Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Closer Look At Syracuse

Following run to East regional final, Jim Boeheim brings one of deepest and most talented teams back to Syracuse in Big East swan song for the Orange.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Our series of Big East previews concludes today with the biggest and deepest threat to Rick Pitino and Louisville, who were profiled yesterday.

The 2011-12 campaign was one of survival for Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.  From the sexual abuse allegations involving longtime assistant coach Bernie Fine to playing undefeated and as the No. 1 team in the nation for most of the season, the Orange found a way to rise above the pressure more often than not, battling their way to a 34-3 record that included an appearance in the East regional final in Boston, where they were the No. 1 seed despite falling to Ohio State with a trip to New Orleans at stake.  This time around, Syracuse prepares to end a legendary era; but at the same time create memories for a new one to come, as the Orange will depart the Big East at the end of the season in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Not very often do you find programs that return deeper and stronger after losing three starters, but Boeheim and Syracuse are not your average bear in college basketball.  Gone are swingman Kris Joseph, point guard Scoop Jardine, and center Fab Melo; not to mention sixth man Dion Waiters, who was selected fourth overall in the NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Orange will see their abundance of riches pay off this season.  Michael Carter-Williams will replace Jardine at the controls in the backcourt after only playing an average of ten minutes per game in his rookie season.  Even with the lack of action and experience in front of him on the depth chart, Carter-Williams still racked up 54 assists on the season, an average of over five helpers per minute.  The sophomore's passing ability will almost certainly give senior shooting guard Brandon Triche the confidence he needs to finally step up and become the unquestioned leader of this team, and it will come on the heels of a season where Triche shot 35 percent from three-point range, but failed to average double figures in scoring.  Redshirt freshman Trevor Cooney, who was another victim of the tremendous depth Syracuse enjoyed last season, should see significant minutes as Triche's backup.

In Joseph's absence, expect to see equal doses of C.J. Fair and James Southerland as each looks to add their name to the long and storied list of great Syracuse wings.  As a sophomore last season, Fair averaged over eight points and five rebounds per game, and will finally get a chance to show off his length and athleticism in the starting lineup on a full-time basis.  Southerland, a local product who was a one-time standout for Ron Naclerio at Cardozo High School in Bayside, averaged nearly seven points per contest with an average of just sixteen minutes a night, which equates to 17.5 points per game when adjusted for a full contest.  Fair and Southerland will be joined up front by junior Baye Keita and sophomore Rakeem Christmas, whose contributions on both the offensive end and in the middle of Syracuse's world-famous 2-3 zone defense will be magnified in the absence of Melo, who was drafted by the Boston Celtics this past June.

The Orange also welcome a pair of highly touted newcomers into the fold, as DaJuan Coleman comes to Boeheim by way of the same Jamesville-DeWitt High School program that the Hall of Famer successfully recruited the aforementioned Triche and former sharpshooter Andy Rautins from; as well as Jerami Grant, a 6-8 (and growing) swingman from DeMatha Catholic whose older brother Jerian is already in the Big East as the starting shooting guard at Notre Dame.  Both have been praised by Boeheim before the season has even started, as the coach mentioned that each was "going to surprise a lot of people," and that Coleman, a physically imposing 6-9 specimen, was "in the best shape of his life."

The Orange will open their season on November 9th against Steve Fisher and San Diego State in the "Battle on the Midway," with Wagner and new coach Bashir Mason serving as the opening act in the Carrier Dome nine days later.  Princeton (November 21st) and Colgate (November 25th) are next for Syracuse at home before they hit the road in an uncharacteristically early true road game, taking on Arkansas November 30th as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge.

Syracuse enjoys five more home games to open December, starting with Eastern Michigan on the 3rd and continuing with Long Beach State, (December 6th) Monmouth, (December 8th) Canisius (December 15th) and Detroit (December 17th) before the Orange make their annual in-season trip to the venue that is a de facto second home court for them.  No program and its fan base take over an arena anywhere near as much as Syracuse and "Orange Nation" do Madison Square Garden, and the experience will be put on full display when New York's College Team battles Temple inside the "World's Most Famous Arena" on December 22nd.  Alcorn State makes their way into the Carrier Dome a week later, with Central Connecticut State serving as Syracuse's final nonconference opponent when they invade the Dome on New Year's Eve.

The Orange open 2013 at home on January 2nd when Mike Rice and Rutgers are their first opponent on the Big East ledger, with a road trip to USF (January 6th) and Providence (January 9th) immediately following before Jay Wright and Villanova come into the Carrier Dome on the 12th of January.  A week off ensues prior to Syracuse traveling to Louisville, with a home date against Cincinnati on the schedule two days later.  From there, the Orange close out the first month of the calendar year with a January 26th collision with Villanova inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia that will wrap up a home-and-home series with the Wildcats.

Boeheim and Syracuse make the trip to the Petersen Center on the 2nd of February to face Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh before returning home to host Notre Dame (February 4th) and longtime adversary St. John's (February 10th) in a precursor to a two-game road swing to Hartford for a matchup with Kevin Ollie and UConn on February 13th, and Kevin Willard's Seton Hall Pirates at the Prudential Center in Newark three days later.  The Orange complete a home-and-home series with Providence inside the Dome on the 20th, just prior to hosting Georgetown three days later.  Syracuse will then travel to Milwaukee for a February 25th showdown with Buzz Williams and Marquette.

Syracuse has three games in March to close out the regular season, the first of which coming on the 2nd in the back end of a home-and-home series with Rick Pitino and Louisville that will be played at the Yum! Center.  Following the final home game of the season on March 6th against DePaul, the Orange will contest their regular season finale three days later at the Verizon Center when they take on Georgetown in a noon matinee.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Scott Machado Makes NBA Debut Tomorrow

Having survived final preseason cuts, Scott Machado has made his way from Iona to NBA, and will be on Houston Rockets' roster for their season opener tomorrow night in Detroit.  (Photo courtesy of Houston Chronicle)

The long road is finally over, and as of tomorrow night, the tale of Scott Machado will write a new chapter.

Machado, the Iona point guard that was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Houston Rockets on the heels of a senior season that saw the Queens native lead the Gaels to their first NCAA Tournament since 2006 while earning MAAC Player of the Year honors in the process, made the opening night roster after Houston released fellow guard Shaun Livingston yesterday.  Machado will join former Knick Toney Douglas as backup point guards behind marquee free agent signing Jeremy Lin, and will be in uniform as the Rockets tip off the 2012-13 season at the Palace of Auburn Hills against the Detroit Pistons.

"I was a little nervous," Machado told the Houston Chronicle yesterday.  "We had four good point guards here, and I was the newcomer, the undrafted one.  With a whole bunch of people coming in, there was nervousness."

Machado, who racked up totals of 21 points and 32 assists in his six preseason games despite playing an average of just over thirteen minutes per game, joins a Houston roster that made headlines over the weekend when the Rockets acquired James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder; trading Kevin Martin and first-round draft choice Jeremy Lamb to the reigning Western Conference champions along with guard Daequan Cook, forward Lazar Hayward, and future draft considerations.  It is felt by some fans and even basketball insiders that the rookie will eventually win the starting job from Lin at some point, especially after a 9-point, 11-assist exhibition performance against the San Antonio Spurs two weeks ago, but the 22-year-old Machado is just thrilled to get to work and start his new life as a professional basketball player.

"I feel like it's a true blessing," Machado said.  "It's something I've always wanted.  I've been working hard to get to where I wanted to go.  It feels real good."

From the moment he takes the court in Michigan tomorrow night, Machado will have made it, becoming just the sixth Iona alumnus to play in the NBA, and first since Sean Green took the court in 1994.  A Daly Dose Of Hoops will have updates on Machado's rookie season throughout the year, so stay tuned for future news and notes.

A Closer Look At Louisville

Fresh off Final Four run, Peyton Siva and Louisville return core of that team with national championship aspirations in mind.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

After profiling a legitimate championship contender in Mike Brey and Notre Dame, next on the list is a reigning Final Four participant that is among the preseason favorites to cut down the nets as the national champions of the 2012-13 season.

Entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 4 seed in the West regional, Louisville's road to a Final Four required the Cardinals to have to go through schools such as Michigan State and Florida on the way to New Orleans.  Somehow or another, the bracket opened up for them after the upsets of Missouri and Marquette, coupled with Louisville's own upset win over Tom Izzo and Michigan State, to get Rick Pitino's Cardinals into the national semifinals against eventual champion Kentucky.  "Last year was the only time the (Kentucky) game mattered to me," a brutally honest Pitino bluntly stated.  "It cost us the national championship."

The bad news is that Kentucky cost Louisville last year's national championship, but the good news is that this year's chances to be the centerpiece of "One Shining Moment" are even better, as Pitino has reloaded despite losing senior guards Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith.  Point guard Peyton Siva, the preseason choice for Big East Player of the Year honors, returns for his final campaign following a junior season in which the Seattle native averaged over nine points and five assists per game.  Siva will have several opportunities early and often to increase those offensive numbers, as Russ Smith will be in the starting lineup on a full-time basis for his junior campaign.  Smith, the Cardinals' top returning scorer despite serving as the sixth man last season, averaged more than eleven points per contest in just 21 minutes.

Mike Marra will be out for the season once again after tearing his ACL in practice, but Louisville gains the services of George Mason transfer Luke Hancock on the wing this season, and the Virginian is already being hailed by his new coach as the key to the team. "He's something that we need desperately," remarked Pitino.  "We got lucky because he was down to Virginia and us when he was going to transfer up."  The Cardinals also have a healthy Wayne Blackshear to act as their second swingman as he enters his sophomore season, with the physically and defensively imposing duo of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan back to anchor the efforts up front.  Dieng, a Senegalese junior who Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin gave his preseason Player of the Year vote to, averaged over nine points and nine rebounds per contest while landing over three blocked shots a game as well; while Behanan, despite being a freshman in the Big East, managed over nine points and seven rebounds per night to go with a 51 percent shooting clip from the field.  Incoming freshman Montrezl (pronounced Mon-TREZ for those of you scoring at home) Harrell should also see significant minutes inside for the Cardinals.

Louisville's first game of the season comes a little later than others, but it should be an intriguing matchup, as former Pitino assistant Steve Masiello leads MAAC favorite Manhattan into the Yum! Center on November 11th.  Samford comes into Louisville four days later before the Cardinals head to the Bahamas to compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis, first against Northern iowa on November 22nd, with future opponents over the next two days to be determined.  Home games against Miami University and Illinois State ensure before a true road game on December 4th against College of Charleston and new coach Doug Wojcik.  UMKC makes their way into the Yum! Center four days later, with Louisville getting a week off after that to prepare for their annual showdown with Josh Pastner and Memphis, which this year takes place in the FedEx Forum on December 15th.

Four days later, Pitino entertains Florida International; now coached by his son Richard, at the Yum! Center before hitting the road on the 22nd of December to take on reigning Sun Belt Conference champion Western Kentucky.  The Cardinals' final nonconference game of the season is a Final Four rematch against John Calipari and Kentucky at the Yum! Center on December 29th, and Louisville will open 2013 on January 2nd for Big East game number one, hosting Ed Cooley and Providence as they look to avenge a 31-point loss last season.

A road trip to Newark to take on Seton Hall January 9th is next on the ledger for Louisville, who hosts USF three days later.  The Cardinals hit the road again immediately following for a January 14th collision with UConn at the XL Center, with Syracuse coming into Louisville for a January 19th matinee.  A road trip to Philadelphia and the nation's capital follow, as Louisville takes on Villanova (January 22nd) and Georgetown (January 26th) before returning home to face Pittsburgh (January 28th) and Marquette. (February 3rd) From there, the Cardinals head to the RAC to face Rutgers on February 6th, with a trip to Notre Dame on deck three days later.  The Cardinals return home briefly for a February 14th home date with St. John's, but will be back on the road for a February 17th matinee with USF in Tampa.

The Cardinals complete a home-and-home series with Seton Hall when Kevin Willard and the Pirates invade the Yum! Center on February 23rd, and Louisville's final road trip of the season is one that features two stops, first to DePaul on February 27th before heading to the Carrier Dome for the final time in Big East play when Pitino locks horns with Jim Boeheim and Syracuse on March 2nd.  Louisville plays its final two regular season games at home, with Cincinnati making their way into the Yum! Center on March 4th, with Notre Dame following suit on the 9th.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A Closer Look At Notre Dame

Jack Cooley (45) and Scott Martin (14) lead a core of experienced players that welcomes two talented freshman and one former Final Four participant into South Bend to give Mike Brey one of his best teams yet at Notre Dame.  (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

One more Big East contender gets a feature profile today following last night's closeup of Sean Kilpatrick and Cincinnati.

Last season was a battle for Notre Dame.  Following a lackluster 8-5 start to the year in nonconference play that saw senior forward Tim Abromaitis go down for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, the Fighting Irish split their first six Big East games, the last of which was a crushing upset loss to Rutgers at the RAC.  Suddenly, the Irish went on a roll, vaulting themselves into the top four in the conference standings with a nine-game winning streak that commenced with a nationally televised victory over then-undefeated and No. 1 Syracuse.  Notre Dame lost four of their last six, but still managed to reach the NCAA Tournament once again, where they were defeated by Xavier in the Round of 64.

Even after the loss, the Fighting Irish made headlines in the offseason, as it was announced that they would join Syracuse and Pittsburgh in leaving the Big East in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference.  However, unlike the Orange and Panthers, Notre Dame has no set timetable on when they would make the move.  "I think we're going to be in this league this year and next year," head coach Mike Brey remarked at Big East media day, while also revealing his feelings on the latest realignment domino to fall.  "I had mixed emotions, and this is from a guy who grew up in ACC country and coached in the ACC.  It's like taking a new job without leaving."

For the near future, Notre Dame is still in the Big East, and Brey returns everyone from last year's roster with the exception of swingman Alex Dragicevich, who transferred to Boston College.  The Fighting Irish will again be led in the backcourt by juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, who played beyond their youth last season.  "I think because they didn't play well in the postseason, they're coming in with a chip on their shoulder," Brey said of his backcourt.  Scott Martin returns on the wing after being granted a sixth year of eligibility, and will join sophomore Pat Connaughton and incoming freshman Cameron Biedscheid; a talented swingman from St. Louis already being hailed by Brey for his potential, as swingmen for the Irish and bridges to the more experienced front line.  "We might have the oldest frontcourt in the country," said Brey.  "Scott just got his AARP card."

Senior Jack Cooley, who could easily be mistaken for former Notre Dame great Luke Harangody, returns to South Bend for his final go-round after a junior campaign that saw the 6-9 power forward average over twelve points and nearly nine rebounds per game in a season where he shot 63 percent from the field.  In addition to Cooley, Brey welcomes Massachusetts native Zach Auguste; a 6-10 freshman, into the frontcourt, as well as former Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman.  The 6-10 Sherman, who played in the 2010 Final Four as a freshman with Tom Izzo's Spartans, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out last season when arriving from East Lansing.  "He's already added leadership and is teaching Zach," Brey said.  "He's such a great addition."

Notre Dame starts their season on November 10th when Evansville makes their way into the Joyce Center, and Monmouth follows suit two days later.  From there, the Fighting Irish will invade the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, first taking on Saint Joseph's on November 16th before awaiting either Brigham Young or Florida State the following day.  Home games against George Washington, Saint Francis University and Chicago State are next once Notre Dame returns from Brooklyn, with Kentucky coming into the Joyce Center on November 29th to headline the SEC/Big East Challenge.  Brown comes into South Bend next on December 8th, with the Irish getting a week off before their neutral site matchup with Purdue on December 15th in Indianapolis.  IPFW, Kennesaw State and Niagara are the final nonconference opponents for Notre Dame, who opens Big East play at home on January 5th against Seton Hall.

