Thursday, November 2, 2006

Big East Conference Preview


Player of the Year: Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh

Newcomer of the Year: Paul Harris, SG, Syracuse

All-Conference Team:
G- Dominic James, Marquette
F- Curtis Sumpter, Villanova
F- Jeff Green, Georgetown
C- Roy Hibbert, Georgetown
C- Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh

Second Team:
G- Sammy Mejia, DePaul
F- Lamont Hamilton, St. John's
F- Wilson Chandler, DePaul
F- Jeff Adrien, Connecticut
C- David Padgett, Louisville

Third Team:
G- Eric Devendorf, Syracuse
G- Levance Fields, Pittsburgh
F- Demetris Nichols, Syracuse
F- Juan Palacios, Louisville
C- Randall Hanke, Providence

1. Pittsburgh- The Panthers come into the season as the favorite to win the conference. They are coming off of a 25-win season, but only advanced to the second round before being upset by Bradley. Pitt should make it past the Round of 32 this season. They need to replace the heart-and-soul of last year's team in Carl Krauser, but the Panthers are deep and talented and should be fine. It all starts with All-America candidate Aaron Gray. The 7-foot center is one of the best big men in the country and could have an even better season this year after averaging a double-double a season ago. He is an excellent rebounder and efficient scorer who is a solid passer and shooter. Joining him in the frontcourt will be forwards Levon Kendall and Sam Young, who will split time at the power forward position. Kendall is an inside-outside scorer who can do a little bit of everything on the court. He can score, rebound, and play solid defense. Young has a lot of potential. He is extremely athletic and is a good scorer. He is a potential match-up problem up front. Sophomore Tyrell Biggs will provide depth down low. The perimeter group is deep and versatile. Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon will start in the backcourt. Fields is a crafty scorer who is shifty when driving to the basket and can also shoot the three. He is a very good passer and takes care of the ball. Ramon is an excellent three-point shooter who is a solid guard. He doesn't make mistakes and is a good ball-handler and passer. On the wing will likely be East Carolina transfer Mike Cook. He is a very good scorer who is tough to stop when driving to the basket. He is also a decent defender and rebounder. Senior Antonio Graves is a good defender and a decent scorer who was a former starter in the backcourt. Keith Benjamin is athletic and is a good three-point shooter, while freshman Gilbert Brown will make an immediate impact on the wing. He has a nice mid-range game and is very athletic. Prediction: NCAA

2. Georgetown- The only other team getting love in the preseason Top-10 polls out of the Big East is Georgetown. The Hoyas had a strong finish to last season and reached the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament before falling late to eventual champion Florida. They are led by one of the best frontcourts in the country. All-America candidate Jeff Green will be the go-to-guy. He is one of the best all-around players in the country and creates match-up problems with nearly every defender due to his versatility and size. He can shoot the three, post up, defend multiple positions, distribute the ball, and rebound very well. Center Roy Hibbert is one of the ten best players at his position in the country. He had loads of potential, and looks to have a breakout season this year. The 7-2 junior is a big-time rebounder and shot-blocker who has a developing offensive game. Indiana transfer Patrick Ewing and highly-touted freshmen Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers will fight for the remaining starting spot. Ewing is a decent scorer and rebounder who has a non-stop motor. Macklin was a McDonald's All-American and is an outstanding rebounder who will make an immediate impact up front. Summers is versatile and can play either forward position. The backcourt is not as loaded. Point guard Jonathan Wallace returns as the starter, but will need to improve his offensive game with the loss of several perimeter scorers. He is a very good distributor who takes excellent care of the ball. He is also a good three-point shooter and defender. The wing scoring will come from returnees Jessie Sapp and Tyler Crawford, and freshman Jeremiah Rivers. Sapp is a good point producer who is also a surprisingly solid rebounder, while Crawford is a good shooter. Rivers is a combo guard who can pass and score. Prediction: NCAA

