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Big East West Division Preview

1.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %2
Free Throw %13
3-point %11
Rebounding +/-2
Turnover +/-10
All of the sudden, Pittsburgh has become basketball crazy. And why shouldn't they be? In less than a year, the Panthers have risen from Big East also-ran to the #2 team in the country. Sky is the limit for a team that returned all five starters and eight of their top nine players from a squad that was 29-6 a year ago. The Panthers return one the best backcourt tandems in the nation in Senior Brandin Knight and Junior Julius Page and an outstanding supporting cast that meshes well with the team's two star guards. 6'8" Senior forward Donatas Zavackas has continued to steadily improve and give Pittsburgh a solid inside-outside threat. Zavackas, and fellow frontcourt mates Chevon Troutman, Ontario Lett and Toree Morris are each shooting 56% or better from the field. The Panthers also play great defense. Just ask Ohio State superstar Brent Darby, who was just 1 for 9 from the floor with 3 points against Pitt on December 18th. The Panthers should also benefit from the excitement generated from playing in a brand new 12,500 seat on-campus arena.

Pre-Christmas record: 8-0, #2 in the country. Won easily at URI and Penn State and at home against Ohio State.

Pleasant Surprise: No one should be surprised at how well the Panthers are playing. Page is off to a great start, as is Zavackas. Pitt is the ultimate "team." Everyone does their job and result is great team basketball. Eight players are averaging 19 minutes or more per game. Each of these eight players is averaging at least 3 rebounds per game.

Disappointment: The one negative that could hurt Pittsburgh, especially at tournament time, is Brandin Knight's free throw shooting. Knight shot only 44% from the line last season and is has started this season a dismal 48% from the charity stripe.

Impact Freshmen: 6'2" freshman guard Carl Krauser is averaging 7.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists while averaging 19 minutes per game.

Outlook: Pittsburgh is good enough to reach the Final Four if they can stay healthy. They have gained valuable tournament experience over the past two years (7 Big East Tournament and 3 NCAA Tournament games), which will only help them in March. Notre Dame could give Pittsburgh some competition in the Big East's West Division, but I expect the Panthers to win the West by a game or two.


2.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %4
Free Throw %4
3-point %3
Rebounding +/-6
Turnover +/-9
The Fighting Irish are off to a great start this season, which has propelled them from an unranked team to the #8 team in the country (a ranking that they deserve, unlike their gridiron counterparts). Like BC and Pittsburgh, Notre Dame has one of the most potent backcourts in the country in Senior Matt Carroll and Sophomore Chris Thomas. The duo has not disappointed this season, averaging a combined 37.8 points per game over the first 11 games. Thomas is the complete player, a scorer (18.1 ppg) who can hit the longball (46% from three-point range), doesn't miss free throws (90%) and makes his teammates better (8 assists per game). Carroll can score (19.7 ppg) and crash the boards (5.4 reb/gm). On the negative side, Mike Brey's team lost a ton of talent from last season's squad. Forwards Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan and Guard Matt Graves combined for 41 points and 23 rebounds per game last season and provided veteran leadership. So far the Irish have replaced much of that production with the addition of Maryland transfer Danny Miller and Freshman Torin Francis from Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts (a player that BC recruited).

Pre-Christmas record: 10-1, with huge victories over Top 25 teams Marquette, Maryland and Texas. Their only loss was to #18 Creighton.

Pleasant Surprise: The Irish must be thrilled with the play of Maryland transfer Danny Miller who has averaged 17.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 45% from three-point range.

Disappointment: BC 14 Notre Dame 7. Oops, wrong sport.

Impact Freshmen: Tabor Academy's Torin Francis, a 6'10" McDonald's All-American, has lived up to his billing thus far, averaging 11.1 points and 9.5 rebounds. Francis was ranked as the nation's 16th best incoming freshman according to The Sporting News.

Outlook: At the beginning of the season, it looked like the inexperienced Irish would have a solid but unspectacular season in 2002-2003 given the loss of three key players. So far, the Irish have not missed the departed Seniors. Notre Dame is already 3-1 against the Top 25 with two games against #2 Pittsburgh, one with #14 Kentucky and one with #6 UConn on the horizon. This will translate to a solid opponent winning percentage segment of Notre Dame's RPI, which means the Irish will be a lock for the NCAA tournament as long as they can finish .500 or better in the Big East. Based on their play so far, I'm expecting 10-11 Big East wins and a second place finish in the West Division.