The first true road game for the Irish takes place in Cincinnati on January 7th, with UConn heading into South Bend on the 12th, three days before Notre Dame hits the road again to face St. John's at Madison Square Garden.  From there, home games with Rutgers (January 19th) and Georgetown (January 21st) ensue, with a road trip to USF on January 26th preceding a home meeting with Villanova four days later.  Notre Dame opens February with a trip to Chicago on the 2nd to square off against DePaul, with their final Big East trip to the Carrier Dome taking place two nights later.

The Fighting Irish return to South Bend to host Louisville (February 9th) and DePaul (February 13th) before traveling to Providence on the 16th and then to the Petersen Center for the final time in Big East play to face Pittsburgh two days later.  Notre Dame alternates between home and road battles for their final four contests, starting at the Joyce Center on February 24th against Cincinnati, then facing Marquette on March 2nd in Milwaukee before hosting St. John's three days later, with a trip to the Yum! Center to meet Rick Pitino and Louisville on March 9th.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Closer Look At Cincinnati

Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick enters his junior season with a great shot at Big East Player of the Year honors.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

One day removed from analyzing how Buzz Williams will reload at Marquette, next up in our profile of the Big East is another of its Sweet 16 participants, this one with the potential conference Player of the Year.

The University of Cincinnati is finally back among the national elite after a long period away from the spotlight.  Following the departure of Bob Huggins, the Bearcats were rebuilt from the ground up as head coach Mick Cronin inherited just one scholarship player the day he was hired in 2006.  Six years later, Cronin has guided his alma mater and hometown program into a respected institution that is coming off two straight 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances, the latter of which culminated with a trip to the East regional semifinals in Boston last March.

"For me, it's special," Cronin said of the Cincinnati resurgence that he has been proud to spearhead during his tenure.  "There's a great responsibility on my shoulders to resurrect the program."

Junior guard Sean Kilpatrick is a big reason why.  In his second season as the Bearcats' go-to guy, the White Plains native averaged over fourteen points per game and shot 38 percent from three point range, and should threaten to score close to twenty per contest this year following an offseason in which his already incredible work ethic has again resurfaced.  "He really improved since he came here," said Cronin of his all-Big East shooting guard.  "His work ethic is what separates him."

Kilpatrick will once again have Cashmere Wright as a backcourt running mate as the Cincinnati point guard enters his senior season, and JaQuon Parker; who Cronin said was the key for the Bearcats while fighting injuries and the aftermath of the Crosstown Shootout against Xavier last season, will play a more natural guard position following the graduation of Dion Dixon.  Up front, Yancy Gates has departed as well after four years, but Cincinnati is in great position inside without him, with Justin Jackson and Cheikh Mbodj back to anchor a front line that welcomes back Jermaine Sanders for his sophomore campaign while also introducing redshirt freshman Shaquille Thomas and junior college transfer Titus Rubles into the fold.

Cincinnati opens its season at the Fifth Third Arena on November 11th against Tennessee-Martin, with reigning SWAC champion Mississippi Valley State making their way in two days later.  North Carolina A&T and Campbell come into Cincinnati after that before the Bearcats invade Las Vegas to face Iowa State and either Oregon or UNLV in the Global Sports Invitational.  Following the excursion to Sin City, Anthony Grant and Alabama come to the Ed Jucker Court at Fifth Third on December 1st for their SEC/Big East Challenge matchup, with Arkansas-Little Rock and Maryland-Eastern Shore coming in for nonconference home games as well.  The Bearcats' first true road game will come at Marshall on December 15th, with the Crosstown Shootout to be played four nights later on a neutral site at the US Bank Arena.  Home games with Wright State and New Mexico take Cincinnati into their Big East opener, which will be contested at the Petersen Center in a New Year's Eve matinee with Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh.

Home games with St. John's (January 5th) and Notre Dame (January 7th) open 2013 for the Bearcats, who travel to the RAC on January 12th to meet Mike Rice and Rutgers before remaining on the road to square off against DePaul on the 15th of the month.  Cincinnati's final trip to the Carrier Dome in Big East play will come on January 21st against Syracuse, and it is sandwiched in between home games with Marquette two days prior and Rutgers on January 30th.  The Bearcats start the month of February with two on the road, first against Seton Hall (February 2nd) before traveling to Rhode Island to meet Ed Cooley and Providence on February 6th.

Three consecutive home games follow for Cincinnati, with Pitt, (February 9th) Villanova (February 12th) and Georgetown (February 15th) all invading the Fifth Third Arena before a road trip to UConn on the 21st and then to Notre Dame three days later.  Kevin Ollie and the Huskies come to Cincinnati on March 2nd to complete a home-and-home series before the Bearcats travel to Louisville two days later.  The Bearcats conclude the regular season at home on March 9th when they welcome Stan Heath and USF to Fifth Third.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Closer Look At Marquette

With Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder gone, Junior Cadougan becomes leader for Marquette on both sides of the ball as the point guard enters his senior season.  (Photo courtesy of Paint Touches)

Following a preview of Jamie Dixon's Pitt team that is about to enter their final season in Big East play, the team-by-team previews continue with a program synonymous with four jerseys, three guards; and now, two consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.

In just four seasons since replacing Tom Crean after the longtime coach of the former Warriors left to succeed Kelvin Sampson at Indiana, Buzz Williams has made the transition from unknown to underrated, with results that have defied convention.  Now about to enter his fifth campaign at the helm of the Golden Eagles, the affable Texan has likened his program to building a house in recent interviews prior to the season opener.

"Every year, you build a house; and when that year is over, you have to sell it and buy a new one," Williams said at Big East media day last week.  "I think every team is specific to the house they live in.  We've got a lot of work to do to replicate what we've done."  Gone are all-Big East selections Darius Johnson-Odom and reigning conference Player of the Year Jae Crowder, but Williams brings mounds of depth and his usual cadre of underrated players into the Bradley Center this year.  "Those two guys were like a really good drug for us," said Williams of his two stars that later became NBA Draft selections this past June.  "We became addicts to what they gave us every day."

If Williams has built houses over the years, his Marquette players have turned them into mansions within just a few games, starting with senior point guard Junior Cadougan.  After having his freshman season essentially wiped out due to injury, the Canadian import has come a long way in three seasons, and will become the first player in the Williams era to be a four-year student-athlete.  Last season, Cadougan averaged just slightly over six points per game, but his passing ability was second to none, thanks in large part to his five-plus assists per contest.  Vander Blue returns to the backcourt for his junior season as well, this time with a new number, switching to No. 13 from his previous No. 2.  The Wisconsin native had a breakout sophomore season last year with averages of over eight points and four rebounds per game, and will almost certainly have the opportunity to do more as he shares the backcourt with Cadougan and Marquette's latest transfer into the program, former Arizona State guard Trent Lockett.  Lockett, who completed his degree at Arizona State, is eligible to play immediately in Milwaukee, and is already being hailed as a leader by his new coach.  "I don't think I've ever had someone who was eligible to be on our staff before I coached them," said Williams of Lockett, who should be the choice to replace Johnson-Odom in the Golden Eagles' starting five.  Todd Mayo should reprise his role as Marquette's sixth man as the sophomore adds to the deep backcourt Williams can also count reserves Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas as members of.  Incoming freshman Jamal Ferguson will also see some minutes in the backcourt during the season.

One of Marquette's biggest concerns, as it usually is prior to every season, is how the frontcourt will hold up.  After tearing his ACL in the Golden Eagles' dramatic win against Washington in the Jimmy V Classic just eight games into the season, Chris Otule has received a medical redshirt, and the senior enters the season at "85 percent" according to Williams.  Fellow big man Davante Gardner, who missed eight games of his own, is back at full speed after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he averaged nearly ten points per game while shooting 56 percent from the field.  Junior swingman Jamil Wilson will see significant minutes as well following the former Oregon transfer's first season in a Marquette uniform, one in which he averaged over seven points and four rebounds per game.  Freshman Steve Taylor will also have a chance to contribute after the Chicago native impressed his new coach with his "high motor" in practice.