3. Syracuse- With the loss of Gerry McNamara, who was one of the most popular players in the history of Syracuse basketball, is it possible that the Orange will be better? The answer is yes. They were only 7-9 in the Big East last season, but return four starters and bring in one of the best freshman in the country. That freshman is Paul Harris. One of the top-rated players coming into college, Harris can play any position on the perimeter. He is an outstanding defender and a good rebounder who could start right away. Harris is also a solid shooter and passer. His partner in the backcourt will be sophomore Eric Devendorf. The 6-4 combo guard is a very talented, albeit hot-headed, player who could improve immensely if he keeps his focus. He is a good three-point shooter who also a solid ball-handler and passer. Look for him to be the go-to-guy this season. Junior Josh Wright will see minutes at both guard spots, especially at the point. He is a good scorer and passer who takes care of the ball. The frontcourt will be made up of three seniors who have not yet lived to the expectations they came into school with. Demetris Nichols leads the way. He is a very good three-point shooter who can also rebound and play defense well. 6-9 Terrence Roberts could have a break-out year. However, many have been saying that for the past two years. He is very athletic and is an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder. Roberts is also a decent scorer in the paint who needs to improve his free-throw shooting. Darryl Watkins is a potential force on the defensive end. He is one of the best shot-blockers in the country and is a very good rebounder. If he improves his low-post scoring, the Orange will be tough down low. Freshman Mike Jones is a very good all-around player who can score on the wing, while 6-9 senior Matt Gorman provides depth down low. Prediction: NCAA

4. Connecticut- The Huskies had the most talent in the country last season, but fell short of the Final Four after a last-second overtime loss to George Mason in the Elite Eight. However, they lose all five starters and their sixth man from that team, leaving Jim Calhoun with plenty of questions heading into the season. On the other hand, though, the Huskies bring in one of the top recruiting classes in the country. One player from that class is guaranteed to start. 7-3 center Haseem Thabeet could be a lottery pick after he leaves UConn. He is an outstanding shot-blocker who will make an immediate impact with his defensive prowess. Thabeet is also an impressive athlete who can rebound and score. Another big man, Curtis Kelly, will see time down low. He is tough to stop on the low block and has a variety of post moves. Yet another highly-touted frontcourt player, Stanley Robinson, could make the biggest impact of anyone. He can do nearly everything on the court and will be one of the team's best scorers. He is a good shooter and can also drive to the basket. Post players Gavin Edwards and Jonathan Mandelove will also get playing time in the post. The freshmen in the backcourt that are expected to fight for starting jobs are Doug Wiggins and Jerome Dyson. Wiggins is a quick point guard who can score and distribue very well. Dyson may be the go-to-guy on the perimeter. He is an excellent three-point shooter who also uses his athleticism to get to the basket past most defenders. There is one more newcomer who will make a huge impact. A.J. Price is entering his third season in the program, but has not yet played for Huskies. He was medically redshirted for a season and was suspended last year in the infamous laptop incident. However, he is eligible this season and ready to play. He is very athletic and can fill it up. He will start at the point. The main returnee is Jeff Adrien, a potential break-out candidate. He is a brusier on the interior who is a relentless rebounder and a good athlete who can block shots. Guards Craig Austrie and Robert Garrison saw extensive playing time at the point last season when Marcus Williams was suspended, while wing Marcus Johnson is a big-time athlete who can score. Prediction: NCAA

5. Marquette- The Golden Eagles had another solid season last year, winning 20 games and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. With one of the nation's best backcourts returning, Tom Crean and Marquette could do even better this season. All-America Dominic James is one of the top point guards in the country and can be a dominant peformer due to his all-around ability and athleticism. He is strong in traffic once he gets past defenders using his quickness. The Big East Rookie of the Year last season will carry the Golden Eagles this season. Jerel McNeal is an excellent defender and is also solid on the offensive end. If he cuts down on his turnovers, he could have a breakout season. Wesley Matthews has a very good all-around game. He can score, rebound, defend, and shoot the ball. He is an underrated performer on a national level. Newcomer David Cubillan will give James temporary breathers. The frontcourt needs to replace two starters, including All-Big East performer Steve Novak. Dan Fitzgerald is the main candidate to fill his shoes. He is extremely versatile and can play nearly any position on the court. The 6-9 junior can shoot the ball efficiently and is a match-up problem for most opponents. He needs to improve his rebounding and post defense, though. Lazar Hayward is another versatile forward who can play multiple positions. He will fight for a starting job. Junior Ousmane Barro will start in the low post. He is a good scorer and rebounder who is athletic. Mike Kinsella and Jamil Lott will see minutes up front. Prediction: NCAA

