistently and block some shots. Maybe he’ll replicate that stunning performance at Wisconsin last year on more than one occasion. If Marquette can receive any production on offense from Burke, it’s an added bonus. But they likely won’t need it.

Bench:
Once again, the backcourt is not the problem here. David Cubillan is still recovering from two shoulder surgeries this offseason, yet will be ready by the bulk of Marquette’s schedule. His specialty, shooting threes, hit a rough patch last year as his PCT dipped from a team-leading 43% in 2006-07 to 34% in 2007-08. I expect a fully healthy Cubillan to be around 40% this season from deep. Maurice Acker really emerged with McNeal at the end of last season. His shooting has improved drastically and he’s certainly difficult to guard with his dynamic speed. He plays a lot like Dominic James on offense in terms of aggressiveness. Williams lured two JC players from his former recruiting backyard in Texas to Milwaukee this year: guard Jason Butler and forward Joe Fulce. Butler has a quality mid-range game and driving ability who will surely find some minutes. Fulce may emerge as their sixth man if he can show his worth on defense. He has a great nose around the rim both with scoring and rebounding.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: B-
Bench: B
Coaching: B-

Bottom Line: The James-McNeal-Matthews trio has yet to reach the heights most expected after their freshman season. Can newly minted coach Buzz Williams lead the way after the departure of Tom Crean to Indiana? Even with the coaching inexperience, this group of backcourt mainstays have plenty of experience to tout. They also have an immense amount of talent, drive and pride for their program. It’s not all that far-fetched to say that Lazar Hayward, who is not even mentioned with the Big Three, could be their most productive player. I expect them to reach the second weekend if they improve on their jump shooting, namely James overall and McNeal bringing some of that late-game magic from a season ago.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/6 vs. Wisconsin, 12/16 @ Tennessee, 12/22 @ NC State
Key Conference Games: 1/31 vs. Georgetown, 2/25 vs. Connecticut, 3/1 @ Louisville, 3/3 @ Pittsburgh
Most Valuable Player: Jerel McNeal
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Sweet 16)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Big East Preview: #6 Georgetown

Posted by Zach on October 23, 2008

6. Georgetown Hoyas– Coach: John Thompson III (5th season)

PG- Chris Wright (SO): Replacing floor leader and pinpoint three-point shooter Jonathan Wallace is no cakewalk, but the Hoyas have a former McDonalds All-American lined up to take the reigns. Chris Wright played in only 16 games last year due to a severely sprained ankle that hindered what Wright does best: out-quick the opponent (definitely not a word). Wright enters this season 100% healthy and a prime candidate for most improved player in the Big East. Wright is a perfect fit for the Hoyas transition offense and proves above average defensively. Wallace was a tremendous shooter for the Hoyas, yet this team could score more points with Wright’s quickness at the helm.

SG- Jessie Sapp (SR): Sapp is another underrated piece of the puzzle. He not only drained 41% from behind the arc last year, but also led the team in assists over Wallace. Sapp is the total package who rarely makes mistakes; Thompson views his senior guard as the most dependable player returning for this season. As the lone senior in the starting five, the challenge for Sapp will be keeping the mood positive on and off the court if Georgetown hits a rough patch this season. He improved his three-point stroke last year and could be the focus of the defense during crunch time minutes.

SG/SF- Austin Freeman (SO)
: Austin Freeman was sensational as a freshman and may take the next step towards being recognized nationally in 07-08. Freeman averaged just under 10 PPG including accuracy from all over the court: 51% from the floor overall, 40% from three and 82% from the charity stripe. He starred in the winner-takes-the-Big East duel with Louisville last March, notching 15 points. Look for plenty of those efforts from Freeman. His versatility is also helpful for Thompson, as he can freely slide Freeman over to the 2-spot if he wants to go big with both Macklin and Monroe.

