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Big East 2002-03 Season Recap

May 13, 2003 Columns No Comments

Big East Conference 2002-03 Season Recap

by Phil Kasiecki

The 2002-03 season was another highly competitive regular season for the Big East, and it extended nicely into the conference tournament. After teams played each other closely for the regular season, the conference tournament continued the trend and ended with Pittsburgh winning a rematch of last year’s epic championship game.

In the early going, Pittsburgh looked strong, Notre Dame knocked off several top 25 teams and reached the top 10 in most polls, and Connecticut started out fast as well. Boston College was a notable disappointment early, but Troy Bell and the Eagles got hot in mid-January and won the East Division by way of a tie-breaker. Seton Hall came alive as well, Syracuse slowly made its way up the polls, and Providence hit its stride late in the season.

The postseason had disappointment for the conference at first. Only four teams were selected to the NCAA Tournament, with Boston College and Seton Hall being arguably the two most noteworthy snubs from the tournament. To rub salt on the wound, the Eagles then had to win a play-in game in the NIT, and many felt Pittsburgh should have been a No. 1 seed. The conference was well-represented in the NIT, as six teams went to make 10 of 14 teams seeing postseason play, but that did not take away the disappointment at the NCAA Tournament snubs.

But once the postseason got started, the Big East showed its mettle and silenced the critics. All four NCAA Tournament teams made the Sweet 16, giving it more teams in it than any other conference and making it the only conference with a perfect record in the first two rounds. Syracuse went on to win the national championship, while the NIT Final was a battle of Big East squads with St. John’s taking out surging Georgetown.

Along the way, we saw that the Big East had plenty of veteran talent and welcomed a plethora of young talent. The new talent bodes well for the foreseeable future of the conference.

With the season now complete, off-court stories are making the news, notably some Big East schools being contacted by the ACC and the controversy behind the manner in which the ACC did so. This will be a subject of more discussion later, but it is worth noting that the Big East as we know it is not likely to be around much longer and that has been a subject of discussion prior to the ACC’s full-court press to expand to 12 teams. The reasons will be discussed later on. In the meantime, we can continue to enjoy the quality of basketball the Big East has to offer year in and year out.

Here is a look at the Big East in the postseason

NCAA Tournament

Brigham Young (W 58-53)
Stanford (W 85-74)
Texas (L 82-78)

Notre Dame
Wisconsin-Milwaukee (W 70-69)
Illinois (W 68-60)
Arizona (L 88-71)

Wagner (W 87-61)
Indiana (W 74-52)
Marquette (L 77-74)

Manhattan (W 76-65)
Oklahoma State (W 68-56)
Auburn (W 79-78)
Oklahoma (W 63-47)
Texas (W 95-84)
Kansas (W 81-78)
won National Championship


Boston College
at Fairfield (W 90-78)
at Temple (L 75-62)

at Tennessee (W 70-60)
at Providence (W 67-58)
at North Carolina (W 79-74)
vs. Minnesota (W 88-74)
vs. St. John’s (L 70-67)
NIT runner-up

at Richmond (W 67-49)
College of Charleston (W 69-64)
Georgetown (L 67-58)

St. John’s
vs. Boston University (W 62-57)
vs. Virginia (W 73-63)
vs. Alabama-Birmingham (W 79-71)
vs. Texas Tech (W 64-63)
vs. Georgetown (W 70-67)
won NIT

Seton Hall
at Rhode Island (L 61-60)

at Siena (L 74-59)

First Team All-Big East
Carmelo Anthony, Fr. F, Syracuse
Troy Bell, Sr. G, Boston College
Matt Carroll, Sr. G, Notre Dame
Emeka Okafor, So. C, Connecticut
Mike Sweetney, Jr. F, Georgetown

Player of the Year

Troy Bell, Sr. G, Boston College

When the Eagles were left for dead early in conference play, Bell went into a higher gear and was simply phenomenal. Bell single-handedly led the Eagles to the Eastern Division championship, averaging 29.6 points over the team’s final 13 regular season games and making 44.5% of his three-pointers in that span. He led the Big East in scoring and finished fifth in the nation in that category by averaging 25.2 points per game, became BC’s all-time leading scorer in the process and flirted with the Big East’s all-time record. He was fourth in the conference in three-point shooting, second in steals, and just outside the top ten in assists and assist/turnover ratio.