6. Louisville- The Cardinals were a major disappointment last season, going from a Final Four appearance to an NIT berth--albeit an NIT Final Four appearance. However, they were expected to be in the four-letter tournament, but Rick Pitino has the talent and depth to be a legitimate Sweet Sixteen contender this season. How well they do depends on their health, though. Center David Padgett is a very good inside-outside player who has the ability to be one of the better big men in the Big East. He is an efficient scorer who is also a good shot-blocker and rebounder. However, he will not play until January due to knee surgery. Guard Brandon Jenkins is an excellent defender and a good distributor who is an underrated on a national level. He can score and is a surprisingly good rebounder. He broke the fibula in his right leg in August, though, and it is unclear how healthy he will be at the start of the season. If those two players return to their pre-injury form, this team will be very good. Two other starters return in forwards Juan Palacios and Terrence Williams. Palacios has a versatile game and is a match-up problem due to his ability to get to the basket as well as pass and shoot. Williams is extremely athletic but needs to improve his decision-making and shot selection. He could have a huge season after an excellent summer showing on the team's trip to Canada. Terrance Farley is a good shot-blocker off the bench. Freshmen Earl Clark and Derrick Caracter could both start eventually. Clark is versatile and is also very good on the offensive end, while Caracter is talented but has character (sorry, it was too easy) issues. The backcourt will be relatively inexperienced until Jenkins returns. The point guard battle will be between freshman Edgar Sosa and sophomore Andre McGee. Sosa is a playmaker who can drive to the basket and finish, while McGee is a good three-point shooter who can score and distribute. Freshman Jerry Smith is a potentially explosive scorer on the wing. Prediction: NCAA

7. Villanova- The Wildcats will not be as good as last season after the loss of Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Allan Ray, but Jay Wright won't let this team fall off the map. Don't be surprised to see Villanova as a legitimate contender in the Big East Tournament come March, though. The main reason for the optimism despite the loss of the aforemenioned players is the return of Curtis Sumpter. After sitting out last season due to two ACL injuries, he is back and should be ready to go. He is a match-up problem for nearly every defender due to his offensive versatility. He can score both inside and outside and is very difficult to stop on the offensive end. Joining him up front will be Will Sheridan, who was an underrated role player last season. He has a decent mid-range jumpshot and is a very good rebounder and defender. He should increase his numbers this year. Forwards Shane Clark and Dante Cunnigham will also fight for starting jobs. Clark is more of an offensive player, while Cunnigham is an excellent rebounder and a good defender. Freshman Antonio Pena will see minutes at the forward position. The backcourt will be led by returnee Mike Nardi and freshman Scottie Reynolds. Nardi is an excellent three-point shooter who was the forgotten member of the guard quartet last season for the Wildcats. He takes care of the ball and can distribute it well. Reynolds is a former Oklahoma signee who will be a big-time scorer. He can shoot the ball well and also drive to the basket for points. Returnees Dwayne Anderson and Bilal Benn, and freshman Reggie Redding will see minutes on the perimeter. Prediction: NCAA

8. DePaul- After a positive non-conference campaign last season, in which the Blue Demons went 7-4 and beat teams like California, Creighton, and UAB, they struggled in the Big East en route to a 5-11 conference record. However, with the return of their top 13 players and 99.1% of their total minutes played a year ago, fans can expect more results like the ones they had in the non-conference season. Sammy Mejia is an excellent wing that can do-it-all. He is one of the best shooting guards in the country and contributes in a variety of ways. He is an excellent defender and a very good scorer who can also distribute and rebound. Draelon Burns is one of the best sixth men in the country. He is an excellent scorer who can also rebound decently. The Blue Demons also bring in point guard recruit Will Walker, who will make an immediate impact in the backcourt. He is a very good long-range shooter. On the wing, Karron Clarke is a formidable inside-outside option who makes an impact at both ends of the floor. He is a good shooter who is also a solid rebounder. Jabari Currie and Cliff Clinkscales will also see minutes on the perimeter. Inside, Wilson Chandler leads the way. A prime candidate for a breakout season, Chandler is a very good athlete who can create mismatches with his size and speed. Look for him to increase his production this year. Junior Wesley Green will be the top candidate at the center position. He is a decent producer inside who will be pushed by returnee Lorenzo Thompson. Freshman Thijin Moses will make an impact. Prediction: NCAA

