Duke has to be considered the favorite in the ACC, given that they are the near-consensus preseason #1 in the country. They have depth and skill at each position, and one of the best coaches in the game in Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils have very solid perimeter play. JJ Redick is the premier shooting guard in the country. He can carry the Blue Devils, and is one of the best pure shooters around. Redick is a sure-fire All-American and a candidate for national player of the year. Sean Dockery is a defensive pest, yet might not start at the point. Freshman Greg Paulus was the top point guard recruit in the country, and might be starting by the time conference play starts. Wing DeMarcus Nelson plays bigger than his 6-3 size would indicate, and will have to pick up some of the scoring slack left by the departure of Daniel Ewing. The Dukies are also stacked up front. However, they are going to need excellent production from a frontcourt that includes two freshmen. Shelden Williams is the best post player in the country,offensively and defensively. He gets a double double every time out, and could be the best shot blocker in the nation. Along with Redick, he is the leading candidate for National Player of the Year. Josh McRoberts is a candidate for national freshman of the year. He is an inside-outside threat that could develop into a start by March. Lee Melchionni stepped up in conference play a year ago, giving the Blue Devils a frontcourt player that could hit the three consistently. Freshman Eric Boateng will give Williams a few minutes of rest each game, something he didn't get a year ago. If the freshmen live up to their potential and either Dockery or Paulus step up at the point, Duke could be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.
Boston College is the newcomer to the ACC. After sharing the regular season title last year in the Big East, the Eagles were upset in both the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. They are the main contender to Duke's ACC title hopes. BC has the frontcourt to compete for a league championship. Craig Smith is the best power forward in the country. He is extremely strong, and bulls his way to buckets everytime he gets the ball. He is very tough to stop once he gets the ball. Jared Dudley is one of the more underrated players in the nation. He is one of the best forwards in the country, but doesn't get the accolades. Dudley always finds ways to score, and his versatility makes him difficult to defend. Sean Williams is expected to become eligible as early as December, after a suspension for an off-the-court situation. If and when he returns, he gives BC an outstanding shot blocker. Akida McLain and Evan Neisler will provide depth and will have to play more than expected until Williams comes back. The backcourt needs to provide the offense with balance so defenses can't focus all their attention on the frontcourt. Wing Sean Marshall is the best shooter on the team, and is a good scorer. However, he needs to work on his defense. Returning to start at the point is Louis Hinnant. He is a four-year starter that is an excellent distributor but not much of a scorer. Freshman Marquez Haynes has impressed in practice, and will see extensive time on the perimeter. Fellow freshman Tyrese Rice will also get minutes in the backcourt. BC has an excellent frontcourt, and a quality perimeter group. While not yet on Duke's level, BC will compete in the ACC and should make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland may have been the biggest underachievers last season, as well as one of the most inconsistent. They beat Duke, but lost to Clemson three times. The Terrapins will need more consistency if they are to contend in the ACC. The loss of go-to-guy John Gilchrist may be a blessing in disguise. He was a chemistry killer and was never the leader that the young Terps needed him to be. The point guard spot will now go to either JC transfer Parrish Brown, Sterling Ledbetter, or D.J. Strawberry. Strawberry missed the latter half of last season due to an ACL injury. He is more of a combo guard, but can play the point if needed. He is very quick and is the best defender on the team. Even if he doesn't start, he will be one of team's leading minute-getters. Brown is a good playmaker and a quick on-the-ball defender. He is also a very good shooter. Ledbetter started during the NIT last season at the point, and wasn't overly impressive. He should see minutes, though. Also starting in the backcourt will be Chris McCray. He is one of the better all-around guards in the ACC, and is an especially good defender. McCray can hit the open three at times, although it would benefit him to become more consistent with his shot. Coming off the bench on the wing is Mike Jones. He makes the most of his minutes on the floor ( 7.2 ppg in 13.7 mpg), and is a streaky shooter. The frontcourt could be one of the best in the country if several key guys play to their potential. Nik Caner-Medley is an excellent scorer that can shoot the jumper and post up smaller forwards. He is one of the best forwards in the conference. Travis Garrison stepped his game up in the NIT, and needs to continue that this season. Ekene Ibekwe is extremely athletic but needs to improve his consistency in order to utilize his full potential. James Gist is an extraordinary athlete that makes the most of his minutes off the bench, and could be a breakout player this season. Will Bowers was a part-time starter that provided solid defense and rebounding. If Maryland plays like some of their performances last season would suggest, they can erase memories of last year's NIT bunch, and make a run in this season's NCAA Tournament.
