Thursday, May 31, 2012

Big Man In The Big Easy, But Then What?

Hornets' win in last night's draft lottery assured them of Kentucky's Anthony Davis in June 28th draft, but Charlotte Bobcats have multiple options in No. 2 spot.  (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Say what you will about any alleged conspiracies surrounding the annual NBA draft lottery, but the New Orleans Hornets will be the first team announced by David Stern when the commissioner welcomes the world to the 2012 NBA Draft four weeks from tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark.

However, once Stern declares the Hornets have selected Kentucky's Anthony Davis with the top choice, all bets are off once the Charlotte Bobcats are on the clock with the second pick.  Michael Jordan and his front office have multiple options for the draft's first consolation prize, and some of those options will be profiled at length below:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (F - Kentucky) (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
Davis' college teammate is also fresh off winning a national championship at Kentucky, and has arguably the greatest professional potential of everyone in the draft aside from Davis.  A player that college basketball insider Jon Rothstein has likened to former Bobcat Gerald Wallace, Kidd-Gilchrist would instantly become a starter for the Bobcats at small forward, a position that Charlotte has needed an upgrade at since Wallace's departure.  His scoring touch improved greatly at the end of the regular season and through the NCAA Tournament, and would; along with Kemba Walker, provide the Bobcats' locker room with yet another proven winner for a team that is coming off a 7-59 season.

Harrison Barnes (F - North Carolina) (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
The sophomore who was the preseason choice for the National Player of the Year honors that ultimately went to Anthony Davis could be a sentimental choice for Jordan given the common thread that is the University of North Carolina.  Barnes' perimeter ability is unquestioned among this year's draft crop, but is still a work in progress inside the paint and attacking the basket, areas in which Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a better player.  However, Barnes would blend well in the Charlotte frontcourt with Tyrus Thomas and 2011 draft pick Bismack Biyombo; not to mention having fellow swingmen Corey Maggette and Gerald Henderson as his mentors, despite each one being a Duke product.

Bradley Beal (G - Florida) (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
One season at Florida in which the St. Louis native averaged nearly fifteen points and seven rebounds while helping Billy Donovan's Gators to a West regional final appearance was enough for the 6-3 Beal to decide to take his talents to the professional level.  Beal comes from an elite college program in Gainesville, and professional scouts are salivating over the upside of the kid who will turn 19 on draft night.  The platoon of Kemba Walker and D.J. Augustin at the point would give Beal a competent ball handler and floor general that would enhance his expanding skill set, and Beal would make both of those two better by sharing a backcourt with them.

Thomas Robinson (F - Kansas) (Photo courtesy of ESPN)
The Bobcats don't necessarily need a power forward with Tyrus Thomas in the fold and Bismack Biyombo having been selected with the seventh overall pick last year, but a talent like Robinson is very hard to pass up.  The 6-9 big man averaged nearly eighteen points and twelve rebounds in Kansas' run to the national championship game, and seemed to play at his best when the magnitude of each game increased.  Robinson's 18-point, 17-rebound performance in a losing effort to Kentucky cemented his status as a probable Top 5 selection no matter where he ends up, but Charlotte would provide him with an opportunity to make an immediate impact that few others would be able to equal.

Jeremy Lamb (G - Connecticut) (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
If not for the APR situation that cost UConn the chance to participate in next year's Big East and NCAA Tournaments, Lamb could very well be returning to Storrs for what would be his junior campaign and one in which he would be among the frontrunners for Big East Player of the Year honors.  However, Lamb joins a star-studded draft pool; and although it would not be a complete shock if he is under consideration in the No. 2 spot, it would be enough of a shock for most critics to wonder what the Bobcats are thinking.  Honestly, Lamb gives Charlotte one of their best shooters from the moment he walks into the arena.  A poor man's version of former UConn star Richard Hamilton, Lamb's outside shooting prowess would keep the Bobcats in contention during crunch time situations.  In addition, what many tend to forget is that Lamb would be reunited with Walker if he were the choice for Charlotte; which makes the pick even more intriguing, as well as a higher reward potential than risk.  Lamb and Walker were the two biggest pieces in Connecticut's miraculous national championship run in 2011, and although his arrival does not automatically give the Bobcats the best backcourt in the Southeast Division, Lamb does help close the gap.

