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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.

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.

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 »

ACC Preview #9-#12

Posted by Tommy on October 23, 2008

The ACC has been the heart of East Coast basketball for as long as any of us can remember. Until recently, that is. The ACC has taken a slight back seat in terms of overall strength to the new and improved Big East after its expansion in 2005. It still has college basketball’s best team as well as the sports best rivalry and is probably the deepest conference in the land. Most of the teams like to play a fast-paced, explosive style and have the athletes to do so.

There are three or four teams that have separated themselves from the pack, but below them is a group of teams with pretty even talent levels. Just like Zach is doing for the Big East and Pat will do for the Pac-10, I’ll do an in-depth preview of each team, starting with the bottom and eventually ending with the best team in the conference. Here are the bottom four teams of the ACC:

12. Virginia Cavaliers– Coach: Dave Leitao (4th season)

Backcourt: The Cavs have been driven by their backcourt play over the past couple of years with players like J.R. Reynolds and Sean Singletary. Now that they’re gone, Leitao is going to have to find production from other guards. The primary threats from this year’s backcourt are versatile G/F Mamadi Diane and athletic junior guard Calvin Baker. Diane has several tools to beat defenders but needs to become more consistent if he truly wants to be the leader of this squad. Baker really came on towards the end of last season as a two guard but will probably end up running the point this season. Even though the loss of Singletary was a big blow to the backcourt, they’re probably going to have to provide most of the scoring again this season. Grade: C-

Frontcourt: As I said before, the backcourt is going to have to make up for the lack of productivity from the frontcourt. Well that was an understatement. The leading returning scorer for the frontcourt is 6-9 forward Jamil Tucker who averaged 5.2 PPG last season. After him the next leading scorer is 6-9 F/C Jerome Meyinesse with 1.9 PPG last year. Other than these two, nobody from last year’s frontcourt averaged more than 1 PPG. 6-11 freshman John Brandenburg (#16 Center according to is going to have to step in right away and contribute, perhaps even start for Leitao. Overall, there is minimal game experience in this frontcourt but Brandenburg is a promising freshman. Grade: D-

Bottom Line: UVA has been in the basement of the ACC the past couple of seasons and things aren’t looking too bright in Charlottesville in 08-09. Diane is the only senior with major game experience on the roster and is going to have to shoulder the load the entire year. It’s a shame for Leitao, the winner of the 2007 ACC Coach of the Year, to keep going downhill. He certainly has some rebuilding to do to bring the Cavaliers back to the top of the ACC.

Starting Lineup:
G- Calvin Baker (JR)
G- Mamadi Diane (SR)
F- Mike Scott (SO)
F- Jamil Tucker (JR)
C- John Brandenburg (FR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/28 @ Syracuse, 12/2 @ Minnesota, 1/3 vs. Xavier
Key Conference Games: 1/10 @ Va. Tech, @ Maryland 1/20, 2/18 Va. Tech, 2/26 Miami
Most Valuable Player: Mamadi Diane
Projected Postseason Tournament: none

11. Florida State Seminoles– Coach: Leonard Hamilton (7th season)

Backcourt: Guard Toney Douglas is one of the most dangerous guards in the conference. He averaged 15.4 PPG and 2.6 SPG last season, showing that he not only has the ability to score but takes pride in his defense and knows how to put his hands on the ball. Douglas is going to be a one-man show in the backcourt considering the other five guards on the roster consist of four underclassmen and a rarely used senior. JUCO transfer Derwin Kitchen is the likely candidate to start alongside Douglas but until somebody proves themselves capable of playing a large part of the game there will probably be somewhat of a rotation at the two guard. Grade: C

Frontcourt: Although young, this frontcourt is going to be quite explosive. 6-11 F/C Xavier Gibson and 6-9 F Chris Singleton, both incoming freshmen, are going to get big chunks of playing time whether they’re starting or coming off the bench. They’ll experience some growing pains when going up against the stronger frontcourts of teams like North Carolina and Wake Forest, but once these two get experience in ACC play they’ll be one of the better frontcourt tandems in the ACC over the next couple of years. Last year’s leading rebounder (7.3 RPG) Uche Echefu along with junior Ryan Reid, who shot 53.1% from the field last year, will be the experienced leaders of this frontcourt. Grade: C+

Bottom Line: Hamilton and the Seminoles are in a period of rebuilding and have some nice freshmen to do so. As for this year, seniors Douglas and Echefu are the only returning double-digit scorers from 07-08 and are going to have to carry Florida State until these freshmen acclimate themselves. This team will be explosive with their abundance of athleticism, making them an upset threat in the ACC, but they lost a lot of talent from a team that went 7-9 in the ACC last year.

Starting Lineup:
G- Toney Douglas (SR)
G- Derwin Kitchen (SO)
F- Ryan Reid (JR)
F- Uche Echefu (SR)
F/C- Xavier Gibson (FR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/7 vs. Florida, 12/21 vs. Pittsburgh
Key Conference Games: 1/10 vs. Duke, 1/21 @ Miami, 2/28 vs. Clemson
Most Valuable Player: Tony Douglas
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI

10. North Carolina State Wolfpack- Coach: Sidney Lowe (3rd Season)

Backcourt: In December of last season, point guard Farnold Degand went down with an injury and the whole Wolfpack team seemed to go down with him, losing their last nine games. Degand will be back running the point this season as a junior and will likely get some help from sophomore Javier Gonzalez, who was sparatic during his time at the point as a frosh. There is plenty of hype on campus around the incoming freshmen for Sidney Lowe. Although they’re not overly heralded, guard Julius Mays, who could potentially run the point, and forward C.J. Williams look to get significant minutes. G/F Courtney Fells will be playing either in the two or three spot for Lowe. No matter where he is, this team is going to look for him to provide much of the offense. Grade: C-

Frontcourt: Last season there was an interesting dynamic amongst the big men of NC State. Brandon Costner looked like he was going to be one of the ACC’s premier big men after his phenomenal freshman campaign. However, the arrival of stud freshman J.J. Hickson not only hurt Costner’s numbers, but it seemed as though he just wasn’t emotionally in the game on every possession. Now that Hickson is gone, it’s going to be interesting to see how Costner plays. If he improves on the numbers he put up freshman year, which I think he will, he could be the explosive ACC forward most thought he was going to be. As for the other big men, Ben McCauley has always been a tough but undersized post player. He put up decent numbers last season, but will have to improve on those numbers to solidify this frontcourt. The tallest players on the roster are 6-9 and none of them have much shot-blocking ability at all. This lack of a big presence in the paint will definitely hurt them on the defensive end, but both McCauley and Costner can step out and hit the jumper, making them pretty tough to guard. Grade: C+

Bottom Line: If the Wolfpack gets good play from their point guard and if Costner improves on his numbers from his freshman season, they’ll probably be better than a tenth place team. With that said, the Wolfpack’s lack of size, depth and a proven point guard are going to hinder them all season. It’s going to take a couple of years for Lowe and the Wolfpack to become a quality ACC team.