Wake Forest, after being the Preseason #1 a year ago, now is in somewhat of a reloading season after losing lottery pick Chris Paul, as well as seniors Taron Downey, Vytas Danelius, and Jamaal Levy. However, two All-American candidates return in guard Justin Gray and post player Eric Williams. Gray has been on the wing the past couple of seasons with Paul at the point, but he is going to have to move to the lead guard role this year. He is an excellent three-point shooter and scorer that will have to become more of a distributor. In addition, Gray will need to keep his turnovers down. Williams is the main man down low. He is very efficient once he gets the ball on the low block, and is a good shot blocker and rebounder. He is overshadowed within the league by Duke's Shelden Williams, but he is every bit as good as him. They should have some good match-ups this season. The Demon Deacons are going to have break in a trio of new starters, but they have several players ready to take on bigger roles this year. Trent Strickland has started in the past, and will have to become a dependable scorer on the wing. He is very athletic but will have to become more of an all-around threat this season. Chris Ellis is a decent inside scorer that shot an unbelievable 61 percent from beyond the arc, albeit with only 18 attempts. Kyle Visser is another solid player in the paint that is expected to have improved numbers in the paint this season for the Demon Deacons. Forward Cameron Stanley is expected to provide depth in the frontcourt. Two freshman are going to see plenty of time and may even start. Guard Harvey Hale is an excellent defender who can also score on the perimeter, while forward Kevin Swinton is a good all-around player who is an excellent scorer. If Gray makes a seamless transition to the point guard position, and the role players step up to handle heavy minutes, the Demon Deacons will go as far as last year's team did.
North Carolina State looked like it was going to become one of the bigger disappointments of last season until they got hot down the stretch and made a run to the Sweet 16 after upsetting Connecticut in the second round. However, they lost All-ACC, do-everything wing Julius Hodge. He had been the face of Wolfpack basketball for four years, and now needs to be replaced. NC State has a bevy of talented players that all could challenge for starting jobs. The perimeter group is deep with several options. Guard Engin Atsur is an underrated player. He can do nearly everything on the floor--score, shoot the three, play defense, distribute, even play the point if needed. He is returning for his third year as a starter. Cameron Bennerman really came on during the postseason a year ago, and should have a big year on the wing. He is extremely athletic and is one of the best defenders in the country. Point guard Tony Bethel had an injury-plagued first season at NC State after transferring from Georgetown. He is a very good defender and a good leader for the Wolfpack. Also on the perimeter is wing Gavin Grant, who could have a huge season. He is 6-7 and a very versatile, talented performer. Grant can do a little bit of everything, although his long-range shooting is a little lackluster. Freshman Courtney Fells is expected to come in and make an immediate impact. He is an excellent shooter that was a highly-touted recruit. The frontcourt is equally as deep and versatile. Ilian Evtimov leads the way. He can play any of the frontcourt spots, and is a good scorer, both inside and out. He is a 43 percent three-point shooter and is a very good passer. Andrew Brackman could have a big season up front. The future MLB pitcher is an outstanding shot blocker and a good rebounder who can also hit the outside shot. Cedric Simmons will be the main man off the bench. He is a potentially dominant player on the inside that can block shots, rebound, and score in the paint. Freshmen Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley will also see time off the bench. Costner was a McDonald's All-American that can do a variety of things on the floor, while McCauley is a solid inside-outside scorer. If NC State can successfully replace Hodge, the Wolfpack will be a tough team to beat in the postseason.
Miami (Fl.) was right in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid, until they lost a few key games down the stretch to put them on the wrong side off the bubble. They shouldn't have to sweat on Selection Sunday this season. One of the top backcourts in the country returns for the Hurricanes. Guillermo Diaz is a high-flying scorer that can do it all on the offensive end. He is one of the best guards in the conference. He can play solid defense and looks like he can carry Miami. Robert Hite gets somewhat overshadowed by Diaz, but was still fourth in the ACC in scoring. He is not much of a passer, but is a good point producer that takes some of the pressure off of Diaz. Anthony Harris starts at the point and is solid all-around. He is one of the most underrated players in the conference, and is also a very good distributor. Denis Clemente was a highly-touted point guard recruit who is extremely quick. The frontcourt needs to do their part in order for Miami to make the Tournament. Anthony King is an excellent rebounder and one of the best shot blockers in the country. Seeing minutes beside him will be Gary Hamilton. Coming off the bench last season, Hamilton was a very good rebounder who makes the most of his minutes. He should see more this year. Freshmen Adrian Thomas and Brian Asbury will also see extensive minutes for Miami. Asbury is more of a wing, while Thomas can play both forward spots. If the frontcourt can provide consistent production and the perimeter can still carry most of the load, the Hurricanes will be in the field.
