Big East Scouting Report
Over-Under | Top 10 Players | Must-See Games
From News Services
Monday, Nov. 7, 2005; Page E10
Newcomers in italics
1. Villanova (9 first-place votes): This poll of the league's coaches was conducted before the Wildcats lost senior Curtis Sumpter, one of five returning starters, to a potential season-ending knee injury. Without their versatile forward, the Wildcats could rely on a four-guard set: Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Mike Nardi and Kyle Lowry, who together accounted for 62 percent of Villanova's scoring last season.
2. Connecticut (7): Coach Jim Calhoun says this team is his quickest in 10 years and perhaps his deepest up front. Sophomore forward Rudy Gay and junior center Josh Boone are future pros, with Gay being touted as the possible No. 1 pick if he chooses to leave early.
3. Louisville: Only three Cardinals who played key roles on last season's Final Four team remain, and they are joined by seven newcomers. Coach Rick Pitino calls senior Taquan Dean "the best basketball player who's a great shooter, because he can turn around and defend your best player, he can break you down off the dribble. He's a terrific athlete."
4. Syracuse: Guard Gerry McNamara is the only player remaining from the 2003 NCAA championship team, and with the departure of Hakim Warrick, this is finally his team. Freshman Eric Devendorf, the preseason rookie of the year, should help McNamara, the school's career leading three-point shooter.
5. West Virginia: Center Kevin Pittsnogle withdrew from the NBA draft, and his return will help the Mountaineers build on last season's run. Three other starters, including forward Mike Gansey, are back, and Robert Summers, a 7-foot transfer from Penn State, should help offset the losses of Tyrone Sally and D'or Fischer.
6. Georgetown: Seven of the Hoyas' top eight players return, including all five starters, and they are more comfortable running Coach John Thompson III's motion-based offense. Georgetown has the best front court outside of Connecticut and enough depth to avoid a repeat of last year's late-season swoon.
7. Pittsburgh: The Panthers' strength, which lay in their front court last season, shifts to the back court this year. Pittsburgh's top three returning scorers are guards, led by senior Carl Krauser, who withdrew from the NBA draft.
8. Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish were the best three-point shooting team in the league last season, and that shouldn't change. Senior Chris Quinn and junior Colin Falls combined for 104 three-pointers in Big East play.
9. Cincinnati: Would the Bearcats -- who return four senior starters -- be picked to finish this low if Bob Huggins was still their coach? Probably not. But Huggins was forced out in August, and assistant Andy Kennedy took over on an interim basis. Cincinnati's streak of 14 straight NCAA appearances could be in jeopardy, and a tough conference schedule won't help.
10. St. John's: All five starters return, most significantly guard Daryll Hill. In Big East play, the junior took more than a third of the Red Storm's shots and averaged 22.3 points. Junior Lamont Hamilton is an inside complement, and freshman Anthony Mason Jr., the son of the former Knick, joins the team.
11. DePaul: The Blue Demons lost their top inside and outside threats, as well as their coach, from last year's 20-win team. Coach Jerry Wainwright earned a reputation for getting the most out of his teams at Richmond and UNCW.
12. Marquette: Senior forward Steve Novak is a preseason Wooden Award candidate, but Coach Tom Crean says that the star of the team is "the team itself." Freshman Dominic James takes over the reins of the offense from Travis Diener.
13. Providence: The Friars won only four league games last season -- and that was with forward Ryan Gomes, who departed as the school's career leading scorer.
14. Rutgers: Junior guard Quincy Douby is a proven scorer (15.1 ppg), but Rutgers's biggest problem last season was its defense (opponents shot 46.5 percent).
15. Seton Hall: Coach Louis Orr already is on the hot seat, and it won't get better with only one double-digit scorer (senior Kelly Whitney) returning.
16. South Florida: The Bulls, not a Conference USA power, brought in seven new players to help, but one of them (transfer guard David Sills) already has been dismissed.
Eight Teams or More?: No conference has ever sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament. Will the bigger Big East become the first? Conference coaches think that there will be at least eight teams worthy of NCAA consideration, and they point to West Virginia, which finished tied for seventh in the league last season but nearly advanced to the Final Four, as proof of the strength of the middle-of-the-pack teams. Commissioner Mike Tranghese, a former chairman of the tournament selection committee, is confident that all the deserving teams, no matter how many, will be invited and points to a rule change that allows the committee to pair teams from the same conference as early as the second round. And after all, eight teams would represent only 50 percent of the league. Last year, the Big East sent 50 percent of its teams (6 of 12), and in 1991, it put 78 percent (7 of 9) in the tournament.
Louisville: The Cardinals are the jewel in the Big East's expansion, bringing both a rich tradition (eight Final Fours) and a bit of style (Coach Rick Pitino). Pitino was the star of media day, reminiscing about his previous tour in the Big East (at Providence from 1985 to '87): "It was an Italian league back then," he said. "It was [Lou] Carnesecca, it was [P.J.] Carlesimo, Dom Perno, [Rollie] Massimino, myself, Thompson . . ." The Big East, in turn, gives Louisville the one thing it lacked in its great history: a home in a marquee league.
Kevin Pittsnogle: This time a year ago, the West Virginia big man was just a 6-foot-11 backup center with a funny name and a lot of tattoos. Now, after a breakout performance in the NCAA tournament, he's a preseason Wooden Award candidate. Pittsnogle, now a senior, averaged 18 points (six above his season average) in the NCAA tournament as the seventh-seeded Mountaineers advanced to the Albuquerque Region final, where they lost in overtime to Louisville. His ability to play on the perimeter and make three-point shots (he had six against the Cardinals) made him a folk hero and turned that funny name into a verb -- as in, "You just got Pittsnogled!"
Schedule: Each school will play 10 teams once, three teams twice and two teams not at all -- a 16-game schedule that even Tranghese refers to as "dysfunctional." Repeat opponents are determined by rivalries, geography and television, which results in the top teams having to play tougher schedules. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim calls that arrangement "ridiculous" and "stupid." Pitino -- whose team, like Syracuse, faces Cincinnati, Connecticut and Villanova twice -- sees something else at work. "It's a Catholic conspiracy," Pitino joked. "Look at the Catholic schools: They're all playing rebuilding schools."
Villanova's Health: The Wildcats already have lost two players to potential season-ending injuries: Forward Curtis Sumpter, the team's third-leading scorer (15.3 ppg), tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last month and will undergo surgery, and reserve forward Marcus Austin has a torn rotator cuff. Forward Jason Fraser underwent hand surgery and microfracture surgery on both knees in the offseason, bringing the total number of surgeries during his college career to seven.
Connecticut's Point Guards: The Huskies have the best front court in the league, if not the country, but who will feed the ball to Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong? Marcus Williams, the incumbent starter, is suspended until Jan. 3, and backup A.J. Price has been suspended for the season, leaving freshmen Craig Austrie and Rob Garrison. At media day, Coach Jim Calhoun cracked that the rookies did something he thought impossible: They finished one practice with a 1-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Roy Hibbert: Georgetown Coach John Thompson III has likened the 7-foot-2 center to a big lump of clay, because of the sophomore's potential. The Big East's tallest player would have benefited from a redshirt year, but the Hoyas needed him to play and he averaged 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds while making 17 starts. No Hoya worked harder during the offseason than Hibbert, who is stronger, more fit, more mobile and more confident. There were times last season when Hibbert (Georgetown Prep) wouldn't even face up to the basket when he received a pass. Not anymore. "He's not hesitant when he gets the ball down in the paint; he feels like he can score from there," teammate Ashanti Cook said. "When you throw it down to him, he's looking to make a move or get somebody open."
Sixteen-Team Big East Tournament: The coaches would prefer that all 16 teams travel to Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament, rather than just the top 12. But the league's decision makes sense, from a logistical standpoint as well as a competitive one. "We're trying to win a national championship," Commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "To take our best teams and force them to play four straight days in a row and then turn around and go play in the NCAA tournament [a week later], I think it's a formula for disaster." In the past 10 Big East tournaments, only four teams that finished lower than 10th in the standings advanced to the semifinals, and none played in the championship game.
(Regardless of position or class)
1. Rudy Gay, Connecticut
2. Josh Boone, Connecticut
3. Taquan Dean, Louisville
4. Jeff Green, Georgetown
5. Gerry McNamara, Syracuse
6. Randy Foye, Villanova
7. Marcus Williams, Connecticut
8. Allan Ray, Villanova
9. Carl Krauser, Pittsburgh
10. Brandon Bowman, Georgetown
Six All-Mets from the past two seasons are playing for Big East schools, including last year's league co-rookies of the year: Connecticut's Rudy Gay (Spalding) and Georgetown's Jeff Green (Northwestern). Pittsburgh forward Sam Young, a 2004 All-Met from Friendly who spent a postgraduate year at Hargrave Military Academy, could follow Gay and Green. Young, named the national prep school player of the year by one Web site, has impressed observers with his athletic ability and versatility. Three other former All-Mets will make their debuts: Villanova forward Dante Cunningham (Potomac, Md.), Villanova swingman Dwayne Anderson (St. John's) and Georgetown guard Jessie Sapp (National Christian).
Dec. 3: Oklahoma at Villanova
Dec. 17: Louisville at Kentucky
Jan. 14: Villanova at Texas
Jan. 16: Connecticut at Syracuse
Jan. 21: Duke at Georgetown
Feb. 13: Connecticut at Villanova
Feb. 25: Louisville at West Virginia
March 4: Louisville at Connecticut