The former Warriors take the court for the first time on November 9th, when they face Ohio State in the Carrier Classic.  Early home games against Colgate and Southeast Louisiana precede a trip to the Maui Invitational, where Marquette will open with Butler as the Bulldogs spend their first year in the Atlantic 10.  The Golden Eagles will play two more games in Maui following their showdown with Butler, with the first against either North Carolina or Mississippi State, before returning home on November 26th for a meeting with UMBC at the Bradley Center.  A road trip to Florida three days later for Marquette's SEC/Big East Challenge game precedes the annual rivalry game with in-state adversary Wisconsin, to be contested this season on December 8th in Milwaukee after the Golden Eagles defeated the Badgers 61-54 in Madison behind a big game from Todd Mayo.

A home game against Savannah State (December 15th) and road trip to Wisconsin-Green Bay (December 19th) take Marquette into their final two nonconference games, the first being a return match with LSU at the Bradley Center on December 22nd before North Carolina Central comes to Milwaukee a week later.  After opening Big East play and 2013 at home on New Year's Day against UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie, the Golden Eagles welcome Georgetown to their home court on January 5th, and get a week off before invading the Petersen Center for the final time in Big East play on January 12th for a Saturday matinee with Pittsburgh.

Marquette returns home on January 16th to face Seton Hall for the first of two times this season, and heads to Cincinnati three days later.  A week off will precede a two-game homestand against Providence (January 26th) and USF (January 28th) that will take the Golden Eagles into February, which they will open on the 3rd of the month at Louisville before completing a home-and-home series with Stan Heath and USF on February 6th.  Three days later, DePaul comes into the Bradley Center for Al McGuire Day, which honors the legendary coach of the 1977 national championship team at Marquette.  Selfishly speaking, this writer hopes Buzz Williams pays tribute to McGuire by wearing the same jacket he wore last year.  (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports Wisconsin)

Marquette heads to Georgetown on February 11th to complete a home-and-home series with Georgetown before welcoming Pitt into Milwaukee on the 16th, when the Golden Eagles will celebrate the tenth anniversary of their 2003 Final Four team, led of course by Dwyane Wade.  Road battles with Seton Hall (February 19th) and Villanova (February 23rd) ensue before Williams' team welcomes Syracuse to the Bradley Center for a Monday night showdown on February 25th.  Senior day will take place five days later on March 2nd, when the Golden Eagles face Notre Dame before traveling to the New York metropolitan area for their final regular season games against Rutgers (March 5th at the RAC) and St. John's, on March 9th at Madison Square Garden.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Closer Look At Pitt

Back at 100% for his senior season, Travon Woodall and Pitt can expect a return to top half of Big East standings.  (Photo courtesy of SportsNet New York)

One day removed from taking an in-depth look at Georgetown, next up to be profiled is a team who looks to rebound from an off year in what will be their final season in the Big East.

Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Dixon's nine years with the Panthers, but that is not to say Pitt was not a competitive team during the season.  In a year where the Panthers endured losing streaks of eight and five in two stretches of the season, one of which included a 62-39 defeat at the hands of Rutgers at the Petersen Center; where Pitt had been the college basketball equivalent of Hulk Hogan in the 1980s before last season, Dixon's crew salvaged what was left of the year to win seven of their final ten games, including the best-of-three CBI championship over Washington State.

This year, the Panthers prepare for their Big East swan song by bringing back point guard Travon Woodall for the whole season after the former St. Anthony's star missed a considerable part of the nonconference season due to injury.  The senior averaged nearly twelve points and over six assists per game when he was on the court, and will be the face of the team now that Ashton Gibbs has graduated.  Joining him in the backcourt will be Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler, who received a waiver to play immediately following a season where the Detroit native averaged almost sixteen points and seven rebounds per contest for the Chippewas.  The junior will see more time on the wing for Dixon as Lamar Patterson will play primarily off the ball.  Last season, Patterson was a pleasant surprise for the Panthers, shooting a blistering 41 percent from three-point range while also averaging over three assists per game from the small forward position.  Sharpshooters J.J. Moore and John Johnson also contribute to a deep and talented Pitt backcourt that welcomes highly touted freshman James Patterson from national powerhouse DeMatha Catholic.

Up front, the Panther front line changes a bit due to the loss of Nasir Robinson, but Pitt has prepared for that with the arrival of seven-footer Steven Adams.  Already the preseason Rookie of the Year pick in the Big East, the New Zealander is the biggest Pitt prospect at his position since Chris Taft and Aaron Gray, both of whom went on to play in the NBA.  Dante Taylor will likely be the incumbent power forward for Dixon after starting most of the Panthers' 39 games last season, and if Talib Zanna can finally put together a consistent season after showing flashes of brilliance in each of his first two years in the Steel City, Pitt will be a legitimate Big East championship contender in their final season in the conference before departing for the ACC.

The Panthers open the season against Northeast Conference opponent Mount St. Mary's and new coach Jamion Christian on November 9th at the Petersen Center, with Tom Pecora and Fordham making their way in three days later in a preliminary round game for the Preseason NIT.  Pitt will face either Robert Morris or Lehigh the following day, with Greg Kampe and Summit League program Oakland coming in on November 17th.  Pittsburgh will most likely head to Madison Square Garden immediately following the Oakland game for the Preseason NIT semifinals and finals, with Howard and Detroit coming to the Petersen Center before the Panthers' annual meeting with intra-city rival Duquesne at the Consol Energy Center on December 5th.  The Dukes will enter the game for the first time under the tutelage of former LIU Brooklyn head man Jim Ferry, who replaced Ron Everhart in the offseason.  Pitt returns home for four more nonconference matchups before opening Big East play on New Year's Eve at home against Mick Cronin and Cincinnati.

The Panthers' first true road game comes at the RAC against Rutgers on January 5th, with a trip to the Verizon Center next up on the ledger against Georgetown three days later.  Pitt then welcomes Marquette to the Petersen Center on January 12th for the first of six games that will alternate between home and road meetings for Dixon's team.  After Marquette, Pitt hits the road to face Villanova at the Pavilion on January 16th before coming home for UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie three days later, only to travel to Providence on January 22nd prior to a January 26th home game versus DePaul.  Pitt closes the month of January on the 28th against Rick Pitino and Louisville at the Yum! Center.

Dixon's team opens the month of February with two consecutive home games, first against Syracuse (February 2nd) before welcoming Seton Hall to the Petersen Center two days later.  Road battles with Cincinnati (February 9th) and Marquette (February 16th) ensue before a February 18th home date with Notre Dame.  After welcoming the Fighting Irish into the Oakland Zoo, the Panthers get six days off before a Sunday matinee at Madison Square Garden against St. John's on February 24th, with home matchups against USF (February 27th) and Villanova (March 3rd) serving as the precursors to Pitt's regular season and Big East finale at DePaul on March 9th.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Closer Look At Georgetown

After a phenomenal freshman season, Otto Porter moves from reserve to starter on a Georgetown team that could surprise a lot of critics this year.  (Photo courtesy of The Washington Post)

Following a look at Stan Heath and last year's Cinderella USF, the Big East preview scene shifts to a traditional power ready to reprise itself among the class of the conference.

Last year's incarnation of Georgetown basketball provided the expected regular season success we have come to know from the Hoyas: 24 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance.  However, as the calendar turned to March, Georgetown's season came to yet another disappointing end when the Hoyas were ousted by NC State in the Round of 32, Georgetown's fourth consecutive opening weekend exit from the "Big Dance" since their run to the Final Four in 2007, not to mention the Hoyas' NIT appearance in 2009.

This season, while head coach John Thompson III loses each of his three leading scorers in guard Jason Clark and forwards Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims, the one-time Princeton student and coach has one of his deeper and more deceptively talented teams in recent years, led by several long and athletic players that strive to create mismatches on the court.  Thompson will also, barring any transfers, welcome everyone back next season, as Georgetown does not have a senior on its roster.

