Offseasons are way too long. The season starts this Friday night and we are ready for it. UConn #2…. Louisville #3…. Pitt #5….. ND #9…. Marquette #16…. Hoyas #22…. Nova #23. Seven in the top 25 ! What a league. Jay Bilas calls it by far the best league in the country. Welcome to the Big East 2008-9.
It’s hard to see a Big East team finishing in the top 5 at seasons end. These teams will beat the stuffings out of each other in January and February and then meet in NYC for a final rumble before meeting the best from other leagues in the NCAA’s. Will any of our teams have anything left come March? It’s hard to tell, but the league season might just be the best ever. And the tourney at the Garden will be a whole week (almost) of the best hoops in the USA. With the talent level in the league this year it is hard to imagine anywhere else in the country where you could see better basketball being played. Sorry ACC…. you can’t compete this time. You may have UNC and Duke. We have 7.
Let’s take a look at the team capsules for 2008-9.
Frontcourt – Thabeet and Adrien. A formidable frontline. Defensively probably the best in the country. Not offensively, but that doesn’t mattter here and the word is that Thabeet has improved offensively. Gavin Edwards can spell either. Ater Majok (6-10) should join the club in January. Jonathan Mandeldove should also supply some minutes down low. Grade – A
Backcourt – Start with A. J. Price and Jerome Dyson, throw in some Craig Austrie, and add a touch of Freshman Kemba Walker and you have a winning combination. Stanley Robinson is said to be rejoining the team in January too. Donnell Beverly can give some relief also. The question is Price’s knee. Will it hold up? So far so good in early practice. The only negative is long range shooting. Scottie Harralson is said to be the sharpshooter the Huskies need. Until proven, the long range weakness denies UConn an A here. Grade – B+
Coaching – Calhoun is in the Hall of Fame. Nothing more needs to be said. How the team reacts to his rants is the only question. Sometimes last year players faces showed they didn’t like being embarrassed on national TV. Grade – A-
OVERALL GRADE – A- – The Huskies have it all. This is a team that can make a go at the Big East title and go deep into the NCAA’s. Thabeet is the key. Outside shooting will tell if UConn will finish ahead of Louisville.
Frontcourt – Padgett and Palacios are gone. That’s a big gap to fill. But the Cards played a lot last season without either or one of them and still looked formidable. Earl Clark will be back. He averaged 8.1 R/G and will probably be joined by 6-8 Freshman Samardo Samuels. Terrence Jennings, a 6-10 Fr. will push Samuels for playing time. George Goode is another Frosh who will see minutes. UofL always plays tough defense. In this league, however, Freshmen need time to become dominant. Grade – B
Backcourt – Terrence Williams, Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa is a formidable backcourt. It’s hard to think that anyone can match that group. Sosa must become more consistent. If he falters, Andre McGee will step in as he did so successfully last year. And add Reginald Delk, a transfer from Miss St. for good measure. Grade – A
Coaching – Rick Pitino A
OVERALL GRADE - A- The Cards have the depth and talent to survive this league and become champions. Will Padgett’s loss be too much to overcome? My choice for regular season champs.
Frontcourt – DeJuan Blair was a sensation last year. he was co-rookie of the year and a lot of fun to watch. He will team with Tyrell Biggs in the frontcourt this year. Pitt will at times move Sam Young down low to make up for Biggs lack of scoring. If Pitt has a weakness this year it will be depth down low. Grade – B
Backcourt – Levance Fields missed considerable time last year with a foot injury and returned strong. There was, however a problem again this year. That puts a big question mark on this club. The uncertain status of Fields and loss of Ronald Ramon leaves Young as the only strong point in the backcourt. But Young is very strong. He took over the BET last year ala Gerry McNamara. Gilbert Brown has experience to join the backcourt mix. Keep an eye an Fr. Ashton Gibbs who can really shoot it. Grade B+
Coaching – Jamie Dixon has proved he is one of the nation’s elite coaches. He bring Pitt to the Big East Championship game every year. That’s no small task. The NCAA’s have not been so kind to Dixon. Maybe the Panthers use it all up at MSG. Grade A-
OVERALL GRADE – B+ Dixon gets the most out of his players. But will Fields be ready for full time action once January comes around? 3rd place is probable. Not strong enough to take UConn or Louisville.
Froncourt – Luke Harangody won the league MVP last year. Nothing more needs to be said. Harangody is not the most talented player in the Big East. But is without a doubt the hardest worker. He will have a harder time this year with Rob Kurz gone. Luke Zeller just won’t draw the attention from opponents that Kurz did. Zach Hillesland probably will take Zeller’s position as the season progresses. Hillesland is a hard nosed 6-9 Sr. Shooting is not his forte though. This is an area of concern without much depth. Grade – B+
Backcourt – Kyle McAlarney is the best pure shooter in the Big East. Moving the 3 point line won’t have any effect on him. Tory Jackson is an explosive point guard who sometimes plays out of control. His outside shooting is also suspect. And he must improve his free throw shooting if he is to have the ball in crunch time. Ryan Ayers had a good Jr season. Another outstanding shooter, Ayers also plays top notch defense. He is not consistent though and that may pose a problem for the long-range shooting Irish. Again, depth is a problem in the backcourt. Grade B+
Coaching – Mike Brey has won Coach of the Year two years in a row. He is that good. But a magician he is not. Grade – A-
OVERALL GRADE – B+ Irish will fight with Pitt, Marquette, Syracuse and Villanova for 4th place. If they can find an answer at power forward they will be 4th.
Frontcourt – Lazar Hayward had a good season last year. But that is all the Golden Eagles have down there. Dwight Burke is not going to strike fear in opponents. And the problem is that Hayward is a 6-6 power forward. This is an area that Marquette has been weak for a few years and it doesn’t seem better this year. Grade C
Backcourt – McNeal, Matthews, James. Seems like we have been saying that for decades. They are seniors now and as good a backcourt as there is in the Big East. Backed up by David Cubillian and Maurice Acker this is a talented, deep backcourt. But unless they are hitting from long range they won’t carry MU to the top. Grade – A
Coaching – Buzz Williams takes over for Tom Crean this year. Williams has been around and even was Head coach at New Orleans in 2006-7 (14-17 record). He will learn quickly that the Big East is a tough league to cut your teeth on. He was Crean’s assistant last year so he is familiar with the program a bit. Grade C
OVERALL GRADE – B- Too weak down low to finish in the top 3 but will challenge ND for 4th place. If Crean were still here I would be more confident but I’ll say either Nova or Cuse will finish ahead of the Eagles. 6th place.
NEXT……. Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown and West Virginia.