Starting Lineup:
G- Farnold Degand (JR)
G- Courtney Fells (SR)
G- Tracy Smith (SO)
F- Brandon Costner (JR)
F- Ben McCauley (SR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/6 @ Davidson, 12/22 vs. Marquette, 1/3 @ Florida
Key Conference Games: 1/17 vs. Ga. Tech, 1/24 @ Boston College, 1/8 @ Va. Tech
Most Valuable Player: Courtney Fells
Projected Postseason: CBI

9. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets- Coach: Paul Hewitt (9th season)

Backcourt: I really like the structure of the Ramblin’ Wreck’s backcourt this season. They have three guards who all specialize in different facets of the the game. D’Andre Bell is the epitome of a lock-down defender and is arguably the best perimeter defender in the country. Lewis Clinch has a well-rounded offensive game and can score in many different ways. Maurice Miller is a solid young point guard and will improve on his run of the mill numbers from his freshman year at the point. Then there’s the emotional spark from Matt Causey off of the bench. Causey has a knack for the big shots and is scrappy guard who isn’t afraid of anybody. He’ll provide a change of pace at the point from the quiet Mo Miller. If Miller doesn’t hold up at the point, look for Causey to take control of Hewitt’s offense. In addition to these returning players, incoming freshman Iman Shumpert gives this backcourt plenty of depth. Grade: B

Frontcourt: The losses of Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey from a team that already struggles rebounding is really going to hurt Georgia Tech’s frontline. However, the Yellow Jackets still have plenty of solid big men. Sophomore Gani Lawal is an athletic specimen with a huge wingspan and enormous leaping ability who should get increased playing time, increasing his numbers. He just needs to add some muscle and get tougher down low in order to become a better rebounder, and if he realizes his potential he can be a First Team All-ACC player. Another key player on Hewitt’s frontline is Zack Peacock. Although somewhat less talented than Lawal, Peacock will do all of the little things correctly and has a versatile offensive game. If either of these two get into foul trouble, which is a very likely scenario, Alade Aminu is a very capable post player off of the bench. Sophomore 7-footer Brad Sheehan provides a big presence in the paint for this frontline. No matter who is in there, this unit needs to rebound better and block some more shots than they did last season. Grade: B-

Bottom Line: The Yellow Jackets always seem to have a great squad on paper but underperform their expectations. This roster has plenty of talent in their starters and first couple of reserves, but after that there isn’t much. It’ll be interesting to see how Hewitt’s squad does this season. They have the potential to reach as high as fifth or sixth place, but if this team gets in a hole early in the season, they’re not likely to climb themselves out. Also, they have to learn how to win on the road. The Yellow Jackets are a dangerous team on their homecourt, but until they learn to play on the road it’ll be tough to succeed in the ACC.

Starting Lineup:
G- Maurice Miller (SO)
G- D’Andre Bell (SR)
G- Lewis Clinch (SR)
F- Zach Peacock (JR)
F/C- Gani Lawal (SO)

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/6 vs. Vanderbilt, 12/22 @ USC, 1/3 @ Alabama
Key Conference Games: 1/10 @ Maryland, 1/20 vs. Boston College, 2/22 vs. Clemson, 3/4 vs. Miami
Most Valuable Player: D’Andre Bell
Projected Postseason: NIT (2nd or 3rd round)

Numbers 7 and 8 should be up on Saturday afternoon.

Posted in ACC 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 »

Big East Preview: #8 Villanova

Posted by Zach on October 20, 2008

8. Villanova Wildcats– Coach: Jay Wright (8th season)

PG- Scottie Reynolds (JR): Everyone who watches ESPN on a regular basis has heard of Scottie Reynolds. It’s hard to say the star point guard doesn’t deserve the hype, though. As a freshman he won Big East Rookie of the Year and finished on the Big East All-2nd team as a sophomore while increasing his scoring average. Reynolds can contend for the conference player of the year this season if his development as a dynamic point guard and scorer both continue, because then Villanova wins basketball games. He already has over 1,000 points in two years at Villanova. It’s possible Wright will use Corey Fisher as more of a point guard this year to free Reynolds up for more scoring opportunities on the wing, either through his excellent jumper or ability to drive the ball.

SG- Dwayne Anderson
(SR): Dwayne is a complete player who energized the Wildcats during their mid-season slump last year through rebounding and defense. Anderson has a respectable jumper, but makes his mark for Nova through energy and an unmatched effort on defense. The Wildcats turned around their season last year with Anderson’s game-winning shot against Seton Hall and should have his starting spot entrenched from his effort at the end of 07-08. One area for Anderson to improve on are free throws (63%). He’s the unquestioned leader of this team as a senior.

SF- Corey Stokes (SO): Not one player on the Villanova roster made more strides last year than Stokes. He began the year looking like your typical lost freshman: liability on defense, inconsistent jump shot and turnovers galore. Then something clicked and Stokes went on to become the Wildcats second most valuable player down the stretch behind Reynolds, culminating in a 20-point performance against Siena in Tampa. Stokes made strides not only with his three-point shot, which has seemingly limitless range, but also on defense. The hyped sophomore from St. Benedict’s Prep will look to build on the second half of last year for 08-09.

PF- Antonio Pena (SO): Believe it or not, Pena is older than fellow senior postman Dante Cunningham. Following two years at a prep school, one year red shirted, and a freshman season that saw strides in development, Pena is ready to contribute for coach Wright on a consistent basis. With no true center on the roster, Pena needs to become a fearsome tandem on the boards with Cunningham. When Pena received the starting nod last year, his scoring and rebounding numbers rose, reasons why I feel Wright will have him pegged into the initial starting five, with Shane Clark on his heels if Wright wants to go small (and we all know he’s not scared of going small).

PF- Dante Cunningham (SR): As the lone player to start every game for Wright last season, Cunningham emerged as a fixture in the post. Formerly more of a complimentary force that hadn’t emerged from his shell, Cunningham finally used his talent to turn into a double-digit scorer and forceful rebounding presence. He has molded into a confident post player that demands the basketball and has grown into the team’s unsung leader. His scoring has increased every year since he arrived at Villanova; Wright is hoping for a boost from 10.4 PPG to around 14 PPG this season. Look for him to see plenty of minutes and continue his efficient play.

