Big East West Division Preview
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.
|'01-'02 Big East Rank|
|Field Goal %||2|
|Free Throw %||13|
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
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.
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).
|'01-'02 Big East Rank|
|Field Goal %||4|
|Free Throw %||4|
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.
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.
|'01-'02 Big East Rank|
|Field Goal %||6|
|Free Throw %||12|
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.
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.
|'01-'02 Big East Rank|
|Field Goal %||5|
|Free Throw %||3|
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.
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.
|'01-'02 Big East Rank|
|Field Goal %||12|
|Free Throw %||14|
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
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.
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.
|'01-'02 Big East Rank|
|Field Goal %||7|
|Free Throw %||9|
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.
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.
|'01-'02 Big East Rank|
|Field Goal %||14|
|Free Throw %||7|
Pre-Christmas record: 3-3, with blowout losses to Louisville, Texas and
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.