PF- DaJuan Summers (JR): Even with all of the talent Freeman and Monroe possess, it may be Summers that college basketball fans are talking about as the breakout player for the Hoyas this season. Underachieving a bit as a sophomore with high expectations, Summers returns to DC this year in phenomenal shape and the goal to play the role of Jeff Green on this Sweet 16-caliber Georgetown team. He’ll seemingly benefit from the more fast-paced system Thompson will employ with Wright running the point. His ability to run the floor and create matchup problems is key. Summers finished second to Hibbert in both PPG and RPG in 07-08. Don’t be surprised if he leads Georgetown in both categories in 08-09.

PF/C- Greg Monroe (FR)
: Thompson will rightfully hesitate to forward a majority of the scoring load from the frontcourt onto the plate of the youngster Monroe. He may not have a choice by the end of the year. Much like Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo from a year ago, Monroe already has a Big East-caliber body, and has bulked himself up to a reported 250 pounds this offseason. The 6’11 two-time Louisiana Mr. Basketball has plenty of high expectations and the skill to back them up. He’s a strong offensive and defensive rebounding presence that can score posting up or facing the basket. He’s also an outstanding shot blocker. Don’t expect Monroe to dominate the Big East initially, but watch out if this kid continues to gain more and more confidence as the year progresses.

Bench:
The Hoyas lost Jeremiah Rivers, who opted to transfer to Indiana, so it’s slim pickings in terms of guard depth. Sophomore Omar Wattad is still maturing into his big frame; he can surprise you with an accurate three-point shot. Freshman Jason Clark is a 6’2 guard from Arlington will be extremely valuable for Thompson and see minutes because he shows 100% hustle on every possession and plays strong defense. Florida State transfer Julian Vaughn will be eligible immediately for Thompson. Vaughn could take over for Monroe if he should struggle and the Hoyas wouldn’t lose that much in terms of bulk and aggressiveness on the boards, but their scoring could dip. Freshman Henry Sims will surely see action. Sims is a 6’10 lanky forward who specializes in shot blocking and defense, and it could take him a while to score effectively at the college level.

Backcourt: B+
Frontcourt: A-
Bench: B
Coaching: A-

Bottom Line:
Losing Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace stings. Expecting to contend for the Big East crown after losing those two players may also be a stretch. But never underestimate the coaching ability of John Thompson. This team rarely makes mistakes and will match up with any team in the nation on defense. They have plenty of players who could make the leap: Summers, Monroe, Wright, Freeman. Look for this group to play solid basketball all season long but fall behind teams who have more talent overall. Georgetown will be right in the mix as they always are under JTIII.

Key Non-Conference Games: Old Spice Classic (Tennessee in the semis most likely), 12/13 vs. Memphis, 1/17 @ Duke
Key Conference Games: 1/3 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/31 @ Marquette, 2/14 @ Syracuse, 2/23 vs. Louisville
Most Valuable Player: Austin Freeman
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Round of 32)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Big East Preview: #7 Syracuse

Posted by Zach on October 21, 2008

7. Syracuse Orange– Coach: Jim Boeheim (33rd season)

PG- Jonny Flynn (SO):
Flynn was the most valuable player for coach Boeheim as a freshman and will continue to fill that role as a sophomore. With injuries mounting and an unwavering dependence on Flynn’s scoring and passing, Boeheim played his freshman star 39.2 MPG in Big East play last season, including a stretch of games that lasted nearly a month where Flynn never left the court. For a senior leader, this number is somewhat understandable. For a freshman point guard who must run the offense, it’s completely unheard of. Boeheim knows that Flynn can be one of the top players at his position this season in what could be his last in Syracuse. The return of shooters Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf should spread the floor and allow for Flynn not only more assist opportunities but also lanes to use his excellent penetrating ability and find the basket for easy layups.