Sophomore forward Otto Porter is the first of these underrated Hoyas.  Last season, the Missouri native averaged just under ten points and seven rebounds per contest coming off the bench.  Now, the preseason first team all-Big East selection becomes the face of a young team that intends to be dominant in the conference for years to come.  Point guard Markel Starks returns to anchor the backcourt in his junior season, with sophomore Jabril Trawick and highly touted freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera playing alongside.  Up front, Thompson's latest group of versatile wings will be led by sophomore Greg Whittington.  Last season, the Maryland native only averaged 4.3 points per game, but was an X-factor on both ends of the ball on multiple occasions.  Fellow sophomore Mikael Hopkins will also be in the mix for a starting spot alongside bruising power forward Nate Lubick, who enters his junior campaign.

Georgetown opens its season with a challenging nonconference game against Billy Donovan and Florida on board the USS Bataan in Jacksonville on November 9th.  From there, the Hoyas take on Duquesne and Liberty at the Verizon Center before helping christen the Barclays Center in Brooklyn with matchups against UCLA and either Indiana or Georgia on November 19th and 20th.  The Hoyas return home for matchups with Mount St. Mary's and an SEC/Big East Challenge collision with Tennessee before opening December with Texas in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Four straight home games against (in order) Towson, Longwood, Western Carolina and American will close out the calendar year and nonconference ledger for the Hoyas before they open Big East play at Marquette on January 5th.  A home matchup with Pittsburgh three days later will sandwich an 11am tipoff with St. John's on January 12th at the Garden, with a home game against Providence coming on the 16th.  Two straight on the road against USF (Janaury 19th) and Notre Dame (January 21st) are next for Georgetown before three straight at home with Louisville, (January 26th) Seton Hall (January 30th) and the back end of a home-and-home series with Steve Lavin and the Red Storm. (February 2nd)

After a week off, Georgetown alternates road and home dates for the next four contests, starting on February 9th at the RAC against Mike Rice and Rutgers.  After that, the Hoyas are home for Marquette two days later before hitting the road again for Cincinnati (February 15th) prior to a homecoming that finds Thompson's team hosting DePaul on February 20th.  A road trip to the Carrier Dome for the final time in Big East play is next on February 23rd, with Kevin Ollie and UConn prepared to welcome the Hoyas to Gampel Pavilion four days later.  Georgetown opens March on the 2nd of the month at home against Rutgers, with a road trip to the Wells Fargo Center for a matchup with Villanova on March 6th preceding the regular season finale at home against Syracuse three days later.

Tavon Sledge Granted Waiver At Iona

Tavon Sledge, who transferred to Iona from Iowa State in offseason, received hardship waiver and will play for Gaels in November 9th season opener.  (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

Iona's road to the NCAA Tournament just became clearer and smoother earlier tonight.

Point guard Tavon Sledge, who transferred to the New Rochelle school from Iowa State in the offseason, received the hardship waiver he had been seeking, making him eligible to play for the Gaels immediately.  The 5-9 native of Spring Valley will be able to suit up for Iona's opener against Denver on November 9th at the Hynes Center, and his eligibility will enable coach Tim Cluess to plug him into the backcourt alongside Momo Jones and Sean Armand.

This is the second year in a row Iona has received a positive waiver request, as the aforementioned Jones was cleared in similar fashion last season upon transferring from Arizona to be closer to his ailing grandmother in Harlem.  Jones was initially rumored to be moving to the point had Sledge not been cleared as the successor to reigning MAAC Player of the Year Scott Machado, now a member of the Houston Rockets.

Follow A Daly Dose Of Hoops throughout the season for updates from Iona, starting with the Gaels' opener against Denver on November 9th.

News & Notes From Wagner Practice

In just seven months, Bashir Mason has come a long way, and his Wagner team has done the same.  (Photo courtesy of Staten Island Advance)

Dan Hurley may have come and gone, but the intensity he brought to Staten Island remains.

In a three-hour practice Wednesday that was the longest to date in the Seahawks' preparation for their season opener at Delaware State, head coach Bashir Mason was equal parts instructor and participant, even joining in defensive drills for the Verrazano Warriors, who enter this season returning four starters and the core of last year's 25-win squad that Hurley left this spring for Rhode Island.

In the practice session, two players in particular stood out: Jonathon Williams, the forward who last season became a second scoring option behind all-NEC guard Tyler Murray, and has now become the face of the team along with junior guard Latif Rivers; and Marcus Burton, the backup point guard from Charlotte whose jump from his freshman to sophomore campaigns is among the greatest this writer has seen in recent years.

Below is a sampling of what Mason, who coaches as though he were far older than his 28 years, had to say about his team and the road ahead:

On Wagner in general: "I think we have a lot more to improve.  We still have a long way to go defensively."

On defensive emphasis: "We set a goal to be the best defensive team in the conference, and maybe even in the country."

On being picked 3rd in the NEC poll: "I think we're picked where we should be, but in my eyes, we're the best team in the conference. I hope my guys back me up and play with the same chip on their shoulder that I took away from the rankings."

On junior point guard Kenny Ortiz: "He's our toughness, our rock.  He's the tone setter for us defensively, and offensively he has gotten better too.  Last year was basically his freshman year on the basketball court since he didn't play that much at Southern Miss, so he has grown immensely."

On sophomore point guard Marcus Burton: "He's going to be a big time surprise this year to a lot of people."

On freshman guard Dwaun Anderson: "He separated himself in terms of picking things up a little quicker because he was here for the second half of last year and sat out."

On losing graduated seniors Chris Martin and Tyler Murray: "They were both leaders.  Tyler was an extension of the coaching staff on the basketball court."

On senior forward Jonathon Williams: "He's a real versatile guy inside and out.  He worked all summer to expand his game, and I don't want to put a leash on him and tell him what he can and can't do."

On junior guard Latif Rivers: "He's the heart and soul of our team.  Those guys will look to him to take big shots and make big plays."

On junior center Naofall Folahan: "This was the year that we planned for him to become that great basketball player everybody thought he could be.  This summer, our focus was getting him moves in the post and helping him be a more confident offensive player."

On sophomore forward Mario Moody: "He's great for us in terms of his athleticism and rebounding."

On senior forward Josh Thompson, who made SportsCenter's Top 10 with this dunk from Wagner's "Madness Before Midnight":

"He'll give us all the hustle and energy plays, and he has expanded his game too.  He's playing more on the perimeter this year."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Closer Look At USF

A sensational freshman season has Anthony Collins at forefront of Big East point guards going into his sophomore campaign at USF.  (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

The returning Steve Lavin was the subject of yesterday's Big East preview, which profiled St. John's and their prospects this season.  Today, a team that beat the Red Storm on the way to an unexpected success story similar to the one St. John's enjoyed two years ago takes center stage.

The University of South Florida spent its 36-game slate last season as a statistical anomaly. Not only did the Bulls win 22 of those contests and advance to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32, but USF did it without having any of its players average ten or more points per game.  Augustus Gilchrist, who has since graduated, led the team at 9.5 points per contest, which prompted head coach Stan Heath to comment on a desire to be as equally adept on the offensive end as the Bulls were defensively, yielding just 57 points on average to their opponents.  "We want to play faster, we want to score more points," Heath said at last week's Big East media day.  "This team has the defensive mindset of the teams at Michigan State that I was an assistant on."

Heath, who is as underrated a coach as he is a true nice guy in the industry, will be relying on sophomore point guard Anthony Collins to guide his team through the rigors of yet another Big East campaign.  "He had a terrific freshman season," said Heath of Collins, whose average of over five assists per game placed him among the top point guards in the conference despite his rookie status.  "Early on, I didn't expect to get so much out of him. I think he's an extremely smart player, he knows how to counter what teams are going to do against him."