Bench: Sophomore Corey Fisher went through the typical freshman ups-and-downs with his jump shot last season. This year, with his comfort level rising, Wright will use Fisher effectively off the bench as a sparkplug who can drain a huge three to quell an opposing run. Fisher showed his potential with a big performance in the upset over Clemson in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Reggie Redding is used sparingly but often finds himself on the court at the end of games because of his intelligence on defense. Shane Clark went through a dismal junior campaign in which he disappeared from games and often didn’t even see the court. Wright hopes his head is on straight for this season because he can contribute offensively. Casiem Drummond is the only true center on the roster. He showed enormous potential before injuring his ankle early last season. He could break out for Villanova and give them much needed height and scoring down low.

Backcourt: B+
Frontcourt: B
Bench: B
Coaching: B+

Bottom Line: Villanova has reached the NCAA Tournament the last four seasons. They backed up their controversial selection last year with a Sweet Sixteen berth. With five starters back, including the outstanding Reynolds, how can I possibly have them eighth in their own conference? Well, the Big East is insanely good. This Villanova team did struggle for a good portion of last season and they’ll be better this year. Look for Villanova to run their March streak to five and see great strides from Fisher, Stokes and Drummond.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/9 @ Texas, 12/11 vs. St Joe’s, 12/14 @ La Salle, 12/29 vs. Temple
Key Conference Games: 1/28 vs. Pittsburgh, 2/4 @ Providence, 2/7 vs. Syracuse, 2/10 vs. Marquette
Most Valuable Player: Scottie Reynolds
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (One and done)

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

Big East Preview: #10-#9

Posted by Zach on October 18, 2008

10. Providence Friars– Coach: Keno Davis (1st season)

The backcourt is the strength of this Providence team. They return their leading scorer from two seasons ago in Sharaud Curry, who is finally 100% healthy from his injured foot that kept him out of important action last season. Also returning is Manhattan transfer Jeff Xavier who hit 76 threes and became the Friars leading scorer last year in the absence of Curry. He also led the conference in SPG and the return of Curry running the offense should lead to more open looks for Xavier. The inconsistent and flashy Weyinmi Efejuku can certainly pile up the points on any given night and then disappear the next. Davis hopes the coaching change will help his attitude and get him motivated for every Big East game. Brian McKenzie is yet another returning double-digit scorer. He finished second to Xavier in three-pointers and will likely play more of the 2-guard spot where he’s comfortable. With Dwain Williams transferring, sophomore Marshon Brooks should get more playing time. Grade: B+

Frontcourt: The frontcourt is boosted by box score filler Geoff McDermott. He’s one of the best passing big men in the country while also attacking the boards with ferocity, evidenced by his 6’8 frame becoming the only player in team history to grab 250+ rebounds and dish out 150+ assists in the same season. An improvement in scoring for McDermott would vault him into elite forward status. 6’11 Randall Hanke is a mystery for the Friars. He displays an accurate scoring touch and possesses a center’s frame, but refuses to maintain any sort of aggressiveness on the boards and plays defense scared. A breakout year is possible if Hanke can harness his abilities. Jamine Peterson is a wild card; his athleticism is unmatched and Peterson flows well with an up-tempo approach on the floor. While his defense desperately needs improvement, Peterson is the type of high-energy player every team needs. The question up front for Providence is depth and defense. They hope to get instant help from incoming freshman Bilal Dixon, who provides bulk for Keno Davis. Grade: C+

Bottom Line: Keno Davis knows how to coach. He proved himself molding a mediocre Drake team into the story of the year in college basketball and a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now he walks into a situation in Providence where the fans are tired of the underachieving Tim Welsh and need a change. With eight of your top nine scorers returning and plenty of experience, I feel Davis can transform the program in just months time. I feel like this conference could get a record ten teams into the Big Dance, and Providence would be the tenth selection.

Starting Lineup:

G- Sharaud Curry (JR)
G- Jeff Xavier (SR)
G- Weyinmi Efejuku (SR)
F- Geoff McDermott (SR)
F- Randall Hanke (SR)

Key Non-Conference Games: Anaheim Classic, 11/15 vs. Northeastern, 12/20 @ Boston College
Key Conference Games: 1/10 @ Georgetown, 1/28 vs. Syracuse, 2/7 @ West Virginia, 3/5 @ Villanova
Most Valuable Player: Geoff McDermott
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (One and done)

9. West Virginia Mountaineers
– Coach: Bob Huggins (2nd season)

Backcourt: They’ll have a difficult time dealing with the loss of steady point guard Darris Nichols, who finished second in the Big East in assist-turnover ratio, but I feel Joe Mazzulla has the goods to step in right away and contribute. Mazzulla, who really came on in the NCAA Tournament and in their stunning win over Duke in the second round, distributes the basketball fairly well and shows a keen shooting touch from mid-range. More of those point guard instincts will be smoothed over with increased experience. The backcourt is also boosted by the outside shooting of Alex Ruoff. Coach Bob Huggins wants Ruoff to attack the basket with more frequency, but I’d prefer it if he remains near the perimeter where he sunk 41% of his threes. Freshman Darryl Bryant is a hard-nosed point guard like most that come out of the Bronx (except Sebastian Telfair, he’s just dumb). Huggins may try to play Devin Ebanks at shooting guard at some points, and Da’Sean Butler is more than capable of playing the 2. The flexibility of the West Virginia roster is a big reason why I have them pegged for the NCAA Tournament once again. Grade: B-

Frontcourt: Da’Sean Butler has the chance to step into the spotlight with Joe Alexander departed. Butler can play both inside and outside, is the teams strongest rebounding presence, and also added a 37% three-point accuracy to his resume. The junior made strides as a sophomore to reach double-digit scoring; Huggins hopes Butler can excel to more of a 14-15 PPG threat and continue to create matchup problems. The former Indiana commit turned Mountaineer Devin Ebanks is a force to be reckoned with- a super athlete with great driving ability with an advanced jump shot for his age. He can sink it from anywhere on the floor and may be WV’s best player from day one. Fellow freshman Kevin Jones is another top-75 recruit with versatility with great size and length. Wellington Smith saw increased playing time in March and showed he can take it to the rim and finish, but he’s still nothing more than a seventh or eighth man. Huggins hopes Demetrius Proby or freshman Roscoe Davis can emerge at the five. Grade: B

Bottom Line: Bob Huggins may be a polarizing figure, but the job he did last season taking John Beilein’s system and his players and molding them into a tough, rebound-first, man-to-man, Elite Eight team was a sight to see. Huggins lost his do-everything glue guy in Joe Alexander and point guard in Darris Nichols, two components it takes more than a blink of the eye to replace. Once Joe Mazzulla shows he can be a steady force at point guard and Devin Ebanks takes off in his first season in Morgantown, this is a bubble-in team that could be the eye of much debate on Selection Sunday.