3.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %6
Free Throw %12
3-point %9
Rebounding +/-11
Turnover +/-3
The Syracuse Orangemen were among the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament field last season. The Orangemen will look to return to March Madness this season with a very young, but exceptionally talented squad. Through seven games, the young players have looked like seasoned veterans. Freshman forward Carmelo Anthony is among the early front-runners for Freshman of the Year honors, averaging 24.7 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Nearly as impressive is freshman point guard Gerry McNamara who is averaging 14.3 points and 5 assists per game. Many of these stats were padded against the likes of Cornell and Binghamton, but the duo was also impressive against a solid Georgia Tech team where Anthony scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while McNamara added 25 points and 10 assists. Of the eight men in Syracuse's regular rotation, six are freshmen or sophomores. The only Senior among this group is 6'6" 185 pound guard Kueth Duany who averaged 12.2 points and 5.3 rebounds last season.

Pre-Christmas record: 6-1, including a win over Georgia Tech and a loss to Memphis.

Pleasant Surprise: Along with the immediate impact of the freshmen, Sophomore forward Hakim Warrick has exceeded expectations, averaging 14.7 points and 9 rebounds per game. Warrick is shooting a solid 52% from the field.

Disappointment: Jim Boeheim should be pleased with his young team's 6-1 start, but Sophomore Craig Forth has not played as well as Orange fans had hoped. Forth is averaging 4.0 points per game (averaging 20 minutes) and is shooting an embarrassing 31% from the free throw line.

Impact Freshmen: Anthony and McNamara are making about as big a splash as two freshmen can make. 6'9" forward Matt Gorman has played sparingly over the first seven games.

Outlook: The loss of 37 points per game provided by the departed Preston Shumpert and the academically ineligible DeShaun Williams, coupled with the typical growing pains of a team with so little college experience, was supposed to make this a tough transition year for the Orangemen. So far, however, the young players have come through with flying colors. Still, these young players have not been tested the way they will be when Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Georgetown come a knockin' in January and February. Syracuse will make mistakes typical of a young team but should have enough raw talent to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament in March. I also suspect that this team will be better in March than it will be when Big East conference play begins in January.


4.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %5
Free Throw %3
3-point %4
Rebounding +/-5
Turnover +/-6
The Hoyas may have been in for a rebuilding year if Junior forward Mike Sweetney had decided to head to the NBA after his outstanding sophomore season. Luckily for Coach Craig Esherick, Sweetney -- and his 19 points and 10 rebounds per game -- decided to remain at Georgetown for at least one more season. In a guard-dominated league, Georgetown will have one the best frontcourts, featuring Sweetney and Senior center Wesley Wilson who improved dramatically last season, posting 12.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Guards Gerald Riley and Tony Bethel each contributed 10 points and 4 boards per game last season and should elevate those numbers this year. The Hoyas lost only one significant player from last season's squad, guard Kevin Braswell, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.8 assists per game.

Pre-Christmas record: 7-0, but as usual Georgetown has played a weaker non-conference schedule than Waltham High. That will all change on January 8th when the Hoyas face off with Duke at Cameron.

Pleasant Surprise: The Hoyas, notorious for leading the Big East in brick-laying, have been sharp from three-point range. Gerald Riley and Tony Bethel are a combined 27 for 50 (54%) from behind the arc.

Disappointment: The disappointment may come, once again, in March when the Hoyas are left out of the NCAA tournament because of their weak non-conference schedule. Games against Grambling, Norfolk State and Howard don't help the ol' RPI. What will help are future games against Virginia, Duke and UCLA.

Impact Freshmen: Freshman forward Brandon Bowman has made solid contributions in the early going, averaging 7.6 points and 4 rebounds and 6'3" 165 pound guard Ashanti Cook is also playing a role with 7.4 ppg off the bench.

Outlook: The Hoyas are a tough team to predict at this stage of the season. They should win a lot of games simply because no one in the Big East, with the possible exception of UConn, can match the inside prowess of Sweetney and Wilson. On the other hand, Georgetown has one of the weakest backcourts in the conference. My expectation is that the Hoyas will once again be in the 8-8/9-7 range in conference play so a non-conference win against either Duke or UCLA may be required to ensure an NCAA invite in 2003.


5.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %12
Free Throw %14
3-point %12
Rebounding +/-10
Turnover +/-7
Back in early February of last season, it looked like the Scarlet Knights would return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eleven years, thanks in large part to the work of power forward Rashod Kent who averaged 10.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. But, the Knights fizzled down the stretch and were left on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble along with Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova. The 2002-2003 version of the Scarlet Knights will be without the sturdy Kent, but will benefit from the return of three solid starters in Senior two-guard Jerome Coleman, Junior point guard Mike Sherrod and Sophomore wingman Ricky Shields. Sherrod and Coleman provide a steady backcourt and the athletic Shields should be a serious offensive weapon. Kareem Wright and Herve Lamizana will be given the unenviable task of filling the large shoes of Rashod Kent on the offensive and defensive glass.

Pre-Christmas record: 6-3, with close losses to North Carolina and Virginia.

Pleasant Surprise: Herve Lamizana has been a shot-blocking phenom averaging 3.5 rejections per game. We'll see if that continues as he faces taller, more athletic players in conference play.

Disappointment: Two tough four-point losses to Virginia and North Carolina. Wins in those two games may have put Rutgers in solid position to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Impact Freshmen: If you need evidence that the Rutgers program is on the right track, look no further than talented recruits Cortez Davis and Calvin Wooten, who chose Rutgers over Maryland and Oklahoma, respectively. The duo has averaged only 6.2 points per game in an average of 17 minutes this season, but expect to see more of them in the near future.

Outlook: Rutgers is certainly a team with potential, but they will need a 9-7 Big East record or better in order to have a shot at an NCAA Tourney bid. As much as I would like to see that, I don't think that the Knights are quite ready to accomplish that feat in a tough West Division this year.


6.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %7
Free Throw %9
3-point %10
Rebounding +/-7
Turnover +/-12
No team in the Big East has been a bigger surprise than the Mountaineers. On December 3rd, West Virginia shocked #12 Florida 68-66. The Mountaineers are off to a solid 7-1 start after winning only eight games all of last season. First year Head Coach Jim Beilein has benefited from the play of Sophomore sharpshooter Drew Schifino who is averaging 19.4 points and 4.1 boards per game. He has helped to replace the offensive production of departed seniors Chris Moss and Jonathan Hargett, who combined for 31 points per game last season. Another bonus for Coach Beilein has been the immediate impact of Kevin Pittsnogle, a 6'10" freshman from Fraggle Rock, who is averaging 12 points and nearly 5 rebounds per game.

Pre-Christmas record: 7-1 (7-0 at home and 0-1 on the road). Their wins include Florida and Tennessee and the only loss was at Duquesne.

Pleasant Surprise: Specifically, Pittsnogle, who is actually shooting a higher percentage from the field (64%) and the three point line (64%) than he is from the free throw line (61%).

Disappointment: West Virginia needs more from returning Senior starters Chaz Briggs and Josh Yeager. The duo averaged 14.5 points and 8.6 rebounds (combined) per game last season and were expected to exceed those numbers this year but have not (11.5 ppg, 4.9 rebounds).

Impact Freshmen: West Virginia High School Player of the Year, Pittsnogle along with 5'10" guard Jarmon Durrisseau-Collins who currently has a 5.7 to 1 assist to turnover ratio and 6'6"guard Johannes Herber out of Germany. All three players have started each of West Virginia's eight games.

Outlook: After last season's pathetic 1-15 Big East campaign, the West Virginia basketball program can only get better. The win over Florida is evidence that the Mountaineer hoops program is already on the upswing. With a starting lineup comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores, the growing pains will be noticeable this season. Still, I expect West Virginia to move up a notch into sixth place in the Big East's West Division though an NIT bid will have to wait until next season.


7.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %14
Free Throw %7
3-point %7
Rebounding +/-13
Turnover +/-8
It could be another long season for Louis Orr and Seton Hall. The Pirates have one of the best point guards in the Big East in Andre Barrett but little else. Barrett's backcourt mate, Sophomore John Allen should be another bright spot for the Hall this year. Allen averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 rebounds last season as a freshman and will look to improve upon that this year. The Pirates will rely heavily on newcomers, including Duke transfer Andre Sweet (6'6" forward) and a trio of freshmen - 6'7" forward Kelly Whitney, 5'10" guard Donald Copeland and 6'5" guard J.R. Morris. Whitney has already made an impact, averging 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds. The impressive freshman scored 20 points against Rick Pitino's Louisville team.

Pre-Christmas record: 3-3, with blowout losses to Louisville, Texas and Ohio State.

Pleasant Surprise: Junior forward Marcus Toney-El has improved his scoring (9.0 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 reb/gm), including an 8.3 point/6 rebound average against the combination of Texas, Louisville and Ohio State.

Disappointment: Senior defensive specialist Greg Morton still has not learned how to score points. Morton has only 2 points, 1 assist and 6 rebounds in 36 minutes this season. Barrett and Allen are both shooting just 25% from three-point range this season.

Impact Freshmen: Whitney, Copeland and Morris have contributed 57 minutes, 19 points and 7 rebounds per game so far this season.

Outlook: The Pirates won only 12 games overall and five in the Big East last season with veterans Ty Shine, Charles Manga and Darius Lane. Without those players in the fold, the Pirates may be even worse in 2002-2003. Barrett is fantastic, but he can't pass the ball to himself so he may not match his 5 assist per game average of last season. Sorry Pirate fans, but I cannot envision any place but last for Seton Hall this season.