January 31, 2006

Big East Update -2nd Edition

Wow. Honestly, I just went back and looked at the previous Big East review, and it might as well have been written in 1987. Let’s just say things have changed a smidge in the last couple weeks or so.

It’s time for another update and some adjustments to these rankings.

1. Connecticut

Pretty sure UCONN is going to stay in this spot the rest of the year. Comfortable wins over St. Johns, Providence, and Lousville in the last week. No reason to think UCONN will lose more than a couple more games through the rest of league play. I am really looking forward to that UConn-IU game. Two very talented teams with loads of size and athleticism. As Brent Musberger would say, it should be a dandy.

Anyone think Rudy Gay should come back another year? I never have a problem with guys leaving early (you’re telling me you would turn down that kind of paycheck?), but he seems like the kinda guy who could use another year to get used to being “the guy.” If Rudy Gay comes back next year and dominates, he heads into the NBA brimming with confidence and probably is ready to contribute right away. If he leaves right now, he ends up sitting on the bench a couple years before he starts making an impact. I know the NBA is where the best basketball is being played and that the only way to get used to the NBA game is to play and practice with those guys, but I think Gay would benefit from a year as the alpha dog on his team.

2. West Virginia

First update to the rankings. Yea, yea, I know they just lost to Marshall at home, but I’m just chalking that up to one of those random losses that every team has at times. I just like West Virginia’s moxy. 5 seniors and a junior. You just get the impression that they aren’t afraid of anybody, and I wouldn’t count them out of any game.

By the way, in response to Jeremy’s great post, I do think West Virginia is more talented than ND right now. Definitely not next year (they will be lousy), but West Virginia has better players on this current team. Gansey and Pittsnogle are legit studs, and their guards complement the team well. They will be down next year. Villanova will be down too. It’s all cyclical, but I do think the players on their roster are a big reason that West Virginia has been successful the last couple years.

3. Villanova

Nothing much to add regarding the Wildcats. Villanova is kind of skating by, but doing what they need to do to win games. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Nova skid a little before the Tournament, and then regroup with a nice March.

4. Georgetown

Might be a little surprising to put G’Town over Pitt, but how can you not be impressed with the Hoyas right now? Put Georgetown and Pitt on a neutral court, and who do you think wins that game? I’m going with Georgetown right now.

Everywhere you turn there are matchup problems for opposing teams. Green, Hibbert, Wallace, Bowman. They are just really hard to guard. If you looked at their roster, you would think you were staring at an NBA roster with all the size they have. They are bringing in 6’9” guys off the bench. You just don’t see that in college hoops anymore.

Georgetown controls the tempo, they dominate the glass, they defend, they’re well-coached, and oh by the way, they’re talented. The Hoyas aren’t all the way back, but that program is really on the upswing.

5. Pittsburgh

I know Big East fans love to rag on Carl Krauser because he whines a lot to the officials and may or may not be 30 years old. He's one of those guys who has been around forever, and everyone is sick of him.

I’ll be the first to admit though. I love the guy. He’s a leader, he’s tough, he can score in a lot of different ways, and he doesn’t mind mixing it up inside.

Cheers to you Carl Krauser. I've enjoyed watching you play these last four years.

6. Marquette

For all the hype about the Big East, do you really feel that great about this league when Marquette is the 6th best team in this league? Who else belongs in this spot? Seton Hall? Check back with me in a couple weeks. Syracuse? Not with 4 straight losses.

Novak is a possible all-conference selection, and Dominic James is hands down the best freshmen in the league. Still, let’s not get crazy about this team. Put Marquette up against the sixth best team in the Big Ten (Michigan/Wisconsin), and I think it’s pretty easy to figure out which conference is the best in college hoops this year.

7. Seton Hall

Maybe Louis Orr and Kelly Whitney read my last Big East post on this site, and got all fired up. Maybe Terry Dehere and Anthony Avent popped into the locker room for a pep talk. Maybe PJ Carlessimo has been pulling all the strings from behind the scenes. I have NO IDEA what is going on, but Seton Hall has suddenly become the hottest team in the Big East. Yes, the same Seton Hall that lost to Duke by 53 points earlier in the year. Seton Hall winning by 18 at NC State has to rank in the top 3 of most surprising wins of the year.

I don’t know what has gotten into the Pirates, but they are officially the biggest wildcard in this league. Stay tuned.

8. Syracuse

Tough stretch for the Cuse. Three straight games against top 10 opponents and a home loss to Seton Hall. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them turn it around and get the ball rolling again, but any further struggles could put the Orange in jeopardy of making the NCAA Tournament. The schedule lightens up in the upcoming weeks, so they can get back into the “lock” category with a nice winning streak.