Starting Lineup:

G- Joe Mazzulla (JR)
G- Alex Ruoff (SR)
G/F- Da’Sean Butler (JR)
F- Devin Ebanks (FR)
F- Wellington Smith (JR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/28 @ Iowa, 12/3 @ Mississippi, 12/9 vs. Davidson, 12/27 @ Ohio State
Key Conference Games: 1/3 @ Seton Hall, 2/7 vs. Providence, 2/13 vs. Villanova, 2/26 @ Cincinnati
Most Valuable Player: Devin Ebanks
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (One and done)

#8 Villanova and #7 Syracuse will be up on Monday.

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

Big East Preview: #12-#11

Posted by Zach on October 16, 2008

12. DePaul Blue Demons– Coach: Jerry Wainwright (4th season)

Backcourt: Sophomore Dar Tucker is already being pegged as a potential breakout candidate this season. The athletic guard/forward combo player scored nearly 14 PPG coming off the bench last year. Tucker needs to improve on his defensive game, but certainly shows explosiveness on the other end of the court with highlight reel dunks and a constant penchant for attacking the rim. The evolving of Tucker from showing flashes of brilliance to a steady team leader will be a huge question for the Blue Demons. Will Walker made strides to be the most improved DePaul player last season and must take over as full-time point guard for coach Wainwright. Jabari Currie is the teams designated three-point popper, finishing at 47.1% from long range last year. The emergence of Tucker and improved point guard play from Walker should open up great looks. Incoming freshman Jeremiah Kelly should also provide aid for Walker backing him up at point. Grade: B-

Frontcourt: Super sophomore Mac Koshwal is the main focus of the frontcourt. Koshwal is a future NBA prospect due to his rebounding abilities (finished fifth in the Big East as a freshman), size (6’10, 240) and advanced footwork in the paint, allowing himself more simple looks at the basket resulting in easy baskets. Koshwal could find himself averaging nearly a double-double this season. Joining Koshwal up front is the second member of the Chicago twin towers in 6’10 senior Matija Poscic. After a disappointing campaign last year in which Poscic weltered dealing with the pure physicality of the Big East, coach Wainwright hopes a season of adjustment will be followed up by a more steady, efficient approach from Poscic, along with an improvement over the 2.1 PPG he finished with in 07-08. 6’11 freshman Krys Faber could turn out to be more of a compliment to Koshwal by the end of the season. Two wing players will also add depth to the frontcourt, including the super-athletic freshman Devin Hill and long distance shooter Mario Stula. Grade: C+

Bottom Line:
DePaul has the potential to really take off this season. The rough-and-tumble Big East doesn’t help their cause, though. Ever since Wilson Chandler departed early, this team has been dismal on the offensive and defensive boards, along with lacking any ounce of consistency on defense. The rebounding starts with Koshwal and the defense starts with Tucker. These two sophomores are Big East-caliber talents, but they must complete their game for the Blue Demons to threaten for an NCAA berth.

Starting Lineup:

G- Dar Tucker (SO)
G- Will Walker (JR)
G- Jabari Currie (SR)
F- Mac Koshwal (SO)
C- Matija Poscic (SR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/3 @ California, 12/6 @ Northwestern, 12/13 @ UCLA, 12/22 @ Saint Louis
Key Conference Games: 1/17 vs. Cincinnati, 1/31 @ Rutgers, 2/3 vs. Marquette, 2/25 vs. Villanova
Most Valuable Player: Dar Tucker
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT

11. Cincinnati Bearcats
– Coach: Mick Cronin (3rd season)

Backcourt: The breakout player in the entire conference last year may have been guard Deonta Vaughn. The sophomore put up outstanding totals: fourth in 3PT%, eighth in FT%, ninth in APG and finished with 17.3 PPG to boot (all conference ranks). Coach Mick Cronin is hoping Vaughn makes the leap from not only a superstar scorer but also floor captain for an offense with a few more pieces than a season ago. It’ll be nice having Williams when defenses key on Vaughn this season. Cronin also likes the addition of speedy freshman Cashmere Wright as a chance-of-pace off the bench, along with the ability to break down defenses and penetrate for easy buckets. Incoming freshman Dion Dixon is a three-point specialist and will help spread the floor for Cincy. Fellow guard/forward Rashard Bishop started 20 games as a freshman and proved to be a consistent glue guy on the court for Cronin. Grade: B

Mike Williams is finally healthy. The Texas transfer has been on the Cincinnati campus for three years now- he had to sit out a year after transferring in 06-07 then suffered a season-ending injury in practice in 07-08- and the former McDonalds All-American is finally prepared to contribute. His leadership, experience, scoring and rebounding should be invaluable for a still relatively young Bearcat squad, and Williams could be the second double-digit scorer alongside Vaughn this season. Not a bad one-two punch for Cronin to work with.  Freshman sensation Yancy Gates is a player to watch. He already possesses a strong post presence with surprising athleticism for a man of his stature. Anthony McClain is a 7-foot statue in the paint that can be a force in the Big East if he improves his assertiveness and aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. Western Carolina transfer Nick Aldridge should be the first off the bench and add another scoring option. Grade: B-

Bottom Line: Even with the disappointing first round CBI exit, the Bearcats came a long way last season, finishing with marquee Big East wins and turning around what looked like an unraveling program in November. This team finished just 2-14 in the conference after the departure of Andy Kennedy, and with the breakout of Vaughn along with key additions such as Mike Williams, Cronin has this team in the right direction. They may even find themselves firmly on the bubble if the Bearcats can score at a more steady basis and Gates adds that third weapon on offense. Also worth noting Cincy plays one non-conference road game the entire months of November and December.

Starting Lineup:

G- Deonta Vaughn (JR)
G- Rashad Bishop (JR)
F- Mike Williams (JR)
F- Yancy Gates (FR)
C- Anthony McClain (SO)

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/28 vs. Florida State, 12/6 vs. UAB, 12/13 vs. Xavier, 12/29 @ Memphis
Key Conference Games: 1/7 vs. Providence, 1/17 @ DePaul, 1/28 vs. Georgetown, 2/26 vs. West Virginia
Most Valuable Player: Deonta Vaughn
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT

#10 Providence and #9 West Virginia for tomorrow.