Freshman of the Year

Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse

This was a no-brainer, as Anthony was the nation’s best freshman even before his NCAA Tournament performance led the Orangemen to the national championship. Although there were stretches where Boston College forward Craig Smith looked to give him a run for his money, Anthony led the race from the outset. He was the go-to guy from day one, leading the team in scoring (22.2 ppg, fourth in the Big East), led the team in rebounding (10.0, third in the Big East), and along with fellow freshman Gerry McNamara, made this team go.

Defensive Player of the Year

Emeka Okafor, So. C, Connecticut

Even in a conference that does not lack good defenders, this was an easy choice, as Okafor’s shot-blocking changes games dramatically. When he isn’t on the floor, teams aren’t afraid of working the ball inside or having guards penetrate to try to score; when he is, they don’t try nearly as often and he rejects many attempts to score inside. He led the nation in blocked shots with 4.7 per game and led the Big East in rebounding with 11.2 per game for good measure, a figure good enough for seventh in the nation.

Coach of the Year

Louis Orr, Seton Hall

The Pirates were thought to still be in a rebuilding mode this season, especially with major questions up front. When they started off 7-9 overall and 2-4 in Big East play, they were left for dead. But they proceeded to run off eight straight victories and not lose a single game in February en route to a 10-6 conference record before being snubbed from the NCAA Tournament.

East Division

Boston College Eagles (19-12, 10-6)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 1/4
Key players departing: Troy Bell (graduating)
Key players returning: Craig Smith (Fr. F), Ryan Sidney (Jr. G), Louis Hinnant (Fr. G), Nate Doornekamp (So. C), Jermaine Watson (So. G), Andrew Bryant (Jr. F), Johnnie Jackson (Fr. F)

Key injuries: Uka Agbai (Jr. F) missed most of the season with a neck injury sustained against Holy Cross. He will apply for a medical redshirt and return next season.

Leading scorer: Troy Bell (25.2 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Craig Smith (7.9 rpg)
Assists leader: Ryan Sidney (4.6 apg)

Notes: Bell played like a man possessed once January rolled around, and almost single-handedly put this team in the NCAA Tournament. Smith played no small role in the team’s success as well, and in most years would have been an easy choice for the conference’s top newcomer. Sidney did his usual hard work at both ends, while Watson emerged as a solid contributor off the bench and Hinnant was an effective contributor once he moved into the starting lineup. Skinner did another solid job coaching this team with a seven-man rotation minus Agbai, a team co-captain and the Eagles’ most consistent player in 2001-02.

Connecticut Huskies (23-10, 10-6)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 1/4
Key players departing: Tony Robertson (graduating), Mike Hayes (graduating)
Key players returning: Ben Gordon (So. G), Emeka Okafor (So. C), Taliek Brown (Jr. G), Rashad Anderson (Fr. G), Marcus White (Fr. F), Hilton Armstrong (Fr. F)

Leading scorer: Ben Gordon (19.9 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Emeka Okafor (11.2 rpg)
Assists leader: Taliek Brown (4.8 apg)

Notes: The Huskies received contributions from many young players; only two key players were either juniors or seniors this year, and unless a surprise early entry emerges, the outlook is very bright. Okafor’s defense was already top-notch, but his offense came alive with more opportunities and with Gordon blossoming on the perimeter. Brown continued to run the show very well, while Robertson was a good scoring threat and Anderson emerged as a nice perimeter player. Later in the season, White and Armstrong showed that they have good futures in the Big East. Head coach Jim Calhoun had to miss some time taking care of prostate cancer, but he was back by the end of the season and helped lead the Huskies to the Sweet 16.

Providence Friars (18-14, 8-8)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 0/5
Key players departing: Kareem Hayletts (graduating)
Key players returning: Ryan Gomes (So. F), Rob Sanders (So. F), Donnie McGrath (Fr. G), Sheiku Kabba (Jr. G), Marcus Douthit (Jr. C), Tuukka Kotti (So. F), Maris Laksa (Jr. F), Romauld Augustin (Jr. G-F)

Key injuries: Abdul Mills (Sr. G) missed the entire season with a hip injury. He will return next season after redshirting.

Leading scorer: Ryan Gomes (18.4 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Ryan Gomes (9.7 rpg)
Assists leader: Donnie McGrath (4.3 apg)

Notes: The Friars hit their stride late in the season, when they had a strict seven-man rotation that Sanders helped key with his late play. Gomes is automatic when he gets the ball down low, Douthit played more like when he was a freshman than a sophomore, and McGrath ran the show like a veteran despite hitting the wall late in the season. Kabba was a streaky shooter, but a solid veteran in the backcourt, while Kotti played well at both ends and Laksa generally shot the ball well and drew mismatches on the perimeter with his size. Head coach Tim Welsh enjoyed coaching this team, and with everyone back plus the injured Abdul Mills, things are looking up for the Friars.

