Welcome to Part 3 of the 4-part Big East Preview. In this edition, we will cover slots 8-5, with the Top 4 revealed on Friday. Without further ado, the Upper Middle group!
2010-11 record: 15-17 (5-13 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Myles Mack, Jerome Seagears, Kadeem Jack, Derrick Randall,, Malick Kone, Eli Carter
Rutgers did alright for themselves last season, advancing to the second round of the Big East Tournament before getting completely jipped against St. John's by some of the worst refereeing I have ever seen. Along the way, they knocked off Villanova on a memorable 4-point play by outgoing senior Jonathan Mitchell. Mike Rice created a buzz not seen in Piscataway in a long time, and he looks to build on that with his first recruiting class this season.
Gone are leading scorer Mitchell and dependable guards Mike Coburn and James Beatty alongside reserve wing Robert Lumpkins. Out the door with them goes almost all of the Scarlet Knights' perimeter shooting.
But incoming is the best class in Rutgers history by any measure. Leading the charge is the 5'10" (maybe) Myles Mack, a point guard who is highly skilled, able to use his quickness to get into the lane while also possessing a three-point shot and some good court vision. Mack can definitely be exploited by bigger, stronger guards, but he should still be the starter from Day 1.
Joining him are two nice backcourt classmates in Jerome Seagears and Eli Carter. Seagears is a chirpy and confident guard who can drive to the basket and defend with toughness, and Eli Carter may just be the most explosive freshman in the conference despite being the lowest-rated recruit in the class. When Carter is on, he does everything- knock down the long jumper, drive into the lane and finish under duress, and make plays on both ends. When he's off, he forces shots and turns the ball over. He is a dangerous weapon for Rutgers to have because he can heat up without much warning.
In the frontcourt, Derrick Randall and Greg Lewis come in to provide some muscle and defense (Randall), and face-up skill (Lewis). Both have their deficiencies (Lewis disappears sometimes and Randall can't score outside 6 feet), but both are solid bench players at this point. Malick Kone is a plus defender, but can't score except when all he has to do is lay the ball in (fast breaks and such). Then there's Kadeem Jack, who arrived on campus last year, but couldn't play. Jack has a pretty nice skill set, and is a plus shot-blocker, but his effort sometimes wanes.
That class joins the ultra-physical Gil Biruta, the long and athletic defensive machine that is Dane Miller, and the rugged Austin Johnson to form a nice nucleus that Mike Rice should be able to do some things with this season and in the future. You may not think they belong here, but don't underestimate Rice and this squad. You may get burned for it.
Hit the jump team's ranked #7-5!
7. West Virginia
2010- 11 record: 21-12 (11-7 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Jabarie Hinds,, Gary Browne, Tommie McCune, Keaton Miles, Pat Forsythe, Dominique Rutledge (transfer)
The Mountaineers last season had some shoes to fill following a Final Four appearance in 2009-10, and were counting on Kevin Jones to emerge as a star player (he was first team preseason All-conference).
That never happened, but West Virginia was still strong on the defense, enough to will themselves to an 11-7 in-conference record. Gone now are vets Joe Mazzulla (finally), John Flowers, and Casey Mitchell, who emerged from Bob Huggins' doghouse at points in his career to be a solid option on the perimeter.
Incoming is an athletic group of freshmen that Huggins hopes will amp up the tempo a little. Jabarie Hinds is a quick and strong point guard that can get into the rim on offense and force some steals on D. His shot is iffy and he can get out of control on occasion, but I wouldn't be surprised if he starts by the end of the year (or maybe even earlier). Joining him in the backcourt is Gary Browne, who is your typical combo guard who can shoot, pass, and defend.
On the wings, Aaron Brown is a tough lefty and a good defender/rebounder who can't really shoot the jumper, and Tommie McCune, who is a good shooter with nice length and in-progress perimeter ball skills. In the post, Keaton Miles is a rail-thin face-up power forward with some nice scoring moves, and Pat Forsythe, who provides size and depth, as well as JUCO transfer Dominique Rutledge to shore up the depth behind starter Deniz Kilicli.