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

Big Ten Preview

Posted by Tommy on October 16, 2008

The Big Ten, which has been in somewhat of a down period the past couple of seasons, looks to be on the rise and boasts some of the best coaches the country has to offer. Names like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Beilein, Tubby Smith, Thad Matta, Bruce Weber, Todd Lickliter and Matt Painter are at the helm of their respective teams once again and Indiana brings in former Marquette coach Tom Crean to lead them out of the dark times in the wake of the Sampson scandals in Bloomington. The Big Ten is known for its hard-nosed defensive basketball as well as its slower paced style of play. I’ll run down the conference from top to bottom with predicted conference records and give projected starters for each team and I’ll highlight the marquee games. I’ll also give the First and Second Team All-Big Ten as well as Coach of the Year, Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.

1. Purdue Boilermakers (15-3): Matt Painter has done a tremendous job coaching his Baby Boilermakers over the past two seasons. They’ve exceeded expectations with their young squad, but now that they’re weathered veterans, expectations are high in West Lafayette. Last year’s Defensive POY, Chris Kramer, returns along with Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and Keaton Grant in hopes of bringing home their first regular season Big-10 Title since 1996. The only apparent weakness in this team is their lack of size, which they have made up for in the past couple of years with team speed.

Projected Starters

G- Chris Kramer
G- E’Twaun Moore
G – Keaton Grant
F – Robbie Hummel
F/C – JaJuan Johnson

Marquee Games: Duke (12/2), Wisconsin (1/11), @ Wisco (1/27), @ Ohio State (2/3), Michigan State (2/17), Ohio State (2/28), @ Michigan State (3/7)

2. Michigan State Spartans (14-4): Sparty is going to have the most explosive team in the Big Ten this season. Sophomore Kalin Lucas burst onto the scene last season at the point, establishing himself as a premier guard in the conference. He’ll play alongside senior Travis Walton who is also capable of running the point, giving Tom Izzo a very versatile and talented backcourt. The frontcourt, made up of Goran Suton and Marquise Gray, is very tough in the paint but won’t dominate anybody with their offensive skills. The key to this year’s team in East Lansing is versatile forward Raymar Morgan. In the past he took a back seat in the offense to Drew Neitzel, but now that Neitzel is gone, Morgan is going to be the primary scoring threat. Stud freshman forward Delvon Roe is going to be an X-factor for Izzo this year. He possesses a better skill set on offense than either Suton or Gray, but will the microfracture surgery on his knee affect his play?

Projected Starters

G – Kalin Lucas
G – Travis Walton
F – Raymar Morgan
F – Delvon Roe
C – Goran Suton

Marquee Games: Old Spice Classic: (probable opponents: Gonzaga (11/28), Georgetown (11/30)), North Carolina (12/3), Texas (12/20), Ohio State (1/6), Kansas (1/10), @ Ohio State (1/25), @ Purdue (2/17), Wisconsin (2/22), Purdue (3/7)

3. Wisconsin Badgers(12-6): The Badgers suffered a couple of key losses in lockdown defender Michael Flowers and big man Brian Butch, but return enough key components from last year’s Big Ten Regular Season Champs to stay near the top of the Big Ten. Point guard Trevon Hughes returns with a full year of experience under his belt starting at point guard along with Mr. Do-it-All Joe Krabbenhoft and scrappy post player Marcus Landry. The Big Ten’s 2007-08 Sixth Man of the Year Jason Bohannon is going to see a lot more shooting opportunities this season. Incoming freshman center Jared Berggren could find his 6’10” 235 lb frame starting come conference play. The Badgers will have a couple of good guards along with a tough and undersized frontcourt, but no matter how low the expectations have been for Bo Ryan, he always seems to have the Badgers in the hunt for a Big Ten title. A pretty favorable Big Ten schedule will certainly help them as well since they only play Ohio State and Michigan State once.

Projected Starters

G – Trevon Hughes
G – Jason Bohannon
F – Jon Leuer
F – Joe Krabbenhoft
F – Marcus Landry

Marquee Games: @ Marquette (12/6), Texas (12/23), @ Purdue (1/11), Purdue (1/27), Ohio State (2/14), @ Michigan State (2/22)

4. Ohio State Buckeyes (12-6): Thad Matta brings in a couple of superstar freshmen in B.J. Mullens and William Buford. The Buckeyes are going to be pretty young this year with six incoming freshman, three of whom could very well start. Mullens is going to have to get at least a touch on every possession for the Buckeyes; he’s so talented he deserves to get the ball every time down the court. The big question for Ohio State is their backcourt. Will Jon Diebler become the three-point threat everybody thought he was going to be? Also, Matta will probably have a freshman at the point, which is never a good sign. I believe that this team will have a few rough spots in the first couple of months, but once these freshmen establish a chemistry, Ohio State is talented enough to take down anybody in the Big Ten.

Projected Starters

G – Anthony Crater
G – William Buford
F – David Lighty
F – Evan Turner
C – BJ Mullens

Marquee Games: @ Miami (12/2), @ Notre Dame (12/6), West Virginia (12/27), @ Michigan State (1/6), Michigan State (1/25), Purdue (2/3), @ Wisconsin (2/14), @ Purdue (2/28)

5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-8) The Gophers shocked Indiana in the Big Ten tourney last year with a last second, weak-handed shot from Blake Hoffarber. This year the Gophers will feature a strong backcourt made up by Al Nolen, Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook as well as incoming freshman Devoe Joseph. It’s evident that Tubby is starting to bring a basketball culture to the Barn with some pretty big recruits in Joseph, Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. Sampson and Iverson are going to have to step in and contribute right away after the losses of Spencer Tollackson and Dan Coleman. This team has a lot of young talent, but can Tubby harness it and become successful in the Big Ten? I don’t think they’ll be overly successful quite yet but look for this team to make some noise in the coming seasons if everybody sticks around.

Projected Starters

G – Al Nolen
G – Blake Hoffarber
G – Lawrence Westbrook
F – Jamal Abu-Shamala
C – Ralph Sampson III

Marquee Games: Louisville (in Glendale, AZ on 12/20), Michigan State (12/21), Ohio State (1/3), @ Wisconsin (1/15), Purdue (1/22), @ Michigan State (2/4), Ohio State (2/7), @ Michigan (2/19)

6. Michigan Wolverines (9-9) Much like Tubby Smith, Jon Beilein is trying to start up a basketball culture in Ann Arbor, and has brought in some pretty nice recruits to do so. This team will be driven by guard Manny Harris, who I think will become a household name, forwards Anthony Wright and DeShawn Sims. This team will go through its share of growing pains, but the natural talent is there for the Wolverines.

