Tag:Fighting Irish
Posted on: November 14, 2008 1:27 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2008 9:46 pm

Final thoughts on the upcoming Big East season

Now that every team has been previewed, it's time for me to collect my thoughts. This league is probably one of the toughest in history to predict, but I'm going to take a shot at it. First I'll arrange the teams by tiers, then I'll project the finish, and finally I'll have some thoughts on how the conference teams will do in the preseason tournaments. I had about 80% of this finished when my browser crashed before, so this is more hurried and probably has dropped in quality; apologies for that.

I believe that the nine-team-in projection is not at all far-fetched, and that as many as 12 might see some postseason play or other. It will all depend on nonconference performance and the new conference tourney format. I'm excited for the first Big East games tonight, starting at 7 PM, and can't wait for the season in general. Now, on to business...

Tiers of Teams

Stratifying the league even this way is difficult. There are four preseason title contenders, and I agree that they're the most likely winners, but I doubt they finish 1-4. The next groups of teams are hard to separate, with a lot of teams bearing hugely talented rosters and similar weak spots. Regardless, I think I have come up with a reasonable, though admittedly subjective, set of crieteria for differentiating what we've got. (Each tier is listed alphabetically)

Tier One:

Connecticut, Louisville

These teams have the best combination of talent, balance, and depth to be the clear-cut favorites. They aren't the only two who could win the league, but I'd be surprised if either finished outside the top 4.

Tier Two:

Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

These teams have a ton of returning talent, but lack either the balance (Pitt) or the depth (ND) to be favored over the above teams. The next group of teams could easily displace either of these, but I'd be surprised if either finished lower than sixth.

Tier Three:

Marquette, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Between tiers three and four is in my opinion the toughest place to draw a line. The distinction I drew is that these four teams I believe have the biggest chance to sneak into the top four, and would surprise me the most to finish out of the top half of the league.

Tier Four:

Georgetown, Providence

I believe one of these two teams will be left out of the Big Dance, and neither looks to me to have the talent to sneak into the top 4. Either one could surpass some of the teams in tier three, though, if things break the right way.

Tier Five:

Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall

These are the teams between NCAA rosters and terrible. I don't believe any is capable of squeezing into the top half of the league, but the one who puts together the best resume will probably land in the NIT. I think any of these could be competitive in some other conferences out there.

Tier Six:

DePaul, South Florida, St. John's

This is the dead weight. A 13th place finish would be a major victory for any of these three teams. I hate to be that harsh, but there's just no comparison between these rosters and most others in the Big East.

Projected Final Standings:

I'm not kidding when I say how hard this is. So before you flame me, homers, for having your team too low, remember that I've probably considered every legitimate argument your team has and decided that the others' have slightly more weight. Finishing tenth in this conference is not an insult...that team will be a very good one whether it's my pick or not. So before you say there's "no way" it could be your team, really consider the competition. I believe anyone but my top five could actually end up in the ten spot. OK, no more hedging, here's my order.

  1. Louisville (NCAA) They're my pick thanks to an easier schedule than the Huskies
  2. Connecticut (NCAA) They have the most talent, but a very rough road.
  3. Pittsburgh (NCAA) I pick them here largely because they get my next two teams at the Peterson Events Center, where they don't lose many games.
  4. Syracuse (NCAA) Someone will oust one of the "top four" and my pick is the Orange. I choose them because I believe they have the best combination of returning scorers and new talent from my "tier three" teams.
  5. Notre Dame (NCAA) I choose them to be bumped from the top four because I believe they are the least set up for the long haul. Their talent makes them capable of beating any team, but its concentration in two or three players makes them vulnerable.
  6. Villanova (NCAA) Experience wins my vote among some hard to separate squads.
  7. West Virginia (NCAA) The Mountaineers return more talent than most realize, and have an excellent recruiting class. They will have the best defense of several BE teams relying on forwards and no center up front.
  8. Marquette (NCAA) I hate to pick a team with this much talent this low, but teams 1-7 are that good.
  9. Providence (NCAA) They have the schedule to make something of a run, and more talent than you think.
  10. Georgetown (NIT) There. I did it. The Hoyas are reloading and I think it costs them. If they prove me wrong (higher than 8th place) I'll eat my crow.
  11. Seton Hall (NIT) I throw them up here largely because of Cincinnati's injuries, but also recognizing that here are some good pieces in place here.
  12. Cincinnati (CBI) They were going to be my surprise NCAA pick until they lost three players. Watch out for this team in 2009-2010
  13. Rutgers (none) They have enough players I like to keep them out of the bottom three.
  14. St. John's (none) Down at this level, experience is king, and they have grown together as a team and are well-coached.
  15. DePaul (none) I give them a slight edge over the Bulls.
  16. South Florida (none) I could really see a 1-17 conference record here, with a home win over DePaul.
So there it is. Teams 8 and 9, whether they are my picks or not, had better 1) excel in the ooc and 2) not flame out in the BE tournament. If that happens it will get the top 12 a chance to play in a postseason tournament. Of course, teams 9-12 had better win those opening round games, too...

