"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Rest of the Big East, Part I

College basketball season is almost here. In less than three weeks, most of us will either be at the Bradley Center, watching on TV, or at least listening on ESPN 540 as Marquette takes on Mount St. Mary's. We're anxious to see DJO trying to live up to First-Team All-Big East honors, learn what Jamil Wilson can do as he finally hits the court, find out if Vander Blue can start making good on all his potential, and watch as Buzz tries to build on a Sweet 16 year.

But what about the rest of the Big East? Can UConn repeat? Who will challenge for the league title? How many of Notre Dame's seniors actually left? Can DePaul claw their way up the Big East standings, maybe rising as high as 15th by year's end? Over the summer, I took a look at our various non-conference opponents, now it's time to look at the ones we're familiar with. Over the next week (or so) I'll provide capsules on all of the Big East teams. Here are the first five:

Who's Back: Yancy Gates, Cashmere Wright, Dion Dixon
Who's New: Cheikh Mbodj, Ge'Lawn Guyn
Coaches / Media Predictions: 5th / 6th
The Skinny: Gates, Wright, and Dixon are a three-headed monster. Joining them in the starting lineup should be JUCO PF Mbodj and Sean Kilpatrick, who has bulked up after his All-Big East Rookie campaign last year. The first two off the bench should be senior forward Justin Jackson and junior wing JaQuon Parker, with the speedy freshman Guyn getting time at both guard slots. The Bearcats play a soft non-con schedule again, so we won't know how good they really are until the end of January, after they've played some competition. They will have dreams of cracking the top four, but will likely be in next tier when the season is done.

Who's Back: Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, Tyler Olander
Who's New: Andre Drummond, DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright
Coaches / Media Predictions: 1st / 2nd
The Skinny: Despite losing their best player, UConn should be better than their title-winning team last year. Lamb received first-team All-Big East honors from the coaches, Oriakhi second-team, and both Napier and Drummond were honorable mention. Lost in the shuffle is five-star Daniels, who should contribute right away. But don't forget, this team only went 9-9 in league play last year. Someone has to lead them. As much talent as they have, there are knocks. Lamb has never had to be the man before. Napier and Smith had a lot of growing pains last year that need to be put behind them. And despite all his physical gifts, Drummond has virtually no back-to-the-basket game and not much range. If UConn puts it all together, they could be one of the best teams in the country. But while they might have supplanted Kemba's talent, the loss of his on-court leadership might be underrated. They should be in the top four, but I'm not sold that they're going to jump from 9th to 1st.

Who's Back: Cleveland Melvin, Brandon Young, Jeremiah Kelly, Krys Faber
Who's New: Donnavan Kirk, Charles McKinney, Worrel Clahar
Coaches / Media Predictions: 16th / 15th
The Skinny: It's hard not to feel sorry for DePaul. First, top recruit Shane Larkin withdrew his commitment and headed to Miami. Then expected starter Tony Freeland suffered a season-ending injury while the NCAA ruled three-star freshman Macari Brooks ineligible. To top it off, freshman forward Montray Clemons also suffered a season-ending injury. That will mean Oliver Purnell needs more from his newcomers. JUCO transfer Clahar will get time from day one, and freshman wing McKinney will likely also be asked to contribute right away. Transfer Kirk will likely be needed as soon as he's eligible in December. It's a good thing they have a soft non-conference, because they'll need it. The good news is that Melvin and Young were among the best freshmen in the conference last year. This team is still a couple years away. They may not be quite as bad they were the past two seasons, but finishing as high as 14th in the league would be a significant accomplishment.

Who's Back: Hollis Thompson, Jason Clark, Nate Lubick
Who's New: Otto Porter, Mikael Hopkins, Jabril Trawick
Coaches / Media Predictions: 10th / 10th
The Skinny: This team is a shell of itself without Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Julian Vaughn. For the Hoyas to succeed, Thompson and Clark have to go from role-players to stars, and they'll likely need Otto Porter to contribute heavy minutes from the get-go. This team is very inexperienced. As much upside as they have, there are too many freshman in and seniors out for them to contend this year. They may challenge for a berth in the NCAAs, but if they do, it will be as one of the last teams in the Big East.

Who's Back: Peyton Siva, Kyle Kuric, Gorgui Dieng, Rakeem Buckles, Chris Smith
Who's New: Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Zach Price
Coaches / Media Predictions: 3rd / 3rd
The Skinny: Leading scorer Preston Knowles left as did Terrence Jennings, which would signify a drop-off for most teams. Don't expect that from the Cardinals. This team is incredibly deep. They return 8 guys that averaged double-digit minutes last year and add two McDonald's All-Americans in Behanan and Blackshear. Buckles and Blackshear will miss the start of the season with injury, but Louisville has the depth to offset those losses. While the pundits have the Big East as a two-horse race between Syracuse and Connecticut, Louisville finished ahead of both last year and return virtually everyone. Pitino's team will challenge for the Big East title, and definitely have the ability to win it.

That's all for now, I'll be back later in the week with five more Big East capsules as we get ready for the season to start.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Long time lurker, first time commenter. I'm a DePaul fan who really respects (most of) the articles posted here.

A couple of points about my team...

1. Yeah, we're already banged up. But we've still got more depth than we did last year. Let me drop some names on you... Mike Stovall, Devin Hill, Mario Stula, Mike Bizoukas. The new guys couldn't possibly suck more than those guys did.

2. Two guys who I think people are overlooking heading into the season... Jeremiah Kelly and Moses Morgan. Both seemed to "get it" down the stretch last year. And I think Morgan would have beaten out Freeland to start at small forward, anyway. Kelly really shot the ball well down the stretch last year, and Morgan was a bit streaky, but after Melvin was hurt, he was averaging double digits in terms of points last year in the year.

3. As a group, DePaul seemed to "get it" to a certain degree late in the season. After they got blown out by Notre Dame, they followed it up with a four point loss at Louisville, a three point loss to Cincinnati, an 11-point loss at WVU that got blown open in the last three minutes, a win at Providence, and an OT loss against Villanova. Melvin gets hurt, and even without him, they nearly beat South Florida and Rutgers.

Give the freshman the summer to improve their games (a college player's biggest leap forward is typically between their freshmen and sophomore seasons), a team bonding trip to France, and an infusion of athleticism to play Purnell's pressing style, and I don't think things are quite as bleak as you make them out to be.

Then again, I could just be wildly optimistic.