In addition to Collins, Heath will look to incumbent guards Jawanza Poland and Shaun Noriega; as well as junior college transfers Musa Abdul-Aleem and Martino Brock, to support his gifted young floor general.  Up front, the Bulls have a monumental task in replacing Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr., and senior Toarlyn Fitzpatrick will be the key inside for USF.  After playing primarily on the wing and shooting 41 percent from three-point range last season, Fitzpatrick will be the de facto center in certain situations this year due to USF being more undersized than they were last season.  Florida Atlantic transfer Kore White will go a long way toward picking up the slack inside, while freshman Zach LeDay and junior Victor Rudd give Heath a pair of formidable swingmen that can play either forward position.  Rudd, who created many matchup problems during the Bulls' road to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, will likely do the same again this season.  "His versatility is to the point where he's as good as you can find at either position," said Heath.  "Look for him to do both."

After playing in several different venues last season, USF finally has its on-campus home again after the Sun Dome was renovated last year.  The Bulls will open their 2012-13 campaign there with their first five games, starting against future Big East foe Central Florida on November 10th and continuing on with Maryland-Eastern Shore, Loyola-Chicago, Eastern Michigan and Bradley before traveling to Stetson on November 26th.  USF is back on campus four days later for its SEC/Big East Challenge matchup with Georgia, but travels to Oklahoma State on December 5th before a thirteen-day hiatus in between brings USF to the start of a three-game homestand against Youngstown State, with Bowling Green and George Mason following before a return match in Orlando with Central Florida to open 2013 on January 2nd.

The Bulls' first two Big East games are home affairs, first against Syracuse on January 6th before welcoming Villanova into the Sun Dome three days later.  From there, USF travels to Louisville (January 12th) and Rutgers (January 17th) before a home date with Georgetown on the 19th that precedes a trip to Seton Hall four days later.  A January 26th host matchup against Notre Dame will be the precursor to a two-game road trip to Marquette (January 28th) and UConn. (February 3rd) USF returns the favor by hosting Marquette on February 6th before hitting the road three days later to complete a home-and-home series with Villanova.

Home meetings with Providence (February 13th) and Louisville (February 17th) take USF into their next road matchup, which comes at Carnesecca Arena against St. John's on February 20th.  After a week off, the Bulls invade the Petersen Center for the final time in Big East play, taking on Pitt on February 27th in what will be the Panthers' final season in the conference before joining the ACC.  USF gets two more home games against DePaul (March 3rd) and UConn (March 6th) before closing the season on the road against Mick Cronin and Cincinnati March 9th.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Closer Look At St. John's

Following record-setting freshman season, D'Angelo Harrison has his eyes set on bigger and better results in year two at St. John's.  (Photo courtesy of Newsday)

In an offseason where UConn's chances under a new coach were chronicled recently, one of their fiercest rivals brings their coach back for the full season as they prepare to return to their newfound success.

Last season's 13-19 record may not seem like much for St. John's after the hoopla that attracted all kinds of fans to the Red Storm on their way to an NCAA Tournament appearance two years ago, but given the extenuating circumstances, it was as good as finishing with a trip to the regionals.  An unheard-of six-man rotation that forced the team to play an all-freshman lineup at times, coupled with a coach who spent the year recovering from prostate cancer treatments, combined to deal the Johnnies one of their most crippling blows since the 2003-04 season that ultimately cost Mike Jarvis his job and handed the program a black eye that took several years to heal.  However, as they say around these parts, the show must go on, and the Red Storm has made every effort to turn back the clock to the 2010-11 campaign that turned head coach Steve Lavin into even more of a celebrity than he was upon arrival to the Big Apple.

Lavin enters the upcoming season without the services of forward Moe Harkless, who declared for the NBA after just one season and is now a member of the Orlando Magic; but the coach, ever the optimist, is confident that this year's incarnation of the Red Storm will be just as, if not more, promising.  "I'm pleased with the progress we've made so far," Lavin said at the team's annual media day this afternoon.  "We're a young team, and that makes it interesting.  We're just trying to accelerate their learning curve with game situations."

Shooting guard D'Angelo Harrison will be the go-to guy this year following a rookie season in which the Texan broke the school record for most points scored by a freshman.  Expect Harrison, a combo guard in high school while being recruited, to even run the point at times this season while Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch waits to become eligible, which happens in December.  "When he has the ball in his hands, good things happen," said Lavin of Harrison.  "He's seeing it with more clarity, and the judgments are better."

Joining Harrison and Branch in the backcourt this year will be incumbent sophomore Phil Greene, as well as international imports Felix Balamou and Marco Bourgault, two of seven newcomers.  The strength of this team, however, will be the added depth in the frontcourt behind returning starter Amir Garrett and fellow incumbents God'sgift Achiuwa and Sir'Dominic Pointer, with JaKarr Sampson finally along for the ride after being declared ineligible last season and subsequently re-signing with Lavin last season.  In addition to Sampson, gifted shot blocker and fellow highly touted recruit Chris Obekpa; whom Lavin refers to as the "fastest processor" out of all the freshmen he has coached, will see major minutes up front, as well junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, who at 6-9 provides the Johnnies with instant size on the front line.  Late signee Christian Jones will also make an impact right away, and the latest in a long line of long and athletic Lavin wings is being hailed by his coach as "one of the more consistent players" in terms of decision making and on-court judgments.

Following two exhibitions, the Red Storm will open their 105th season in program history with a 2pm matinee against Detroit on November 13th at Carnesecca Arena, a rematch of a game last year that the Horizon League champion Titans won on their home court.  St. John's then takes the court in the Charleston Classic for three games against the likes of teams such as College of Charleston and potentially even Murray State and/or Butler before returning home on November 21st to face Holy Cross, with Florida Gulf Coast coming to Queens three days later.

Two more home games await the Red Storm, starting on November 29th against South Carolina in the SEC/Big East Challenge and later with NJIT, (December 1st) prior to a road trip to Lavin's hometown to meet the University of San Francisco on December 4th.  Four days later, the Johnnies make their Madison Square Garden debut when they take on Fordham in the Holiday Festival.  A week off for final exams is next up before a meeting with Glenn Braica and St. Francis inside Brooklyn's Barclays Center, with UNC Asheville next at Carnesecca on December 21st, which will be St. John's final nonconference game before opening 2013 at the Pavilion on January 2nd against Villanova.

A January 5th trip to Cincinnati precedes three straight home dates at Madison Square Garden against Rutgers, (January 9th) Georgetown (January 12th) and Notre Dame. (January 15th) St. John's then heads to Chicago to face DePaul, with Rutgers up next on January 23rd at the RAC.  Two home games against Seton Hall (January 27th at the Garden) and DePaul (January 30th at Carnesecca) take the Johnnies into the month of February, which they open at the Verizon Center on the second of the month against Georgetown before hosting UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie four days later at the Garden.

After hitting the road for Syracuse (February 10th) and Louisville, (February 14th) the Red Storm play their final game on campus on February 20th against USF before welcoming Pittsburgh into the Garden four days later.  St. John's opens March with road battles against Providence (March 2nd) and Notre Dame (March 5th) before concluding the regular season at the Garden on March 9th against Buzz Williams and Marquette.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Closer Look At UConn

On paper, Kevin Ollie has monumental task in front of him replacing Jim Calhoun, but all indications are new UConn coach is just as much a fighter as his predecessor.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Mike Rice and Rutgers were profiled most recently in our series of Big East previews, and next on the list is the Big East powerhouse who bids adieu to a legend while welcoming back a former soldier as its new leader.

At just 39 years old, Kevin Ollie enters his new career as the University of Connecticut head men's basketball coach, and prepares to tip off the impending season, albeit with a one-year contract before he is evaluated at the end of the season.  Upon his hire, Ollie became the second-youngest of the fifteen coaches in the Big East, with only 37-year-old Kevin Willard at Seton Hall having not been alive as long.  However, what Ollie lacks in age, he more than makes up for in experience; not only being a one-time UConn student-athlete coached by Calhoun in the early 1990s, but more importantly a former NBA player whose career at the professional level will only guide the young men he will lead into battle even further as the Huskies prepare to take the court despite the NCAA edict that precludes them from postseason play as a result of not meeting minimum APR requirements.