The Big East in preseason tournaments

Connecticut - Paradise Jam
They get an opening round matchup with La Salle that should be an easy win. Anything short of winning this tournament would be something of a failure, but Miami, San Diego, and Wisconsin are all very dangerous. I'd most like to see the SD - UCONN matchup in the final. I'll say UCONN wins it, but it won't be easy.

Georgetown - Old Spice Classic
There' a very winnable opening round game against Wichita State, followed by a matchup with Siena or Tennessee. That second round game could be tough for the Hoyas to win. I think they face Tennessee (though Siena could surprise some folks) and lose. That would put them in the 3rd/5th place game with either Gonzaga or Michigan State, both games I think they would lose. With its 5th place finish, I think we will learn that Georgetown isn't a top 25 team just yet.

Notre Dame - Maui Invitational
OK, I have said that I think Indiana could stun Notre Dame in this opening round game for a number of reasons. Understand that that only means I give them about a 10% chance. Notre Dame should win that game. If they avoid that crazy upset, I believe they will defeat Texas and face UNC in the title game. Anything could happen there with Hansbrough out, or even with him playing 80%. This is an opportunity for the Big East to really flex a muscle early.

Pittsburgh - Legends Classic
This almost doesn't deserve mention, but it is a preseason tournament...Pittsburgh first hosts Akron and Indiana (PA) (Fairleigh Dickinson, though in the tournament, doesn't count as part of the tournament in tonight's game @ Pitt). If Pitt loses either of those...OK, let's not think about that, but even if they do they meet Texas Tech in the semifinal and then either Mississippi State or Washinton State in the final. If Pittsburgh doesn't win the thing it will be a major failure.

Providence - Anaheim Classic
This is to me one of the more intriguing preseason tournaments, as it is loaded with teams trying to sneak into the national discussion but no clear powerhouses. There will be no easy games for the Friars, but I'm going to say they knock off Baylor, Arizona State, and Wake Forest consecutively to take home the title and secure one heck of an ooc resume. I realize I'm out on a limb, but Providence is better than the attention they're getting, and I look for them to prove it in a big way.

Seton Hall - Puerto Rico Season Tip Off
The Pirates will be without transfer Robert Mitchell for this tournament, and because of that I think they lose to USC with little contest. I do think they can win the loser's bracket and capture fourth place, though, with Chattanooga and Missouri as the likely opponents.

St. John's - NIT Season Tip Off
Cornell is a better team than St. John's, so I will say the Red storm likely go home early. However, if they pull that upset, the next round against Boston College or Loyola (MD) is easier. Again, I expect one-and-done, but if they win the first they might just win two. I see very little chance of further advance than that.

Syracuse - CBE Classic
This is the same format as the Legends Classic but less of a joke. Syracuse has all but assured wins in LeMoyne and Richmond to get things going, followed by a tough smeifinal against Florida. I say that Syracuse gets it done, beating Florida and then the defending champs. I think Florida will be the tougher of the two games, but this is the Orange's Chance to say "we're here."

Roundup: So, I see four preseason tournament champions (Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Syracuse), one runner-up (Notre Dame) and two top half finishes (Georgetown, Seton Hall) for the Big East. The lone one-and-done I suspect will be St. John's. 

Note tournaments that I couldn't find brackets for include: West Virginia and DePaul in the Las Vegas Invitational, Cincinnati in the Global Sports Classic, Villanova in the Philly Classic, Marquette in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, and South Florida in the San Juan Shootout.  Of those, the most important game I'm aware of is a WV-Kentucky matchup, which I'll go ahead and pick the Mountaineers to win.

So, there you have it, my complete opinion on Big East basketball '08-'09. Thanks to everyone who took the time to bother reading all this the last few weeks; I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together. Let me know what you think, even if you think I'm an idiot, because I want to hear it! Also, check out the Second Annual year-long Big East thread for constant discussion of all relevant Big East topics. Go Big East!
Posted on: October 29, 2008 12:38 pm

Big East Preview 7, Notre Dame Fighting Irish

This is another team popping into a lot of people's preseason top ten lists.  They probably deserve it, because they return 4 of 5 starters and 7 or the top 8 scorers from a team that won 14 Big East games and 25 overall.  Everybody knows about their two stars, but the burning question is whether their supporting cast will be enough to carry them deep into the NCAA tournament.  This is a team of lofty expectations in a league with same.  How things go for them will turn on the ability of everybody on the roster after Harangody and McAlarney to step up their game a little.