Projected Starters

G – Manny Harris
G – Kelvin Grady
F – Anthony Wright
F – DeShawn Sims
F/C – Zack Gibson

7. Illinois Fighting Illini (8-10) The 2007-08 campaign was a struggle for Bruce Weber and the Illini going 5-13 in conference play. This year’s team will rely on its backcourt for its production. Guards Trent Meachem and sophomore Demetri McCamey are going to be the primary threats for Weber. Kentucky transfer Alex Legion is a huge boost to a team that needs all the help they can get when he becomes eligible in December. The Illini’s strong backcourt will keep them in games but their frontcourt could be their Achilles’ heel the entire season.

Projected Starters

G – Trent Meachem
G – Demetri McCamey
G – Calvin Brock
F – Mike Davis
C – Mike Tisdale

8. Northwestern Wildcats (6-12) Kevin Coble and Michael Thompson are two of the better players in the Big Ten at their respective positions. Thompson averaged 4.3 APG last season at the point and Coble contributed 13.4 PPG as a forward. Much of their supporting cast is returning next year, including Craig Moore and Sterling Williams. Their incoming freshman class is extraordinarily big with two players over 6’11” and two more over 6’8″. A couple of these freshmen like Luka Mirkovic and Kyle Rowley are going to have to step in right away and contribute.

Projected Starters

G – Michael Thompson
G – Craig Moore
F – Sterling Williams
F – Kevin Coble
C – Kyle Rowley

9. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-13) When I look at this Penn State team, there are two questions I ask myself. Will they decide to play defense this season? And who will support Jamelle Cornley and Talor Battle? If they do decide to play defense, this team could leap in front of Northwestern. As for the support of Cornley and Battle, most of it will be coming from 3-point specialist Danny Morrissey and forward Stanley Pringle. After these four players there won’t be much production, so depth is going to be a big detriment for the Lions.

Projected Starters

G – Talor Battle
G – Danny Morrissey
F – Jamelle Cornley
F – Stabley Pringle
F – Andrew Jones III

10. Iowa Hawkeyes (3-15) The Hawkeyes lost several key components from last year’s team who went 6-12 in the Big Ten. Community College transfer Devan Bawinkle is going to have to shoulder some of the load right away along with forward Cyrus Tate, especially with Jarryd Cole’s reeling ACL injury. Iowa’s frontcourt is a huge question mark for Todd Lickliter after the losses of Kurt Looby and Seth Gorney. Overall, the Hawkeyes are going to struggle filling the holes of the departures from both their backcourt and frontcourt but their great defense may keep them in some games they’re not supposed to be in.

Prjected Starters

G – Jeff Peterson
G – Jake Kelly
G – Devan Bawinkle
F – Cyrus Tate
F – Jarryd Cole

11. Indiana Hoosiers (0-18) The struggles of the usually great Indiana basketball program are well known. Tom Crean inherits a team with one scholarship player returning, but does bring in a nice amount of notable recruits. Freshmen Matt Roth, Verdell Jones III, Nick Williams and Malik Storey could all very well all start for Crean. Transfers Tijan Jobe and Devon Dumes are the only players on the roster with significant game experience in college. Needless to say, Crean needs a couple of seasons to get Indiana back on its feet. Jeremiah Rivers, who will be eligible to play in Bloomington next season, will help.

Projected Starters

G – Verdell Jones III
G – Matt Roth
G – Nick Williams
F – Kyle Taber
C – Tijan Jobe

First Team All-Big Ten                                    Second Team All-Big 10

G – Kalin Lucas                                                            G – Trevon Hughes
G – Manny Harris                                                         G – Chris Kramer
F – Joe Krabbenhoft                                                      G – Al Nolen
F – Raymar Morgan                                                       F – Kevin Coble
C – BJ Mullens                                                              F – Robbie Hummel

Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan
Player of the Year: Raymar Morgan
Newcomer of the Year: BJ Mullens
Defensive Player of the Year: Chris Kramer

Posted in Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Big East Preview: #13-#16

Posted by Zach on October 15, 2008

Ah, yes. Big East basketball is back for its best season ever.

The intensity, quality and talent level in this conference is unmatched in college basketball. The publicity from an extensive TV contract with ESPN allows the best of the Big East to be shown Monday nights, Wednesday nights and Saturday’s more often than any other BCS conference in the nation. The storied programs are endless, from Georgetown to Syracuse to Connecticut to Saint John’s and Notre Dame. The spirited rivalries are hotly contested year in and year out, from Marquette-Louisville to Seton Hall-Rutgers to Connecticut-Syracuse. The top players in the nation, the best games, the most publicity…what else could you ask for in a 16-team conference?

This year is especially unusual in that you can make a compelling argument for 11 or 12 teams to make the NCAA Tournament this season. Yes, I’m even including Cincinnati, Seton Hall and DePaul as crazier things have happened in this conference. More realistically, an unprecedented 9 or 10 teams may reach the plateau.  Not only that, but the consensus top-four teams in the conference- Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame- could be preseason top-ten teams in the nation. Marquette, Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia fans can also make arguments for their team to start in the top-25. Never before has the upper echelon of a conference had such high expectations.

The bottom half? Well, let’s just say parity from top to bottom doesn’t describe the Big East this season. My lower three teams all have potential, but look even weaker in such a loaded conference. In other words: expect quite a few blowouts. We start our Big East Preview looking into teams 13-16 in the Big East, with each weekday coming up previewing a single team until we reach #1.

