Upon the Big East schedule release, here’s some thoughts:
First, projected order:
Experienced, talented, balanced and well coached. Is there anything they don’t have?
Point guard who can distribute and pressure ball handlers? Siva. Check.
Off guard who can get his own shot? Russ Smith. Check.
Wing who can spread the floor with shooting? Wayne Blackshear. Check.
Low post scorer and rebounder? Chane Behanan. Check.
Defensive presence in the paint? Gorgui Dieng. Check.
Depth with backups at every spot? Kevin Ware, Luke Hancock, Mike Marra, Montrezl Harrell, Zach Price. Check.
Hall of Fame Coach who still is energized (and likely even more so this season)? Check.
Not only my #1 team in the league, but the country.
Louisville is superior to any team in this league, I truly believe that. From there, 2 through 6 is a mess in mind. It could go any way:
Why they finish 2nd: Brandon Triche is one of the better guards in the league and Michael Carter-Williams emerges as a big time player. Boeheim finds combinations across his front line that work to cover the need for a third perimeter player. DaJuan Coleman brings a low-post scoring option that Syracuse was void of last season. The 2-3 zone offers even more length this season. Is that it? I think that’s it, MCW better be the real deal or else..
Why they finish 6th: Well, are they that loaded? Everyone has penciled them in for a 2nd place finish and while I’m doing the same it’s quite murky to me. They only have 3 scholarship guards, they don’t have a returning forward who can get his own shot and the three headed player at center could be tough to juggle. Triche will be solid, we know that. But is Michael Carter-Williams absolutely destined to break out? Can we at least see him in action first? The third perimeter spot is a conundrum. CJ Fair is much more of a face up 4 man than a small forward. The last time you saw him put the ball on the floor or knock down a 3 point shot? Exactly. However, he is crafty so long as defenses focuses their attention elsewhere. Unfortunately for him he will not have that luxury this year to get open 8-15 foot jumpers. James Southerland is a one trick pony at the small forward position and he can not get his own shot, either. Jerami Grant can’t shoot as of now. DaJuan Coleman will need to be a horse down low and provide scoring as manufacturing points and opens shots could be a struggle.
Why they finish 2nd: Quality players across the board. Not many Big East teams will be able to have a top 7 of legitimate Big East starters like Marquette has. Cadougan, Blue, Mayo, Lockett, Wilson, Gardner and Otule provide Marquette with likely the best bench in the conference short of Louisville depending on the lineup Buzz goes with.
Why they finish 6th: Limited upside. Lockett should prove to be their best player, but I’d only describe him as ‘solid’ along with the other top 7 to some degree. Plus, someone has to make shots to spread the floor. Lockett and Mayo are the best bets to do so and they better because Vander Blue and Junior Cadougan are not capable of doing so.
Why they finish 2nd: They have Otto Porter. It could be as simple as that. To go along with Otto, Greg Whittington could be a breakout candidate and form the best 1-2 wing duo in the league on both ends of the floor. Other sophomores, Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins hold plenty of promise. Stephen Domingo and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera hopefully bring a scoring/shooting punch and depth.
Why they finish 6th: Nate Lubick seemingly took a step back last season and Markel Starks did not make the jump many expected. As good as Otto Porter may be, questions surround the supporting cast and in particular, the 5 man position, which has proven vital to JTIII’s system.
5. Notre Dame
Why they finish 2nd: There’s a whole lot back. All 5 starters are back plus Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman to provide more size and incoming Cameron Biedscheid to give more pop on the perimeter. Either one could make Mike Brey less reliant on Scott Martin which would be a positive. Pat Connaughton is one of the hidden gems of the conference in my opinion, a big time athlete that also can shoot the ball.
Why they finish 6th: They have Scott Martin. Okay, seriously – Mike Brey does have a lot of perimeter talent again and one has to wonder if he reverts back to his roots and pushes the pace again and in turn, they suffer defensively. Yet we would all win because ‘Burn’ was the worst thing to happen to this league until the South Florida version came along last year.
Why they finish 2nd: Sean Kilpatrick should be the most feared scorer in this league. Pair him with Cashmere Wright and Jaquon Parker again and UC should be set up very well on the wing. Justin Jackson may not be the most skilled player but he finds a way to impact games. Dion Dixon won’t be attempting 180 threes at a 26% clip and to be honest, I’m just sick of this program proving me wrong the past two seasons.
Why they finish 6th: Can ‘small ball’ work without any interior presence? They did manage without Yancy Gates at times last year but that included 4 good guards, this year I only see 3 on paper so that changes the dynamics of it all. Depth has to be a concern.
If they annoyingly finish higher than this in their final year I would not be surprised. A lot of parts return and let’s be honest, Gibbs and Nasir Robinson were extremely limited and ‘system’ guys. They’re certainly not losing a talent trade off there, just certain skills (such as Gibbs shooting or Robinson operating as a passer on the interior). Woodall/Moore/Patterson/Zanna/Taylor with Adams certainly doesn’t seem terrible on paper. I still don’t see much athleticism or quickness to improve things defensively but Woodall + the usual offensive rebounding will manufacture points and wins.