Jones is now an upperclassman, and how he handles it may be the key to West Virginia's season. He struggled last season when he was expected to take a step forward. I expect him to be better this season. Kilicli is a walking double-double who is one of (if not the) strongest players in the conference. Bob Huggins wants to play faster, and this is a roster that looks like it can accomplish that. It should keep West Virginia in the mix in the middle of the pack this season.
2010-11 record: 22-15 (9-9 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Juan Anderson, Derrick Wilson, Todd Mayo
The one thing about the Golden Eagles that you must know by now is that they play harder than anyone else in the conference night in and night out. That much we know.
We also know that Darius Johnson-Odom is one of the best players in the Big East, and also perhaps the most-underrated. This guy is never discussed in that conversation, and it's time he was. Marquette loses Jimmy Butler, a skilled super-glue guy who did a little of everything and always seemed to make the right play. Dwight Buycks, the starting point guard a year ago, is also gone.
Incoming is a 3-man class including Juan Anderson, a Butler type with less skill and less of a jumper, Wilson, a very tough and strong guard who has a scorer's mindset despite his 6'0" stature, and Todd Mayo, who is a similar copy of his older brother (yes, his brother is OJ Mayo)- a confident shooter/scorer whose body language sometimes goes south.
Marquette, which for years has been about their guards more than their bigs, but this year their bigs bring size and experience- Chris Otule, Jae Crowder, Davante Gardner, and Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson form a very good core down low. In the backcourt is the dependable Johnson-Odom, but aside from him, Junior Cadougan, Wilson, Mayo and Vander Blue (who underwhelmed last year) form an interesting combination.
Count on Marquette to continue to do what they always do- play hard, look to run, be a very tough out at the Bradley Center, and go further than you think they will.
2010-11 record: 26-9 (11-7 Big East)
Welcome to Campus: Jermaine Sanders, Ge'Lawn Guyn, Jeremiah Davis, Octavius Ellis, Cheikh Mbodj
Last season, thefinally made a move towards the top half of the conference, remaining unbeaten for a long time to start the year, and using a great mix of offense and defense to get them wins. Departing are Rashad Bishop and Ibrahima Thomas, two of the key pieces on that defense, as well as rotation players Darnell Wilks and Larry Davis.
The incoming class lost top-rated recruit Shaquille Thomas, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA due to a school issue, but is still not slouch. Sanders is a New York kid from Rice High School who is a combo wing with strength on his frame. He can hit a three when in rhythm, but his size means he's too small to guard 3s, and he's not quick enough to guard 2s. Ge'Lawn Guyn has a great motor and is a good defender but his basketball IQ could use work. He's an attacking point guard rather than a pure point.
Another combo guard, Jeremiah Davis, is a good passer and driver who can also knock down threes on the catch. Octavius Ellis is a tall wing player who can shoot, but who struggles on D with stronger players, and Cheikh Mbodj is a JUCO transfer at center that can block shots and rebound (he averaged 14 PTS, 7 REB, 2 BLK at Grayson Co. Junior College last year).
Returning are many of the core players from last year. Cash Wright is back to run the point, dependable guard Dion Dixon returns as well, and down low, Yancy Gates is a big anchor down low. Sean Kilpatrick was a great spark off the bench last season, and backing up Gates with very good size are redshirt freshman Kelvin Gaines, and sophomore Justin Jackson. This team should be greater than the sum of its parts just like last year. It remains to be seen if the defense takes any hit from losing Bishop (one of my favorite non-Pirates the last few years) and Thomas. My guess is that the culture now instilled by Mick Cronin at Cincy will keep the Bearcats in the mix, although not quite top-4.
Thanks for reading, and watch out for the conclusion of the series tomorrow!