16. St. John’s Red Storm– Coach: Norm Roberts (5th season)

Unless one of the freshman can step up at guard for the Red Storm, there is clearly a lack of Big East-caliber talent at the start of the season. St. John’s lost two key cogs in their backcourt as assist leader Eugene Lawrence graduated and reserve guard Larry Wright opted to transfer. Much like the frontcourt, the backcourt is extremely young. Freshman Quincy Roberts is an athletic scorer while fellow rookie TyShwan Edmondson will also compete for the starting point guard spot. Sophomore Malik Boothe started at point guard last year, but isn’t much of a scorer and is more suited as a shooting guard. Paris Horne, even at just 5.1 PPG, has the potential to score in double-digits on any given night.
Grade: D-

Anthony Mason Jr. will lead the Johnnies frontcourt. Mason shone in two 29-point games against defensive stalwarts Louisville and Pittsburgh last season, showing off his outstanding athleticism and improved outside shooting. For an offense that ranked in the bottom 60 in all of Divison I basketball last season, coach Roberts hopes to find a nice complimentary piece for Mason this year. Wing D.J. Kennedy emerged as a potential option, averaging nearly eight points and six rebounds as a freshman. They also hope for either Rob Thomas or Sean Evans, both sophomores, to make the leap and join Mason as scoring options. Center is a question mark with the likely favorite being Dele Coker, who started multiple games in 07-08 but seemed to wear down quickly. Track the progress of sophomore Justin Burrell, a 10.8 per game scorer from a year ago who has bulked up this summer and could explode onto the scene.
Grade: C

Bottom Line:
While Norm Roberts received a puzzling five-year extension from the program and is in the running for top ten recruit Lance Stephenson for 2009-10, this year is going to be another frustrating campaign for loyal St. John’s fans. Anthony Mason is the lone bright spot on a young and inexperienced team that will simply be overmatched by their Big East competition. They may squeeze out a win or two in Madison Square Garden, but they pose absolutely no threat to any team in the top ten of this conference.

Starting Lineup:

G- Justin Burrell (SO)
G- Malik Boothe (SO)
F- D.J. Kennedy (SO)
F- Anthony Mason Jr. (SR)
C- Dele Coker (SO)

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/17-18 (Preseason NIT at BC), 12/27 vs. Miami, 2/19 vs. Duke
Key Conference Games: 1/22 vs. Cincinnati, 2/1 vs. USF, 2/5 @ Seton Hall, 2/28 @ DePaul
Most Valuable Player: Anthony Mason Jr.
Projected Postseason Tournament: None

15. South Florida Bulls– Coach: Stan Heath (2nd season)

Backcourt: The star of the backcourt, and the entire USF roster, is sophomore guard Dominique Jones. He became the first Big East freshman since Allen Iverson to notch 30 points in back-to-back contests and ended up scoring 18.3 PPG in conference play. Jones is a versatile player who shoots from the outside with efficiency while also displaying excellent athleticism getting to the rim. Jesus Verdejo will join him in the backcourt, another solid outside shooter who finished as a double-digit scorer for Stan Heath last season. Once the first semester ends, the USF backcourt gets a huge boost from Georgia transfer Mike Mercer, who averaged 12.1 PPG in 51 games for the Bulldogs over two seasons and is one of seven newcomers on the Bulls roster for 08-09. Freshman Gaby Belardo will see enhanced playing time in his debut season. Grade: C+

The Bulls will clearly miss All Big East member Kentrell Gransberry, a box-score filler who led the Big East in rebounding twice in Tampa to go along with 16.0 PPG. Attempting to replace Gransberry is hard enough for any program, but USF has no clear replacement at this point. 6’9 senior Mobolaji Ajayi improved over the course of last season, starting the final 13 games for Stan Heath. They hope to get prized transfer Gus Gilchrist available for the season after his request for an eligibility waiver. Gilchrist, a Maryland transfer, could contribute double-digit scoring and quality rebounding immediately for South Florida, a much needed addition to what appears to be clearly missing pieces up front. They also hope Eladio Espinosa and JC transfer Alex Rivas-Sanchez will turn rebounding from a weakness into a strength. Grade: C-

Bottom Line: Stan Heath’s second year at the helm of the South Florida program won’t be any easier than the first. While the offense could revolve around Gransberry in the paint to give Jones more looks from outside, opposing defenses can key on Jones and force the Bulls weak secondary cast to win games. They’ll be able to steal some from weaker Big East teams at home, but it won’t be enough for USF to climb out of the bottom two this season.

Starting Lineup:

G- Jesus Verdejo (SR)
G- Dominique Jones (SO)
G- Mike Mercer (JR)
F- Mobolaji Ajayi (SR)
F- Alex Rivas-Sanchez (JR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/19 @ Virginia, 11/29 vs. Northeastern, 12/16 @ Vanderbilt, 12/22 vs. Oral Roberts
Key Conference Games: 1/10 vs. DePaul, 1/24 vs. Villanova, 2/1 @ St. John’s, 2/25 @ Seton Hall
Most Valuable Player: Dominique Jones
Projected Postseason Tournament: None

14. Seton Hall Pirates– Coach: Bobby Gonzalez (3rd season)

Backcourt: Eugene Harvey busted onto the scene as a freshman and many Seton Hall fans were drooling at the prospect of this kid taking off to national levels as an elite point guard. The sophomore slump kicked in for the local kid Harvey, who saw his FG% drop six points, FT% drop 11 points and 3PT% fall to a horrific 23% last season. Taking over as the primary outside shooter last year was freshman Jeremy Hazell, who made 11 FG vs. West Virginia and 8 threes vs. Louisville but would go 1-10 the following night from outside. Providing a consistent presence could be freshman Jordan Theodore, the highlight of Gonzalez’s recruiting class. Paul Gause could average three steals per game with his quick hands and ability to jump passing lanes for thefts and easy baskets. The strength of the backcourt depends on Harvey going back to playing like he did as a freshman. Grade: B-

The Pirates head into this season with some intriguing pieces in their frontcourt. Duquesne transfer Robert Mitchell is two years removed from winning Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year while averaging 16.4 PPG. Mitchell is handed the difficult role of replacing the uber-productive Brian Laing and may need an adjusting period for Big East play. Still, the expectations for Mitchell are very high. John Garcia looks to keep his knees healthy enough to contribute on a regular basis for Gonzalez. Garcia has an excellent post-up game and rebounds well when he’s on the floor and not caught up in foul trouble. 6’11, 340 pound freshman center Melvyn Oliver could make an immediate impact. Trimmed down to 310, Oliver is surprisingly athletic for his size with soft hands and touch around the basket. Losing Laing for both scoring and rebounding will be hard to overcome. Grade: C-

Bottom Line: I had a difficult time pegging Seton Hall this low in the conference. Harvey and Hazell show potential, the team scores in bunches, and Mitchell could be Newcomer of the Year. I don’t like the erratic behavior of Bobby Gonzalez on the sidelines, though, and his lack of temperament could cost him his job soon enough. His constant press works at times, but the Pirates also tend to give up easy baskets and play atrocious defense. Keeping Garcia healthy and seeing progress for Eugene Harvey are the keys.