How many teams from the Big East get into the NCAA Tournament? 8? 9? 10? I think 8 can get in, but I also wouldn’t want to be sitting in 8th place and sweating things out on Selection Sunday. There’s no real precedent to work with, so no one really knows how many teams the Big East will get in.

9. Notre Dame

ND at #9? Who else deserves this spot? Put ND on a neutral floor against any of the remaining teams and I think they’d win the game. ND will end up close to .500 when it’s all said and done.
Since it’s safe to say that ND’s season is all but over at this point, I think it’s time to take a glance at next year’s roster.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006-07 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (cue the new TBDBITL)…..

PG – Kyle McAlarney
SG – Colin Falls
SF – Russell Carter
PF – Rob Kurz
C -- Luke Zeller


Ryan Ayers
Zach Hillesland
Tory Jackson
Luke Harangody
Jonathon Peoples

Who’s excited?! Might as well start printing out those NIT Brackets right now. Four things would have to happen for ND to become a tournament team.

1) Kyle McAlarney makes a fairly smooth transition to PG and even excels at times

(Likelihood: 60% - I think McAlarney will acquit himself well in the Big East starting next year. Tough guy, unlimited range, gym rat, decent quickness. Might be some growing pains, but I don’t feel bad about the PG situation)

2) Colin Falls makes the leap into Matt Carroll territory and develops an all-around game

(Likelihood: 35% - For all the talk about how great Matt Carroll was, he didn’t truly make the leap into the “stud” category until his senior year. For three years, Carroll was basically a lights out shooter who could carry the team at home when he was hot. Senior year, Carroll just took over. Got stronger, took it to the hoop, ran the break. Carroll made the leap. Can Falls do it? I won’t count out the possibility, but I don’t see it happening.)

3) Russell Carter turns into a poor man’s Carl Krauser

(Likelihood: 50% - I would love to see Russell Carter develop into a consistent 15-17 ppg type guy, a solid defender, and opportunistic rebounder. If Carter could back his man into the post for some buckets or get some stick backs on the glass, he could really add some badly needed versatility to this team. I have no idea if he’s capable of it, but I’d love to see it.

4) Kurz, Zeller, and Harangody give ND some kind of consistent inside presence

(Likelihood: 50% - Kurz brings effort, Zeller looks like he has some decent skills, but picturing those two guys trying to guard Roy Hibbert next year is a scary thought. If I hear Sean McDonough saying “these young big men have been solid all year”at some point in February 2007, I’ll be satisfied.)

This has become customary during the latter years of the Mike Brey era, but the talent will obviously be down again next year. If I have any beef with Brey, it’s been over his recruiting. His guys play hard, never give up, don’t turn the ball over, and shoot free throws well. But when it comes down to needing a rebound, or a tip in, or a big stop late in the game, we just don’t have a difference maker who can step up and make a play. At some point, Mike Brey needs to identify this type of player, and get him to commit to Notre Dame.

We have some nice pieces, but don't have a difference maker up front or on the wing. Troy Murphy was a difference maker. You knew it the moment he walked on campus. I remember watching that guy with the other 37 students who attended ND games during his freshmen year, and you just knew he was a stud. He had the inside post moves, the baseline fadeaway shot, always found a way to get to the line when ND needed it. Every time ND seemed to be slipping a bit, Murphy was there to tip in a rebound or draw contact. Danny Miller, for all the criticism he got, was a difference maker. He got to the bucket, made the big stops on D, hit the big shots when the team needed it. Ryan Humphrey—difference maker. Great athleticism, explosive leaper, blocked shots, high energy, leadership. Put any one of those guys on the current ND roster, and this team is a top 25 team. Seriously. All those close losses suddenly become close wins.

Are any of these young forwards/wings future difference makers? I think the jury is definitely out.

I keep reading stuff on NDNation/Rivals about how talented the freshmen are. Everyone seems to be enamored with Ryan Ayers and his “athleticism.” Everyone is fired up about Hillesland’s quickness and agility. Zeller is getting rave reviews for his passing and defensive rebounding.

Hey, maybe all those guys will end up being productive Big East starters, and maybe one of those guys will end up being an all-conference caliber player. Guys can develop. Happens all the time. I’ve seen it happen at UC throughout the years (Kenyon Martin, Steve Logan) and even at ND (Matt Carroll).