"At the end of the day, we've got a great school that we represent," Ollie said at his first Big East media day this past Wednesday, a surreal experience in the eyes of this writer being that Calhoun; a legend whose career I followed closely as a young boy here in New York before getting the opportunity to broadcast and cover his games, was not at the helm of the Huskies for the first time in my life. (he became the head coach at UConn in May of 1986, three months before I was born) Ollie also remarked of the task ahead of him: "It's a great opportunity.  I don't see it as an obstacle."

Calhoun's successor inherits a team more than capable of winning twenty games with the talent left to him.  Said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin of his counterpart's chances: "He'll do a great job.  He's not rebuilding a program, he has some good players."  The most integral of these players can be found in the same backcourt Ollie himself once occupied two decades ago, this time around in junior Shabazz Napier and sophomore Ryan Boatright; both of whom are combo guards that can play just as well off the ball as they can at the point, and who will both be featured more prominently in the offense following the departure of Jeremy Lamb to the NBA.  "It's the same kind of versatility that we had with Jeremy and Kemba, (Walker)" Ollie said of his guards' aptitude to man both positions.  Freshman Omar Calhoun, a one-time standout at Christ The King, will see significant minutes alongside Napier and Boatright, as will Holy Cross transfer R.J. Evans and swingman Niels Giffey, who brings experience from UConn's national championship team in 2011 into his junior campaign.

Up front, UConn will have a much different look following the transfers of Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith to Missouri and UNLV, respectively, coupled with the departure of Andre Drummond to the NBA after just one season.  Look for Tyler Olander to be a bigger component of the Huskies' offense in his junior campaign after only averaging four points and four rebounds per game last season in just eighteen minutes per contest.  Olander and sophomore DeAndre Daniels will see a considerable uptick in playing time this season, as will 7-1 center Enosch Wolf and incoming freshman Phillip Nolan, who chose the Huskies over fellow Big East programs such as St. John's and his hometown team of Marquette.

The Huskies open their season in Germany against Michigan State at Ramstein Air Force Base in the Armed Forces Classic, and their new leader has taken meticulous steps to ensure that his team will be ready for not just the Spartans, but everyone else who takes the court against them.  "I want our guys to know they're going to be prepared for everything that comes their way," said Ollie; who when asked about what his emotions would be like as he coaches his first game, likens his practices to an in-game atmosphere. UConn will return home to face reigning America East champion Vermont at Gampel Pavilion on November 13th before heading to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam, where they will first play Wake Forest before meeting either Quinnipiac or Iona, with one more game against an opponent to be determined prior to returning home to square off against former UConn player and assistant coach Steve Pikiell, who brings Stony Brook into Storrs on November 25th.

UConn's first home date in Hartford's XL Center comes four days later against New Hampshire, and the Huskies will open December in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden against NC State.  A December 7th meeting with Tommy Amaker and Harvard at Gampel awaits Ollie's bunch next, with three straight nonconference games in Hartford to follow against Maryland-Eastern Shore, (December 17th) Fordham, (December 21st) and Washington. (December 29th)  The Huskies will open 2013 on New Year's Day, facing Buzz Williams and Marquette in Milwaukee's Bradley Center.

After a week off, UConn welcomes DePaul into Gampel on January 8th before hitting the road to face Notre Dame four days later, with Louisville coming into Hartford on the 14th of January.  The Huskies will contest their final Big East game in the Petersen Center five days later against Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh before an eight-day hiatus that ends with Rutgers invading the XL Center on January 27th.  A trip to Providence for the front end of a home-and-home matchup with Ed Cooley's Friars closes out January, with USF playing their first of two with the Huskies at Gampel on February 3rd.  UConn then takes their talents to the New York metropolitan area for a Garden party with St. John's (February 6th) and collision with Seton Hall (February 10th) at the Prudential Center before a three-game homestand at the XL Center.  Jim Boeheim and Syracuse will face the Huskies for the final time in Big East regular season play on February 13th in Hartford, with Villanova (February 16th) and Cincinnati (February 21st) next to come the former home of the Hartford Whalers.

A road trip to the Allstate Arena to wrap up a home-and-home series with DePaul on February 23rd is UConn's first game removed from the three straight at home, with a February 27th home date with Georgetown at Gampel serving as the precursor to road battles with Cincinnati (March 2nd) and USF. (March 6th) The Huskies close Ollie's first regular season on March 9th, when Providence makes their way into Storrs.

"UConn is the only brotherhood I know," Ollie declared emphatically at Big East media day last week.  "I'm loving every minute of it because I've got a great group of players right here with me."

He definitely has the right attitude for the job.  Hopefully, Kevin Ollie has the right stuff to show he will be the head man at UConn for a long time to come.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Closer Look At Rutgers

After two years, Mike Rice is finally content with what he has at Rutgers, insisting Scarlet Knights are on right track toward rebuilding following Fred Hill era.  (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)

Yesterday, Villanova got its moment in the sun in our Big East preview series.  Today, we cross state lines from Pennsylvania to New Jersey and take an in-depth look at a team who beat the Wildcats two years ago on this unforgettable four-point play from the great Jonathan Mitchell.

Last year, Mike Rice admitted he made a few mistakes in his second season on the banks of the old Raritan, one in which he again intimated at this past Wednesday's Big East media day that he really had not prepared for how to manage a roster with seven freshmen that had a roller coaster of a 14-18 season, with more than its share of highs (wins over Florida, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Cincinnati) and lows. (losses to Illinois State, Richmond, LSU and DePaul)

"You're always getting better," Rice said when I asked about his evolution as a coach since arriving in Piscataway following two consecutive Northeast Conference championships at Robert Morris, which has continued its winning ways under Andy Toole.  "I made a lot of mistakes last year.  Year three Coach Rice is better than year one Coach Rice."

The best thing about Rice's players this season is that they have all gotten older, acquiring experience last season that will be invaluable on the court, especially in Big East play.  Sophomore guard Eli Carter, the only Scarlet Knights player to average double figures in scoring last year, is a big reason why as he enters his second season alongside fellow sophomore Jerome Seagears, who will run the point with Carter off the ball.  Seagears evolved in his first season as the year went on, ending his rookie campaign with averages of over seven points and three rebounds per game.

On the wing for Rutgers will be Mike Poole, now in his junior season for Rice, and the coach has praised Poole's leadership and consistency.  "He's my most consistent player since I've been here," Rice firmly stated, "and that speaks volumes.  He's fixing problems in practice.  If I have underclassmen fixing the problems, it's better than me fixing the problems because it comes from your peers."  Forward Dane Miller enters his final season on the banks having become more consistent as well according to his coach following a junior season in which his offensive productivity fluctuated.  "I see a more consistent Dane Miller," (in practice) Rice said.  "If he can maintain it, he'll have a successful year."

Replacing Gilvydas Biruta, who transferred to Rhode Island in the offseason to play for his high school coach Dan Hurley, will be Wally Judge, the 6-9 big man who is finally eligible after sitting out last season on his way to New Jersey from Kansas State.  Judge has already been the subject of rave reviews, and could be the key to the Scarlet Knights' season.  "Physically, he's what we've missed the last two years in this league," said Rice of his new forward, who will have several opportunities to potentially become a double-double per night player for Rutgers.  Rice will also undoubtedly count on his bench, led last season by Myles Mack coming into the backcourt as the first substitute.  "I'm not sure what his role will be," the coach said of Mack at media day last week, "but he'll be out there at the end of the game.  He's one of our top five players in every practice."  Rice's second unit also includes forwards Kadeem Jack, Derrick Randall, Greg Lewis and Austin Johnson, all of whom will most likely see considerable playing time if they can stay healthy, as will swingmen Malick Kone and junior college transfer Vincent Garrett, who is a newcomer entering his junior season.

Rutgers opens its 2012-13 campaign at the RAC with a November 9th home showdown against John Dunne and a Saint Peter's team that will be looking to return to the top half of the MAAC.  The game will also be a homecoming for former Knight Patrick Jackson, who transferred last season.  Three days later, Sacred Heart invades Piscataway before Rutgers hits the road to face in-state rival Princeton on November 16th.  A November 20th home game with Boston University precedes road trips to UNC-Greensboro (November 25th) and Ole Miss, (December 1st as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge) with the Scarlet Knights continuing their journey away from home with a December 8th tipoff against Iona in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.  Said Rice of his nonconference schedule, which has come under some fire by some for not including an in-season tournament: "I like our schedule.  It's a well-thought out schedule for this team.  There are a lot of challenges to prepare us for the Big East."

Rutgers returns to the RAC for a four-game homestand that will take them up to Big East play, with games against George Washington, (December 11th) UAB, (December 16th) Howard (December 21st) and Rider. (December 28th) The Scarlet Knights' Big East and 2013 opener will be their final conference trip to Syracuse on January 2nd, as Jim Boeheim and the Orange will be departing at the end of the season to join the ACC.  Rutgers gets Jamie Dixon and Pitt at home three days later before returning to the Garden on January 9th to play St. John's at the "World's Most Famous Arena" for the first time since the infamous Big East Tournament game in which officials Jim Burr and Tim Higgins missed Red Storm forward Justin Brownlee stepping out of bounds with 1.7 seconds left in regulation.  The Knights play three of their next four in Piscataway, welcoming Cincinnati (January 12th) and USF (January 17th) before a road trip to Notre Dame on January 19th sandwiches the back end of a home-and-home series with St. John's four days later.

The Scarlet Knights play their next two on the road, first at the XL Center for UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie on January 27th before traveling to Cincinnati to complete a home-and-home three days later.  Rutgers then opens February on a three-game homestand, hosting Louisville, (February 6th) Georgetown (February 9th) and archrival Seton Hall. (February 12th) A road trip to Chicago to meet DePaul on February 16th and the Pavilion two days later against Villanova will take Rutgers into its final four games, which alternate between the RAC and the road.  Rutgers faces Providence in Piscataway on February 23rd before getting a week off prior to their showdown with Georgetown at the Verizon Center to complete the back end of a home-and-home series with the Hoyas.  The Scarlet Knights welcome Marquette to the RAC for senior night on March 5th, and will conclude the season against Seton Hall three days later at the Prudential Center.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Closer Look At Villanova

Jay Wright continues a road to rebuilding this season at Villanova, which will see much more frontcourt depth this season.  (Photo courtesy of Boston Globe)

Following some insight into DePaul and their prospects in the coming season, the next Big East program to get their moment in the sun is one rebuilding just three years removed from a Final Four appearance.

Known in recent years for developing a Who's Who of Big East guards the likes of Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi, Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark, Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, and most recently Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, Villanova should be something that most fans on the Main Line have not seen from the Wildcats over the years: A unit with greater strength up front.

"This is the best we've ever been up front," remarked head coach Jay Wright, who attempts to return 'Nova Nation to its winning ways on the heels of a 13-19 season that saw Villanova play the year with no seniors in their rotation for the first time since the 2007-08 season, one year before the program's first Final Four since their miracle run to the national championship in 1985.  Senior Mouphtaou Yarou returns to the frontcourt to be Villanova's primary weapon inside following a junior campaign in which he averaged over eleven points and eight rebounds per game, and will now attempt to prove he belongs in the conference's elite.  Brooklyn product JayVaughn Pinkston, who will enter his sophomore season after being readmitted to the university following an off-campus incident that kept him off the court in the 2010-11 season after he had initially signed with Villanova, will be Yarou's running mate again as he looks to improve upon a stellar rookie campaign where the one-time Bishop Loughlin standout averaged nearly ten points and over five rebounds per contest.  Senior Maurice Sutton and 6-10 freshman Daniel Ochefu should also see minutes alongside Yarou and Pinkston at times to give the Wildcats an imposing presence that will create matchup problems for smaller teams.

Regardless of how strong the Wildcats are up front, Villanova's bread and butter has always been their backcourt, and will probably continue to be this year even with the losses of Cheek and Wayns to professional opportunities in Italy and with the Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.  James Bell returns to the Villanova backcourt for his junior season, where he will anchor the group from the wing following a breakout season in which he averaged seven points per game.  Sophomores Ty Johnson, Darrun Hilliard and Achraf Yacoubou will join Bell at various times on the floor to help give Villanova its trademark "four quick" look during games, but there is no question that the biggest contributors to the guard attack on the Main Line will be the two players who just arrived this summer.

After receiving a waiver to play immediately, junior Tony Chennault comes to the Wildcats from Wake Forest, and is already being hailed by Wright for his maturity and experience.  A 6-2 combo guard, Chennault averaged nine points, three rebounds, and just about three assists per game for Jeff Bzdelik and the Demon Deacons last season, and the former Neumann-Goretti product now has the opportunity to play in front of his hometown fans.  A fellow Philadelphia recruit will join him this season, most likely at the point.  After verbally committing to the Wildcats in 2010 and having his senior season in high school sacrificed due to back surgery, Ryan Arcidiacono finally comes to Villanova eager to make an impact and return to the high level that attracted Wright to him.  Having averaged over twenty points, five rebounds and five assists per game in his junior season two years ago, Arcidiacono certainly has the makeup and ability to translate his skill set to the collegiate ranks.  "The expectations were low because he didn't play last year," said Wright.  "We're really excited about him."

Villanova tips off their 2012-13 season on November 9th at the Pavilion, taking on the Division II University of the District of Columbia and head coach Jeff Ruland in the preliminary round of the 2K Sports Classic.  Marshall comes onto Villanova's campus two days later in another 2K prelim before the Wildcats make their third straight in-season trip to Madison Square Garden for the 2K finals, following appearances in the Preseason NIT and Jimmy V Classic the previous two seasons.  Columbia University invades the Pavilion on November 20th before the Wildcats play their first Big 5 game on November 25th, a road tilt against La Salle.

Villanova gets a week off before opening December on the first of the month in Nashville to take on Vanderbilt in the SEC/Big East Challenge, then plays two straight Big 5 games; first at the Palestra against Penn, (December 8th) with the other a home game against Saint Joseph's three days later.  Following a December 16th hosting of Delaware, Wright and the Wildcats travel to New Jersey on December 22nd to return the favor against Monmouth after King Rice's Hawks played at the Pavilion a year ago.  NJIT serves as Villanova's final nonconference opponent with a December 28th showdown on the Main Line, with St. John's coming in on January 2nd to open Big East play.

The Wildcats again get a week off following the St. John's game, and will take the court again on January 9th on the road against USF, with Villanova's final trip to the Carrier Dome in Big East play waiting in the wings three days later against Syracuse.  Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh, who like the Orange will be leaving the Big East for the ACC at the end of the season, come into the Pavilion on January 16th, while Providence hosts the Wildcats three days later.  The first four games following Villanova's conference opener are front ends of home-and-home series.

The Wildcats play their first game of the season at the Wells Fargo Center on January 22nd against Rick Pitino and reigning Final Four participant Louisville, with Syracuse coming into the home of the 76ers and Flyers four days later to wrap up a home-and-home.  Villanova closes January in South Bend when they face Notre Dame on the 30th, and returns home to the Pavilion to meet Providence for the second time this season in a 12pm matinee on Super Bowl Sunday. (February 3rd) A road trip to DePaul (February 5th) sandwiches the Providence game and a home date on February 9th against USF at the Pavilion.

Villanova's penultimate road trip of the regular season is a two-game swing to Cincinnati (February 12th) and Hartford, where the Wildcats will face UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie on February 16th at the XL Center.  Two days later, Mike Rice and Rutgers make their way into the Pavilion, which will host its annual senior night on February 23rd when Marquette comes to the Main Line.  The Wildcats' final road trip commences two nights later in Newark against Seton Hall, and continues on March 3rd with Villanova's final Big East game at the Petersen Center against Pitt.  Villanova closes the regular season earlier than most Big East schools, with its final contest being a March 6th showdown with Georgetown inside the Wells Fargo Center, six days before the Big East Tournament tips off at Madison Square Garden.