"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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Rest of the Big East, Part II

It's time to continue our look at the teams Marquette will be vying for conference glory with this season. This is the second installment in our "Rest of the Big East" preview. If you missed it, the first part is here. Without further delay, let's get back to the previews:

Notre Dame
Who's Back: Tim Abromaitis, Scott Martin, Eric Atkins, Joey Thomas, Jack Cooley
Who's New: Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton
Coaches / Media Predictions: 9th / 9th
The Skinny: After losing Ben Hansbrough, Carleton Scott, and Tyrone Nash, everyone will expect a huge drop-off for the Irish. Of course, that was the expectation last season when Luke Harangody left too. Tim Abromaitis is a first-team All-Big East pick, and there's plenty of experience with super-senior Scott Martin and juniors Joey Thomas and Jack Cooley. Eric Atkins showed plenty of promise as a starter last year, and Jerian Grant could be a surprise breakout player for the Irish after redshirting last year. Don't be at all surprised to see Mike Brey's squad finish in the top half of the Big East. They won't challenge for the title again, but they will surprise some people.

Who's Back: Ashton Gibbs, Travon Woodall, Nasir Robinson
Who's New: Khem Birch, Malcolm Gilbert, Isaiah Epps, Cameron Wright
Coaches / Media Predictions: 4th / 4th
The Skinny: Gibbs wasn't expected to return and is the Big East Preseason Player of the Year. While they have some experience in Woodall and Robinson (if he's healthy) this team is very young. McDonald's All-American center Birch will likely start, and Gilbert should get time behind him. Epps and Wright are both redshirt freshmen. The Panthers will almost certainly enter Big East play with an unbeaten record and top-ten ranking thanks to a very soft non-conference schedule. But finishing in the top four might be tough for such a young team. Expect Pitt to stay in the top half of the league, but they'll need a lot more than Gibbs to challenge for another Big East crown.

Who's Back: Vincent Council, Gerard Coleman, Kadeem Batts, Bilal Dixon
Who's New: LaDontae Henton
Coaches / Media Predictions: 15th / 16th
The Skinny: New coach Ed Cooley is trying to bring the swagger back to Providence, but it won't happen this year. With Marshon Brooks gone, Providence's backcourt is thin. Vincent Council and Gerard Coleman both averaged in double-figures last year, but the only player to back them up is Bryce Cotton after freshman Kiwi Gardner was ruled ineligible. Up front, the Friars are a bit undersized (no one over 6'9") and don't have a lot of experience. Three of the four guys in the expected rotation are underclassmen. The bottom line is this team is in for a long season. Their bench only really has two likely contributors beyond the starting five, and they just aren't very talented. Once Henton matures and guys like Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo arrive, Cooley will have a chance to turn it around, but right now, there's no way they finish above the bottom two.

Who's Back: Dane Miller, Gilvydas Biruta, Austin Johnson, Mike Poole
Who's New: Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears
Coaches / Media Predictions: 11th / 11th
The Skinny: Mike Rice seems to have the Scarlet Knights pointed in the right direction. Miller, Biruta, and Johnson make up a solid frontcourt, though losing four-star freshman Kadeem Jack for the year hurts their depth. The backcourt isn't nearly as settled. Freshmen Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears will both be in line for major minutes, as the only returning guard to average more than 11 mpg or 3 ppg is erratic shooter Mike Poole. A bid to the NCAAs may not be far off, but it likely won't yet come this year. Expect Rutgers to finish around where they are predicted and be in pretty good shape for a NIT berth when March rolls around.

Seton Hall
Who's Back: Jordan Theodore, Herb Pope, Fuquan Edwin
Who's New: Kevin Johnson, Aaron Cosby
Coaches / Media Predictions: 13th / 13th
The Skinny: Seniors Theodore and Pope had better lead this team, because they are the only two upperclassmen on Kevin Willard's team. Trying to predict what SHU will do is like throwing darts in the ocean. If healthy, Theodore and Pope have the ability to be All-Big East players. Edwin needs to become more consistent to help pick up the scoring slack left by Jeremy Hazell. A trio of European imports, sophomores Aaron Geramipoor and Patrik Auda and freshman Haralds Karlis, will likely need to contribute significant minutes. SHU also has two solid recruits in Johnson and Cosby that could contribute. The Pirate faithful think the 13th-placed predictions are a slight, and that an easier non-conference schedule and a healthy team should have them in the top half of the Big East and back in the NCAA Tournament. But objectively, it would only take one senior getting injured to tank the season. This team should land somewhere just below the middle of the league, with postseason play, more likely the NIT, a distinct possibility.

And that's two-thirds of the league previewed. Keep your eyes open this weekend for a look at the final five teams in the Big East.

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