In the last three seasons combined, the Big East has placed 23 teams in the NCAA tournament. Perhaps even more impressively, in the last two seasons, the Big East has had ten teams in the tournament as a three-seed or better. However, with just one of the top ten scorers and just three of the top ten rebounders returning this season, it looks like this season will be slightly down year for the conference. Not that there aren’t very good teams in the league, as the first tier of schools (Villanova, Pittsburgh and Syracuse) are all contenders for preseason national top ten consideration.
In the next tier, there are several teams with big question marks, with Seton Hall’s questions over adjustments to a new head coach and the health of Herb Pope the two most obvious. Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia each lose key contributors to their recent success, but all three teams have intriguing talent, both the proven variety and the kind still labeled as potential, waiting in the wings. For the four teams in this tier, NCAA Tournament bids are expected, but they’ll need positive answers to their questions.
One tier down, however, there are teams who seem more likely to compete for those three new additional entries into the NCAA Tournament with other bubble teams. St. John’s looks to be at the top of this tier, partly due to their heavily senior-laden roster. Also in this tier are three marquee Big East teams (Connecticut, Louisville and Notre Dame) with more questions than answers on their rosters. Major contributors are gone, and what remains are largely inconsistent performers. If some of that inconsistency disappears with experience for players like Kemba Walker, Terrence Jennings and Scott Martin, these teams could move up into the tier of teams that doesn’t have to sweat out selection Sunday.
The fourth tier of teams is a little mini-tier of a couple of teams that I couldn’t rightly consider as bubble contenders, but also teams I didn’t want to put down with the basement of the league. For South Florida and Cincinnati to compete for NCAA Tournament bids, they’ll need not only veteran players like Gus Gilchrist and Yancy Gates to turn into highly efficient players, but also newcomers to provide heavy assistance right out of the gates.
And at the bottom, there are three teams in varying degrees of disarray. Providence and third-year head coach Keno Davis have endured a horrific offseason, while things haven’t been a whole lot better at DePaul and Rutgers. For DePaul and Rutgers, they at least have new coaches to bring hope of a brand new and more successful direction for the program. At Providence, Davis is almost back to square one. The one thing all these programs have in common is that it would take a near miracle for any of these teams to compete for a postseason bid of any kind, let alone an NCAA Tournament bid.
All-Big East First Team G Austin Freeman, Sr, Georgetown G Kemba Walker, Jr, Connecticut F Kevin Jones, Jr, West Virginia F Herb Pope, Jr, Seton Hall F Kris Joseph, Jr, Syracuse
All-Big East Second Team G Corey Fisher, Sr, Villanova G Jeremy Hazell, Sr, Seton Hall G Ashton Gibbs, Jr, Pittsburgh F D.J. Kennedy, Sr, St. John’s F Tim Abromaitis, Sr, Notre Dame
All-Freshman Team G Vander Blue, Marquette G Gerard Coleman, Providence F Jayvaughn Pinkston, Villanova F Roscoe Smith, Connecticut C Fab Melo, Syracuse
If things weren't bad enough already for Connecticut, news came on Friday of a notice of allegations from the NCAA of eight major infractions in recruiting, specifically in regards to the recruitment of Nate Miles, who never played a minute for the Huskies since he was expelled from school for allegedly abusing a female student. While I said in my post below that the new contract extension given to Calhoun this offseason gives the program the appearance of stability, this announcement on Friday undermines any recruiting goodwill that extension may have engendered. While Calhoun stands only accused of "failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance", already, two UConn assistants have fallen on their swords and have been let go. Seth Davis sees this leading to recruiting restrictions placed on the UConn program, and for a school located in the hinterlands of Storrs and with a 68-year-old head coach with a history of health problems, additional recruiting limitations are the last thing they needed.
We'll find out more on October 15, when Connecticut representatives, including Calhoun, will appear before the NCAA.
On the heels of Jim Calhoun’s team missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years and Calhoun’s second health-related leave of absence in the past seven years, the University of Connecticut proposed and Calhoun accepted a $13 million extension of his contract, locking him up as the Husky head coach through 2014. While the UConn administration made sure the appearance of stability at the head of the program (and, to be clear, this is very much Calhoun’s program, built into a national power from the ground-up), there is no such luck with the roster, as three of the four players on the team that averaged more than 30 minutes per game have departed (Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards); those same three were 3/4s of the players on the team that averaged over 10 points per game. The sole remaining returnee to fit into both of those categories is point guard Kemba Walker, returning for his junior season with the need to prove that he is capable of being the unquestioned team leader. Walker is a lightning-fast true point who made significant strides on improving his outside shot as a sophomore. Further improvement of that outside shot, combined with his already devastating penetration ability could make him a nightmare for opposing backcourts around the Big East.
Beyond Walker, the roster has more question marks than declarative answers. Senior Charles Okwandu, sophomore Alex Oriakhi and redshirt sophomore Ater Majok split the majority of the starts at the four and five spots last season, and they will likely do the same in 2010-11. Majok has the most upside of the trio, with his massive wingspan and improving post game, but he was a model of inconsistency in his first year in the Husky rotation. Oriakhi has been the most consistent of the three, a solid rebounder, inside defensive presence and interior finisher, but his offensive game is decidedly lacking. Okwandu is most notable for his ability to pick up fouls at a startling pace, and he’ll need to correct that in order to ever be a significant contributor on this squad. Along with that trio, center Jonathan Mandeldove will return for his senior season, having missed the entirety of 09-10 attempting to correct academic issues. Also, reinforcements arrive in the form of 6-9 freshman power forward Tyler Olander and 6-10 freshman center Michael Bradley. Bradley could get a redshirt next season in order to improve his strength, but Olander, a raw but strong back-to-the-basket player, could scoop up a few minutes in his freshman year.
Robinson’s wing spot will likely be inherited by sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, an athletic defender whose offensive game and shooting will need to improve. Pushing him will be incoming freshman Roscoe Smith, a versatile performer with a ready-made offensive game who could step right into a starting spot should Coombs-McDaniel leave the door open.
The final available starting spot is alongside Walker in the backcourt. Senior guard Donnell Beverly may be a contender that role, but he has a very limited offensive game, and with the relative lack of offensive punch from the big guys on this team, Calhoun may need to find more of a scoring threat at the two-guard. Incoming freshman Jeremy Lamb is a natural scorer at the two and he could slide into a starting spot. He could use some more strength, but handles well and has a big wingspan for an off-guard. Sophomore Darius Smith could also contend for some minutes after getting just spot duty in his freshman year. Another contender to take the second backcourt spot is 5-10 incoming freshman Shabazz Napier, a tiny scoring point guard with a ton of confidence. While a Walker/Napier backcourt would be among the quickest in the nation, both players are best with the ball in their hands, and their lack of size could be taken advantage of on the defensive end. Fact is, there is no clear-cut best option here for Calhoun, and it is possible that the fifth start could be a revolving door depending on matchups.
A year out of the Tournament for the Huskies, and looking at a roster with question marks in abundance. This is not your typical UConn team with hopes for a deep March run. Putting on the rose-colored glasses for a minute, however, Calhoun has a history of developing big men, and if he can get Majok or another of the big guys to take a big step forward offensively, there is some hope here. There is no dearth of talent here, but there is a dearth of experienced consistent production, a void that will need to be filled for the Huskies to go dancing.