Well, folks- it's that time again. And by that, I mean almost 2 months until college basketball season.
Since college football suffers from BCS Disease and Seton Hall hasn't had a football team at any level since 1985 or so, we at South Orange Juice think Pirate hoops 24/7. And this is the part of the year where I just really, really, REALLY want the season to get under way already.
That being said, I did my predictions last year around this time in a series of posts and will do so again starting with this one. These predictions of mine, which I'll do in reverse order of predicted finish, are where I believe the 16 Big East teams will finish in the coming year (barring uncontrollable things like injuries, transfers, etc...). I apologize for making you all wait so long- various things delayed me, including the internet at my house being knocked out.
We'll start with the three teams in the bottom tier, the "bottom feeders" of the greatest conference in college hoops.
Here you go!
2010-11 record: 15-17, 4-14 Big East (finished 14th)
Welcome to Campus: LaDontae Henton, Kiwi Gardner
Providence College went through an upheaval of sorts this offseason. First they lost their consensus best player from last year (Marshon Brooks) to the NBA Draft. Then they lost their head coach (Keno Davis, who was a really nice guy, but the wrong guy for the job from the start). Providence native Ed Cooley heads north from Fairfield to fix the coach problem, and he hired northeast recruiter Andre LaFleur away from UConn to be his top assistant. So before we get to the obvious problem with PC, chalk those two hires up as wins that will help the program in the future. Chalk up also the commitments of ESPN-100 recruits Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo for 2012 as two more.
Now to the obvious problem- Brooks did quite literally everything for the Friars last season, ranking among the top players in the nation in scoring at almost 25 PTS while also grabbing 7 REB, which led the team. Any time your starting 2-guard is your leading rebounder, you have an issue. And with no Brooks, this team suffers from a lack of talent.
Returning are streaky guard Vince Council, the long Gerard Coleman, and the rugged Bilal Dixon to try and lead this squad to victory, but it's going to be tough, especially because the Friars of recent years played ZERO defense. On the two recruits, Henton is a lefty wing who plays bigger than he is (although ESPN doesn't even list his height) and who lacks perimeter skills at this point. Kiwi Gardner is intriguing because he's only 5'8" but he's a really fast and athletic guard who can definitely provide a change of pace behind Council. Unfortunately, he's also error-prone (like Council), but he should be fun to watch, and a fan favorite because of his height. The team will also expect redshirt freshman Brice Kofane to contribute.
Providence has some HUGE shoes to fill in the scoring department, though, and no real option to replace Brooks' 25 per. I think Council and Coleman will up their scoring to try to fill that void, but it won't be enough to escape the basement of the Big East unless this team learns how to defend their rear ends off. Considering the last two seasons, that may be a stretch. Can it happen, like Seton Hall with Kevin Willard? Of course, but the Friars with no defense the last couple years didn't do as well as those Pirates teams to begin with.
Next year, Providence will be better, but this year is gonna be rough in Friartown.
2010-11 record: 10-23, 3-15 Big East (finished 14th)
Welcome to Campus: Anthony Collins, Victor Rudd (transfer), Martino Brock (transfer), Blake Nash (JUCO),
The Bulls will not have a permanent home for the next year or so with the Sun Dome being renovated (it really needed it anyway), but the team is pretty much intact from last year, minus Jarrid Famous of course. Haynes and Burwell never really played much for coach Stan Heath, and the Bulls this year bring in a number of transfers, one of which have to sit out the year in Brock (who transferred from South Alabama).
Heath tried the transfer thing last year, and it landed him Ron Anderson, Jr., Hugh Robertson, and the exciting Jawanza Poland, all of whom were major players last season. Expect them all to once again fill those roles. Incoming are Victor Rudd and JUCO transfer Blake Nash, both of whom can reportedly shoot the ball, something USF sorely needed last season (317th out of 335 D-1 teams according to Ken Pomeroy).
What USF was good at last year was offensive rebounding (which was a good thing because they missed a ton of shots and had trouble scoring all year long). Losing Jarrid Famous hurts this significantly, especially with 7'3" big man Jordan Omogbehin needing to redshirt due to academic issues.
The other true freshman recruit, Anthony Collins, is a pass-first point guard, and last season's PG recruit, LaVonte Dority, has also yet to prove himself. Nash is a favorite to start the year at the point as well. The goal for Stan Heath was to improve the backcourt, and he has done that with Nash, Collins, Rudd and Martino while keeping the frontcourt somewhat intact.
The key will be senior forward Augustus Gilchrist (yup, he's still there). He's been ravaged by injuries in his career, but the versatile forward, in my opinion, has something left in the tank.. If he doesn't perform, USF could slip even further. I need to see him stay healthy before I pencil the Bulls any higher than this, though, due to the issues USF has at point guard in addition to being talent-deficient.
2010-11 record: 7-24, 1-17 Big East (finished 16th)
Welcome to Campus: Macari Brooks, Charles McKinney, Derrell Robertson, Montray Clemons, Jamie Crockett, Donnavan Kirk (transfer)
The perennial basement dwellers of the Big East are now Oliver Purnell's team. While Purnell certainly meant well, he was only able to register one conference win in his first year in Chicago (over Providence on the road, by the way). Purnell likes to have athletes and plays an up-tempo system with those athletes, and now he certainly has those. All of the incoming recruits are good athletes, with most of the returnees fitting that mold as well.
Returning are leading scorer Cleveland Melvin, who sort of shocked everyone by doing so. Then again, someone had to do it, and Melvin, and uber-athlete at the forward position, took control. Sophomore point guard Brandon Young is also back- he was likewise a big part of DePaul last season. Big man Khrys Faber also returns and this time, he has help down low from the new recruits, and Jeremiah Kelly (who unexpectedly turned into DePaul's lone three point threat) is also back.
Despite that, with Devin Hill and Michael Bizoukas transferring, it is a very young team, but one who will run at all times and push the tempo to try and make up for a general lack of skill. Recruit-wise, Shane Larkin, DePaul's top recruit, is no longer coming to campus due to "undisclosed medical reasons" (yeah, right). Charles McKinney is a glue-guy type wing, while Macari Brooks is a rugged combo guard. Jamie Crockett is a straight-up athlete who can leap, and Derrell Robertson and Montray Clemons are big men who will definitely factor into Purnell's frontcourt rotation. Miami transfer Donnavan Kirk won't be eligible until Thanksgiving, but he should give DePaul more size up front at 6'9".
The future is looking up for the Blue Demons with a proven coach like Purnell, but they are still two seasons away from making even a little noise in the Big East. Nevertheless, their up-tempo style is not a defenseless one, and I like them to finally move out of that 16th spot this season. That aforementioned style should mean that they will overachieve a little bit. Slow and steady for this historic program to regain some of its former luster.
That's it for now. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the series, The Lower Middle Group, which will be out tomorrow.