Stay tuned to A Daly Dose Of Hoops over the coming weeks for draft analysis and speculation, including the official Daly Dose Of Hoops mock draft that will be unveiled the night before the actual festivities.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pecora Gets Extension At Fordham

After two seasons that included upset wins over St. John's, Georgia Tech and Harvard, Tom Pecora gets well-deserved contract extension at Fordham that will keep the affable coach at Rose Hill through 2017.  (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

Hardly anyone thought of Fordham University as a winner two years ago.  Tom Pecora changed that just two months into his tenure at Rose Hill with a dramatic comeback victory over St. John's after the Rams trailed by 21 points midway through the second half.

Today, Pecora's commitment to excellence and winning was backed by his employer, as Fordham gave him a contract extension that runs through the 2016-17 season.  The blue-collar Pecora may only have a 17-40 record through his first two campaigns in the Bronx, but his vision for the future is as infectious and bright as his magnetic personality.

"I'm grateful to the university for making this commitment to myself, my staff and my family," Pecora said.  "Since our first day at Fordham, we have been doing everything possible to get this tradition-rich program back to where it should be."  Athletic director Frank McLaughlin, who was recently promoted to become Fordham's athletic director emeritus, had this to say: "Tom Pecora has done a tremendous job getting the Fordham program moving in the right direction.  He has worked tirelessly to improve all facets of the program, not only upgrading the on-court results; but he has also revitalized our alumni and fan base, and has brought Fordham basketball great exposure on the national level."

In Pecora's brief reign, the Rams have backed up their upset of St. John's with wins over Georgia Tech (the school's first win over an ACC program since 2005) and Harvard, the latter of whom was ranked 24th when Fordham defeated the eventual Ivy League champion Crimson at Rose Hill Gym on January 3rd.

The coach may not have completely changed the culture at Fordham, but even those who know very little about Fordham basketball would agree that Pecora has made great strides in such a short time.  When he succeeded Jay Wright at Hofstra in 2001, Pecora had a record through his first two years in Hempstead similar to the one he has at Fordham.  All that followed was three consecutive 20-win seasons and NIT appearances that helped build him and his teams of local prospects that he coached into well-rounded players into contenders, and with a recruiting class headlined by coveted forward Ryan Rhoomes and point guard Jermaine Myers set to join senior big man Chris Gaston and the backcourt trio of Branden Frazier, Devon McMillan and Bryan Smith, the man who would feel right at home on nearby Arthur Avenue is once again quietly building a contender in the shadow of a giant.

Butler Moves To A-10 One Year Earlier

Barclays Center gets additional hype for upcoming Atlantic 10 tournament now that Butler has decided to join conference one year earlier than initially intended.  (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

About a month after initially declaring it would join the Atlantic 10 in 2013, Butler University has now expedited their departure from the Horizon League, where the Indianapolis institution made its name as the Cinderella mid-major that advanced to back-to-back national championship games.

The Bulldogs and their 17 athletic programs will become full members of the Atlantic 10 as of July 1st, and the move comes two weeks after Virginia Commonwealth elected to leave the uncertain future of the Colonial Athletic Association for a more secure standing in the A-10.  Butler becomes the sixteenth A-10 basketball program, which now gives the conference one more team than the now-15 team Big East, and now places head coach Brad Stevens and VCU architect Shaka Smart in the same conference just thirteen months after the two 35-year-old prodigies matched wits in the 2011 Final Four.

"We are grateful to the Atlantic 10 for welcoming us into the fold a year ahead of schedule," said Butler athletic director and former men's basketball coach Barry Collier.  "Ultimately, it was in our best interest to reach an agreement with the Horizon League for immediate departure."  The decision to switch conferences a year ahead of schedule comes on the heels of the Horizon League allegedly precluding Butler from participating in their conference tournaments, as reported by ESPN's Andy Katz.

The Atlantic 10 will now devise a schedule that involves a single round robin for its members, with the sixteenth game in the schedule being a home-and-home series against one school rather than switch to the 18-game ledger used by the Big East.  Butler's arrival also positions the league to possibly secure as many as five NCAA Tournament bids next season, when the A-10 tournament will be contested at Brooklyn's Barclays Center for the first time.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hardy Named MVP In Italy

One year removed from leading St. John's to NCAA Tournament, Dwight Hardy celebrates rookie year in professional ranks with MVP honors in Italian league that signed him.  (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

The point guard from the Bronx who endeared himself to St. John's fans by running the ball screen for Justin Brownlee on the way to the Red Storm's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002 now has more hardware for his collection.

