Continuing with the Big East Preview, now we get into the middle group. This is where things get really, really tough to predict, because every single team from 13 to 6 can finish almost anywhere in that margin. Each team loses a good chunk of production (some more than others), and each team brings in some youth to try and replace that production (ditto). I've had the bottom 3, and top 5 picked out for a while now, but picking the middle 8 was extremely tough.
Some fans may not like where I have their team, but remember- this is my opinion. I will give my reasons for ranking each team where they are. Comments are always appreciated.
Here we go again, starting with number 13....
13. Notre Dame
2010-11 record: 27-7 (14-4 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Pat Connaughton
The Fighting Irish did a lot of winning last season, garnering a number 2 finish in the Big East, and a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament before running into defensive buzzsaw Florida State in the Sweet 16. They had the Big East Player of the Year in Ben Hansbrough (although by the end of the Big East Tournament, we all know who should have won that award), and a couple of shooters and athletes surrounding him.
Yes, we all underestimated the Irish last year and perhaps we are doing so again (or at least I might be). But in addition to losing Hansbrough, who exhausted his eligibility, and Tyrone Nash (for the same reason), forward Carleton Scott, a major player in Mike Brey's rotation, unexpectedly turned pro. That leaves Notre Dame with only Jack Cooley and a lot of questions down low, and in this conference, that means trouble.
Cooley may look like Luke Harangody, but don't be fooled. He was supposed to be helped out by Eric Katenda, an athletic and skilled forward who was set to be a freshman this Fall, but he suffered a freak eye injury in the offseason that put into jeopardy whether he'd ever play for ND.
So the Irish are left with two shooters (Abromaitis and Martin), a point guard coming into his second season (Atkins), a banger (Cooley), and a ton of unknowns. From a guard standpoint, it's Joey Brooks, former Providence commit Alex Dragicevic, freshman wing Pat Connaughton (a wing whose skills and athleticism are ok, but who lacks quickness) and Jerian Grant, who missed last year with a stress fracture. From a forward standpoint, it's Mike Broghammer and Tom Knight. There is no backup center behind Cooley.
This means that either Abromaitis or Martin (who is listed at 6'8", which I doubt) will probably have to play out of position at the 4 a la Robert Mitchell three seasons ago at Seton Hall. It can be done, and it can even be successful, but if any of the projected starting 5 (I say Atkins, Martin, Abromaitis, Cooley and possibly Brooks) get into foul trouble, this team could be in trouble. This will be one tough coaching job for Mike Brey and I suspect he will miss Scott, a long, energy forward who always seemed to contribute on the court every game. I have the Irish here because of sheer lack of depth on the bench.
12. St. John's
2010-11 record: 21-12 (12-6 Big East)
Key (and only) returnee: Malik Stith
Welcome to Campus: Dom Pointer, Jakarr Sampson, Maurice Harkless, D'Angelo Harrison, Norvel Pelle, Amir Garrett, Phillip Greene, Nurideen Lindsey, God's Gift Achiuwa
What Steve Lavin did last year at St. John's with the roster he had was a small miracle. He beat Duke, Arizona State, and Northwestern in the non-conference, and Notre Dame, UConn, and Pitt in Big East play.
He led the Red Storm back to the NCAA Tournament. He created such a buzz in Queens that he snared one of the top recruiting classes in the country, a far cry from the one his predecessor brought in 4 years ago.
That class meant that Lavin walked into a terrific situation. With 9 seniors who had played at the college level with each other for 3 years prior to his arrival, he almost didn't even have to do much coaching. This year is the exact opposite.
The incoming class is filled with athletes who fit Lavin's running style. All are athletes, but only Maurice Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison couple that with a good bit of skill (Harkless as a scorer, Harrison as a shooter/scorer). The rest are players who would need to play up-tempo to make use of their best skill- their athleticism. Dom Pointer is regarded as a good defender, Jakarr Sampson is a combo forward who can block shots as well, Norvel Pelle is a physical specimen down low who hasn't put it together yet in terms of consistent effort. Phillip Greene and Nurideen Lindsey will likely split time at the point, and God's Gift Achiuwa is a bouncy center-type.
