Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Big East No Longer Seeing Double

Jim Boeheim gets his wish as he and fellow Big East coaches vote to change conference tournament format, doing away with double bye for top four seeds. (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

Since its expansion to the current format last year, the Big East tournament has been a success in each of its two most recent incarnations. However, success has come at a price for the teams fortunate enough to complete the 18-game conference slate with a record in the top four, as five out of eight top seeds have been eliminated under the controversial double-bye awarded to the top quarter of the 16-team conference. Today's vote by the members of the Big East coaching fraternity is the first step toward changing that.

All sixteen coaches voted unanimously to alter the tournament format yesterday, opting instead for a schedule that features the top four and bottom four seeds on the first day of the tournament, with seeds 5-12 playing one another on the second day. The matchups would be similar to an NCAA Tournament bracket, (1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15, etc.) a welcome change to people like Jim Boeheim; an outspoken critic of the format after his Syracuse team, which had been the top-ranked program in the country entering the conference tournament, was ousted in the quarterfinals by Georgetown.

The measure would also have to be passed by the presidents and athletic directors of each Big East institution before finding its way to conference commissioner John Marinatto, who is optimistic about making short work of this change. "We would try and get this done, hopefully by the end of June," said the commissioner of the proposed switch in the format.

Next year's Big East tournament, regardless of how the brackets will look, will once again unfold next March at Madison Square Garden.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cal Has A Jones For Talent

Love him or hate him, John Calipari has once again attracted the nation's top recruiting class to Lexington, as Wildcats head man adds Terrence Jones at last minute to an already stellar group of incoming Kentucky freshmen. (Photo courtesy of Athlon Sports)

Aside from the aberration on his ledger that is the New Jersey Nets, John Calipari has managed to take the teams he has coached and build them from the ground up into a successful unit; despite the numerous players that have left his tutelage early, a Who's Who of NBA players the likes of Marcus Camby, Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, the latter two receiving the NBA's Rookie of the Year award. After stints at Massachusetts and Memphis, Calipari became the head coach at Kentucky last summer and promptly resurrected a state religion that had fallen on hard times since the dismissal of Tubby Smith, who remains the last coach to bring a national championship to Lexington, having done so in 1998. Coach Cal, as he is widely known, brought the Wildcats a trio of freshmen that led the program to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament this past season, where they reached the East regional final before falling to West Virginia. One year removed from seeing prospects John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe grow into future pros, (Wall is a near-certainty to be the No. 1 overall pick in next month's NBA draft when the Washington Wizards make the selection) the 51-year-old leader has had an amazing encore to his 2009 performance, and it is arguably a better one at that.

In a stunning coup, Calipari managed to pry Terrence Jones away from Washington in the last possible moments after Jones had given the Huskies a verbal commitment, adding the 6'8" power forward from Portland to an all-star class that includes guards Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb, as well as forwards Enes Kanter and Stacey Poole. Calipari is also waiting for center Eloy Vargas to sign his letter of intent, but the Wildcats have already added five of the top 33 recruits in the nation (according to onto the hardwood at Rupp Arena. Jones is rated at No. 13, and his new mentor couldn't be happier about Kentucky's chances next season. "You can't compare this class," Calipari gushed in an interview with ESPN after being asked about Wall, Cousins and Bledsoe. "We were fortunate. We filled a lot of needs. We didn't get everyone we wanted, and we missed as many as we signed. You've got to be lucky to have kids available this late again this year."

If signing players like Jones, Knight and Lamb among others is luck, then Kentucky fans have reason to believe they just won the lottery.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lawrence Becomes Latest One & Done For Johnnies

Omari Lawrence became latest player to leave St. John's, announcing his intent to transfer yesterday. (Photo courtesy of

Even though St. John's steadily improved under former head coach Norm Roberts, the Red Storm also had to deal with some of Roberts' recruits transferring at some point during their tenure in Queens, citing numerous reasons for the change of scenery. Yesterday, another Roberts recruit proved that although times (and coaches now that Steve Lavin is at the helm of the Johnnies) may change, some things just stay the same; as Omari Lawrence announced his decision to transfer after just one season at St. John's, where he averaged 2.5 points per game as a freshman while coming off the bench for Roberts.

The man that would have been his new head coach had Lawrence remained in Queens wished him well, however. "We wish Omari all the best," said Steve Lavin after learning of the guard's intended exodus. "He is a talented player with a bright future, and he leaves St. John's University in good academic standing."

Lawrence's departure now vacates another scholarship for Lavin, who has been nothing short of aggressive on the recruiting trail since being introduced as St. John's new head man on March 31st. In just seven weeks on the job, Lavin has already managed to lure highly-regarded California high school star Dwayne Polee to Queens, and fellow West Coast prospect Remi Barry has been talked about as well. Although Barry has yet to give any school a verbal commitment, he has listed St. John's as one of the schools in his top three; joining Arizona State and UCLA, the latter for whom Lavin coached seven years before joining ESPN as a color commentator.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

It's All Coming Together For Johnnies

Steve Lavin may have worn jersey No. 1 when addressing media last month at Citi Field, but Dwayne Polee is recruit No. 1 for Lavin just five weeks after taking over as coach of St. John's. (Photo courtesy of the author's personal collection)

Almost two months ago, it seemed as though St. John's was in relative obscurity. All it took for the Johnnies to vault back into the national limelight was a big-name coach and a big-name prospect, who will both make their debuts at Carnesecca Arena this November when the Red Storm return to the court for the first time since their heartbreaking last-second loss against Memphis in the NIT last March.

In what was considered a steal from a recruiting perspective, new St. John's head coach Steve Lavin landed Dwayne Polee out of Westchester High School in Los Angeles, where he helped guide his team to back-to-back state championships while nearly averaging a double-double per game. (20.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a contest) At 6-7 and 190 pounds, Polee can be compared to the likes of Tracy McGrady and Kevin Durant when they came out of high school; and all involved with St. John's basketball are not only hoping that Polee is the real deal, but also that he turns out to be as good as the aforementioned former NBA All-Stars.

Ironically, Westchester was the school from which Lavin signed his last recruit at UCLA, Trevor Ariza, who has gone on to win an NBA championship and now plays for the Houston Rockets. "Dwayne is well-schooled in fundamentals and in the ways of winning games," said Lavin of his newest player. "He is also a great competitor with an insatiable drive to improve his superior athletic gifts." Polee, who initially committed to USC in a package deal four years ago when his father was hired by new UTEP coach Tim Floyd to be his director of basketball operations, reneged from his verbal commitment to the Trojans after Floyd was fired; and praised Lavin in much the same fashion that his new coach did when talking about what Polee could bring to the table in Queens.

"I am so excited to be coming to St. John's, and I am really excited to help make The Garden an exciting place to be again," gushed Polee after officially announcing his decision to attend St. John's, which has seen attendance at Madison Square Garden drop precipitously from their heyday in the 1980s and 1990s. Polee is regarded by some as the biggest recruit the Johnnies have signed since Ron Artest, who took the Red Storm to the Elite Eight in 1999. St. John's has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002.

"Coach Lavin was very straightforward with me throughout the process, and I believe that he and the staff at St. John's can really make me the best player I can be," said Polee about Lavin's successful effort to bring him onto a team that returns nine seniors and will only lose one player (Anthony Mason Jr.) from last season, when the Johnnies went 17-16 under Norm Roberts.

Polee should be in the mix at the small forward and shooting guard positions, and based on his high school stats, could combine with senior D.J. Kennedy to form a dynamic duo sooner than later.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Seton Hall's Herb Pope has withdrawn from NBA draft, but Dominique Jones of USF is taking his game to the next level. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

One way or another, the Big East as we know it will have changed its landscape drastically before the first game of the 2010-11 season tips off.

The same day that Herb Pope decided to return to Seton Hall for his junior season, another game-changer opted to go the other way; as Dominique Jones announced his decision to forgo his senior season at South Florida yesterday and sign with an agent, thus allowing him to remain in next month's NBA Draft.

Projected to be anywhere from a mid-first round to early-second round pick, Jones has proven his ability to break a game open, averaging 21.4 points per game in his junior year while leading the Bulls into the NIT. Jones erupted for a career-high 46 points against Providence last season, but ultimately couldn't resist the lure of going pro. "Playing basketball for USF was fun, but it's always been my dream to play basketball at the highest level," remarked Jones when he publicized his decision, which became easier for him after his pre-draft workouts.

USF head coach Stan Heath, who will now look to forward Jarrid Famous to provide most of the offensive spark now vacated by Jones, praised his junior leader by calling him a "special player" during his three years with the program, and also one who "has done a lot to take our program to the next level."

NBA front offices, take note, as Jones will be an absolute steal for whoever is fortunate enough to draft him.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Two More Pirates Return To Ship

Jeremy Hazell has withdrawn from NBA draft and will join Jeff Robinson for one more year under new Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. (Photo courtesy of

For two years, he was the Big East's second-leading scorer behind Luke Harangody. Now, Jeremy Hazell will get the chance to lead the conference.

Hazell joined teammate Jeff Robinson in withdrawing from the NBA draft to return to Seton Hall for their senior seasons, which will be spent on the bench with new head coach Kevin Willard. Herb Pope, the sophomore forward who also declared for the draft, has still yet to ultimately decide his future after collapsing last week during practice and subsequently being admitted to a New Jersey hospital.

Hazell is already optimistic about the Pirates' chances to move up in the Big East next season, despite losing backcourt partner Eugene Harvey, as well as forwards John Garcia and Robert Mitchell. "I think we could be a great team, all of us coming back, with the new coaching in here," said Hazell of the Pirates in 2010-11 under Willard, who replaced Bobby Gonzalez in March.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rice The New Knight In Charge

After being linked to Seton Hall before Pirates hired Kevin Willard, Mike Rice finds home in Big East after all; taking job at Rutgers earlier today. (Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Tim Pernetti can finally put the Fred Hill fiasco behind him, as he has found the man to lead Rutgers basketball into the next decade.

In a story broken just a few hours ago by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mike Rice has agreed to become the new head coach of the Scarlet Knights, and the same report states that both program and coach are working on a contract, with no press conference announced as of yet. The 41-year-old Rice comes to Rutgers on the heels of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances at the helm of Robert Morris, including a near-upset of Villanova in the first round this year as a 15 seed. Rice guided the Colonials to a 73-31 record in three years.

According to Jon Rothstein of 1050 ESPN Radio in New York, the hire has been "well-received" by those close to the university. Rice, a graduate of Fordham University in the Bronx, has New York ties as well as Big East roots, having been a former assistant to Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, who has recruited the Big Apple very well in the past.

Regardless of how well Rice can recruit New York and New Jersey, he will inherit a Rutgers team that loses its leading scorer from last season, as sophomore guard Mike Rosario has transferred to the University of Florida. The Scarlet Knights will be led next season by forwards Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell after losing Rosario, Greg Echenique, and Pat Jackson all within twelve months of one another.

Welsh Out At Hofstra

The Tim Welsh era ends before it can even start as Hofstra's new coach resigned shortly after a DWI incident. (Photo courtesy of New York Post)

Lately, it seems as though the New York college basketball scene is playing the role of Apollo Creed in the first two "Rocky" movies: A powerful fighter who takes more than his share of punches before ultimately collapsing to the canvas. We've seen this from Seton Hall and Rutgers already over the last two months; and now, Hofstra University has become the latest to suffer a black eye in regard to its head coach position.

Tim Welsh officially resigned as head coach of the Pride this morning after a reign of about a month. Welsh, who came to Hofstra as the replacement for new Fordham head man Tom Pecora, stepped down after a well-documented DWI incident three days ago near Hofstra's Long Island campus. Welsh was immediately suspended by Hofstra officials before making his resignation official.

At this moment, there is no word on who the Pride will now look to as its new coach; but candidates are rumored to include former Hofstra assistant Van Macon, who is on his way to joining Pecora at Fordham, as well as former St. John's head coach Norm Roberts.