"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

Friday, November 17, 2006

Big East Preview with Kevin McNamara

We have a special edition of Cracked Sidewalks today -- one we're especially excited to publish.

Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, one of the Big East's most respected beat reporters, was kind enough to preview the 2006-2007 season for the readers of Cracked Sidewalks.

Kevin covers the Providence Friars, the pride of the Ocean State, and maintains a college basketball blog as well. Kevin has covered the Big East for nearly two decades. You'll find his blog here, as well as on the right nav bar of our site. In addition, take a look at Kevin's take on the nation's best players and teams here.

So -- on with the expert Q&A/preview of the 2006-2007 Big East season with Kevin McNamara:

CS: Kevin, how do you see the Big East unfolding this season?
McNamara: I think the popular theme of the Big East taking a step backwards this season could be off a bit. I agree that the conference won’t have the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country like last year but I see another 8-10 teams on the bubble in March. That’s deep and that’s good for the fans. One thing to ask is which conference is good? The ACC’s third best team, Boston College, just lost to Vermont (although they played without C Sean Williams). Texas may be the third best team in the Big 12 and they have a team of freshmen. The Big 10, the PAC 10, just who is loaded this year? No one, it seems to me.

CS: Who will be the surprise team in the Big East this season? Biggest disappointment?
McNamara: Big surprises will be Syracuse and maybe Louisville. If they get healthy (Padgett and Jenkins are vital), the Cards can be a top 15 or so team. Rick Pitino does not take losing lightly and he didn’t enjoy last season at all. As for the ‘Cuse, I find it odd that some people can pick Marquette and UConn over Syracuse, which has four starters back and adds Paul Harris. Jim Boeheim will win 20-25 games again.

Disappointment? I have my doubts about a few teams. UConn is so very young that I wonder if Jim Calhoun can keep everyone positive and happy into February. He’s a great coach, so anything’s possible but too many freshmen is never a good thing.

I never did get the fascination with DePaul. Throw out their thrashing of Syracuse (a fluke?) and did the Demons look very good against anyone else last year? They need to prove it before you get excited. Also, sorry to Warrior (the rightful nickname) fans but I’m not sure how good
Marquette is. I love Dominic James, who I picked for 1st team All-America, but everyone else needs to keep progressing at a good rate to see that team in the top 10-15 in the nation. Tom Crean, however, could get that done but I see this group as being one year away as long as James sticks around.

CS: Which coaches are on the hot seat?
McNamara: Several coaches will be on the so-called `hot seat’ every year in this league, mainly because of the Big East Tournament set up. Quite simply, if you miss New York, you’re in trouble. This year, coaches who need to avoid that include Mike Brey, Tim Welsh and Norm Roberts. I feel for Rob McCullum at South Florida. Who knows when he DOES make New York.

CS: What are your impressions of the Marquette program?
McNamara: Unfortunately, I did not travel to Marquette last season because of a family issue. From everything I hear, I think Marquette is as well-positioned as any non-football school in the Big East. The reasons are the coach, Tom Crean, who is talented and aggressive; a great arena and practice facility; a rabid fan following; Dwayne Wade, the ultimate, modern-day recruiting tool.

CS: With the success of the Big East football teams this year, not to mention the Big East basketball prowess, has the conference moved beyond the 'inevitable breakup' scenarios?
McNamara: I would say yes but I’ve also learned in 18 years covering the league that you never say never. It certainly won’t break up in four more years, as was first predicted. The football success, as long as it continues, does solve the football schools’ problem of security within the BCS. But just as important is the on-court success of the basketball schools like Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova. If St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul come through, that’ll only make the group more valuable and less likely to be dismissed by the footballers.

CS: Looking back to last season, was there anything about the dynamics of the 16 team league that surprised you?
McNamara: Although the coaches certainly had a lot to say about it, the intensity of games at the lower end of the league to get to New York certainly caught me by surprise. Not going to a conference tournament is the only thing I really do not like about the league. It’s wrong but also seems unavoidable. Quite simply, it will get a coach fired nearly every season and makes the Big East and the Ivy League the only leagues in the country where kids can’t enjoy a small taste of March’s Madness.

CS: Historically, the Big East has been a physical conference, dominated by teams with deep frontlines. Are guard-oriented programs like Villanova, Marquette, and now DePaul the wave of the future, or will frontcourt-dominated teams continue to set the pace?
McNamara: College basketball is a guard’s game, especially with the elite big men not sticking around college very long. I think you can’t be too guard-oriented, although a Villanova with 3 NBA players is an exception. I think this Marquette team doesn’t have that type of guard talent. They’ll need solid big man play from Ousmane Barro and Jamil Lott to win an NCAA Tourney game. And DePaul? Their guards don’t belong in this conversation. Just ask Northwestern.

Kevin, thanks very much for your time and expertise. We'll follow your coverage of college basketball all season long!

*image credit: Providence Journal online


Kevin Buckley said...

Great stuff, tb.

Anonymous said...

That guy has no respect towards Marquette! Yeah, he might have said a couple of good things about them. He doesn't think that Marquette will be that great this year? Get real Kevin. Whoever interviewed him should have reminded of the pounding Marquette put on Providence last year, and how they finished fourth in the league. Get lost Kevin!

Anonymous said...

i'm loving the fight in the previous comment. i would agree that their is some glaring bias in mcnamara's assessment of the big east, but i kind of like that marquette hype has been turned down since the season began...now the team can put more focus into proving themselves as legit instead of living up to the hype that pitt, g-town, and 'cuse will have to live up to this year. go warriors!

muwarrior92 said...

Excellent stuff...thank you Kevin.

Anonymous said...

I agree that he has no respect for Marquette. He says are guards aren't that great and that we will be a dissapointement? Maybe he should just worry about providence and trying to win a few games this season.

Anonymous said...

he's a reporter, not a fan. i can understand the skepticism -- but feel like MU will do just fine