SG- Eric Devendorf (JR)
: When junior leader Eric Devendorf tore his ACL in the tenth game of Syracuse’s 07-08 campaign, all of the experience the Orange had on their roster disappeared in a flash. Devendorf played his junior season with two years of starting and double-digit scoring experience under his belt, and his presence allowed Flynn more lanes to score and fellow freshman Donte Greene more open mid-range jumpers. Losing Devendorf also meant their best three-point shooter would now be on the shelf for the remainder of the season. It was a trying injury, but Devendorf is now back at full strength and ready to lead the Orange. His driving ability is unmatched in the Big East and his range from behind the arc, along with Rautins, gives Syracuse a two-headed weapon from outside.

SF- Paul Harris (JR): Harris is, hands down, the best rebounding small forward in the country. Nobody attacks the rim with the amount of ferocity and passion as Harris, who is listed at 6’5 but admits he’s even shorter. Starting in all of the Orange’s contests last year gave the junior valuable experience, something coach Boeheim feels is vital. Often a maddening player due to head-scratching turnovers and questionable shot selection, he just needs more and more minutes to make those mistakes and learn from them. Some felt Harris may be a one-and-done player when he arrived on campus. Although that was far from the truth, the talent is flowing and the production is tremendous for young Paul Harris.

PF- Kristof Ongenaet (SR)
: What Ongenaet brought to the table for Syracuse was clear: rebounding, toughness, defense and height. Never in my wildest imagination could I imagine he’d start for Cuse at any point in his career for one simple reason: he could not score. While Ongenaet was your classic post player who planted himself in the paint and clawed hard for every rebound and block, his game on offense was too much of a liability to start on a regular basis in the Big East. Then late February and early March rolled around and something clicked. In his last six games, Ongenaet averaged 8.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG and made 17 of 26 FG attempts. Now, Syracuse might have a two-dimensional force at the four spot.

C- Arinze Onuaku (JR): The superior play of Onuaku may mark the difference between a bubble team and a Big East title contender this season. The coaching staff got more out of their junior big man last year than they could have ever expected: 12.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG and the highest field-goal percentage in the Big East at 63%. While free-throw shooting is a mystery, Onuaku could emerge as one of the top post players in the conference this year, even as the third or fourth scoring option. When Onuaku played fellow top centers in the Big East, he more than held his own.

Bench: I mentioned in the Villanova preview that bringing a long-range weapon like Corey Fisher off the bench could be a huge factor. Sub Andy Rautins in for Fisher and Syracuse in for Villanova and you have the same story. Rautins tore his ACL playing for the Canadian Senior National Team in August of 2007 and never saw the court last year. His 41% against Big East opponents from deep in 06-07 gave Syracuse a one-two punch with Devendorf from outside, and they sorely missed his shooting last season. Rick Jackson should battle Ongenaet for playing time at the four. His versatility is needed, but Jackson needs to be aggressive and make his presence known on the court. Freshmen Kris Joseph and Mookie Jones are talented swingmen; Joseph is athletic and versatile while Jones is a surprisingly good shooter for his size. Scoop Jardine redshirting hurts the depth of the backcourt.

Backcourt: A-
Frontcourt: B
Bench: B-
Coaching: B+

Bottom Line:
Can Syracuse really miss the NCAA Tournament three years in a row? Not since the early 80’s has that occurred, and I don’t see it happening again this year. They’ve got a strong backcourt with Flynn capable of running an excellent point and Devendorf returning healthy to provide a multi-dimensional look. I like Onuaku to emerge as a fantastic center if he can stay on the court at the end of games. Paul Harris is still maturing and still producing. They just need to avoid losing games to Atlantic 10 teams at home and they have enough talent to make it back to March Madness. Rautins off the bench could be huge for this team; expect him to knock down some game-changing shots.

Key Non-Conference Games: CBE Classic vs. Florida, 11/28 vs. Virginia, 12/15 vs. Cleveland State, 12/20 @ Memphis
Key Conference Games: 1/17 vs. Notre Dame, 1/28 @ Providence, 2/7 @ Villanova, 2/14 vs. Georgetown
Most Valuable Player: Jonny Flynn
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Round of 32)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »