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 30, 2008 7:50 pm

Big East Preview 8, Pittsburgh Panthers

Well, this is the one I've been waiting to do, certainly.  There are high expectations in Pittsburgh, with a great group of returning players.  Some think this might be Pitt's best chance to crack the Sweet Sixteen finally, but that's something Pitt fans have heard quite a lot the last few seasons.  I like what I see, but wild hope is mitigated in my eyes by a lot of unanswered questions.  Obviously my bias will show through here, but I have tried to be objective in applying the knowledge I have.

30-9 Overall, 10-8 Big East (7th)
Won Big East tournament
Eliminated second round NCAAs (Michigan State)


Keith Benjamin      G/F
Tyrell Biggs              F
DeJuan Blair           C
Gilbert Brown         G/F
Mike Cook                F
Cassin Diggs        G/F
LeVance Fields       G
Tim Frye                   G
Gary McGhee           C
Maurice Polen        G/F
Ronald Ramon        G
Austin Wallace         C
Brad Wanamaker    G
Sam Young               F

Benjamin, Cook, Ramon, Diggs, Wallace

A lot of activity here.  Cook missed most of the season, so he essentially was lost prior to this, but he appealed for a medical redshirt and was denied.  Ramon and Benjamin will be missed, but Ramon was not the shooter a lot of Pitt fans thought he was and Benjamin was really only great when Fields was out and he stepped into the vacuum.  Diggs was let go for scholarship room.  Wallace red shirted one year and was injured the next.  Pitt decided his injury ended his career.  I believe the greatest impact here may be on Pitt's defense, because I think the pieces are there to make up for the scoring.  Cook was an excellent defender, and Ramon really stepped up that part of his game, even while his shooting faded.  Benjamin was a very high energy guy.  I don't know if the new guys will be able to bring quite as much to the defense, especially outside.


Ryan Tiesi    G  (transfer from Bellarmine College) I have to wonder what the reason for this move was...he doesn't appear to have contributed even at Bellarmine.
Jermain Dixon  G (JUCO transfer)  He is probably a better shooter than anyone Pitt has had in a few years.  Whether he can translate his other abilities well enough to D-I play is yet to be seen.

Dwight Miller          F
Ashton Gibbs        G
Travon Woodall    G
Nasir Robinson    F

The first three are three star recruits, and Robinson four.  It's not quite as impressive a class as some others in the conference, but it makes Pitt a reasonably deep team.  Robinson should have immediate impact, and Woodall will likely get some valuable experience early while Fields is still hurt...experience that will make Pitt's depth better when it is needed.

Jonathan Baldwin and/or Michael Shanahan?

I mention these two because they are football players rumored to have an interest in walking on to the basketball squad.  Baldwin was a 4 star recruit who had accepted a scholarship to play basketball but elected to play football instead.  Shanahan I believe was a three star recruit.  It seems Baldwin may have rejected the idea, but Shanahan has expressed interest.  Either would answer some questions of depth at SF and SG, but I can't factor them in to my expectations because I don't know the chances of their joining the team.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:  Fairleigh Dickenson, Miami (OH), Akron, Indiana (PA), Belmont, Texas Tech, Duquesne, Vermont, UMBC, Siena, Florida State, Robert Morris

That's a pretty weak ooc, and I believe Pitt is better than all of the above teams.  However, especially without Fields, the trip to Texas could be dangerous, as could the game against a Siena team that will be hungry for a signature win, given the preseason scuttlebutt they are garnering.

Two Time Opponents:  DePaul, Connecticut, West Virginia

That's a representative cross-section of the Big East.  Very fair.

Remaining Roadies:  Rutgers, Georgetown, Louisville, Villanova, Providence, Seton Hall

Home Games:   St. John's, South Florida, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Marquette

The BE schedule for Pitt overall is pretty favorable.  They play one of the other heavyweights twice, visit one, and host the last.  They avoid trips to Marquette and St. John's, where they often struggle (odd that they play so well at MSG unless it's to play St. John's), and they get Notre Dame at home...which makes a lot of difference.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Fields, Young, and Blair don't miss a step, and Gilbert Brown plays to his considerable potential.  Jermaine Dixon becomes Pitt's most reliable outside shooter in some time.  Tyrell Biggs improves, and Nasir Robinson steps right in to make the frontcourt depth considerable, and even Gary McGhee puts in some quality minutes in that regard.  Wanamaker matures, and along with help from Woodall and Gibbs provides backup to the starting guards.  All of this gels to win them a BE regular season title, lose no nonconference games, and play in (win?) an eighth BE title game in nine seasons.  They finally get past the Sweet Sixteen, perhaps all the way to the Final Four.  This team does not look like a championship winner, though, so I don't think they'd cut down the nets in Detroit even with their best season.