9. Providence- The Friars did not have an overly successful season a year ago, but their disappointing record could have looked vastly different had they not lost eleven games by ten points or less. Heading into this season, things are looking more optimistic. Sharaud Curry is an excellent scoring point guard, and is very difficult to stop at times. Weyinmi Efejuku is a solid scorer and a very good athlete who will need to step up and provide perimeter scoring with the loss of Donnie McGrath. The backcourt will need to develop some depth, but the incoming freshmen will help. Jamal Barney and Brian McKenzie should see minutes off the bench immediately. Up front, the Friars are tough to match-up with. Randall Hanke is one of the most underrated centers in the country. He is very efficient shooting the ball, and is also a solid rebounder and defender. Fellow 6-11 big man Herbert Hill is a nice complement in the middle to Hanke with his scoring and rebounding ability. Both Hill and Hanke are good shot-blockers. Geoff McDermott could have a huge season. He is an unbelievable rebounder from the small forward spot, and is a tough match-up for smaller 3s. Jonathan Kale provides depth on the interior, while Charles Burch gives some added shooting and scoring at the forward spot. Prediction: NIT

10. St. John's- Although they only won 12 games last season and didn't even make the Big East Tournament, this could be the year coach Norm Roberts takes the next step and gets the Red Storm to the postseason--whether it be the NCAA or NIT. Lamont Hamilton is one of the most underrated big men in the country. The Wooden Award candidate has a chance to become an All-Big East performer if he becomes more agressive and consistent on the interior. Hamilton is a good scorer with a nice face-up game and he is also a very good rebounder. Wing Anthony Mason, Jr. has a lot of potential on the offensive end. He demonstrated some of that potential last season, but needs to become more selfish and defer to his teammates less often. He has a very good mid-range game who has improved his ability to get to the basket. Guards Darryl Hill and Eugene Lawrence are small, tough-minded guards that can create on offense. Hill averaged over 20 points per game two seasons ago but dropped to 12.3 last year after being hampered by a knee injury most of the season. Lawrence is a very good all-around player who can score and shoot the ball and is also a very good rebounder and distributor. Aaron Spears returns as the center. He provides size and defense down low. The incoming newcomers are expected to make an immediate impact. Derwin Kitchen and Avery Patterson add shooting and scoring on the perimeter, while forward Qa'rraan Calhoun could start at some point this season. This team has enough depth and talent to be competitive this season. Prediction: NIT

11. Notre Dame- The Fighting Irish were known as an unlucky team last season, and ended up going only 6-10 in the Big East. This season, the expectations are not very high for Notre Dame as they lose their best players in guard Chris Quinn, the team's leading scorer, and big man Torin Francis, a double-double threat every night. However, this team could beat some teams it shouldn't this season. Russell Carter and Colin Falls form a very good wing combo. Carter is an excellent athlete who can score inside and outside. He is also a good rebounder and a very good defender. Falls is an outstanding long-range shooter who needs to develop a more well-rounded offensive game if he is to become the go-to-guy. Running the point will be sophomore Kyle McAlarney or freshman Tory Jackson. McAlarney is a very good long-range shooter who can be a prolific scorer, while Jackson is very quick with the abll who likes to get to the basket and make plays. Rob Kurz and Luke Zeller are solid big men down low. Kurz is a decent scorer and rebounder who can step out and shoot the ball. He is also a solid shot-blocker. Zeller will have to increase his production in the paint to replace Francis. Freshman Luke Harangody will also see time on the low block. Notre Dame may be depleted, but I wouldn't overlook this team. Prediction: NIT

12. Seton Hall- After an NCAA Tournament appearance a year ago, the Pirates will take a step back this season with new coach Bobby Gonzalez and the loss of two All-Big East performers in Donald Copeland and Kelly Whitney. However, Gonzalez brings in three very good perimeter players who will make an impact. 6-0 point Eugene Harvey is extremely quick and likes to drive to the basket and finish. 6-3 Larry Davis will provide scoring in the backcourt with his shooting and penetrating abilities. Wing Kashif Pratt will be a defender and rebounder from the perimeter. The best of the returnees is guard Jamar Nutter. He is an excellent scorer who can stroke it from long-range. He will be the go-to-guy for the Pirates. Part-time starter Brian Laing is a good shooter and a solid rebounder who will see plenty of minutes, while Paul Gause is an efficient scorer. Up front, Stan Gaines and Grant Billmeier will start. Gaines is a good defender and a versatile scorer, while Billmeier is a returning starter who is a decent role player. Prediction: No Postseason