Here’s my only concern about it. Can we wait and see how things turn out before we start building these guys up? I really think McAlarney will be a standout point guard. I think he’ll be pretty solid next year in fact. Seems like one of those guys who will be hitting dagger shots in a couple years. I’m pretty confident that Jay Bilas will be on ESPN in 4 years talking about how McAlarney could start for just about anybody in America.

But how about we slow down on the other three a little bit? Are Ryan Ayers and Hillesland even still on the ND roster? I just checked my program and noticed that they’re still listed, but I’m not ready to throw out the “these guys could lead ND back to prominence!” talk just yet. I have yet to see the athleticism that everyone likes out of Ryan Ayers, and I honestly didn’t even know Zach Hillesland was white until a couple days ago. From what I had read about the guy, you would have thought he had Kevin Garnett type quickness. Zeller looks like he has the potential to be a solid player, but I’m not ready to call him a future all-conference player.

On a positive note, if Harangody comes in and plays like a young Kevin Bookout, he could be that difference maker. If Tory Jackson comes in and reminds people of a young Luther Head, then maybe this ND program will head back in the right direction. Maybe Brey has turned the corner in the recruiting game, and now he’s figured out the kind of players he needs to get to win in the Big East.

Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

10. St. Johns

The Johnnies have been playing pretty well of late, but you really can’t even put them in the conversation for a tournament bid with home losses to Hofstra and Marist. If St. Johns somehow ends up at 9-7 and gets in with those losses, every member of the 2003-04 ND team should raise hell. How are Hofstra and Marist any different than Central Michigan? With that said, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it.

11. Louisville

Ok, get out the shovels. Time to bury Louisville. I watched bits and pieces of a couple of their recent games, and they just aren’t any good this year. For whatever reason, Dean and Palacios haven’t been as good as they were last year, and the rest of the team is really undisciplined and sloppy.

I think the world of Rick Pitino as a coach, but his recruiting has been a little strange since he’s been at Louisville. Instead of focusing on the three and four year guys that he can coach up, Pitino keeps shooting for the moon and focusing on the “one and done” types like Telfair, Donta Smith, Amir Johnson etc. Hasn’t worked out. None of those guys ever made it to campus. Now they have a depleted roster. Could be a lesson in there for some other coaches (cough cough..Thad Matta..cough cough).

By the way, how much must it suck to be a fan of a football program where the head coach not only gets rumored for every college or pro head job in the country, but he also openly lobbies for these jobs? There’s a classy way to handle the speculation, and then there’s the way Bobby Petrino handles things. Weasel.

12. Cincinnati

So it looks like the national media has picked up on the Skip Prosser rumors that have been buzzing about the UC program since Huggins got the axe. If you follow college hoops, you probably know the story by now. Skip misses Cincinnati, his wife never wanted to leave, the UC job is now available….connect the dots.

I’m not sure if I buy the rumors that Prosser is even interested in the job, but I think Prosser would be a decent hire for UC. At the very least, Prosser could come in for a few years and stabilize the program. Prosser likes the up tempo style, and he’s always done well recruiting at Xavier and at Wake Forest given the circumstances of both jobs. Some UC people aren’t sure about Prosser because he won’t be around that long and hasn't lit the world on fire at Wake, but I think Prosser would do a nice job of changing the image of the program and bringing in some talented players. UC’s goal should be to hire a coach who can make them somewhat of a regular in the NCAA Tournament. Prosser can accomplish that.

With that said, if I were UC, I definitely would take my time and interview anybody and everybody who showed interest in the job. If there is some young firecracker out there from a mid-major program who is promising a Final Four birth in the next five years, you gotta explore that option. If a big time assistant with future coaching star written all over him becomes a candidate, UC should definitely take a look. UC could do a lot worse than Skip Prosser, but I definitely would explore all the options before hiring the guy.

For all I know. Prosser might not even have any interest in the job, so UC better be ready with a backup plan.

13. Rutgers

If there are any Rutgers fans reading this blog, I got a question for you. Do you consider Rutgers to be a football school or a basketball school? Rutgers has never really had a lot of success in either sport, so I figured I would inquire. You would think Rutgers was a hoops school, but they’ve had enough entertaining football players over the years to make you think about it. If Marco Battaglia isn’t the most popular athlete in Rutgers history, I’ve seriously misjudged that fanbase.

A little homework assignment for you Scarlet Knights apologists.

14. Providence

Hypothetical for all the ND fans out there. If some corporate sponsor came forward and pledged 75% of the money for a new state of the art arena in exchange for the naming rights, would you support it? I absolutely would be in favor of it. It might sound a little corny at first, but would it really bother anyone to see ND play in a brand new KFC Arena if it was a sweet new building?

