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EAST DIVISION PREVIEW by P.J. Reilly of www.bceaglesfootball.com

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Big East East Division Preview

1.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %1
Free Throw %5
3-point %1
Rebounding +/-4
Turnover +/-11
Barring a major injury, the Big East's East Division is Connecticut's for the taking. UConn returns three outstanding starters in center Emeka Okafor and their experienced backcourt of Taliek Brown and Tony Richardson. Okafor was spectacular last season as a Freshman, blocking 4.1 shots per game and becoming one of the most formidable post defenders in the country. As a Sophomore, Okafor will undoubtedly be one of the top centers in the country. He is currently leading the nation in both blocks and rebounds. The Huskies will need to replace the 32 points and 13.5 rebounds per game that departed forwards Caron Butler and Johnnie Selvie gave them last season, but Jim Calhoun should be in good hands with Sophomore standout Ben Gordon, who is averaging 21.4 ppg (points per game) this season. The Huskies were also one of several Big East programs with an outstanding recruiting class. Freshman forwards Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson could see significant playing time in Big East action.

Pre-Christmas record: 7-0, but not yet tested.

Pleasant Surprise: Okafor's offense. His defense and rebounding were fully expected, but his 17 points per game (up from 7.9 last season) is a bit of a surprise.

Disappointment: Sophomore Scott Hazelton from Somerville, Mass, a one time McDonalds All-American was expected to contribute and possibly start but he has left the team and withdrawn from school for personal reasons. Hazelton was benched by Coach Jim Calhoun earlier this season for what was deemed "inappropriate behavior at practice."

Impact Freshmen: Denham Brown is averaging 9.7 ppg and is shooting 43% from three point range while averaging 20 minutes per game. Rashad Anderson, ranked as the 27th best incoming freshman according to The Sporting News should also play a significant role this season.

Outlook: Connecticut should have no problem winning the Big East's somewhat weaker East Division. The Huskies will face difficult road games against Pitt, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Oklahoma, but will have a solid chance to land at least a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.


2.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %13
Free Throw %11
3-point %14
Rebounding +/-8
Turnover +/-2
Last year, I predicted that St. John's would be a better team without the ball-hogging, glory-mongering Omar Cook running the point. With all due respect to Bill Raftery, Omar was not a great player and was certainly not the type of the point guard that helps his team win basketball games. Without Cook's detrimental impact, the Red Storm had an excellent season last year, winning 20 games, finishing third in the Big East's East Division and claiming a prized spot in the NCAA Tournament. Much of the Red Storm's resurgence came as a result of electrifying guard Marcus Hatten, who scored 20.1 points per game while grabbing an average of 5 rebounds. Hatten will again be the focus of the offense, but the Storm will also look for guard Willie Shaw to bounce back from a poor shooting season (34% from the field). Anthony Glover will continue to give St. John's a strong inside presence while diminutive guard Elijah Ingram - the Red Storm's latest freshman phenom -- will look to contribute at the point. St. John's finished last in the Big East in field goal percentage last season, so just making a few more outside shots will make a huge positive impact on this team.

Pre-Christmas record: 5-1, with five cupcake wins and a loss to Wake Forest

Pleasant Surprise: Willie Shaw looks to have his shooting stroke back (6/14 from behind the arc).

Disappointment: Hatten is averaging a hefty 18 shots per game in 33 minutes. He may have been infected with Omar Cook disease.

Impact Freshmen: Elijah Ingram has already made a huge impact, averaging 14 points per game and shooting 42% from three point range. Like most freshman, Ingram is turning the ball over quite a bit (3 per game) but those numbers should decline as the season moves along.

Outlook: In Sharif Fordham and Donald Emanuel, the Red Storm lost two solid players, but they will not leave gaping holes in the team's rotation. Ingram should more than make up for the scoring of both players. With the addition of Ingram and the reemergence of Willie Shaw, St. John's will have three legitimate outside scoring threats. Meanwhile, Glover and Kyle Cuffe should be adequate in a conference without much inside talent. All this adds up to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid for St. John's in 2003.