The St. John's team of last year proved me wrong by demonstrating that experience (at least in that high quantity) does count for something. This year, it will take a whale of a coaching job by Lavin and Co. to get the Red Storm to be in the top half because having no experience is not good for a team that has to play Arizona, Kentucky, and either Texas A&M or Mississippi State in the non-conference alone, before the meat grinder of the Big East.
I'm still not completely sold on Steve Lavin as a coach (as a recruiter, how could you not be?). He'll have to prove me wrong once again with this roster of freshmen.
11. Seton Hall
2010-11 record: 13-18 (7-11 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Aaron Cosby, Kevin Johnson (?), Freddie Wilson, Brandon Mobley, Sean Grennan, Haralds Karlis
Here you go, Pirate fans. I have Seton Hall ranked 11th for several reasons, which will hopefully be made clear in the next few paragraphs.
Last year, the Pirates came in with high expectations. With Bobby "The Annoyance" Gonzalez ousted, the calmer Kevin Willard earned the trust of the roster Gonzo left behind and taught it to defend like its life depended on it. Willard said that the offense would take care of itself with so much talent still in South Orange.
But fate had a different plan. Herb Pope collapsed and nearly died in the offseason and while Pope played the entire year, physically, it wasn't until the end of the year that he even started to get back to his old self. Then the focus of the offense, Jeremy Hazell, who had finally started to become an efficient scorer rather than just a volume scorer, broke his wrist and missed 13 games, throwing a wrench into the entire season for the Pirates. The potent offense, like everything else under Gonzo, was a house of cards. It was too dependent on Hazell's individual brilliance. That set off a chain reaction in which Jeff Robinson and Jordan Theodore tried to do too much. As a result, the offense sputtered to a halt. Hazell did come back, but like Pope, he wasn't truly himself until later in the season. One bad loss to Rutgers at MSG later, and it was back to the drawing board.
Incoming are a nice group of freshmen, headlined by Aaron Cosby, a well-built, 6'4" guard who has almost Hazellian confidence and range on his jump shot. Like Hazell, he is very good on catch-and-shoot opportunities (Willard compared him to former Louisville star Taquan Dean). Also like (early) Hazell, he isn't quite the best at driving. He could also stand to work on the lateral quickness on defense. But Cosby is a favorite to start in the backcourt with Theodore at this juncture, and with his sweet stroke, he should get regular playing time.
Joining him are two other guards, Freddie Wilson and Sean Grennan. Wilson is more of a true point guard that figures to see time backing up Theodore this year, while Grennan comes armed with a deep jumper. Grennan, however, needs some seasoning before becoming a factor in the rotation.
Down low, Brandon Mobley, a long, face-up power forward, and Kevin Johnson, a bruising center (who has yet to be cleared by the NCAA at this writing), come in to shore up a rotation that includes Czech sophomore Patrik Auda and English center Aaron Geramipoor as well as Pope.
Then there is Haralds Karlis, a 6'5" Latvian import from the Canarias Basketball Academy (where Auda and Geramipoor came from). Karlis is not your average Euro wing. He can get UP and throw down some dunks, as you will see here. He also did nothing but shoot from the perimeter at the CBA in his last season there. He is the X-factor in this class because he's a very unique player who is also sure to get PT (the only other true wing on the roster is Fuquan Edwin).
Now, the returning players have done well. Theodore has shown good leadership, according to Willard, and Pope has spent the entire summer getting back in tremendous shape (maybe even better than before his collapse). He should be the top rebounder in the conference again because of this and has hopefully spent some time refining some post moves as well. Geramipoor, who was a great asset for paint-clogging last year (even having dropped a lot of weight due to a bout with mono), has bulked up, so he should be another asset down low for the Pirates. Then there's Auda, who had a phenomenal summer in both the JSBL and with his national team in China (where he averaged some impressive numbers). Edwin added muscle and improved his jumper as well, dropping 30 a game in the JSBL this summer.