Virginia Tech should be the last ACC team into the NCAA Tournament. Last year's surprise ACC team should again surprise some people with another good season. The Hokies came out of nowhere to post a very good season and nearly make the NCAA Tournament. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon form an excellent backcourt, with both being able to play the point and the wing. Dowdell is one of the top guards in the conference, and is very clutch on the offensive end late in games. Gordon is one of the best defenders in the ACC that is also an excellent passer, as well as a good rebounder for his size. Coleman Collins is one of the more underrated players in the conference, but can hold his own down low with the best of them. He should be an all-conference performer this season. Collins just finds ways to make plays. Deron Washington and Wynton Witherspoon are very slender for the power forward position, but they handle it well. Washington is an outstanding athlete, while Witherspoon could also fight for a starting spot opposite Washington. The return of Markus Sailes from injury should provide a boost to the backcourt. J.D. Vassallo will also see time on the perimeter. If the Hokies can become more efficient on offense, and win some games on the road, they will be on the right side of the bubble this season.
North Carolina loses their top seven scorers from last season, including all five starters and four lottery picks in the past NBA Draft. The defending national champions bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the country, but need them to mesh quickly with the returnees in order to make a run in the ACC. The leader of the newcomer pack is Tyler Hansbrough, the favorite for the ACC Freshman of the Year. He is an excellent low-post scorer, and at 6-9, is the tallest player on the team. He is going to have to be the go-to-guy immediately for the Tar Heels. The other freshman expected to play are perimeter players Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard, and Danny Green. Frasor, a McDonald's All-American from Chicago, could start right away in the backcourt, and might even see time at the point. He is a solid all-around player. Ginyard is an excellent defender who will also see immediate playing time. A third McDonald's All-American, Green, will also get extensive playing time early. He is a very good scorer from Long Island that can do a variety of things on the floor. The returnees will have to step up and take on major roles this season. David Noel is the leading scorer at 3.9 ppg, but isn't much of a go-to-scorer. He is a very good defender that is excellent in transition. Point guard Quentin Thomas saw time backing up Raymond Felton last season, but wasn't overly impressive. He turned the ball over too much and played out of control. If he could run the Tar Heels with efficiency, that would be ideal. Reyshawn Terry has the potential to be a big-time scorer. In his very limited time last season, he demonstrated the ability to get to the basket and also shoot the ball from the field. If he can give UNC consistent scoring up front, they would be that much better. A lot of pieces have to come together for North Carolina if they are to repeat even an NCAA Tournament bid. If Hansbrough comes in and dominates and the rest of the freshmen provide consistent production, the Tar Heels will be on the bubble come March.
Georgia Tech is in the same boat as North Carolina. They lose all five starters and their top bench player. However, unlike the Tar Heels, the Yellow Jackets have a group of returnees that saw quality minutes last season and could fill the starting roles. The low post should be in good hands with sophomores Jeremis Smith and Ra'Sean Dickey. Dickey has the potential to be a go-to-guy down low and showed flashes of that ceiling last season. He is also a very good rebounder. Smith is a very physical forward that could be one of the better rebounders in the conference. The lone senior on the team, Theodis Tarver, is a good defender who will play major minutes down low. The perimeter has the potential to be very good. Sophomore Anthony Morrow will start on one wing. He is an excellent long-range shooter and could be the main man for the Yellow Jackets on the outside. Lewis Clinch could start on the other wing. He is a super scorer that will make an immediate impact in the backcourt for Tech. Another wing, Mario West, is the best defender on the team and can lock-up the opposition's top scorer. At the point, Zam Frederick II will likely start. He is a very good scorer who is not a natural point guard. He wanted to transfer after the season, but that didn't work out so he returned to the Yellow Jackets to run the team. If the role players from a season ago develop into go-to-players and consistent producers, Georgia Tech will reach the postseason, likely the NIT.
Florida State didn't live up to expectations a year ago, and limped to a 12-19 record. They lose second-round pick Von Wafer, who was extremely inconsistent and disappeared way too often. If you look at the Seminoles' roster, there is a lot of talent that just needs to be mixed right to improve their record. In the backcourt, returning starter Todd Galloway will run the point. Galloway is a decent lead guard who does not really stand out. He will be joined by a slew of talented wings. JC transfer Jerel Allen is expected to be a big-time scorer, while Andrew Wilson and Jason Rich are the projected starters. Wilson was hindered by an injury the entire season, but can be an athletic player this season. Rich was turnover-prone a season ago, and could lose his starting job this year. Isaiah Swann and Jason Mims are combo guards that are also fighting for time. Swann is a good scorer that also needs to cut down on his turnovers, while Mims will compete with Galloway for the starting PG spot. That perimeter sextet is going to create problems for many teams in the ACC. Inside, Al Thornton could develop into an all-conference type of player. He is ready for a big season. Alexander Johnson, who has yet to live up to his potential, will start next to him. He is a decent scorer and rebounder, that can become a solid 10-6 guy. Diego Romero and freshman Uche Echefu will provide depth. Echefu is expected to have an immediate impact in the low post, while Romero is a nice option off the bench. If the Seminoles can mesh all the talent and depth that they have, they can win some games they shouldn't in the ACC, and contend for an NIT berth.
Clemson was a competitive team at teams last season, defeating Maryland three times and making it to the NIT. They return three starters and several key players from that team. The perimeter is where it starts for the Tigers. Wings Cliff Hammonds and Shawan Robinson are both double-figure scorers who will start. Hammonds has the potential to become a breakout player in the ACC, while Robinson is a very good shooter, hitting threes at a near 40-percent clip. At the point is Vernon Hamilton. He is quick and a good defender, but turns the ball over too often. Off the bench will be wing Sam Perry. He is the best defender on the team and should improve his scoring and rebounding numbers this season. Troy Mathis, a newcomer, will compete with Hamilton for the point guard spot. Up front, senior Akin Akingbala and sophomore James Mays will see the most minutes. Akingbala is an inconsistent post player that needs to step up and become a dependable option down low. Mays played well last season in minutes off the bench and is a solid inside-outside scorer. Returnee Steve Allen and freshmen Raymond Sykes and Julius Powell will also see minutes in the frontcourt. A lot of talent returns for Clemson, especially on the perimeter. If they can get some production from the interior players, the Tigers may make a return appearance in the NIT.
Virginia started out with a very good non-conference record and looked as if they could have been a contender in the ACC. They then went 4-12 in the ACC and finished in last place. The Cavaliers are going to be breaking in a new coach, former DePaul lead man Dave Leitao. His rebuilding job will start with a solid perimeter trio. Sean Singletary is one of the lesser known ACC point guards, but he is also one of the best. He is a very good distributor and defender. He is also a decent rebounder for a point guard. T.J. Bannister is a 5-10 guard that is a quick player that can score and pass well. Wing J.R. Reynolds is an excellent scorer who came off the bench last season but should start this year for the Cavaliers. Up front, the main returnees are Jason Cain and Adrian Joseph. Cain is a tough player and a hard-worker who will bang bodies with the best in the ACC down low. Joseph is a versatile forward that can score and rebound well. Several newcomers are going to have to step up in both the frontcourt and the backcourt in order for Virginia to get out of the cellar. Virginia is far and away the worst team in the ACC. Other than a few perimeter players, the Cavaliers are severely lacking in ACC-caliber performers. They finished last in the ACC a season ago, and the same should be expected this year.
HERE AND THERE
Player of the Year: JJ Redick, Duke
NCAA: Duke, Boston College, Maryland, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, Miami, Virginia Tech
Connecticut has the most championship-ready team in the Big East, and possibly the nation. The only thing keeping this team from the preseason #1 slot is their off-court problems. Potential All-American point guard Marcus Williams is out until December and can't play until January after he was caught stealing laptops. AJ Price was suspended the entire year for the same offense. Williams is the best passer and playmaker in the country and could be the best overall point guard. He is a very good defender and rebounder, and improved his shot and scoring ability as the season wore on. Rashad Anderson is an excellent, albeit streaky, shooter that can shoot the Huskies in or out of games. Denham Brown split time with Anderson last season, and will likely do it again. It is a possibility that both will start on the wing next to each other. Both averaged over ten points per game. Until Williams becomes eligbile, Craig Austrie and Robert Garrison will handle the point guard duties. Neither were highly regarded recruits, but Austrie has shown that he can run the team well in practice. The frontcourt of the Huskies is the best in the country. Rudy Gay may be the best player in the country, and is the consensus #1 pick whenever he decides to enter the NBA Draft. However, he needs to become assertive and utilize his talent advantage more. Josh Boone is another All-American candidate. He is a great rebounder and one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. He, like Gay, needs to become more aggressive offensively. Hilton Armstrong will step into Charlie Villanueva's vacated power forward position. He is a good shot blocker and has shown flashes on offense. Ed Nelson played well in the NCAA Tournament and will get extensive minutes this season. Jeff Adrien and Marcus Johnson are talented freshmen that could have important roles. Once Williams becomes eligible and the chemistry builds, the Huskies will have the best team in the country. Aside from potential intangible problems, I cannot see why the Connecticut Huskies won't win the 2006 National Championship.
Villanova finally lived up to their potential last season, and made a run to the Sweet 16 before losing to UNC by 1 after a questionable traveling call cost them a chance to tie the game down the stretch. They should be even better this year. They have the best backcourt in the country and could remind some of Illinois' group from last season. Allan Ray performed very well on the U-21 team during the summer, and could develop into one of the better scorers in the Big East. He is an excellent shooter and can also take his defender off the dribble. Foye is a threat to use his strength to drive to the lane or shoot the three. He is very underrated and is often overshadowed by his teammates. Mike Nardi is a smart point guard that doesn't make many bad decisions. He can shoot the ball well, and has a smoothness to his game. Kyle Lowry saw his minutes rise late in the season due to Nardi's injury and his own play. He averaged almost 14 points and 6 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. He was likely to come off the bench again this season until All-Big East performer Curtis Sumpter tore his ACL in October. Jay Wright now says that the Wildcats will start four guards, including Lowry. The loss of Sumpter kills 'Nova up front. He was a versatile inside-outside player and one of the best combo forwards in the country. There is a chance he will come back in February, but he also might redshirt. With him out, Will Sheridan and Jason Fraser will get most of the interior responsibilities. Fraser has had a career filled with promise, but more often, injuries. When healthy, he is one of the best post players in the Big East. That hasn't happened that frequently, however. Will Sheridan has filled in admirably in the past when either Sumpter or Fraser went down, and will have to do so again this season. With Sumpter out, returnees Chris Charles and Marcus Austin will have to step up, while freshmen Dante Cunnigham and Shane Clark will also see extended minutes. Villanova, even without Sumpter, has he talent to make a run to the Final Four. If they get him back, it would be an added bonus. With the backcourt that they have, and some semblance of interior scoring, the Wildcats should be in Indianapolis in April.
Louisville is in the best shape of any of the newcomers to the Big East, after going to the Final Four a season ago. However, they lose three seniors, as well as first-round pick Francisco Garcia. They still have more than enough talent, though, to make some noise in the Big East. Taquan Dean leads the way. He is arguably the best shooter in the country, shooting 45 percent from long-range. He is going to have to become more of a go-to-guy this season with the loss of all the personnel. He is a good defender and passer and won't have to play the point this season. The reason for that change is the arrival of freshman Andre McGee. He is extremely quick and is a good scorer. He can get into the lane and distribute the ball via penetration. Also on the perimeter will be returnee Brandon Jenkins. He is an excellent athlete that can shoot the three with efficiency. There is a chance that he will start on the wing this season, or even at point guard should McGee falter at that position. Wing Terrence Williams and Bryan Harvey are also expected to make impacts as freshmen for the Cardinals. Williams is a potential star that is an outstanding athlete and is excellent running the floor, while Harvey is a great shooter. Up front, Louisville could have one of the better baselines in America--when they are all healthy. Juan Palacios was underrated last season, as a result of playing forward opposite Garcia. He is athletic and can play any position on the floor, and should be all-conference as a sophomore. He needs to work on his hands, though. David Padgett could have a huge impact on the Big East--when he returns from a foot injury that will sideline him for up to 3 weeks. The transfer from Kansas can shoot the ball from the perimeter as well as score inside. BrianJohnson returns from an injury that forced him to sit out a season ago. He is a good scorer inside. The Cardinals have talent both inside and out, although it is not proven talent, other than Dean and Palacios. If Padgett makes the expected impact, and the newcomers play well, Louisville will contend for a league title.
West Virginia was the surprise team of last season and the major-conference Cinderella of the NCAA Tournament. They upset Wake Forest in the second round and made a run to the Elite Eight, where they blew a 20-point lead to Louisville. They return the majority of that team. Leading the way is the deep and talented perimeter group. Mike Gansey scored in double figures in his last nine games, and is their go-to-guy on the perimeter. Patrick Beilein, the coach's son, is a good three point shooter but doesn't do much besides that. Joe Herber isn't a big-time scorer, but he shoots the three well and can do a little bit of everything. J.D. Collins doesn't turn the ball over that much, and is a solid point guard that doesn't score very much. Darris Nichols adds depth in the backcourt. That group is what keeps the Mountaineers in most games. They are going to have to carry the team this season, because the frontcourt is lacking personnel. Kevin Pittsnogle is the only key player that returns up front. He is a good place to start, though. The darling of the NCAA Tournament is a very good three-point shooter that isn't much of an inside scorer or defender. The starting position next to him is up for grabs. Frank Young is a bit undersized at 6-5, but is athletic and can hit the outside shot. 7-0 Penn State transfer Rob Summers will play inside when the Mountaineers go big. West Virginia returns plenty from last year's Elite Eight squad, but the element of surprise is gone. The perimeter is very solid, and Pittsnogle is a good big man. If someone produces at the power forward spot and gives the Mountaineers a legit low-post option, West Virginia could make a run at the Sweet 16.
Syracuse was a trendy sleeper pick to make a run to the Final Four last season, but that all was halted when the Orange were upset by #13-seed Vermont in the first round. Since then, Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace, and Craig Forth have used up their eligibility, leaving Syracuse starting over in the starting lineup. The only definite is guard Gerry McNamara, known as one of the best three-point shooters in the country. However, he is very inconsistent and forces a lot of shots. And now, without Warrick down low, he is going to have been the main cog in the offense, and might have to play the point, not his natural position. Also on the perimeter are juniors Louie McCroskey and Demetric Nichols, and freshman Eric Devendorf. McCroskey is not much of a shooter but can score going to the basket, and is a good athlete. Nichols has the ability to have a breakout season for the Orange. He has been inconsistent throughout his career, but he can do a little of everything on the wing. Devendorf is a leading candidate for Big East Freshman of the Year. He could start at the point sooner rather than later if McNamara can't handle that role. Josh Wright will also see time in the backcourt. Up front, Terrence Roberts could have a huge season inside for Syracuse. He demonstrated his potential down the stretch last season, and could become a go-to-guy and one of the best big men in the conference. Center Darryl Watkins is a good athlete that needs to improve his numbers with increased minutes this season. Providing depth up front will be forwards Dayshawn Wright and Matt Gorman. If the junior class of McCroskey, Nichols, Roberts, and Watkins finally plays to the level they should, the Orange should not fall too far even without the departing seniors. Expect an NCAA berth out of Syracuse this season.
Georgetown surprised some last season with a very successful season that should have resulted in an NCAA Tournament berth. However, they faltered down the stretch of the season, and ended up in the NIT. They should definitely make the Field of 65 this season. The Hoyas have one of the more underrated frontcourts in the nation. Brandon Bowman thought about entering the NBA Draft, but pulled his name out. He is very athletic and can do a variety of things on the basketball court. Jeff Green was the co-Big East Rookie of the Year (with Rudy Gay), and is versatile. He can score in the post, but can also step out and shoot the three (40 percent from beyond the arc). Bowman and Green form one of the best forward combos in the country. Roy Hibbert is a 7-2 shot blocker that needs to improve his offensive game. His role will expand this season. Newcomer Marc Egerson will provide the depth up front. On the perimeter, a trio of solid backcourt players that will get the majority of the minutes. Ashanti Cook is a good distributor and shooter that can score well. However, he needs to become more focused on finding the open man as the point guard. Wing Darrel Owens is a very good shooter who gives the Hoyas good size in the backcourt. Jonathan Wallace could also start at the point, as he did last season. He isn't a bad long-range shooter, but turns the ball over more than he should. Georgetown has the talent to make a run in the Big East and get an NCAA Tournament bid. If the backcourt provides solid balance and takes the pressure off of Bowman and Green, the Hoyas will be in the Field of 65.
Cincinnati has always been one of the main teams in their conference. This year, however, they will be one of the teams trying to get into the first division. And they will have to do it without legendary coach Bob Huggins. New coach Andy Kennedy inherits a decent team capable of making the NCAA Tournament, though. It starts up front with potential all-conference big man Eric Hicks. He could average a double-double this year and will be the go-to-guy down low for the Bearcats. He is also an excellent shot blocker. Joining him down low will be a newcomer, likely either JC transfer Cedric McGowan or NAIA transfer Ronald Allen. McGowan is a very good inside-outside scorer who has the typical intensity necessary to play inside in the Big East and for Cincinnati. Allen played at Xavier (La.) last season, but Hurricane Katrina destroyed his school and potentially their basketball season. Freshman Abdul Herrera will also see time down low. On the wing, two seniors will start. 6-8 Armein Kirkland has a lot of potential, but hasn't reached that yet. He is very good in the open court, and is a good scorer. 6-7 James White is one of the most versatile players in the conference. He played the point at times last season, although he is better on the wing. White is an excellent defender and a good shooter who can do nearly everything on the court. Both Kirkland and White were double-figure scorers. At the point, returnee Jihad Muhammed is back. He was a double-figure scorer that often played out of control and not within the system. He is an inconsistent shooter and turned the ball over too much. However, he is quick and is a decent point guard. Freshmen Devan Downey and Domonick Tilford will also see time. Downey might start at the point. He is very quick and finds ways to make plays. Tilford is a good passer and scorer. The Bearcats had a tumultuous offseason, but the expected outcome that they would have had with Huggins is no different than it will be with Kennedy. They will be in the NCAA Tournament again.
Notre Dame was headed for the NCAA Tournament last season, until they collapsed down the stretch and headed to the NIT, where they lost in the first round. They lose four-year starter Chris Thomas at the point, but return enough talent to compete for an NCAA berth. Chris Quinn is vastly underrated within the conference. He can play either backcourt spot, and is an excellent passer who does not turn the ball over. Quinn also shoots 46 percent from three-point range. Another good shooter returns on the wing in Colin Falls. He is a good clutch scorer who shot 41 percent last season from behind the arc. The other perimeter spot is wide-open. Freshman point guard Kyle McAlarney is an excellent scorer and is very quick. If he starts, Quinn will be able to play off the ball, where he is more comfortable. Russell Carter is very athletic but has never really stuck to the offensive system when he is in the game. Forward Omari Israel is athletic and is very comfortable on the perimeter at 6-9. Up front, Torin Francis will have one last chance to live up to his potential. He can be one of the best big men in the Big East, if not the country. Francis is a very good rebounder and has solid low-post moves. Next to him will likely be freshman Luke Zeller. He is versatile and can hit the three, as well as play inside. He is a very good passer. Senior Rick Cornett has seen solid minutes throughout his career, and has used them to show that he is a solid rebounder and defender. He will provide depth and could start until Zeller gets acclimated. The Fighting Irish have enough to make the NCAA Tournament. However, they have had enough the past couple of years, and never did make it to the Big Dance. If the two freshmen can step into the lineup and make enough of an impact, ND will make it to the field.
Pittsburgh underachieved last season, and were bounced from the NCAA Tournament by Pacific in the first round. They just did not have the same type of chemistry and flow that they had the previous season, when they were one of the better teams in the country. Senior point guard Carl Krauser will try to get the Panthers back to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, or at the very least, the NCAA Tournament. He is one of the best point guards in the country, but needs to get his teammates better involved on offense. He is good shooter and is very tough to stop off the dribble. He is also a good defender and rebounder but needs to take better care of the ball. Also on the perimeter will be Ronald Ramon and returning starter Antonio Graves. Ramon came off the bench last season, but will start this year. He is a good defender and shooter. Graves is an excellent long-range shooter, hitting threes at a 46 percent clip. Keith Benjamin is athletic and will see minutes off the bench, along with freshman Levance Fields. Up front, Levon Kendall, who scored 41 points against the USA at the World Championships, will start. He is a decent scorer and defender who is fairly versatile. Aaron Gray, who played better than first-round pick Chris Taft at times last season, will move into the starting lineup. He is a good shot blocker and rebounder who could become a solid big man. Freshman Sam Young is expected to have an immediate impact for the Panthers in the frontcourt. He is athletic and will see playing time at forward. Pitt has several experienced players in the lineup, although no one other than Krauser has had a go-to-role at any point in their career. If Ramon becomes a big-time scorer and one of the frontcourt players develops into a capable option down low, the Panthers will make a run at the NCAA Tournament. However, Pitt is going to have to settle for an NIT bid this year.
St. John's won 9 games a season ago--and that was considered a success. They should improve that by at least 5 victories this season, which would put them on the lower end of the bubble, heading into the Big East Tournament. Upset a few teams here and there and the Johnnies are on the brink of an NCAA Tournament berth. Why would anyone expect that out of St. John's this season, though? Start with Darryl Hill. The Big East's best scorer, he can carry the Red Storm to a couple of wins this season. He needs to cut down on his turnovers, however. Lamont Hamilton is a very good low post presence. He and Hill are an excellent inside-outside duo. Also inside, JC transfer Aaron Spears will give them another option. Freshmen Anthony Mason, Jr. and Ricky Torres will see lots of playing time on the wings, as both are good shooters. Jermaine Maybank sat out last season with an injury; he might be the most athletic player on the roster. Oh, there's also three more returning starters from last season: guards Eugene Lawrence and Cedric Jackson, and forward Dexter Gray. Throw in explosive Ryan Williams, and you have a ridiculously deep and taltened team that could string together a couple of quality wins somewhere along the line. It may sound far-fetched, but don't be surprised when you see St. John's winning games in the Big East.
Marquette loses Travis Diener, their all-conference, all-American guard of the past few seasons. He was one of the most important players to his team in the country. Without him and two other starters, the Golden Eagles will look to sweet-shooting 6-10 forward Steve Novak for scoring. He shoots 46 percent from behind the arc and will be the team's best point producer. However, he needs to improve his rebounding and his all-around game. He was a preseason Wooden Award candidate, although I am not sure what he did to merit that honor. Also on the perimeter will be guard Steve Chapman and 6-9 Dan Fitzgerald. Chapman is a good scorer, although he is also a very tough defender and a solid rebounder. Fitzgerald is versatile, and could see time at all the perimeter positions this season (yes, including point guard). The leading candidate for the point guard spot is freshman Dominic James. He is going to have one of the biggest impacts of any freshman in the country if he can capably fill Diener's shoes. Up front, Ryan Amaroso will be the main man. He is a good scorer from both the paint and the low block. He can have a big year down low for the Golden Eagles. Ousmane Barro will start next to him or will see extensive minutes backing him up. The athletic sophomore is a solid rebounder and defender. Marquette will miss Diener too much to reach the NCAA Tournament, although the NIT is a possibility if James makes the anticipated impact.
Yes, they lost All-American Ryan Gomes. Yes, they won 4 Big East games last season--with Gomes. However, Providence has a chance to make some noise in the newly-designed Big East. Donnie McGrath and Dwight Brewington are a very good backcourt. McGrath is an excellent shooter, and Brewington has an opportunity to become one of the top scorers in the conference. DeSean White is very athletic and versatile and will be the first to step into Gomes' shoes. Herbert Hill and Randall Hanke are good shot blockers down low, and Hanke could develop into one of the better low post players in the Big East. If they learn how to play better defense, and win close games (8 Big East losses by 5 points or less), the Friars could have a decent season.
DePaul was one of the last teams out of the NCAA Tournament last season, and losing to UAB in the Conference-USA Tournament probably solidified that. They won't come close to the bubble in their first year in their new conference. Returning wing Sammy Mejia leads the way. He is a solid all-around player that can score well as well as distribute the ball. Mejia is very good at driving to the basket, but needs to work on his shot. Also on the perimeter will be point guard Cliff Clinkscales. He is a very good passer that does not turn the ball over much. On the wing opposite Mejia will likely be Miami transfer Karron Clarke. He is very athletic and is expected to have an immediate impact for the Blue Demons. Also on the wing is freshman Rashad Woods, more of a forward that a perimeter-type wing. Draelon Burns saw time last season on the perimeter, and will get minutes again. Up front, a trio of wide-body big men will own the paint. Marlon Brumfeld is a good rebounder and will be a go-to-guy down low. Lorenzo Thompson is an efficient scorer once he gets the ball. Wesley Green, the biggest of the three at 6-9, 280, and is also the best passer of the group. DePaul lost a lost from last year's bubble team, but they should be somewhat competitive in the conference. Mejia could become an all-conference player. If the role players step up, the Blue Demons could fight for an NIT bid. They will fall just short, though.
Rutgers had some good moments last season, but overall it was a lost season. The Scarlet Knights finished last in the conference and went 10-19 overall. This season, the young players from last season could develop into solid performers, but it could be another long season in New Brunswick. Guard Quincy Douby leads the way. After an excellent performance in the NIT a couple of seasons back, people thought Douby was going to develop into a star. That hasn't happened yet. He is still more of a scorer than anything else, and he is not a very accurate shooter, as a result of the fact that he forces a lot of shots. However, he is the go-to-guy for Rutgers and is a decent passer and rebounder. Marquis Webb will start beside him. He is not a natural point guard, and is better suited on the wing. He is an excellent defender who can also get some buckets on the offensive end. The point guard duties could go to newcomer Anthony Farmer. His main job will be to find the scorers on the wings. Up front, there are several quality players who will see extensive minutes. Ollie Bailey was stuck underneath the basket last season, and performed well. He will likely move away from the paint this season and could more on the wing instead of down low. Adrian Hill is a hard worker that will get rebounds and buckets inside. Byron Joynes returns as a starter on the interior. He is a good rebounder but might lose his starting job to Hill this season. Jimmie Inglis and Dan Waterstradt also return in the post. The Scarlet Knights have some talented players that are solid Big East players. However, they don't have nearly enough talent to compete with the upper-echelon of the conference. If the inside players hold their own and Douby develops into a star, the Scarlet Knights could fight for an NIT bid. I don't see that happening.
Seton Hall returns three starters from a team that had loads of potential and preseason expectations that they came nowhere near living up to. A 12-16 record also did nothing to quench the rumors about coach Louis Orr being fired. With the team he has, it is probably postseason or bust for Orr and the Pirates. Kelly Whitney and Grant Billmeier return on the interior. Whitney is a very consistent post player that always puts up his 12 and 6 every night. He is their go-to-player inside. Billmeier is a hard worker and a good rebounder. Cincinnati transfer Mike Pilgrim is a very good athlete who will make an impact after he becomes eligible after the first semester. In the backcourt, Donald Copeland returns at the point. He is not a very good shooter or scorer but is a decent distributor and does not turn the ball over that often. Wing Jamar Nutter has the potential to be a good scorer and shooter, but hasn't shown that thus far. The Pirates don't have that much talent, and they don't have a whole lot coming in the near future, either. Orr's days are numbered and Seton Hall will fall short of the postseason.
South Florida loses three starters from a team that struggled in the much-weaker Conference USA last season. They will have loads of trouble in the Big East. The leading returnees are Marius Prekevicius, who is a very good shooter; Collin Dennis, a good defender and scorer; and James Holmes, a pretty solid scorer. All three are wings that are too small to compete in the frontcourt and are not pure point guards. The candidates at the point guard spot are freshman Chris Howard, a solid point guard, and David Sills, a JC transfer that is a balanced scorer. In the frontcourt, the Bulls return center Solomon Jones. He had a good season a year ago and could have a big year down low in the Big East. Purdue transfer Melvin Buckley is expected to start immediately at forward. He is a versatile scorer that can shoot the ball as well as drive to the basket. The optimism is pretty low in Tampa lately. South Florida simply does not have enough to contend in the Big East. In a few years, USF could see the postseason, but not this year.
HERE AND THERE
Player of the Year: Rudy Gay, Connecticut
NCAA: Connecticut, Villanova, Louisville, West Virginia, Syracuse, Georgetown, Cincinnati
Photos Courtesy: washingtonpost.com, nbadraft.net
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