13. Rutgers- The Scarlet Knights had a very good season last year, finishing with 19 wins and even making it to the second round of the NIT. However, they lost coach Gary Waters and first-round draft pick Quincy Douby, one of the nation’s best scorers a year ago. New coach Fred Hill will not have an empty cupboard, but he will have his work cut out for him. The strength is on the perimeter, in guards Marquis Webb and Anthony Farmer. Webb is the team’s leading returning scorer. He is a solid point producer and a very good defender and a decent rebounder. Farmer returns at the point. He takes care of the ball and distributes it well. He will need to improve his offensive production, though. Rutgers transfer Courtney Nelson will fight for a starting job on the perimeter. He is a good scorer. Up front, J.R. Inman leads the way. He can play a variety of positions and is a versatile scorer. Moreover, he is a solid rebounder. Look for him to create mismatches this season. Big men Byron Joynes and Adrian Hill need to improve their production if the Scarlet Knights are to repeat last season’s performance. Freshman Hamady N’Diaye is a shot-blocker who will see immediate playing time. Ollie Bailey and Jaron Griffin will also fight for minutes. Prediction: No Postseason

14. Cincinnati- The Bearcats may have been the biggest snub of last year’s Selection Sunday, getting left out of the NCAA Tournament despite an 8-8 conference record and a better record than Syracuse. However, they lose the most of any team in the Big East and will struggle to make the Big East Tournament. The only key contributor from last season that returns is forward Cedric McGowan. He started every game last season, but will need to improve his offensive production to help replace Eric Hicks and James White. He is a very good rebounder and defender who has scoring potential on the interior. He will be joined down low by JC transfer Hernol Hall. He is going to make an immediate impact down low after earning JC All-American honors a year ago. Also fighting for minutes inside are JC transfers Marcus Sikes and John Williamson. They are good scorers who can do a lot of things at both ends of the floor. They will get a chance to show what they can do right away. Returnees Ronald Allen and Abdul Herrera will get minutes. On the perimeter, Jamual Warren and Deonta Vaughn will be the main scorers. Warren is a playermaker, while Vaughn can distribute and shoot. Tim Crowell is a quick point guard who can pass the ball well. Prediction: No Postseason

15. West Virginia- Another team that lost a ton of production from a season ago, the Mountaineers will have to replace NCAA Tournament heroes Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle, in addition to shooter Jon Herber and Patrick Beilein, not to mention point guard J.D. Collins. Coach John Beilein will field a competitive team though. Returning starter Frank Young will lead the way. The 6-5 forward can do a variety of things at both ends. He is a very good defender and a solid rebounder who can also score if needed. He will become a go-to-guy this season. Returning guard Darris Nichols saw significant minutes off the bench last season, and will move into the starting lineup this year. He takes excellent care of the basketball, but needs to become a better offensive player if he is to become a key scoring option. Wings Alex Ruoff and Joe Alexander will also see increased playing time on the perimeter. Ruoff is a do-it-all type of player, while Alexander is an athlete that could become a match-up problem due to his versatility and size. There are newcomers all over the roster ready to make an impact. Devan Bawinkel and Joe Mazzulla will see time in the backcourt, while Wellington Smith and Da'Sean Butler are fowards who will fight for starting jobs. Down low, Butler transfer Jamie Smalligan will start. He is a decent long-range shooter who is also a good interior player and rebounder. Returnee Rob Summers will back him up. Prediction: No Postseason

16. South Florida- This could become an annual saying: the Bulls are projected to be the worst team in the Big East. They went 1-15 last season in their first year in the conference, going only 7-22 overall. They lose their top two scorers in James Holmes and Solomon Jones. The go-to-guys on this year's club will be Melvin Buckley and McHugh Mattis. Buckley is a very good three-point shooter who is a solid rebounder. He needs to develop a more well-rounded offensive game, though. Mattis is a very good rebounder for his size who might be the best 6-6 shot-blocker in the conference. He is also a very efficient inside scorer. LSU transfer Kentrell Gransberry and Arizona transfer Jesus Verdejo will be other key scoring options once they become eligible. Gransberry is a 6-9 big man who is an excellent rebounder and a good shot-blocker and inside scorer. Verdejo is a good long-range shooter who will score from the wing. Valparaiso transfer Aris Williams and senior forward Melvyn Richardson will see minutes in the frontcourt. At the point, redshirt freshman Chris Howard will battle returning starter Chris Capko for the job. Howard will likely start if he is healthy. Freshman Solomon Bozeman will also fight for minutes at the lead guard position. Prediction: No Postseason


  1. Interesting that UConn has one guy on the first three All-BE teams yet they still are picked 4th

    I'm a UConn fan, but I have to wonder - would you be picking them 4th if their name was "Seton Hall" or "South Florida" instead of "Connecticut"?

  2. No, because Seton Hall and South Florida wouldn't have Calhoun as their coach, nor would they be bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country.