Dwight Hardy, who was named the Big East's Most Improved Player and a first team all-conference selection two years ago as a senior at St. John's, was named the Most Valuable Player of the Italian league in which he signed following his two-year stint in Queens. The guard is the second member of the 2010-11 Red Storm senior class to win an MVP trophy, joining Justin Burrell, who captured similar honors in Japan last week.  Hardy, who inked a deal with the Florence-based Pistoia Basket last summer, averaged 22.6 points per game in his rookie season while leading Pistoia to its first-ever semifinal appearance in the league postseason.  Not one to back away from increased pressure, Hardy has backed up his numbers in the playoffs, averaging the same 22 points per game he managed in the regular season.

Pistoia Basket opens their best-of-5 semifinal series tomorrow as per tweets from Hardy, who can be followed at @Iamdabronx1523.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sealy's Impact Still Felt 12 Years Later

Taken from us way too soon in 2000, Malik Sealy's memory lives on far beyond the center of his greatest accomplishments, St. John's University.  (Photo courtesy of

On this day twelve years ago, a piece of basketball stardom was prematurely taken from this world when Malik Sealy, an NBA journeyman who had just wrapped up his second season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and eighth overall in the professional ranks, was tragically killed in a car accident outside Minneapolis.  Sealy had been driving home from the 24th birthday celebration of teammate Kevin Garnett, who wore No. 21 with the Timberwolves to honor Sealy; who himself had worn that number both in his earlier years in the pros and in the collegiate ranks at St. John's University in Queens, where he still ranks to this day as the Red Storm's second-leading all-time scorer behind Hall of Famer Chris Mullin.  The Bronx native is still regarded as one of the greatest players to ever don the red and white, as he received the school's basketball legacy honors after his death; and his life and times are still celebrated on campus, where one of his NBA jerseys and several media clippings hang in the Johnnies' Taffner Field House practice facility.

Aside from being a fellow New York City product, Sealy and his career hit close to home for me as well.  Those who know me well can vouch for the fact that the University of North Carolina and Michigan State University are my two favorite college basketball programs, but it was the 6-8 swingman Sealy who provided me with my first college hoops memory when I saw him lead the then-Redmen to victory from my home in Queens as a 5-year-old in 1991.  I do not remember the team Lou Carnesecca's bunch defeated at Alumni Hall that day, just that Sealy was the main catalyst in the triumph, and came away thinking he would almost certainly be making an impact at the next level sooner rather than later.  The Indiana Pacers made this vision a reality the following year when they selected him 14th overall in 1992, making Sealy part of a draft class that included the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Robert Horry, Hubert Davis, Latrell Sprewell and P.J. Brown among others.  Sealy's college teammate Robert Werdann (whose uncle Tony Missere was the sports management department chairman while I was a student at St. John's, and whose cousin Phil walked on during the Norm Roberts regime) was a second-round selection that year as well.

Sealy's greatest years came with the Los Angeles Clippers, where he averaged double figures in each of his three campaigns in the City of Angels, highlighted by a career-best 13.5 points per game in 1996-97.  The Clippers also provided the New York legend with his first opportunity as a full-time starter, which he not surprisingly took advantage of immediately.  A year in Detroit and two in Minnesota capped off a career that was just entering its prime before he met his unfortunate demise at the tender age of 30.

There is no doubt in my mind that, had he been able to spend a few more years in the NBA, that Malik Sealy would have rejuvenated his career.  In addition, he would have been one of the biggest supporters of the captivating run St. John's enjoyed in the 2010-11 season, advancing to the NCAA Tournament under head coach Steve Lavin.  Yet, as fate would have it, one of the greatest stars St. John's has ever seen is still guiding the program to this day, offering assists from above as the program in which he added new chapters to an already rich tradition tries to recapture the magic that he was once spread across Red Storm nation two decades ago.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Atlantic 10 Adds One More In VCU

Two weeks after fellow mid-major darling Butler announced their move to Atlantic 10, Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth one-up Bulldogs by joining A-10 effective this July 1st.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

If you still needed proof that the Atlantic 10 was positioning themselves to join the major conference party, today served as the icing on the cake.

With the current state of the Colonial Athletic Association in limbo, reigning champion Virginia Commonwealth decided to make the jump to the A-10 effective July 1st of this year.  VCU, who became a household name with their Cinderella run to the 2011 Final Four, becomes the fifteenth program in the Atlantic 10, a once-regional league whose territory now stretches into the Midwest thanks to Saint Louis, Xavier and Dayton among others.

"VCU believes the A-10 represents the best opportunity to meet our long-term aspirations for national academic and athletic achievement," said university president Michael Rao.  "As a nationally competitive Division I athletics program, it is critical that VCU seizes the opportunity to further elevate its athletics as it raises its overall academic profile as a national research university."

The decision by VCU to switch conferences comes just two weeks after Butler University, a mid-major with just as much, if not more national notoriety as the Rams, announced their intent to join the A-10 from the Horizon League effective in 2013.  Butler and VCU will serve as replacements for Temple, who leaves for the Big East after next season; and UNC Charlotte, who is rumored to be returning to Conference USA in an attempt to take their football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

VCU's immediate departure has positive effects on both the CAA and Atlantic 10.  For starters, the A-10 picks up another marquee name to help sell their conference tournament's impending move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, while the CAA is still a quality mid-major league headed by George Mason, Drexel and Hofstra.  In addition, the CAA tournament becomes more of a neutral site at the Richmond Coliseum, and the league's current ten-team structure will create more of a competitive balance.

Going back to VCU, their new conference schedule will add new juice to mid-major rivalries with Xavier, Temple, (at least for one year) St. Joseph's and Butler (as of 2013) that now become conference games.  Their presence at Rose Hill Gym will no doubt sell out any games the Rams play against Fordham, and most importantly, the intra-city rivalry with Richmond gets renewed in conference games once again now that both programs are in the same league.  The 2011 Atlantic 10 champions, Chris Mooney's Spiders came to their current home in 2001 by way of the CAA.

With the Big East's stability in question after former commissioner John Marinatto's efforts to expand the league ultimately failed, the Atlantic 10 is fast becoming the next breakout star in college basketball.  Once in the shadow of an established league, the new kid on the block could very well be regarded as a high-major soon enough.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Three-Point Schott: St. John's May 2012 Notebook

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin addresses class of 2012 during yesterday's commencement ceremony on Queens campus just days after officially welcoming six players into newest Red Storm recruiting class.  (Photo courtesy of St. John's University)

Steve Lavin's commencement address was just the tip of the iceberg as far as St. John's University in the public eye this past month, as we check in with Jason Schott for yet another installment of the "Three-Point Schott," chronicling the recent happenings on and around Red Storm Nation.

St. John’s Notebook: Lavin speaks to grads, adds recruits to roster

By Jason Schott – St. John's beat writer – Twitter @JESchott19

This is the latest edition of the St. John’s Notebook, with  news about Head Coach Steve Lavin giving the commencement address at graduation and new recruits joining the Red Storm.

Lavin Addresses Students at Graduation

St. John’s Men’s Basketball Head Coach Steve Lavin gave the commencement address at graduation this weekend. He spoke at the Staten Island campus’ graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 12th, and the Queens campus on Sunday, the 13th.

Said Lavin of speaking at graduation: “I consider it an honor and privilege to speak at the St. John’s commencement ceremonies. Since my arrival on campus, the St. John’s community; and particularly our students, have embraced me and have shown authentic devotion to our basketball program. It will be a pleasure to give back to them in this small way. Naturally, I am grateful to have the opportunity to share this significant day with our students and their families.”

Six Student-Athletes Added to 2012-13 Roster

St. John’s Head Coach Steve Lavin announced that six players will be added to the roster, which has five returning players from last season. The highly regarded recruits are Felix Balamou, Marco Bourgault, Jamal Branch, Max Hooper, JaKarr Sampson, and Orlando Sanchez.

JaKarr Sampson is the most interesting of the recruits, having committed to St. John’s a year ago, but was unable to qualify for the 2011-12 season due to eligibility issues.

Sampson is a 6-8, 209-pound forward from Barberton, Ohio, and ranked as the 11th-best player at his position and the 31st overall prospect of the high school Class of 2011. He attended St. Vincent-St. Mary's in Akron, the same school LeBron James went to, and averaged 14.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as a junior in 2009-10. He played summer basketball for the King James Shooting Stars, which used LeBron’s nickname.

Sampson moved on to Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and had a very successful post-graduate year there in 2011-12. He led his team to a 31-3 record and had the No. 1 prep school ranking for 18 consecutive weeks, plus a top-five finish. Sampson was named the NEPSAC AAA Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the National Prep Championship. He averaged 18.5 points and 11 rebounds per game. Brewster Coach Jason Smith said of Sampson, “JaKarr is a tremendous addition, not only to the St. John’s basketball program, but to the entire St. John’s community.” Lavin said of Sampson, “JaKarr is a skilled and athletically dynamic basketball player with the ability to influence the game at both ends of the floor.”

Orlando Sanchez is a 6-9, 205-pound forward from the Dominican Republic, who was an honorable mention JUCO All-American in 2010-11. Sanchez played for Monroe and led them to a fifth-place national finish as a sophomore to earn All-NJCAA all-tournament honors in 2011-12. He averaged 10.2 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.9 blocks per game. Sanchez played for the Dominican Republic national team, which was coached by John Calipari, who just last month guided Kentucky to the Wildcats' first national championship since 1998.

“Orlando is a versatile athlete who has a diverse skill set for a player his size. He can playmake, shot make, defend multiple positions, block shots, and rebound. Orlando is a selfless team player, with a quiet humility and competitive nature that can benefit our team,” said Lavin.

Felix Balamou hails from Conakry, the capital and largest city of the country of Guinea on the West Coast of Africa. He came to the United States in 2010 and played two seasons at Our Savior New American School in Centereach, Long Island, NY. Balamou is a 6-4, 185-pound guard who averaged 16.0 points a game and was the leading scorer of a team with eight NCAA Division I prospects. He also averaged 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game.

“Felix is an explosive athlete with a fierce will and determination to compete at the highest levels of basketball. His athleticism, slashing ability, and defensive prowess fit well with our baseline-to-baseline attacking style of play. Felix has shown marked improvement over this past year. His best days of basketball are clearly ahead of him,” said Lavin.

Marco Bourgault, who hails from Saint-Malo, France, is a 6-6, 210-pound guard/forward. He played at Monroe College in New Rochelle, NY, in 2011-12 and averaged 10.8 points-per-game. Lavin said of Bourgault, “In addition to being an outstanding shooter, Marco is a multi-dimensional and fundamentally sound basketball player. He possesses a high basketball IQ and exhibits exceptional court sense. His skill set lends itself to both playmaking and shotmaking opportunities. Since recovering fully from a knee injury he sustained two years ago, Marco now has reclaimed his explosiveness and quickness.”

Jamal Branch is a transfer from Texas A&M who played against St. John’s in the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer in November 2011. Shortly after that, Branch transferred to St. John’s in January, and will be eligible to join the team in games as early as December 16, 2012. Branch played in 11 games for Texas A&M and averaged 4.2 points, 2.5 assists, and 2.2 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game. Against St. John’s on November 18th, he scored seven points with five rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes. Branch was the best high school defender in the Class of 2011, according to He rated as high as the 47th overall prospect and the no. 8 point guard nationally.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Branch moved to Texas for his high school career. He played two years at Atascocita High School in Humble, Texas before going to Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington. He earned four letters in basketball and two in football in his time in high school. Lavin said of Branch, “Jamal is an excellent lead guard and a welcome addition to our basketball family. His skill, court vision and quickness will give us backcourt depth for the 2012-13 season.”

Max Hooper is another transfer, coming to St. John’s from Harvard. The 6-6, 210-pound guard played two games as a member of Harvard’s 19-man roster that made the 2012 NCAA Tournament. Due to NCAA transfer rules, he is not eligible to play for St. John’s until the 2013-14 season.

Hooper comes from Carmel Valley, California, and attended two high schools there before he excelled at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro. New Hampshire. At Brewster, Hooper averaged 10.0 points per game in his postgraduate year of 2010-11. Hooper is one of eight players from that Brewster team to move on to NCAA Division I programs, a list that includes fellow Big East guard Eli Carter; who just completed his freshman year at Rutgers, where he was the Scarlet Knights' leading scorer.

“Max is a high-percentage 3-point shooter with the size and skill to playmake over the top of defenses. A relentless worker, he seemingly lives in the gym, refining his shot and developing his overall game,” said Lavin.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Big East Appoints Bailey Interim Commissioner

Introduced as temporary replacement for John Marinatto, Joe Bailey insists he's nothing more than interim Big East commissioner.  (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)

The Big East took its first step toward securing their future yesterday, naming Joe Bailey as the interim replacement to former commissioner John Marinatto, who announced his resignation Monday morning.  Bailey, a former Miami Dolphins executive, met the media on a conference call yesterday, made clear that he is more of a transitional leader than one who intends to settle into his new office over time.

Before the Big East does name a permanent replacement, a move that would likely happen before the conference's football media day in August, Bailey will oversee the conference's status in the much-maligned and weakening Bowl Championship Series; not to mention the realignment situation that proved to be Marinatto's downfall after he pieced together a league with anyone who would accept an invitation, as well as the conference's upcoming broadcast rights negotiations, which Marinatto also botched during his three-year tenure.

"My understanding is that negotiations will begin in the fall," said Bailey in regard to the impending broadcast deal.  "From our perspective, we'll probably have a number of interested parties because of what the Big East represents.  The results will be positive."

In addition to clarifying his exact role, Bailey was also emphatic about conference officials believing in the long-term security of a league that has long been regarded as the gold standard for college basketball.  "All of the schools (fifteen now that West Virginia has left for the Big 12) think in terms of being a community," said Bailey.  "People are very enthusiastic about the future.  The Big East is focused on making sure that the perception is not that the conference is unraveling."

Despite having already lost West Virginia and having Pittsburgh and Syracuse halfway out the door already en route to the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East has brought in Temple, Memphis, Central Florida, Southern Methodist and Houston over the next two years to somewhat ease the blow.  The conference also welcomes San Diego State, Boise State and Navy to its football members in a move that seemingly gives the conference a national footprint, even at the expense of prestige.

Whoever ultimately assumes the commissioner position will have to deal with the pressure and chaos created by their predecessor, especially when it comes to the divisive and Civil War-like split between basketball and football.  However, the Big East's first step toward bridging the gap seems to be a positive, although cautious, one.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Rise And Fall Of John Marinatto

Sadly for college basketball, John Marinatto's tenure as Big East commissioner will be remembered more for what could have been than for improvements that were obscured by conference realignment.  (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

Half a decade ago, the Big East as we know it was transformed thanks in large part to an aggressive expansion that not only brought in five schools from Conference USA that strengthened the conference's basketball reputation, but also; and more importantly, revolutionized the league's standing as a football powerhouse.

Just five years later, what had become the first true "super" conference is seemingly nothing more than a mere bandage stopping the bleeding within, caused indirectly by a commissioner who this morning resigned from the post he has held since 2009.

When John Marinatto assumed the commissioner position in the league many regard to be the best basketball conference in America after working his way through the ranks as a disciple to Big East founding fathers Dave Gavitt and Mike Tranghese while at Providence College, Marinatto inherited the long-term security of a stable conference with an upcoming television broadcast rights renegotiation.  Today, what had been a strong and powerful group of institutions is without one of its most consistent two-sport stars; and two more pillars of the group are also on the way out, and in their places stand an octet of mid-majors in uncharted territory, making the jump to their highest level of competition in program history in a AAA baseball prospect fashion.

When Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced their intent to bolt the Big East after over three decades of membership in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the impending exodus had an effect on both basketball and football, and left Marinatto at the helm of a ship with virtually no destination and no course to follow.  What ensued was a series of events so chaotic and random that they made Brett Favre's retirement drama seem normal by comparison.  From the commitment and subsequent departure of Texas Christian, who joins West Virginia in the Big 12; to the additions of Temple, Central Florida, Houston and Southern Methodist for all sports next year, and Memphis in 2014, as well as welcoming San Diego State, Boise State and Navy for football only in a move that was made primarily to retain the league's coveted BCS automatic qualifying bid, Marinatto's legacy will be defined by his failed attempt to replace quality with quantity.

Marinatto's resignation was a hot topic among the presidents of the fifteen Big East institutions, the same men and women responsible for helping elect him to this post after his mentor Tranghese retired from it three years ago.  Rather than make the bold and visionary move of bringing a fresh face into the fold to take an already reputable brand to newer and greater heights, the conference ultimately decided to protect their investment and maintain continuity.  This decision, coupled with the realignment fiasco and the rejected broadcast contract that further illustrated the seismic shift between basketball and football, proved to be the commissioner's undoing.