Worst Case Scenario:
      Blair has trouble head-to-head against several of the other elite centers in the conference.  Fields isn't quite the same after getting back from the injured foot, and Woodall isn't ready to run things in reserve.  Dixon can't produce at quite the same level in D-1, and guys like Biggs, Wanamaker, and McGhee fail to step in and replace the old guard.  The Panthers get upset in as many s 3 ooc games, lose all 4 games against the other preseason conference favorites, and thus fail to improve on last year's 10-8 BE record or 7th place finish.  They do get a game or two in MSG, because of how well they play there, but fall flat in the NCAA tournament as they did last season.

My Take:
     Pitt has possibilities to win either or both BE crown(s), and to make a Final Four run.  They have too many unanswered questions, though, for me to project them to have that kind of season.  They are deserving of their preseason ranking, but will have to answer most of the following questions in the affirmative to deserve it. 1) Will Dixon's transition be fairly smooth, and can he produce in D-1?  2) Can Biggs, Wanamaker, and McGhee (or most of them) improve upon their play from last year?  Wanamaker in particular has disappointed so far, and needs to mature.  Biggs hasn't been quite as good as advertised, either.  3) Is their "depth" actually depth and not a smokescreen?  As usual, Pitt has *a lot* of "pretty good" players.  That needs to translate (it usually does) to a sum greater than the parts.  4) Does either Baldwin or Shanahan walk on to further augment the depth?  This could be the difference between "really good" and "Elite Eight or more" perhaps.  5) Will Fields be healthy?  6) Will the freshmen have a positive impact?  Anyway, hidden within those 6 questions are about a dozen factors, and I think between 8 and 10 of these will have to fall the Panthers way for them to be the top ten team predicted by many.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: October 8, 2008 1:28 pm

Week 6 NFL picks and explanations

The league has finally started to separate itself, and the last two weeks have had some very difficult to predict games.  But there are still a ton of teams in the balance (I'm talking to you Dolphins, Saints, and Falcons, among others) and this week could see some more things crystallize.  Of course, it could also see some teams slide or drop into that middle ground.  Man, October football is great!

Panthers (4-1) at Buccaneers (3-2)
    This looks like the game to see this week.  These teams are eerily similar.  Both can run the ball-with powerful duos instead of one feature back.  Both can stop the run.  Tampa Bay has the edge on the ground.  The Panthers, though, can throw it, and are a little better at stopping the pass.  These teams are close.  Both, though, have struggled with penalties.  The more disciplined team wins this game, and it's easier to be disciplined at home.
Bucaneers 20-17

Bears (3-2) at Falcons (3-2)
    Another exciting game involving an NFC South team.  The Bears appear to be the favorite in a weakened NFC North, but the Falcons have played better than expected.  I look for the Bears defense to win this one, and here's why:  What the Bears have given up they've surrendered through the air, and Atlanta has been doing its damage on the ground.
Bears 21-10

Rams (0-4) at Redskins (4-1)

    This one looks easy.  Is it one of those deceptive, "why they play the games" contests?  No.  The Redskins are for real, and the Rams are really this bad.  The new coach gets them some points, though.
Redskins 38-14

Bengals (0-5) at Jets (2-2)
    The Jets are coming off a bye, Brett Favre just threw 6 TD passes, and the Bengals are in shambles.  That's why I know I'm out on a limb here.  But the Bengals are too good to stay winless much longer.  Not good, but better than 0-6.  Cincinnati goes into New York and stuns the J-E-T-S.
Bengals 24-21

Raiders (1-3) at Saints (2-3)
    That decision to fire the coach - and withhold pay - made a bad situation worse.  The Saints are hurting, and I think their injuries keep them out of the postseason, but they get a win here to even their record.  They're just plain better than the Raiders, they're at home, and Oakland is a mess.
Saints 30-20

Lions (0-4)  at Vikings (2-2)
    Are the Lions or the Rams the worst in the league?  It doesn't matter, because both are much worse than the Vikings, who have been inspired by Gus Frerotte of all people.  The Vikings continue their recent roll.
Vikings 24-10

Ravens (2-2) at Colts (2-2)
    Both of these teams need a win here if they want to stay close to the Steelers and Titans, respectively.  The Colts have struggled every week, but the Ravens rely entirely on a defense.  That D is good, but not good enough to stop Peyton Manning and all his weapons.  Indy should be riding high after escaping the Texans, as well.
Colts 17-14

Dolphins (2-2) at Texans (0-4)
    Everyone is on the Dolphins bandwagon after seeing them take down the Patriots and Chargers.  Not me.  They had a game plan for the depleted Patriots, and the Chargers are not as good as they were.  LT just isn't getting it done, for whatever reason.  Can they really get up for an 0-4 team the way they did against their last two opponents?  I don't think they can.
Texans 21-17

Jaguars (2-3) at Broncos (4-1)
    This is a tough one.  The Jaguars can run it and the Broncos have a soft defense.  The Jags also seem to have Denver's number.  This time, though, I don't think they can stop Jay Cutler.  The Broncos get a scare, but come out on top.
Broncos 31-27