Take Providence. Ok, so playing in the Dunkin Donuts Center is a little cheesy compared to Cameron Indoor or Rupp Arena or Assembly Hall, but is it really that big of a deal? If the place is nice, it doesn’t really matter if we have to give it some nickname like “The Oven” or whatever.

I don’t care what ND has to do to get the money. If some company is willing to pony up the money to build a new arena, they could rename it the Hooters Center for all I care. I’d be putting those naming rights up to the highest bidder right now if I were the A.D.

15. DePaul

Why did DePaul think it would make any sense to hire the lead detective from Law & Order to coach the basketball team?

16. South Florida

Hey, how about those Devil Rays?! How can you not be excited about all the young bats? Crawford, Gomes, Baldelli, Delmon Young, Lugo, Upton, Cantu…the Rays are loaded! It’s time for the poor man’s Theo (Andrew Friedman) to trade off some of those young parts for a couple promising arms. Might as well move a couple of these guys while their value is high.

(Super Bowl picks coming Friday!)


Jimmy said...

I take umbrage with your assertion that just because the Big Ten's #6 could beat the Big East's #6, they're automatically the better conference. The Big East is top-heavy, with legitimately 3 of the top 10 teams in the country in UConn, Nova and Pittsnoglemania. Then there's about 5-7 solid teams that beat up on each other.

The Big Ten boasts 7 quality teams that will give any program fits in the tourament, but does 7 very good teams outweigh 3 great and 6 good teams? In the eye of the beholder, but if you ask me, the variety of play in the Big East helps all those squads out and overall puts them over the top.

Jimmy said...

Mock Big Ten-Big East Challenge on neutral courts:
UConn v. Michigan St.: Huskies
Villanova v. Illinois: Wildcats
West Virginia v. IU: Hoosiers
Georgetown v. Ohio St.: Hoyas
Pittsburgh v. Wisconsin: Badgers
Syracuse v. Iowa: Hawkeyes
Marquette v. Michigan: Wolverines
Louisville v. Northwestern: Cardinals
Seton Hall v. Minnesota: Gophers
Notre Dame v. Penn St.: Irish (I'd sincerely hope)
Rutgers v. Purdue: Knights (Douby Doobie Doo)

Even being generous in the Big 10's favor, the Big East still bumps them 6-5. Can I get a witness?

Doug said...

Just checked my conference standings. Are Providence, DePaul, St. Johns, South Florida, and Cincy no longer part of the Big East? I'm not sure if you can just do straight matchups comparing the leagues when there are 16 teams in the BE and 11 in the B10. Purdue, NU, and Penn State are terrible, but probably aren't any worse than Depaul, South Florida, and Providence.

This is no knock on the Big East. The Big East is a great league, and my favorite league by a wide margin. I just think the league has been a little disappointing this year. After the top 5, there are a lot of really mediocre teams and several horrible teams. Louisville, UC, and ND were supposed to add depth, but have been disappointments.

The Big East has the meaty middle, but in terms of quality from top to bottom, I'm going with the Big Ten this year. Keep in mind, in the Big Ten, you have to play most of the teams twice, so it's pretty tough sledding when everyone has to play a few of the heavyweights home and away on the schedule. That's not the case in the Big East this year (see ND's schedule).

Agree to disagree. Hopefully we'll see some more opinions on the matter. I take back my comment that it was obvious that the Big Ten was better than the Big East this year. It's really more of a judgment call. Both have their strengths, but I just think the Big Ten has been a little better this year. Hopefully that will change next year.

Matt said...

Let me just say that I don't get the feeling about this Uconn teams that i have had in the past. I don't think they will be cutting down the nets, and i could see them going out in the sweet 16 or maybe a round earlier. Not sold on rudy gay, rashad anderson is hot and cold, and still not sold on hilton armstrong or josh boone.

I will say that the Big East, for all the hype it has gotten, has failed to live up to expectations. Louisville, Rutgers, UC, ND, and Syracuse have all fell well below expectations. Does anyone really expect Seton Hall, Marquette, St. Johns, or Georgetown to do anything in the postseason or even make it to the NCAA's. So that leaves Pitt, Nova, WV and Uconn. Already shared my feelings on Uconn, and I think Pitt is a nice team but not a legit contender. I guess i wouldn't be surprised to see West Virginia play well in the tourney, but no way they are legit championship contenders. And Nova, i go back and forth on. Can a team of four guards really win it all, or will they run into someone to physical and to big. I tend to think it will hurt them at some point in March.

I guess my point is, while the Big East may still be the best conference, it has been a mild disappointment this year and all that ten team talk looks pretty ridiculous now.