Sounds surprising after the chaos that has taken place in Storrs but I don’t think it’s far fetched to see a 7th or 8th place finish out of Uconn. Things are simplified by default this year and that can be a positive. Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun form a very good three guard lineup. Be it Marquette, Villanova or Cincinnati – we’ve seen Big East teams go small and find success, and this trio should do very well. DeAndre Daniels has reportedly worked extremely hard this off-season and offers a face up 4 man to go along with the guards and Tyler Olander returns for his junior year up front. It will take an unorthodox approach this season in Storrs but all is not lost. (Just a chance at post-season play)
9. St John’s
A bit bold here but there are parts to make this thing work. D’Angelo Harrison will score the ball and Pointer, Garrett and Sampson will defend. God’s Gift gets some relief down low with Obepka. There is at least legitimate talent and athletes here. Mike Dunlap is a significant loss as far as X’s and O’s go but I like this team more than the bottom of the league due to versatility and athleticism.
Some working parts here as Pinkston and Yarou are a nice duo to go along with supplementary parts in Bell, Sutton and Chennault. Can Ty Johnson regain his High School form? Can Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono make an impact? Pinkston and Yarou can only do so much, a 3rd impact player must step up. Conversely, can Jay Wright direct a team which is best suited to work inside-out?
11. South Florida
I’m just not a believer that last year’s success can be carried over. They hit the brakes on everything and moved at a snails pace and relied on just being bigger and longer than everyone they played. Now they’ve lost Anderson, Gilchrist and Robertson while Waverly Austin was not admitted to school. It goes from a giant of a team to a rather average sized collection of players with only one player returning that can shoot the ball (Fitzpatrick). If Abdul-Aleem and Kore White are solid additions, this certainly could be a low projection but for now I do not see things carrying over.
12. Seton Hall
I feel like this is low because Kevin Willard demands his teams defend and they usually do. Aaron Cosby, Brandon Mobley and Fuquan Edwin are all players I like. Auda and incoming transfer Gene Teague must be able to hold things down inside. I’m not quite sold that Cosby can handle full time PG duties but if he can, this projection is low. There was so much reliance on the Theodore/Pope combo that this team will need some watching to see how the transition into a new era goes.
The trio of sophomore guards (Mack, Seagers, Carter) plus Wally Judge makes Rutgers an interesting watch this year. Gil Biruta transferring out was a significant loss, had he stayed RU was poised to make a jump. Now, just trying to patch a hole in the middle and hope the guards get hot in the RAC for a few games. (Likely, but not for more than 4-5 games)
14. DePaul – West Virginia at least guaranteed a 16 wouldn’t be next to their name this time around but I think they can scrape the way out of the basement entirely. Young/Crockett/Melvin is at least a trio that produced last season. Style of play is always bound to catch 1 or 2 teams off guard at home.
15. Providence - No Rick Ledo for the season and no Kris Dunn until at least late December. Gerard Coleman transferred out so it’s slim pickings for Ed Cooley. Council and Henton can play but beyond that it’s cringe worthy. But, I’m still on the Cooley bandwagon. Just a rough year set up for him, as was last year.
Player Of The Year:
Coach Of The Year:
Honestly, I have no idea. So we’ll go Pitino here.
Freshman Of The Year:
First Team All Big East:
G – Vincent Council - Bad team, big numbers and I don’t mean that negatively. It’s just the way it will be but Council is a talented lead guard.
G – Sean Kilpatrick - Pure scorer but not a black hole. Not sure he can go left, but not sure it matters.
F – Otto Porter - Points, rebounds (lots of them), deflections, steals, blocks. Just makes plays. When Otto took 11 shots or more he never shot less than 50%. Expanded role, expanded production.
F – Chane Behanan - Can I go Rothstein on you? Reminds me of Ryan Gomes. And Ryan Gomes ended up an All-American. Behanan is on the same path if he sticks around.
C – Gorgui Dieng - Only getting better. Known for defensive presence but also rebounds very well and sneaky skilled on offense (not a total mess).
Second Team All Big East
G – Ryan Boatright - If he’s a 1st team caliber performer by year’s end I won’t be surprised. Big time talent and will be relied on heavily.
G – D’Angelo Harrison - Ditto. But god, he can be annoying.
G – Jerian Grant - A stat that most probably don’t know, Grant averaged 5 assists last year playing largely off the ball next to Atkins.
F – Trent Lockett - Solid all around player and Marquette should serve him well.
C – Jack Cooley - He’s a goof, but a productive one in a league missing quality bigs.
Third Team All Big East:
G – Brandon Triche - We have to get someone from Syracuse on here, right? Triche is the best for the time being.
G – Peyton Siva - Does he drive his fan-base as crazy as I think he would? The hope is a senior season should lead to consistency.
G – Shabazz Napier - Definitely drives his and other fan-bases crazy, but he actually was still pretty good last year. He’s just not Kemba (but don’t tell him).
F – LaDontae Henton - Sneaky good, just finds a way to score the basketball. Poor Northeastern man’s version of DeShaun Thomas. (Rothsteined).
F – Cleveland Melvin - Bad team, big numbers guy but DePaul should be slightly improved. Just stop shooting jump shots, Cleveland.
F- Fuquan Edwin - An additional 6th spot here to squeeze everyone in. Edwin is really good. 3 steals a game (!) and improving offense.
All Rookie Team:
Kris Dunn - Hopefully back for the start of conference play. Lord knows Providence needs him.
Omar Calhoun - Will bring a calming presence to Uconn and be provided with plenty of opportunity.
Jakarr Sampson - Should give some juice to the SJU program. Fun to watch on defense and in transition.
DaJuan Coleman - In shape or not? If he is, there will be production. He is a load.
Steven Adams - Don’t buy the hype completely but he’ll play and Pitt bigs have had good freshman years before (Chris Taft, DeJuan Blair).