Big East Media Day Notes
Questions and predictions for college’s No. 1 conference?
Big East Media Day concluded Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, with no shockers as far as preseason predictions and projections.
Villanova topped the polls, as the star-spangled squad that returns high-octane guard Scottie Reynolds and incoming golden boy Dominic Cheek emerged as the preseason favorite.
Luke Harangody, who’s been at Notre Dame longer than the OJ Trial (yeah, yeah Big L Harlem’s finest), was voted as preseason Player of the Year. ‘Gody, he of the funky slingshot jumper and penchant for pounding the boards, was selected for the second time in as many preseason polls. Harangody, the ’07-08 Big East Player of the Year, led the Big East in scoring last year, dropping 23.3 ppg. He also tore down 11.8 boards. Harangody first registered his imprint to the masses during the Jimmy V tournament in 2007, when he went eyeball-to-eyeball with then-Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley and emerged the victor.
Lance “Born Ready” Stephenson, a high volume scorer who had a storied stay at Lincoln High in Brooklyn (where he led to the Railsplitters to an unprecedented four straight PSAL titles), was selected as Big East PreSeason Rookie of the Year. The 6-6 guard, while academically eligible, is still waiting clearance from the NCAA because of his questionable amateur status.
Here are the Biggest Big East questions and predictions as I see them:
Will Ater Majok Immediately Ascend To Stardom? How Will UConn cushion the losses from last season?
The highly acclaimed UConn big man’s pedigree certainly indicates he’s The Truth.
So does his YouTube clip.
The hype hasn’t tailed off. The kid who entertained thoughts of testing the league waters before even throwing on a Huskies jersey has been smothered in more hype than a New York City point guard.
He’s more of an offensive threat than Hasheem Thabeet (who, in three years at UConn, may have executed one back to the basket post move). Thabeet arrived on campus a callow, work in progress powder puff in 2006 and we all saw how the Memphis Grizzlies center departed.
Majok will fill some of the gap in the UConn frontcourt but no question, the defense and manpower of Thabeet and Jeff Adrien will be missed. Thabeet thrived under Jim Calhoun’s high-horsepower, souped-up system. His immense 7-3 presence was felt defensively as he swatted, punched, plucked, manipulated, changed, and altered the trajectory of countless shots and steered lane-splitting guards clear of the paint.
On paper, however, Majok is faster and more athletic than both Thabeet and Adrien, the muscle-bound bar room brawling interior presence. This UConn team will bust out the track shoes. All signs point to the pack of Huskies being on the run even more than last year’s squad.
This means Gavin Edwards, who’s more of a finesse player tailor-made for the run-and-gun brand, will likely lock up a starting spot. Edwards, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Earl Edwards, will once again have no water breaks in practice. After going up against the National Defensive Player of the Year in Thabeet, he once again has a fight on his hands.
Alex Oriakhi, a wide-bodied freshman expected to make an immediate impact, can handle the board work and go to work in the paint. Both men will be pinned to the task of sealing the basket shut, especially towards the end of the first semester. Majok is not cleared to play until sometime in December.
As far as cushioning the loss of last year’s scorers, UConn will have to stick to their breakneck paced, run, run, run style. The presence of freakish athletes Jerome Dyson and Stanley “Sticks” Robinson dictate this frenetic flow. In order for UConn to catapult back to the Big East’s upper-echelon, however, both these players must kick their feast-or-famine, paltry-or-plenty tendencies.
Will ‘Rome and Sticks become consistent threats night in, night out? That’s a question Jeeves can’t even answer right now (remember that razor-sharp super-geek?).
Who had the worst offseason?
Now I know West Virginia and Louisville both made headlines for off the court issues, but they have no affect on what will take place on it. All it does is shed some negative light on some cats and allow the media circus to brew up a storm.
So, simply put, nobody had it rougher (porn stars aside) than Pittsburgh.
The Panthers lost a titanic triumvirate in human pogo stick Sam Young, high-pressure guard Levance Fields (trust him with the rock when the game’s on the line, just ask UConn), and behemoth, bruising forward DeJuan Blair.
While many have Blair pegged as an undersized tweeter and while his draft stock may have plummeted, Blair bolted for the L.
On top of that, Jermaine Dixon—one of the few returnees who played a significant role on last year’s squad—suffered a broken foot. While his return to the hardwood may or may not be delayed, don’t sleep on the 6-3 guard.
Dixon has a heavy burden leading the Panthers alongside springy forward Gilbert Brown. Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker also need to step their games up to fill the scoring void left by the aforementioned trio.
Dixon showed promise last season, emerging into one of the conferences elite defenders.
We didn’t let the paper-slim frame of his big brother (former Maryland standout and current NBA player Juan Dixon) fool us, so why would we let Jermaine’s? Don’t sleep.
Big East Team Primed For Resurgence: Cincinnati Bearcats
We all know the NCAA jumped into investigator mode this summer, dissecting every aspect of fabulous freshman Lance Stephenson’s amateur status.
But signs point to the kid they call Born Ready being ready come November.
“We’re waiting,” as Bearcats coach Mick Cronin told SNY.TV’s Adam Zagoria, a hoops blogging giant who operates the ultra-popular Zagsblog.com.
“He’s cleared academically so we’re just waiting on the amateur thing. He’s not the only one going through it, so a lot of the elite players are going through it. We’ll see. Hopefully it’s done before the first game, I know that.”
Born Ready is capable of a one-and-done campaign, scoring buckets by the bunches alongside proven scorer and ratchet man Deonta Vaughn. The ‘Cats also return the services of Yancy Gates, a blossoming big man who shoots the rock at a high percentage.
Other newcomers offer immediate contributions, as well. There’s been steady anticipation for the arrival of redshirt freshman Cashmere Wright, a 6-0 guard.
An offense operator, Cash will dole out dimes like the campus nurse doles out free rubbers.
And don’t forget about incoming scorer Sean Kilpatrick, a high-flying freshman who starred at Notre Dame Prep (MA), the traditional basketball breeding house.
Albeit young, the Bearcats can certainly right the ship while concurrently re-writing the script with this potent lineup.
Will South Florida Shed The Their Laughing Stock Image?
With the addition of Jarrid Famous, a hotly pursued 6-11 center who chose the Bulls over Arizona and Seton Hall, South Florida has the potential to go from basement dweller to ticket seller. Famous, who spent two years at Westchester Community (Valhalla, NY) tore up the JuCo circuit in shark-size bites and took the soul of several centers. He established himself as one of the top-five scorers and boardsmiths in the NJCAA.
The inside-outside tandem of scoring cyborg Dominique Jones (the best player you’ve never heard of) and Famous could create trouble.
Factor in 6-10 Augustus Gilchrist, and USF is no laughing matter.
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.