25-8 Overall, 14-4 Big East (3rd)
Eliminated in second round of Big East tournament (Marquette)
Lost NCAA second round (Washington State)


Tim Abromaitis          F
Tim Andree                 F
Ryan Ayers                G/F
Luke Harangody        F
Zach Hillesland         F
Tory Jackson              G
Tom Kopko                 G
Rob Kurz                     G
Kyle McAlarney           G
Tyrone Nash               G
Jonathan Peoples     G
Ty Proffitt                      G
Carleton Scott             F
Luke Zeller                 F/C

Kurz, Proffitt

Proffit is not a major loss; Kurz is.  I don't see on the Irish roster a single player who will be able to step up and replace Rob Kurz's 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds.  Whether they can collectively do so is an open question.


Ben Hansbrough
     G    (transfer from Mississippi State)  I like his potential, but he will have to sit out the 2008-2009 campaign.
Scott Martin               G    (transfer from Purdue)   Again, good potential but it'll have to wait a year.

Well, with two spots open and both filled by transfers who haven't done their penance, I have to figure Notre Dame's depth will take a small hit.  I understand Carleton Scott didn't see any action last year, so he might help with that...but I know nothing about the kind of player he is.

The Schedule: 

Nonconference Games:  USC Upstate, Loyola Marymount, Indiana (Maui Invitational: likely second round Texas, other participants are North Carolina, Chaminade, St. Joseph's, Alabama, and Oregon), Furman, South Dakota, Ohio State, Boston University, Delaware State, Savannah State, UCLA

That is ROUGH.  The Maui invitational field is strong, and even though Indiana should be down this year I wouldn't count them out against a squad Tom Crean is intimately familiar with.  If they beat Texas they'd likely face UNC, and if they lost the third round would feature Alabama or Oregon.  On top of that, they host Ohio State and visit UCLA.  Crazy.

Two Time Opponents
:  St. John's, Louisville, Connecticut

Doubles against possibly the two best teams in the league.  Brutal.

Remaining Roadies
:  DePaul, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Providence

Now that's five games against the other heavyweights, three of them on the road.  They also travel to the Carrier Dome and the Colisseum...and they're a much better team in South Bend.

Home Games
:  Georgetown, Seton Hall, Marquette, South Florida, Rutgers, Villanova

They could win all of those, but I don't know if they can beat both the Ville and UConn at home...They probably go 7-1 or 6-2.  All in all, they might have the number one SOS in the nation when the dust clears.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
      "Everybody Else" steps up in a big way, led by Ayers and Jackson.  Hillesland and Abromaitis surprise with sizeable contributions.  All of this spells a victory in the Maui Invitational, ending the discussion about an undefeated season for UNC early.  Still, I don't expect them to fly out to the West Coast and beat UCLA, especially looking at the schedule around that game.  Somehow they do manage to maintain that BE home wining streak, knocking off both preseason favorites, and they manage to win enough on the road to win the Big East.  They take the number one spot in the conference and run with it, sweeping both titles and getting a number one seed.  With it they play into the Final Four, where anything can happen, but I don't see them winning the title, especially if it requires a second game against the Tar Heels.

Worst Case Scenario
      The supporting cast isn't up to the task of filling Kurz's absence, and it shows up in a big way.  They get buried in the Maui Invitational, finishing between 4th and 6th after a disappointing loss to Indiana to open it.  They get beat by Ohio State AND UCLA as well, and the tough noncon haunts them as they limp into BE play.  They start that slate 4-0, though, and still finish in the top half of the league, probably no lower than sixth.  The worst this team can be isn't really very bad because of two big-time players.  They win one or two in the Big East tournament, securing a reasonable seed, and get through to at least the second round of the NCAAs again.

My Take:
       I've said before, with this exact phrasing, that Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney are among the best inside-out duos in the nation.  It's true, and that alone will carry them pretty far.  I think the absence of Rob Kurz will be felt, though, and that the rest of the roster is filled with average to slightly above average players.  Ayers and Jackson averaged 7.8 and 8 points, respectively, last season...but they also averaged 25.2 and 32.8 minutes.  This isn't a case of more playing time = more points, because there aren't many more minutes to be had.  It is nice to say that they return seven of their top eight scorers...but five of those scored 8, 7.8, 6.1, 4.5, and 3.3 points a contest.  That isn't impressive.  I am NOT saying that this is a bad team.  I do think they will be about equivalent to last year's team, because the added experience will balance Kurz's absence somewhat.  Harangody and McAlarney mean that they can beat any team in the nation on a given night, but their heavy reliance on those two also means that they can lose on any given night.  They just aren't set up to win a regular season title in that regard.  The Big East tournament is another matter...they could certainly win that, especially if they manage to finish in the top four.  As for the NCAA tournament...they will get in, I am almost certain, and they could win it or be eliminated in the first round.  I lack real confidence in this team because if someone shuts down Harangody just once, or if McAlarney goes cold at the wrong time, they are vulnerable.
Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com