Because of Willard's defense-first style, this is a team with two quality senior leaders that should be in a position to win some games, and upset some teams along the way. The main question is- has enough of the former roster been purged that they will finally finish those games? Seton Hall should have beaten UConn, Syracuse (at home), Georgetown, and Rutgers (twice) last season, but could not close the deal on any of those occasions. I think it was just the roster makeup that was the cause of this. There are only two Gonzo holdovers left now. Can the Pirates pull it off? If they can do it often enough, they could sneak into the top-9 or even the top-8. For now, I have them at a solid 11th slot.
2010-11 record: 21-12 (9-9 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Tyrone Johnson, Achraf Yacoubou, Markus Kennedy, Darrun Hilliard
The Wildcats have had talent the last two years, but have suffered from the same disease the Pirates have suffered from, except the Wildcats' problem was that they couldn't finish SEASONS.
Both of the last two years, Villanova has fizzled quite spectacularly down the stretch. By the end of the year, they looked mentally drained. Two seasons ago, their defensive effort waned, and as they hit the tough homestretch that year, they lost 6 of their last 9. Last year, they lost 8 of their last 10, with the two wins being near-losses to Seton Hall in regulation and in OT to DePaul. DEPAUL.
Gone are both Coreys from years past, as well as solid big man Antonio Pena. The Wildcats do return Maalik Wayns (yes, that's how you spell it), a lightning-quick point guard who is a breakout candidate. One of the reasons is that he's one of the few proven commodities in that backcourt. Dominic Cheek and James Bell are both nice players, but last year (aside from Bell lighting up the Pirates), they were both inefficient off the bench. They cannot afford to be that way this year.
Down low the Wildcats return long big men Mo Sutton and Mouph Yarou, who give Jay Wright some defense down low, as well as Jayvaughn Pinkston, a skilled young big who sat out last season.
Incoming are the point guard of the future in Tyrone Johnson, who can certainly drive, but who struggles with his shot and his defense, Achraf Yacoubou, a rough-and-tumble guard who needs to work on ball skills, Markus Kennedy, a wide big who can pass very well and can post up, and Darrun Hilliard, a wing who fills in the blanks (like a glue guy) although he can't really shoot either.
That's another reason Cheek and Bell need to be more consistent- aside from them, there is no one on this roster who can make a perimeter shot. This team also needs to do whatever it takes to not fade at the end this year, because if they do, there may be a bigger problem hiding somewhere. They are here because of a general lack of post offense as well as perimeter shooting.
2010-11 record: 21-11 (10-8 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Otto Porter, Mickael Hopkins, Jabril Trawick, Tyler Adams, Greg Whittington
Georgetown is a team that has no idea who it is yet. With the losses of both Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, not to mention Julian Vaughn, they lost the leading scorer, assist-maker and rebounder from last season's squad. John Thompson III brings in a talented recruiting class, but there are a lot of questions as to who will step up for the Hoyas this year.
Who will be the crunch-time scorer with Freeman gone? Who will run the show with Wright gone? Who will crash the boards with Vaughn gone? These are all legitimate questions. Someone has to step up.
Coming in are a trio of ESPN-100 recruits in Otto Porter, Mickael Hopkins, and Jabril Trawick. Porter is an old-school type player with a great midrange game, Hopkins is a great talent whose effort is inconsistent, and Trawick is a competitive wing player who struggles with the shot. Added to them are two post players in the space-eating Tyler Adams, and a face-up 4 in Greg Whittington.
The one thing Georgetown won't lack is size- Hopkins, Adams, Whittington, Henry Sims, and Nate Lubick (the little used Moses Ayegba tore his ACL and will miss this season) make up a deep rotation of post players. Even the wings (Porter, Hollis Thompson, and Trawick) have good size.
Markel Starks is slated to start at the point this season, but he was invisible last year, so how that goes may determine how far Georgetown can go. One constant they can count on is Jason Clark. Clark shone next to Wright and Freeman the last two years, and the Hoyas hope that he can take more of the reigns this year. He's a good defender and a very good three-point shooter, but can he possibly be a go-to guy?
Only time will tell with this squad. They could be very good, but they could also be disappointing.
That's it for this long Part 2. Part 3 (slots 8-4) is due out tomorrow. Stay tuned!