The Big East needed a firm yet flexible authority to mitigate the differences between basketball and football in this conference the way Gavitt and Tranghese had somehow managed to do, and quite effectively at that, for the three decades prior to Marinatto's tenure.  Someone who would bend, but not break.  Marinatto did neither by and large, instead opting to stand pat until the last possible moment, and the manner in which he attempted to maintain the integrity of his league can best be described as placing suction cups on a waterfall.

Marinatto was ultimately a nice guy, but; as Big East coaches past and present have stated, he was in over his head while in charge of a group of people who may have never felt so powerless in their lives as they had when it came to realignment, which dominated last season's basketball media day.

For whomever replaces him, be it interim commissioner and former Miami Dolphins executive Joe Bailey, or even a short list of candidates that include former NCAA Tournament administrator Greg Shaheen, as well as associate commissioners Nick Carparelli and Dan Gavitt; the latter being Dave's son, who was also the athletic director at Bryant University prior to joining the Big East, the individual who takes command will need to not only bridge the gap, but fill it with something longer and stronger than a stick of gum.

The Big East is still regarded as one of the better conferences in the nation, but its reputation and stability are; to use an NCAA Tournament analogy, on the bubble, a bubble that will surely burst quickly and leave a profound impact on everyone within it unless order can be restored.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Butler Perfect For Atlantic 10

Adding mid-major golden boy Brad Stevens is actually a huge shot in the arm for Atlantic 10, which officially welcomes Butler from Horizon League in July of 2013.  (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

A conference rarely gets a marquee program to replace another, especially when the league in question is a mid-major.

Despite its standing as one of the nation's best second-tier conferences, the Atlantic 10 moved one step closer to the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conferences with the welcoming of Butler University.  The Bulldogs will join their new league in July 2013 for all sports, replacing Temple after the Philadelphia institution announced its intent to join the Big East.

This move is only the tip of the latest realignment iceberg, one which includes Old Dominion headlining a group of schools rumored to be leaving the Colonial Athletic Association in favor of Conference USA; but when you add Butler to the ranks of A-10 basketball, the league becomes exponentially better as a result.

Butler continues the trend of westward expansion for the Atlantic 10, which already counts Midwest programs such as Xavier, Dayton and Saint Louis among its thirteen (not counting Temple) members; and each of those schools has a basketball tradition just as rich as that of the Bulldogs, who of course rose to prominence by virtue of their consecutive appearances in the national championship game in 2010 and 2011.  In addition, Hinkle Fieldhouse instantly becomes one of the best facilities in the conference from both an aestehetic and historic perspective; and the newcomers will help the conference promote its tournament, which moves to Brooklyn's Barclays Center effective next March.

Butler will also benefit from its new home by being able to attract higher quality recruits, a notion that has been dismissed given its relatively small recruiting classes in the wake of their two national runner-up finishes.  The "Butler Way" promoted by the school would not need to be sacrificed, as the program has now earned the coveted title of one that sells itself.  In fact, Butler will now be able to open its doors and gain a stronger presence around the greater New York AAU scene for example, and there is no doubt that some of the underrated talent throughout the Northeast will be drawn to the national media darling and head coach Brad Stevens just at first blush.

Stevens also adds credibility to the coaching ranks as well, and despite my prior opinions that the 35-year-old head man may be slightly overrated due to his overachieving at such a young age, there is no denying what he brings to the table.  Along with Xavier's Chris Mack, Chris Mooney of Richmond and newcomers Jim Ferry (Duquesne) and Dan Hurley, (Rhode Island) Stevens becomes the heart of a young coaching nucleus that will become synonymous with college basketball success regardless of whether or not any of them leave for better jobs in the long run; and will augment an already strong stable of leaders that includes Rick Majerus, (Saint Louis) Phil Martelli (St. Joe's) and even Tom Pecora (Fordham) as some of its elder statesmen.

The Atlantic 10 already made a commitment to becoming just as good as the Big East by moving its tournament into New York from Atlantic City and seemingly taking on the established giant head-to-head just across the river from Madison Square Garden.  The addition of Butler, with perhaps George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth to follow if rumors are true; not only gives the A-10 an influx of basketball power to match the Big East's additions of Temple and Memphis, but may also be the bolder and more visionary move that helps close the gap between a proven commodity and one whose rise to superstardom began years ago with the success of Massachusetts and rise of Xavier.  Pittsburgh and Syracuse already put the Big East on the ropes with their defections to the ACC.  Butler could be the first jab toward what Atlantic 10 officials hope will be an eventual knockout and changing of the guard in college basketball.