3.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %3
Free Throw %2
3-point %2
Rebounding +/-3
Turnover +/-13
Much like St. John's, Villanova improved last year after the loss of their star player, Mike Bradley. Like Omar Cook, Bradley put up some gaudy statistics, but never really embraced the team concept. Last year, the Wildcats spread the offensive wealth among four players who averaged ten points per game or better. Three of those players returned this season - guards Gary Buchanan and Derrick Snowden and forward Ricky Wright. Buchanan should again be the Wildcats top offensive weapon and could improve on his 17.8 ppg average of a year ago. Buchanan is also one of the nation's best free throw shooters at 91%. Villanova will also benefit from a recruiting class widely regarded as one of the ten best in the country. According to The Sporting News, Villanova signed four of the top 70 recruits coming out of last year's senior class. Among them is 6'10" forward Jason Fraser who is Villanova's first McDonald's All-American since Tim Thomas in 1997.

Pre-Christmas record: 5-4, including a win over Michigan State and losses to Marquette and Penn.

Pleasant Surprise: The freshmen are all contributing in a big way. Guards Allan Ray (not to be confused with Ray Allen) and Randy Foye and forward Jason Fraser are averaging 29 points per game combined. Ricky Wright is shooting 56% from the field through nine games.

Disappointment: The Wildcats would love to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999, but with four losses already that goal will be an uphill battle.

Impact Freshmen: As I mentioned above, Villanova has four impact freshmen in Ray, Foye, Fraser and, to a lesser extent, forward Curtis Sumpter. Fraser will be the key among these four newcomers because Villanova is very weak at the power forward and center positions.

Outlook: Villanova could be a solid team by the end of the year as the freshmen mature and blend their skills with the veterans. The mix of raw young talent and experienced veterans will make Villanova dangerous in February and March. With four non-conference losses already and a game at Memphis on the horizon, the Wildcats may need to win 10 Big East games to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. I think they will come up a bit short this season, but the future could not be brighter for Jay Wright's team.


4.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %7
Free Throw %1
3-point %5
Rebounding +/-12
Turnover +/-4
The Miami Hurricanes limped to the finish last season after a surprising 14-0 start. Still, the Hurricanes won an impressive 24 games and finished second the Big East's East Division. In fact, over the past four years, only Connecticut has won more Big East games than the Hurricanes (UConn is 47-19, Miami 46-20). The Canes lost three starters from last season in Marcus Barnes, Elton Tyler and John Salmons. The trio contributed 37 points per game, a number that Miami will be hard-pressed to replace. Miami does, however, return two excellent starting forwards in Junior Darius Rice (15 ppg, 6 rebounds/game) and Senior James Jones (13 ppg, 6 reb/gm). Production beyond Jones and Rice remains a big question mark eight games into the 2002-2003 campaign. So far, Freshman guard Robert Hite has been Miami's third leading scorer with 8.4 points per game. No other Hurricane is averaging better than 6 points per game. Like Pittsburgh, Miami will move into a new on-campus arena this season.

Pre-Christmas record: 4-4, with losses in four of their last five games. In other words, not good.

Pleasant Surprise: Freshman Robert Hite has chipped in with 8.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in the early going. Senior Rafael Berumen is shooting 56% from the field and 82% from the free throw line in limited time.

Disappointment: Junior guard Michael Simmons has made just 25% of his field goal attempts and has only 18 assists in eight games.

Impact Freshmen: Hite is making a solid impact, though not on the same level as Craig Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Torin Francis or Elijah Ingram.

Outlook: Miami has clearly taken a major step back after winning 24 games last year. Jones and Rice will fill up the basket, but the Canes will struggle to find offense from the other positions. With four non-conference losses already, the NIT may be Miami's most likely destination


5.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %10
Free Throw %5
3-point %8
Rebounding +/-9
Turnover +/-5
For a full preview of the BC Eagles, please check out our season preview.

Pre-Christmas record: 6-2, with wins over St. Bonaventure and Iowa State and costly losses to Holy Cross and St. Joseph's.

Pleasant Surprise: Craig Smith. The freshman from Los Angeles has shown amazing abilities in the early stages of his college career. Smith made 18 consecutive field goal attempts during one stretch and is shooting 66% from the floor. At 6'8" and 260 pounds, Smith is also a solid rebounder, averaging eight boards per game.

Disappointment: By far the biggest disappointment is the neck injury suffered by forward Uka Agbai which may have ended the Senior's season, forcing him to redshirt. Ryan Sidney's three-point shooting has been horrendous (1 for 17) and outside of Bell, the Eagles' free throw shooting has been horrendous.

Impact Freshmen: Smith and possibly guard Louis Hinnant, who is averaging 5 points in 24 minutes per game.

Outlook: Last season, the Eagles finished 8-8 in Big East play, but earned an NCAA bid while Georgetown and Syracuse did not mainly because BC played a much more difficult non-conference schedule. This season, the Eagles have put themselves into a difficult position with losses to Holy Cross and St. Joseph's and a bad loss to Northeastern, so an 8-8 Big East record will not put the Eagles into postseason play. The Eagles can win 9-10 Big East games but only if Troy Bell regains his shooting touch and if sophomores Nate Doornekamp and Jermaine Watson contribute more than the 5.0 points per game that they have during the first eight games of the season. The lack of defensive intensity and short bench without Agbai has the Eagles looking like an NIT squad.


6.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %11
Free Throw %10
3-point %13
Rebounding +/-14
Turnover +/-1
The 2001-2002 season was one the Friars and their fans would like to forget. Key injuries at inopportune times left Providence without much depth and it showed. The Friars, who were in the NCAA Tournament in 2001, struggled to a 15-16 overall record last year. The outlook for this season is much rosier, thanks to the healthy return of Junior forwards Maris Laksa and Romuald Augustin, who have combined for 20 points per game in the early stages of the season. Both players pose a credible three-point threat and have displayed that skill during the first seven games. Returning starter, Sophomore Ryan Gomes will also provide offensive punch and rebounding. Unfortunately, the injury bug again hit the Friars early in the season as Abdul Mills injured a hip and has not played yet this season. The Friars also lost one of the Big East's greatest point guards, John Linehan, to graduation after what seemed like nine years at PC.

Pre-Christmas record: 4-3, including a loss to #3 Alabama

Pleasant Surprise: Sophomore Ryan Gomes has been on fire with three consecutive double-doubles and a 19.1 ppg average. Gomes also appears to have improved his rebounding, averaging 10.9 boards per game so far this season. Gomes had 21 points and 12 rebounds against #3 Alabama.

Disappointment: 6'10" Junior center Marcus Douthit has only 7 baskets and 20 rebounds and has averaged only 10 minutes per game. Mills' injury is certainly a major concern for Coach Tim Welsh.

Impact Freshmen: 6'4" point guard Donnie McGrath has started all seven games and is leading the Friars in minutes played. He is averaging 8.6 points and 5.3 assists per game and has a solid 2.6 assist to turnover ratio.

Outlook: Even with the emergence of Gomes and the healthy return of Laksa, the Friars will have a difficult time returning to the NCAA Tourney in 2003. The loss of Linehan is simply too great a hole to fill at this point. Look the Friars to be an NIT invite in March.


7.

'01-'02 Big East Rank
Field Goal %9
Free Throw %8
3-point %6
Rebounding +/-1
Turnover +/-14
The Hokies ended last season on somewhat of a high note after a dismal 0-9 Big East start. Virginia Tech won four of its final seven Big East games, but could not escape the Big East East Division basement at 4-12. The good news for the Hokies is that they return four starters from last season's squad, including three-point specialist Brian Chase and slender leading scorer Carlos Dixon (12.2 ppg).

Pre-Christmas record: 5-5, with losses to William & Mary, Wofford and East Carolina. Ouch!

Pleasant Surprise: Sophomore center Dimari Thompkins has started seven games, averaging 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Disappointment: The Hokies have had virtually no contribution from the freshman class. Philip McCandies is the leading Frosh scorer averaging only 3.7 ppg while averaging 14 minutes.

Impact Freshmen: So far the Hokies have not seen much production from the incoming class, but this may change as the season moves along. Athletic 6'6" swingman Fabian Davis is considered Tech's top 2002 recruit.

Outlook: Last year, VA Tech's basketball team won two more games (10) than its football team (8). If the Hokies can beat Air Force in the San Francisco Bowl and grab their tenth win, my money will be on the football team this year.

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