"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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Rest of the Big East, Part III

Here is the final installment in the Cracked Sidewalks preview of the other Big East teams. In case you missed either of the first two, the first part is here and the second part is here. And keep an eye out over the next couple weeks as Cracked Sidewalks will be presenting a more in-depth preview of Marquette's season. But without further ado, let's finish this thing.

South Florida
Who's Back: Augustus Gilchrist, Jawanza Poland, Ron Anderson Jr., Hugh Robertson, Shaun Noriega, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick
Who's New: Anthony Collins, Blake Nash
Coaches / Media Predictions: 14th / 14th
The Skinny: Gilchrist is USF's version of DJO, one of the best unsung players in the Big East. This team is also experienced, with six guys who are juniors or seniors that will be earning minutes. USF finished 15th last year, but that included overtime losses to BYU and UConn, a close loss to Marquette, and a win over VCU. Despite having some strength at the 2-5 positions, Stan Heath needs either JUCO transfer Nash or freshman Collins to take the reins at PG. Nash seems the favorite, but Collins is more of a pass-first player and will see time. This team looks better than 14th, but they have to prove they learned from the close losses last year. The Bulls have a sneaky-tough non-conference schedule, and while USF should be better than last year, finishing in the top-12 of the Big East and earning a NIT berth is about the best they can hope for.

St. John's
Who's Back: Malik Stith
Who's New: Who's Not? Dom Pointer, Maurice Harkless, God's Gift Achiuwa, D'Angelo Harrison, Nurideen Lindsey
Who's Ineligible: Jakarr Sampson, Norvel Pelle, Amir Garrett
Coaches / Media Prediction: 12th / 12th
The Skinny: Malik Stith is the only returning scholarship player after nine players graduated and two transferred from the Red Storm. Steve Lavin brought in a tremendous recruiting class, but three top 100 players are ineligible to start the season, though the Johnnies are working to get them eligible in time for Big East play. St. John's is also a bit small; without Pelle, Achiuwa is the tallest player on the roster at 6'9". And due to all the complications, St. John's held open tryouts for walk-ons with the expectation of adding as many as six players to the roster. Don't be mistaken, the talent at St. John's, if they all end up eligible, is probably among the best in the Big East. That's how good this recruiting class is. But none of them have ever played together. They don't know the system. They'll win some games on talent, but in a league like the Big East, you need experience to succeed. St. John's had that last year, hence the 12-6 finish. Without it, expect them to fall possibly even further than the pundits are predicting.

Who's Back: Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche, Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Fab Melo, Baye Moussa Keita
Who's New: Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams, Trevor Cooney
Coaches / Media Predictions: 1st / 1st
The Skinny: The Orange return virtually everyone, and add two five-star recruits in Christmas and Carter-Williams. The team is the consensus top team in the league (tied with UConn in the Big East Coaches poll) and seems to have it all: a star in Joseph, an experienced backcourt in Jardine and Triche, a wealth of big men like Melo and Keita, and a tremendous bench. The key figure will be Jardine, who on any given night can be a stud or dud. Those are risky tendencies for a point guard. Expect this team to be very good. They will challenge for the Big East title, though winning it will require Jardine to come up big in big games. Anything less than a top-three Big East finish and a top-two NCAA seed would have to be considered a disappointment for Jim Boeheim's team.

Who's Back: Maalik Wayns, Mouphtaou Yarou, Dominic Cheek
Who's New: JayVaughn Pinkston, Tyrone Johnson, Darrun Hilliard, Markus Kennedy, Achraf Yacoubou
Coaches / Media Predictions: 8th / 8th
The Skinny: After losing their Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, and Antonio Pena to graduation and seeing Isaiah Armwood transfer, a drop-off should be expected. With no scholarship seniors, junior Maalik Wayns will lead the way, which could be worrisome, as he shot below 39.9% from the field last year. Fellow juniors Mouphtaou Yarou and Dominic Cheek were wildly inconsistent a year ago. After those three, the bulk of the minutes will go to unknowns. James Bell played minimally last year. Freshman JayVaughn Pinkston, a former McDonald's All-American, will get every chance to start. The Wildcats also have an excellent recruiting class. Villanova plays a soft non-conference schedule that will likely have them coming into Big East play with no more than two losses and could be ranked. But zero seniors, three inconsistent juniors, and a stable of unknown quantities doesn't seem like a recipe for success in Big East play. A top-half finish may be beyond this group, and with all that inexperience they have the look more of a NIT-bound team than one that will be playing in the NCAAs.

West Virginia
Who's Back: Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant, Deniz Kilicli
Who's New: Dominique Rutledge, Jabari Hinds, Aaron Brown, Gary Browne, Pat Forsythe
Coaches / Media Predictions: 7th / 7th
The Skinny: Despite losing four 20+ mpg seniors and a key bench player to transfer, the Mountaineers still return a superstar in Jones, a four-year starting point guard in Bryant, and a space-eater down low in Kilicli. The top of the roster is strong, but how will the new guys fit in? Can the JUCO transfer Rutledge step into John Flowers role? Will Brown be able to replace leading scorer Casey Mitchell? Can the other freshmen provide immediate minutes to take the pressure off Bryant? Bob Huggins is a solid coach, and this team has the ability to be a top-half Big East team. They also have experience at the most important positions. But they will also be relying on a lot of fresh faces. If the newcomers can't contribute from the get-go, it could be a long season in Morgantown.

Well, that's it for the preview of the rest of the league. Over the next couple weeks, Cracked Sidewalks will continue helping you prepare for the upcoming season with our 2011-12 Marquette preview pieces.

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