Big East Notebook
With the arrival of the New Year, Big East conference play commences. Here’s a look around the Big East at some of the notable and not-so-notable:
Look for super sophomore guard Ryan Sidney to return to form after breaking his jaw in a December practice. With a fully healthy Sidney, the Eagles have a dominant backcourt and are contenders for another Big East championship. Sidney, in a remarkable display of courage and John Wayne badness, has not missed a game for the Eagles after his jaw was wired shut. Sidney’s scoring average has suffered, but look for Sidney to return to his early season scoring level by the end of January.
Boston College must learn to close out its opponents. This team must raise its basketball I.Q. in the final minutes, which was not demonstrated in close victories over UMass and Iowa State in December. The Eagles have to learn to use the clock to their advantage by putting the ball in All-American guard Troy Bell’s hands. Bell is one of the nation’s premier free throw shooters which he displayed in a 17-for-17 effort from the charity stripe against Iowa State.
Note to Al Skinner: Remind your players late in the game that Troy Bell is on their team.
Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh at Chestnut Hill ended a 25 game home winning streak for the Eagles. The Panthers are big up front – reminiscent of last year’s edition of the USC Trojans who knocked the Eagles out of the NCAA Tournament in the second round.
Does Louis Orr need to get a personal jet for Darius Lane? Lane arrived late for the Pirates loss to the Iona Gaels in the first game of the Holiday Invitational at Madison Square Garden in December because he missed his flight back from Minnesota resulting in a suspension from Orr.
Lane has struggled offensively, which may partially explain his tardiness, but another reason for his Minnesota sabbatical might be attributed to sophomore point guard Andre Barrett’s World B. Free impersonations in December. For The Hall to improve, Barrett needs to dish the rock and make sure his teammates get some touches. Barrett can penetrate at will to the hoop but his “j” is suspect. Lane can burn the twine from behind the line, so Andre look for the man.
Seton Hall’s 80-72 road win at Virginia Tech on Saturday showed the potential of the Lane/Barrett combo. Lane fired in 20 for the Pirates including his first four of seven from behind the arc. Barrett complemented Lane’s hot shooting from behind the three with 17 points and 11 assists for Barrett’s fourth career double-double.
This program has been in freefall since former Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker recruited Eddie Griffin and his talented cohorts last year. First year Coach Louis “The Thin Man” Orr needs to get The Hall’s house in order with players he did not recruit which is always a tough task. The fault for Seton Hall’s current predicament lies with Tommy Amaker and not Louis Orr. Amaker had great recruiting classes but was unable to develop any team chemistry or discipline in last year’s team. Amaker shopped for the groceries but now Orr has to do the cookin’.
Pirate fans should be patient and give the Syracuse playing great, Orr, a little time.
First year Coach Gary Waters is hoping to stem the tide of transfers from the Scarlet Knights program in the New Year. Transfers plagued Rutgers during the Kevin Bannon era. How can a program expect to compete in the Big East when it loses talent such as Dahntay Jones to Duke, Luis Flores to Manhattan and Todd Billet’s transfer to UVA where he will sit out the year for Pete Gillen? Blame Bannon and Rutgers A.D. Robert Mulcahy for the state of this program. Bannon turned his players off and Mulcahy can be faulted for giving Bannon a multi-year contract and then firing Bannon one year after Bannon signed the extension. Why give the guy an extension in the first place?
Waters needs to have actor James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) go out on some recruiting visits with him in the New Year. What mother could refuse Tony Soprano? And what Jersey kid wouldn’t want to be a playa for Tony? Gandolfini is pimpin’ for the Scarlets Knights football squad, how about throwing Waters a bone? Hey, Gary didn’t have this recruiting advantage at Kent State.
Saturday’s 89-87 overtime victory at the RAC against the Hoyas was propelled by Herve Lamizana’s career-high 19 points including chipping in 6 in overtime which ended a four-game conference losing streak for the Scarlet Knights. Waters is hoping his wise guy student body will once again make the RAC a tough place to play in the Big East.
This New Year the Orangemen and their fans are hoping for a healthy Jim Boeheim. After Coach Boeheim’s absence because of prostate surgery in December, the Orangemen suffered their only two losses of the year to ACC foes N.C. State and Georgia Tech. Boeheim is hoping the talented trio of Preston Shumpert, DeShaun Williams and Kueth Duany will lead Syracuse to a conference championship.
Sports fans, how about this for scheduling: Syracuse’s final regular season game is at The Carrier Dome vs. Boston College on Sunday, March 3rd. Arguably, these are the two best teams in the Big East and this is their only regular season match-up. Circle that date on your calendar.