Starting Lineup:

G- Eugene Harvey (JR)
G- Jeremy Hazell (SO)
G- Paul Gause (SR)
F- Robert Mitchell (JR)
F- John Garcia (JR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/20-23 (Paradise Jam)
Key Conference Games: 1/3 vs. West Virginia, 1/6 vs. Villanova, 2/8 @ Rutgers, 2/10 @ DePaul
Most Valuable Player: Eugene Harvey
Projected Postseason Tournament: None

13. Rutgers Scarlet Knights– Coach: Fred Hill (3rd season)

Backcourt: Rutgers fans began envisioning a bright future when Greg Rosario committed to play in Piscataway. Rosario, who played in the McDonalds All-American game and started at point guard for the top prep team in the nation at St. Anthony’s, could instantly mold himself into the go-to scorer in crunch time situations and, ultimately, the most consistent scorer on the roster when the season concludes. Corey Chandler is another Rutgers player with a high ceiling after scoring 11.1 PPG in his freshman season. Returning starter Mike Coburn notched nearly 10 PPG against Big East competition but may find his minutes drop with the addition of Rosario and return of Anthony Farmer, an emerging senior who found his FG% bolt up from 32% to 42% last season. Hill has plenty of options to mix and match if Rosario were to struggle early in his college career, although I don’t see that occurring. Grade: B

Frontcourt: Fred Hill’s frontcourt received a huge boost when four-star recruit Greg Echenique graduated early and enrolled at Rutgers to gain eligibility for this season. Echenique spent the summer playing for the Venezuelan Junior National Team and could be the scoring center that Rutgers has lacked for so long. Complimenting Echenique well is returning center Hamady N’Diaye, a truly special defensive player with great instincts to go along with rebounding and shot-blocking qualities. Also joining the Scarlet Knights is Christian Morris who will provide intensity and interior scoring off the bench. J.R. Inman, the leading scorer on Rutgers’ last place team of 07-08, also returns to provide versatility and another rebounding presence. He joins freshman Patrick Jackson and small forward Jaron Griffin, who may be relegated to a more limited role this season. Grade: C+

Bottom Line: Rutgers is undoubtedly improved from their disastrous 07-08 campaign. Fred Hill reeled in the best recruiting class in years headed by Rosario and Echenique and they could be much more competitive than previous seasons against high quality opponents. With any young group, they’ll experience growing pains in the Big East, but Rutgers fans know they should be patient. Corey Chandler may prove to be an all-conference contributor if he builds off of his freshman season. Rosario is the real future star, though.

Starting Lineup:

G- Mike Rosario (FR)
G- Corey Chandler (SO)
G- Anthony Farmer (SR)
F- J.R. Inman (SR)
F- Hamady N’Diaye (JR)

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/3 @ Rider, 12/10 @ Princeton, 12/28 @ North Carolina
Key Conference Games: 1/10 vs. Syracuse, 1/24 @ St. John’s, 1/31 vs. DePaul, 3/1 vs. Providence
Most Valuable Player: Corey Chandler
Projected Postseason Tournament: None

#12 DePaul and #11 Cincinnati will be up either Thursday night or Friday afternoon.

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

West Coast Conference Preview

Posted by Patrick on October 14, 2008

A conference that had enjoyed little parody in past seasons was chock full of just that in 2007-08. The WCC, which is looked at as a one man race almost every year, had three teams in the NCAA tournament for the first time in its existence (the surprise team being San Diego, who went on to upset Connecticut in the first round). This year it’s very possible that this conference could have those same three teams back in the NCAA, and it will once again be a tight race for the top spot in the WCC.

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs- How do you pick against Gonzaga? Jeremy Pargo is one of the top point guards in the nation. Austin Daye and Steven Gray, both stellar freshman, have another year of experience under their belts. Matt Bouldin is a major force at shooting guard, Josh Heytvelt looks to be back at 100%, and then throw in the supporting cast: Micah Downs, Robert Sacre, and freshmen Demetri Goodson and Grant Gibbs. Not only is this team the cream of the crop in the WCC, but they are also a Final Four candidate.

2. San Diego Toreros- This team didn’t lose one player from last year’s roster that upset UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Led by guard Brandon Johnson and forward Gyno Pomare, I believe that San Diego will sneak into the top 25 throughout the season and probably get an at-large bid to the tourney. Bill Grier showed that he is a great coach, and supporting players Trumaine Johnson, Devin Ginty, and Rob Jones will also be major contributors on the court. San Diego has a hard non-conference schedule: at UNLV, vs. Oregon, at Mississippi State and they will be partaking in the Paradise Jam Tournament.

3. Saint Mary’s Gaels- Don’t sleep on the Gaels. Sure, they started the year strong and wilted at the end but they still are a force to be reckoned with and are returning a large portion of their roster. Patrick Mills, Diamon Simpson, Omar Samhan, and Ian O’Leary are all back and they can lead this team to a possible WCC title. To do that they need supporting players to step up in big games. Some publications have even picked Saint Mary’s ahead of Gonzaga, such as Blue Ribbon which has Saint Mary’s 19th and Gonzaga at 21st. I won’t go quite that far, but I do believe that Saint Mary’s will be back in the NCAA tournament in 2009.

4. San Francisco Dons- This is where you see a major drop-off in terms of depth. The WCC is a three team league, and no other team can contend with Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga’s, and San Diego’s depth. San Francisco is close, but only because they have a stellar player in Dior Lowhorn, one of the most underrated players in the nation. However, he won’t be enough to top any of the top three when it comes to tournament time.

5. Santa Clara Broncos- This team gave the Zags some trouble last season, but they lost a lot of players to graduation. The only player that can make noise on this team is John Bryant, who can be a force in the post.

6. Pepperdine Waves- Led by Sophomore Tyrone Shelley, an explosive guard, this team could upset somebody if they learned how to play defense.

7. Portland Pilots- Once again this proves how bad the WCC is at the bottom. Nik Raivio is the only player that the Pilots have to offer for opposing defenses.

8. Loyola Marymount Lions- Had a very rough season last year, and won’t be anywhere near the top this season.

WCC First Team:

G- Jeremy Pargo (Gonzaga- Player of the Year)

G- Brandon Johnson (San Diego)

G- Patrick Mills (Saint Mary’s)

F- Gyno Pomare (San Diego)

F- Dior Lowhorn (San Francisco)

F- Austin Daye (Gonzaga)

F- Josh Heytvelt (Gonzaga)

F- Omar Samhan (Saint Mary’s)

F- Diamon Simpson (Saint Mary’s)

c- John Bryant (Santa Clara)

Coach of the Year- Mark Few (Gonzaga)

Newcomer of the Year- Roberto Mafras (San Diego)

Posted in Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »