Monday, November 7, 2005

Big East Conference Preview


Player of the Year: Rudy Gay, SF, Connecticut

Newcomers of the Year: David Padgett, F, Louisville; Eric Devendorf, G, Syracuse

All-Conference Team:
G- Marcus Williams, Connecticut
G- Taquan Dean, Louisville
F- Rudy Gay, Connecticut
F- Curtis Sumpter, Villanova
C- Josh Boone, Connecticut

Second Team:
G- Gerry McNamara, Syracuse
G- Allan Ray, Villanova
G- Darryl Hill, St. John's
F- Jeff Green, Georgetown
F- Eric Hicks, Cincinnati

Third Team:
G- Carl Krauser, Pittsburgh
G- Randy Foye, Villanova
G- Mike Gansey, West Virginia
F- Juan Palacios, Louisville
F- Brandon Bowman, Georgetown

1. Connecticut- Connecticut has the most championship-ready team in the Big East, and possibly the nation. The only thing keeping this team from the preseason #1 slot is their off-court problems. Potential All-American point guard Marcus Williams is out until December and can't play until January after he was caught stealing laptops. AJ Price was suspended the entire year for the same offense. Williams is the best passer and playmaker in the country and could be the best overall point guard. He is a very good defender and rebounder, and improved his shot and scoring ability as the season wore on. Rashad Anderson is an excellent, albeit streaky, shooter that can shoot the Huskies in or out of games. Denham Brown split time with Anderson last season, and will likely do it again. It is a possibility that both will start on the wing next to each other. Both averaged over ten points per game. Until Williams becomes eligbile, Craig Austrie and Robert Garrison will handle the point guard duties. Neither were highly regarded recruits, but Austrie has shown that he can run the team well in practice. The frontcourt of the Huskies is the best in the country. Rudy Gay may be the best player in the country, and is the consensus #1 pick whenever he decides to enter the NBA Draft. However, he needs to become assertive and utilize his talent advantage more. Josh Boone is another All-American candidate. He is a great rebounder and one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. He, like Gay, needs to become more aggressive offensively. Hilton Armstrong will step into Charlie Villanueva's vacated power forward position. He is a good shot blocker and has shown flashes on offense. Ed Nelson played well in the NCAA Tournament and will get extensive minutes this season. Jeff Adrien and Marcus Johnson are talented freshmen that could have important roles. Once Williams becomes eligible and the chemistry builds, the Huskies will have the best team in the country. Aside from potential intangible problems, I cannot see why the Connecticut Huskies won't win the 2006 National Championship. Prediction: NCAA

2. Villanova- Villanova finally lived up to their potential last season, and made a run to the Sweet 16 before losing to UNC by 1 after a questionable traveling call cost them a chance to tie the game down the stretch. They should be even better this year. They have the best backcourt in the country and could remind some of Illinois' group from last season. Allan Ray performed very well on the U-21 team during the summer, and could develop into one of the better scorers in the Big East. He is an excellent shooter and can also take his defender off the dribble. Foye is a threat to use his strength to drive to the lane or shoot the three. He is very underrated and is often overshadowed by his teammates. Mike Nardi is a smart point guard that doesn't make many bad decisions. He can shoot the ball well, and has a smoothness to his game. Kyle Lowry saw his minutes rise late in the season due to Nardi's injury and his own play. He averaged almost 14 points and 6 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. He was likely to come off the bench again this season until All-Big East performer Curtis Sumpter tore his ACL in October. Jay Wright now says that the Wildcats will start four guards, including Lowry. The loss of Sumpter kills 'Nova up front. He was a versatile inside-outside player and one of the best combo forwards in the country. There is a chance he will come back in February, but he also might redshirt. With him out, Will Sheridan and Jason Fraser will get most of the interior responsibilities. Fraser has had a career filled with promise, but more often, injuries. When healthy, he is one of the best post players in the Big East. That hasn't happened that frequently, however. Will Sheridan has filled in admirably in the past when either Sumpter or Fraser went down, and will have to do so again this season. With Sumpter out, returnees Chris Charles and Marcus Austin will have to step up, while freshmen Dante Cunnigham and Shane Clark will also see extended minutes. Villanova, even without Sumpter, has he talent to make a run to the Final Four. If they get him back, it would be an added bonus. With the backcourt that they have, and some semblance of interior scoring, the Wildcats should be in Indianapolis in April. Prediction: NCAA

3. Louisville- Louisville is in the best shape of any of the newcomers to the Big East, after going to the Final Four a season ago. However, they lose three seniors, as well as first-round pick Francisco Garcia. They still have more than enough talent, though, to make some noise in the Big East. Taquan Dean leads the way. He is arguably the best shooter in the country, shooting 45 percent from long-range. He is going to have to become more of a go-to-guy this season with the loss of all the personnel. He is a good defender and passer and won't have to play the point this season. The reason for that change is the arrival of freshman Andre McGee. He is extremely quick and is a good scorer. He can get into the lane and distribute the ball via penetration. Also on the perimeter will be returnee Brandon Jenkins. He is an excellent athlete that can shoot the three with efficiency. There is a chance that he will start on the wing this season, or even at point guard should McGee falter at that position. Wing Terrence Williams and Bryan Harvey are also expected to make impacts as freshmen for the Cardinals. Williams is a potential star that is an outstanding athlete and is excellent running the floor, while Harvey is a great shooter. Up front, Louisville could have one of the better baselines in America--when they are all healthy. Juan Palacios was underrated last season, as a result of playing forward opposite Garcia. He is athletic and can play any position on the floor, and should be all-conference as a sophomore. He needs to work on his hands, though. David Padgett could have a huge impact on the Big East--when he returns from a foot injury that will sideline him for up to 3 weeks. The transfer from Kansas can shoot the ball from the perimeter as well as score inside. BrianJohnson returns from an injury that forced him to sit out a season ago. He is a good scorer inside. The Cardinals have talent both inside and out, although it is not proven talent, other than Dean and Palacios. If Padgett makes the expected impact, and the newcomers play well, Louisville will contend for a league title. Prediction: NCAA

4. West Virginia- West Virginia was the surprise team of last season and the major-conference Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament. They upset Wake Forest in the second round and made a run to the Elite Eight, where they blew a 20-point lead to Louisville. They return the majority of that team. Leading the way is the deep and talented perimeter group. Mike Gansey scored in double figures in his last nine games, and is their go-to-guy on the perimeter. Patrick Beilein, the coach's son, is a good three point shooter but doesn't do much besides that. Joe Herber isn't a big-time scorer, but he shoots the three well and can do a little bit of everything. J.D. Collins doesn't turn the ball over that much, and is a solid point guard that doesn't score very much. Darris Nichols adds depth in the backcourt. That group is what keeps the Mountaineers in most games. They are going to have to carry the team this season, because the frontcourt is lacking personnel. Kevin Pittsnogle is the only key player that returns up front. He is a good place to start, though. The darling of the NCAA Tournament is a very good three-point shooter that isn't much of an inside scorer or defender. The starting position next to him is up for grabs. Frank Young is a bit undersized at 6-5, but is athletic and can hit the outside shot. 7-0 Penn State transfer Rob Summers will play inside when the Mountaineers go big. West Virginia returns plenty from last year's Elite Eight squad, but the element of surprise is gone. The perimeter is very solid, and Pittsnogle is a good big man. If someone produces at the power forward spot and gives the Mountaineers a legit low-post option, West Virginia could make a run at the Sweet 16. Prediction: NCAA

5. Syracuse- Syracuse was a trendy sleeper pick to make a run to the Final Four last season, but that all was halted when the Orange were upset by #13-seed Vermont in the first round. Since then, Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, and Craig Forth have used up their eligibility, leaving Syracuse starting over in the starting lineup. The only definite is guard Gerry McNamara, known as one of the best three-point shooters in the country. However, he is very inconsistent and forces a lot of shots. And now, without Warrick down low, he is going to have been the main cog in the offense, and might have to play the point, not his natural position. Also on the perimeter are juniors Louie McCroskey and Demetric Nichols, and freshman Eric Devendorf. McCroskey is not much of a shooter but can score going to the basket, and is a good athlete. Nichols has the ability to have a breakout season for the Orange. He has been inconsistent throughout his career, but he can do a little of everything on the wing. Devendorf is a leading candidate for Big East Freshman of the Year. He could start at the point sooner rather than later if McNamara can't handle that role. Josh Wright will also see time in the backcourt. Up front, Terrence Roberts could have a huge season inside for Syracuse. He demonstrated his potential down the stretch last season, and could become a go-to-guy and one of the best big men in the conference. Center Darryl Watkins is a good athlete that needs to improve his numbers with increased minutes this season. Providing depth up front will be forwards Dayshawn Wright and Matt Gorman. If the junior class of McCroskey, Nichols, Roberts, and Watkins finally plays to the level they should, the Orange should not fall too far even without the departing seniors. Expect an NCAA berth out of Syracuse this season. Prediction: NCAA

6. Georgetown- Georgetown surprised some last season with a very successful season that should have resulted in an NCAA Tournament berth. However, they faltered down the stretch of the season, and ended up in the NIT. They should definitely make the Field of 65 this season. The Hoyas have one of the more underrated frontcourts in the nation. Brandon Bowman thought about entering the NBA Draft, but pulled his name out. He is very athletic and can do a variety of things on the basketball court. Jeff Green was the co-Big East Rookie of the Year (with Rudy Gay), and is versatile. He can score in the post, but can also step out and shoot the three (40 percent from beyond the arc). Bowman and Green form one of the best forward combos in the country. Roy Hibbert is a 7-2 shot blocker that needs to improve his offensive game. His role will expand this season. Newcomer Marc Egerson will provide the depth up front. On the perimeter, a trio of solid backcourt players that will get the majority of the minutes. Ashanti Cook is a good distributor and shooter that can score well. However, he needs to become more focused on finding the open man as the point guard. Wing Darrel Owens is a very good shooter who gives the Hoyas good size in the backcourt. Jonathan Wallace could also start at the point, as he did last season. He isn't a bad long-range shooter, but turns the ball over more than he should. Georgetown has the talent to make a run in the Big East and get an NCAA Tournament bid. If the backcourt provides solid balance and takes the pressure off of Bowman and Green, the Hoyas will be in the Field of 65. Prediction: NCAA

7. Cincinnati- Cincinnati has always been one of the main teams in their conference. This year, however, they will be one of the teams trying to get into the first division. And they will have to do it without legendary coach Bob Huggins. New coach Andy Kennedy inherits a decent team capable of making the NCAA Tournament, though. It starts up front with potential all-conference big man Eric Hicks. He could average a double-double this year and will be the go-to-guy down low for the Bearcats. He is also an excellent shot blocker. Joining him down low will be a newcomer, likely either JC transfer Cedric McGowan or NAIA transfer Ronald Allen. McGowan is a very good inside-outside scorer who has the typical intensity necessary to play inside in the Big East and for Cincinnati. Allen played at Xavier (La.) last season, but Hurricane Katrina destroyed his school and potentially their basketball season. Freshman Abdul Herrera will also see time down low. On the wing, two seniors will start. 6-8 Armein Kirkland has a lot of potential, but hasn't reached that yet. He is very good in the open court, and is a good scorer. 6-7 James White is one of the most versatile players in the conference. He played the point at times last season, although he is better on the wing. White is an excellent defender and a good shooter who can do nearly everything on the court. Both Kirkland and White were double-figure scorers. At the point, returnee Jihad Muhammed is back. He was a double-figure scorer that often played out of control and not within the system. He is an inconsistent shooter and turned the ball over too much. However, he is quick and is a decent point guard. Freshmen Devan Downey and Domonick Tilford will also see time. Downey might start at the point. He is very quick and finds ways to make plays. Tilford is a good passer and scorer. The Bearcats had a tumultuous offseason, but the expected outcome that they would have had with Huggins is no different than it will be with Kennedy. They will be in the NCAA Tournament again. Prediction: NCAA

8. Notre Dame- Notre Dame was headed for the NCAA Tournament last season, until they collapsed down the stretch and headed to the NIT, where they lost in the first round. They lose four-year starter Chris Thomas at the point, but return enough talent to compete for an NCAA berth. Chris Quinn is vastly underrated within the conference. He can play either backcourt spot, and is an excellent passer who does not turn the ball over. Quinn also shoots 46 percent from three-point range. Another good shooter returns on the wing in Colin Falls. He is a good clutch scorer who shot 41 percent last season from behind the arc. The other perimeter spot is wide-open. Freshman point guard Kyle McAlarney is an excellent scorer and is very quick. If he starts, Quinn will be able to play off the ball, where he is more comfortable. Russell Carter is very athletic but has never really stuck to the offensive system when he is in the game. Forward Omari Israel is athletic and is very comfortable on the perimeter at 6-9. Up front, Torin Francis will have one last chance to live up to his potential. He can be one of the best big men in the Big East, if not the country. Francis is a very good rebounder and has solid low-post moves. Next to him will likely be freshman Luke Zeller. He is versatile and can hit the three, as well as play inside. He is a very good passer. Senior Rick Cornett has seen solid minutes throughout his career, and has used them to show that he is a solid rebounder and defender. He will provide depth and could start until Zeller gets acclimated. The Fighting Irish have enough to make the NCAA Tournament. However, they have had enough the past couple of years, and never did make it to the Big Dance. If the two freshmen can step into the lineup and make enough of an impact, ND will make it to the field. Prediction: NIT

9. Pittsburgh- Pittsburgh underachieved last season, and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament by Pacific in the first round. They just did not have the same type of chemistry and flow that they had the previous season, when they were one of the better teams in the country. Senior point guard Carl Krauser will try to get the Panthers back to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, or at the very least, the NCAA Tournament. He is one of the best point guards in the country, but needs to get his teammates better involved on offense. He is good shooter and is very tough to stop off the dribble. He is also a good defender and rebounder but needs to take better care of the ball. Also on the perimeter will be Ronald Ramon and returning starter Antonio Graves. Ramon came off the bench last season, but will start this year. He is a good defender and shooter. Graves is an excellent long-range shooter, hitting threes at a 46 percent clip. Keith Benjamin is athletic and will see minutes off the bench, along with freshman Levance Fields. Up front, Levon Kendall, who scored 41 points against the USA at the World Championships, will start. He is a decent scorer and defender who is fairly versatile. Aaron Gray, who played better than first-round pick Chris Taft at times last season, will move into the starting lineup. He is a good shot blocker and rebounder who could become a solid big man. Freshman Sam Young is expected to have an immediate impact for the Panthers in the frontcourt. He is athletic and will see playing time at forward. Pitt has several experienced players in the lineup, although no one other than Krauser has had a go-to-role at any point in their career. If Ramon becomes a big-time scorer and one of the frontcourt players develops into a capable option down low, the Panthers will make a run at the NCAA Tournament. However, Pitt is going to have to settle for an NIT bid this year. Prediction: NIT

10. St. John's- St. John's won 9 games a season ago--and that was considered a success. They should improve that by at least 5 victories this season, which would put them on the lower end of the bubble, heading into the Big East Tournament. Upset a few teams here and there and the Johnnies are on the brink of an NCAA Tournament berth. Why would anyone expect that out of St. John's this season, though? Start with Darryl Hill. The Big East's best scorer, he can carry the Red Storm to a couple of wins this season. He needs to cut down on his turnovers, however. Lamont Hamilton is a very good low post presence. He and Hill are an excellent inside-outside duo. Also inside, JC transfer Aaron Spears will give them another option. Freshmen Anthony Mason, Jr. and Ricky Torres will see lots of playing time on the wings, as both are good shooters. Jermaine Maybank sat out last season with an injury; he might be the most athletic player on the roster. Oh, there's also three more returning starters from last season: guards Eugene Lawrence and Cedric Jackson, and forward Dexter Gray. Throw in explosive Ryan Williams, and you have a ridiculously deep and taltened team that could string together a couple of quality wins somewhere along the line. It may sound far-fetched, but don't be surprised when you see St. John's winning games in the Big East. Prediction: NIT

11. Marquette- Marquette loses Travis Diener, their all-conference, all-American guard of the past few seasons. He was one of the most important players to his team in the country. Without him and two other starters, the Golden Eagles will look to sweet-shooting 6-10 forward Steve Novak for scoring. He shoots 46 percent from behind the arc and will be the team's best point producer. However, he needs to improve his rebounding and his all-around game. He was a preseason Wooden Award candidate, although I am not sure what he did to merit that honor. Also on the perimeter will be guard Steve Chapman and 6-9 Dan Fitzgerald. Chapman is a good scorer, although he is also a very tough defender and a solid rebounder. Fitzgerald is versatile, and could see time at all the perimeter positions this season (yes, including point guard). The leading candidate for the point guard spot is freshman Dominic James. He is going to have one of the biggest impacts of any freshman in the country if he can capably fill Diener's shoes. Up front, Ryan Amaroso will be the main man. He is a good scorer from both the paint and the low block. He can have a big year down low for the Golden Eagles. Ousmane Barro will start next to him or will see extensive minutes backing him up. The athletic sophomore is a solid rebounder and defender. Marquette will miss Diener too much to reach the NCAA Tournament, although the NIT is a possibility if James makes the anticipated impact. Prediction: NIT

12. Providence- Yes, they lost All-American Ryan Gomes. Yes, they won 4 Big East games last season--with Gomes. However, Providence has a chance to make some noise in the newly-designed Big East. Donnie McGrath and Dwight Brewington are a very good backcourt. McGrath is an excellent shooter, and Brewington has an opportunity to become one of the top scorers in the conference. DeSean White is very athletic and versatile and will be the first to step into Gomes' shoes. Herbert Hill and Randall Hanke are good shot blockers down low, and Hanke could develop into one of the better low post players in the Big East. If they learn how to play better defense, and win close games (8 Big East losses by 5 points or less), the Friars could have a decent season. Prediction: NIT

13. DePaul- DePaul was one of the last teams out of the NCAA Tournament last season, and losing to UAB in the Conference-USA Tournament probably solidified that. They won't come close to the bubble in their first year in their new conference. Returning wing Sammy Mejia leads the way. He is a solid all-around player that can score well as well as distribute the ball. Mejia is very good at driving to the basket, but needs to work on his shot. Also on the perimeter will be point guard Cliff Clinkscales. He is a very good passer that does not turn the ball over much. On the wing opposite Mejia will likely be Miami transfer Karron Clarke. He is very athletic and is expected to have an immediate impact for the Blue Demons. Also on the wing is freshman Rashad Woods, more of a forward that a perimeter-type wing. Draelon Burns saw time last season on the perimeter, and will get minutes again. Up front, a trio of wide-body big men will own the paint. Marlon Brumfeld is a good rebounder and will be a go-to-guy down low. Lorenzo Thompson is an efficient scorer once he gets the ball. Wesley Green, the biggest of the three at 6-9, 280, and is also the best passer of the group. DePaul lost a lost from last year's bubble team, but they should be somewhat competitive in the conference. Mejia could become an all-conference player. If the role players step up, the Blue Demons could fight for an NIT bid. They will fall just short, though. Prediction: No postseason

14. Rutgers- Rutgers had some good moments last season, but overall it was a lost season. The Scarlet Knights finished last in the conference and went 10-19 overall. This season, the young players from last season could develop into solid performers, but it could be another long season in New Brunswick. Guard Quincy Douby leads the way. After an excellent performance in the NIT a couple of seasons back, people thought Douby was going to develop into a star. That hasn't happened yet. He is still more of a scorer than anything else, and he is not a very accurate shooter, as a result of the fact that he forces a lot of shots. However, he is the go-to-guy for Rutgers and is a decent passer and rebounder. Marquis Webb will start beside him. He is not a natural point guard, and is better suited on the wing. He is an excellent defender who can also get some buckets on the offensive end. The point guard duties could go to newcomer Anthony Farmer. His main job will be to find the scorers on the wings. Up front, there are several quality players who will see extensive minutes. Ollie Bailey was stuck underneath the basket last season, and performed well. He will likely move away from the paint this season and could more on the wing instead of down low. Adrian Hill is a hard worker that will get rebounds and buckets inside. Byron Joynes returns as a starter on the interior. He is a good rebounder but might lose his starting job to Hill this season. Jimmie Inglis and Dan Waterstradt also return in the post. The Scarlet Knights have some talented players that are solid Big East players. However, they don't have nearly enough talent to compete with the upper-echelon of the conference. If the inside players hold their own and Douby develops into a star, the Scarlet Knights could fight for an NIT bid. I don't see that happening. Prediction: No postseason

15. Seton Hall- Seton Hall returns three starters from a team that had loads of potential and preseason expectations that they came nowhere near living up to. A 12-16 record also did nothing to quench the rumors about coach Louis Orr being fired. With the team he has, it is probably postseason or bust for Orr and the Pirates. Kelly Whitney and Grant Billmeier return on the interior. Whitney is a very consistent post player that always puts up his 12 and 6 every night. He is their go-to-player inside. Billmeier is a hard worker and a good rebounder. Cincinnati transfer Mike Pilgrim is a very good athlete who will make an impact after he becomes eligible after the first semester. In the backcourt, Donald Copeland returns at the point. He is not a very good shooter or scorer but is a decent distributor and does not turn the ball over that often. Wing Jamar Nutter has the potential to be a good scorer and shooter, but hasn't shown that thus far. The Pirates don't have that much talent, and they don't have a whole lot coming in the near future, either. Orr's days are numbered and Seton Hall will fall short of the postseason. Prediction: No postseason

16. South Florida- South Florida loses three starters from a team that struggled in the much-weaker Conference USA last season. They will have loads of trouble in the Big East. The leading returnees are Marius Prekevicius, who is a very good shooter; Collin Dennis, a good defender and scorer; and James Holmes, a pretty solid scorer. All three are wings that are too small to compete in the frontcourt and are not pure point guards. The candidates at the point guard spot are freshman Chris Howard, a solid point guard, and David Sills, a JC transfer that is a balanced scorer. In the frontcourt, the Bulls return center Solomon Jones. He had a good season a year ago and could have a big year down low in the Big East. Purdue transfer Melvin Buckley is expected to start immediately at forward. He is a versatile scorer that can shoot the ball as well as drive to the basket. The optimism is pretty low in Tampa lately. South Florida simply does not have enough to contend in the Big East. In a few years, USF could see the postseason, but not this year. Prediction: No postseason

No comments:

Post a Comment