Packers (2-3) at Seahawks (1-3)
    Nothing like a trip to one of this season's biggest busts to right the ship.  That Packer D is a problem, but the Seattle offense just isn't.  Aaron Rodgers will have a pretty good day.
Packers 34-14

Eagles (2-3) at 49ers (2-3)
    This is a battle of two teams more talented than their records.  The Eagles, though, have proven more than the Niners.  Most teams would be 1-3 over a stretch of Dallas, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Washington.  Folks outside the NFC East are reluctant to admit how good those four teams are.  This just in: VERY good.  Maybe the Eagles are the worst of the bunch, but that's still better than average.  This game, though, will surprise people with how good it is.
Eagles 31-28

Cowboys (4-1) at Cardinals (3-2)
    Is Dallas the most talented team in the league?  Maybe.  Arizona can run and gun with them, though..and both teams have questions to answer on the defense.  This will be a wild one, and I give the advantage to the home team.  An unpopular pick, I'm sure...and I'll gladly eat crow if I'm wrong.
Arizona 38-35

Patriots (3-1) at Chargers (2-3)
    The Patriots are without their golden boy...we know already.  The Chargers have theirs (Ladanian Tomlinson) but he hasn't really shown up this year.  The Pats just won one tough game on the West Coast, and I think they finish the trip with another W.  Belichick can really coach 'em, and he has figured out how to make that offense work with Matt Cassel at the helm.
Patriots 17-14

Giants (4-0) at Browns (1-3)
    The undefeated defending champs against the 1-3 Browns coming off a bye.  I'll take the champs, though not by 38 like last week.
Giants 28-12

Open Dates:

Bills:     They get good news in an extra week for their ailing QB to heal, and more good news, I say, in Jets and Dolphins losses.  They also learn, though, that the PAtriots are going to be their to push them all year.

Chiefs:     This poor team gets a week to stew over their spanking in Carolina.  We'll have to wait to find out of they or Oakland are the worst in that division.  If you ask me, it has two bottom five teams.

Steelers:     Another team with an extra week to heal.  They need it after a punishing Monday Night game against the Ravens and another hard-hitting match with Jacksonville.  They showed that the NFC North is heirs to seize by winning those two games with injuries, and the week to rest will only help.

Titans:     The open date might actually hurt them, because they might see the Colts creep a little closer and it pauses that roll they've been on.  They should bat the Chiefs in their week back, but a loss to Indy in week 8 could really change things in that division.
Posted on: February 16, 2008 9:20 am

Sigh, Marquette

I hate Marquette so much.  Not really, because they are well coached and a great program etc. etc.  Nothing seems to make us capable of beating them, though, no matter the circumstances.  I am so TIRED of losing to this team.  Ever since that sweet 16 with Dwayne Wade (such an impressive athlete and classy guy, but boy do I wish he'd played his college ball elsewhere).  In fact, Pitt hasn't won at Marquette since 1930.  Say what again?

OK, so everyone is panning Fields because he had a bad first game back.  Guess what, he JUST HAD A BROKEN FOOT.  He looked like he was fine in terms of health and shape, but he couldn't hold onto the ball or find his shot.  That will change.  Wouldn't anyone be rusty after a 12-game absence from the lineup?

Man does Pitt need to win.  The next to are @ ND and home vs. Louisville.  If they don't at least split they could be in serious trouble.  After that they have two tough road games at WVU and Syracuse, though there's a home contest with cincinnati first.  They close the regular season at home vs. DePaul.  I will be satisfied with 3 wins out of that slate, because it's so tough.  That would be a little disappointing, though, after we showed how good we can be in our first 11 games.
Posted on: February 14, 2008 6:57 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2008 6:58 pm

LeVance Fields!

Fields is back! Reportedly, anyway. This is huge for the Panthers, especially against a Marquette team that always seems to have our number. More importantly, they are one spot behind us in the Big East standings, and if we beat them it puts us in very good position to grab one of the coveted Big East tournament first-round byes. I mean, even with 4 conference losses we sit in 5th place, and the next three ahead of us have 3 losses.

Another thing about Friday's game is that it's the first half of a brutal road trip to Marquette and Notre Dame. As much as I want Pitt to be the team to break the Irish's home winning streak, if we win the front half of the trip there's not as much pressure to do so. In fact, it puts the pressure on ND because we'd have just beaten Marquette at home - a place where they were blown out. A win tomorrow night also gets us 20 again (well, if Houston Baptist counts). Even if the non-D I game doesn't count, with three home games left, 2 against Cincinnati and DePaul, something is wrong if we don't win another game.

Will Fields make the difference? I'm not sure, but he certainly will make everyone else better as they all get the chance to 1) return to their natural roles and 2) get a little bit of rest. I like seeing our young guys get minutes to help in the future, but Wanamaker and McGhee aren't really ready to contribute on a consistent basis.

Dating back to the start of last baseball season, my teams have taken some nasty injuries (I mean, seriously it's nuts, and I'm working on a complete list to throw up in another blog entry). Maybe now will begin some of the readjusting sports karma after such staggering losses.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com