You know Jim Calhoun was seething in Storrs, because no one hates to lose more than Calhoun. To suffer a loss in Hartford in December to St. Bonaventure is one thing, but to get spanked 88-70 by the Bonnies and watch guard J.P. Bremer scorch the Huskies for 33 points is another. Calhoun will need to improve his team’s defensive play to contend in the Big East.
Calhoun has a young club that will mature as the year goes on. In the New Year, expect Calhoun to preach defense, defense, and more defense.
Saturday’s 76-75 defeat of undefeated Miami at Gampel Pavilion demonstrated the potential of these Huskies. Caron Butler led UConn with 18 points and guard Tony Robertson’s clutch outside shooting late in the game helped seal the win for the Huskies.
Are the Hurricanes for real at 13-1? Perry Clark may have the best starting five in the Big East. Undefeated entering the New Year and showing traditional conference heavyweight, Georgetown, they are contenders by beating the Hoyas at home 79-71 in the Canes’ first game of 2002. Miami is being led to the top of the Big East by the strong guard play of senior John Salmons.
The Canes 13-1 start is the result of a cream puff non-conference schedule that featured only one legitmate opponent, Indiana. Can you say Hostess? The Canes will look to rebound from their first loss of the season to UConn against St. John’s.
Did anyone buy Gale Catlett a new leather jacket to sport on the sideline this year? And is that pleather or leather? The Mountaineers are a big disappointment and need to turn things around once conference play begins. West Virginia has lost three out of four including a 68-61 loss to Duquesne on December 19th at home. You can’t lose that game at home. As Coach Cal trademarked, “Refuse To Lose.”
The Mountaineers proceeded to beat Tennessee on the road, but were pounded by Valpo 76-57 and were embarrassed by Pepperdine 97-65. The Mountaineers began conference play at St. John’s on Saturday and suffered a 72-53 loss to the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden.
Catlett’s leather jacket may turn into a strait jacket after this season in the Big East.
Mike Jarvis hopes the New Year will bring more performances from perhaps the newcomer of the year in the Big East, Marcus Hatten. Hatten at Madison Square Garden torched Wake Forest for 26 points on December 22nd. In his Garden coming-out party, he was 9 for 19 from the field and 4 for 10 from behind the arc. The JuCo transfer from Tallahassee Community College may rival Providence’s John Linehan as the quickest man in the Big East.
Can you imagine what an Omar Cook/Marcus Hatten backcourt would have done? Cook left St. John’s to enter the NBA draft as a second round draft pick and is now looking for a job. Cook’s decision to leave early cost him guaranteed millions in the near future. Cook and Hatten in the backcourt would have brought back visions of Paul Westhead’s fast breaking teams from Loyola Marymount.
This team is no pretender – or is it? The Panthers suffered their only loss of the year to a tough South Florida squad and are 14-1. After beating St. John’s 77-54 on January 2nd to start the New Year, Pittsburgh marched into Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass. and handed Boston College its first home defeat of the season which extended Pittsburgh’s winning streak to nine games.
The Panthers were led by the outstanding guard play of Brandin Knight who tossed in 20 points, played all 40 minutes and was the go-to-guy whenever Pittsburgh needed a basket. Knight outplayed the much ballyhooed Troy Bell in a repeat of last year’s Big East Tournament championship game. Knight was aided defensively by sophomore guard Julius Page who held Troy Bell scoreless in the first half.
Pittsburgh, coached by Ben Howland, is a tough defensive team with a lot of beef in the front court. Eat your Wheaties before you take on the Panthers. This team is no longer a Cinderella story, this team appears ready to vie for the conference championship
G’town is in melt down mode. The Hoyas(9-5) have lost four straight and will look to gain their first conference win and stop their losing streak at Boston College on Saturday, January 12th. Coach Craig Esherick needs someone to step up for the Hoyas to aid 6-8 forward Mike Sweetney and senior guard Kevin Braswell.
Coach Ricky Stokes doesn’t have much to work with in Blacksburg. Stokes needs to hit the recruiting trail and infuse his program with some talent. Junior guard Brian Chase is dynamic at the point and Chase needs sophomore guard Carlos Dixon to be a consistent offensive performer to aid him in the back court.
Right now, the best Julius Peppers imitation in college basketball might be Virginia Tech’s 6-8 285 pound senior center Terry Taylor. Alright, Taylor lacks the Tar Heels’ Peppers athleticism but Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer missed the boat on this guy. Taylor is immense!
If at the end of the year, a Big East school is looking to hire a young, hungry coach, look no further than Manhattan’s Bobby Gonzalez. Manhattan (11-1) can lay claim to the title of the best team in New York City with early season victories over St. John’s, Fordham and Iona. Gonzalez is a proven recruiter who has always recruited well in the Big Apple as an assistant for Pete Gillen at Xavier and Providence and now as head coach at Manhattan. If there is a coaching vacancy in the Big East at year’s end, Gonzalez has to be a candidate.