Villanova Wildcats (15-16, 8-8)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing: Gary Buchanan (graduating), Ricky Wright (graduating), Andrew Sullivan (graduating)
Key players returning: Randy Foye (Fr. G), Allan Ray (Fr. G), Derrick Snowden (Jr. G), Curtis Sumpter (Fr. F), Jason Fraser (Fr. F-C), Marcus Austin (So. F-C)

Leading scorer: Gary Buchanan (15.4 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Ricky Wright (7.8 rpg)
Assists leader: Derrick Snowden (3.5 apg)

Notes: The Wildcats had their moments this season, but were like one might expect a team with a mix of seniors and highly-touted freshmen. They finished the season with six straight losses after starting Big East play with five straight wins, decimated by players making unauthorized phone calls and subsequent suspensions of 12 players. Buchanan shot the ball well, Wright took over some games on the post, and Sullivan was a steady defender among the seniors. Among the freshmen, Foye played well but could have shot the ball better, Ray gave them instant offense off the bench for a while before a late-season slump, Sumpter played very well in the final games of the season, and Fraser started fast but later struggled against some of the stronger players before getting injured. Snowden made a great improvement this season in all offensive facets, and should be a good senior leader next season.

St. John’s Red Storm (21-13, 7-9)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 2/3
Key players departing: Marcus Hatten (graduating), Anthony Glover (graduating)
Key players returning: Elijah Ingram (Fr. G), Willie Shaw (Jr. G), Kyle Cuffe (Jr. F), Grady Reynolds (Jr. F), Eric King (So. F)

Key injuries: Mohamed Diakite, a junior center, is redshirting this season

Leading scorer: Marcus Hatten (22.2 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Marcus Hatten, Anthony Glover (5.6 rpg)
Assists leader: Marcus Hatten (4.1 apg)

Notes: Prior to their run in the NIT, the Red Storm’s season highlight appeared to be the big upset of Duke in early March at Madison Square Garden. Head coach Mike Jarvis came under a lot of fire during the season, as they were inconsistent and went as Hatten went on most nights. Hatten carried this team, and his loss will be huge. Ingram came with a lot of promise, but looked more like a gunner than the consummate point guard he was in high school. Shaw shot the ball better this season, while Cuffe can be a good player and had some good games, but has never put it all together on a consistent basis. Reynolds gave them a nice lift off the bench as a factor on the glass and leading the team with 31 blocked shots. The Red Storm were last in field goal percentage, but made up for it by committing the fewest turnovers in the Big East and forcing more turnovers than all but two teams.

Miami Hurricanes (11-17, 4-12)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 2/3
Key players departing: James Jones (graduating), Paulo Coelho (graduating), Michael Simmons (graduating), Rafael Berumen (graduating)
Key players returning: Darius Rice (Jr. F), Robert Hite (Fr. G), Armondo Suratt (Fr. G), Eric Wilkins (Fr. G), Gary Hamilton (Fr. F-C), Ismael N’Diaye (Fr. F)

Leading scorer: Darius Rice (18.7 ppg)
Leading rebounder: James Jones (6.0 rpg)
Assists leader: Armondo Suratt (3.3 apg)

Notes: Jones came alive this season, as he always had potential and played well, but also looked like he could have been better. Rice put up good numbers and made some clutch plays, but seemed to slip back into being one-dimensional at the offensive end at times. Hite and Wilkins each showed some promise, while the pass-first Suratt is unspectacular but should be the starting point guard the next three seasons.

Virginia Tech Hokies (11-18, 4-12)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing: Terry Taylor (graduating), Brian Chase (graduating), Eric Branham (graduating)
Key players returning: Bryant Matthews (Jr. G-F), Carlos Dixon (Jr. G), Dimari Thompkins (So. F-C), Shawn Harris (Fr. G), Philip McCandies (Fr. F), Allen Calloway (Fr. F)

Leading scorer: Bryant Matthews (17.6 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Terry Taylor (7.3 rpg)
Assists leader: Carlos Dixon (2.5 apg)

Notes: Former South Florida head coach Seth Greenberg replaced Ricky Stokes as the head coach after the season. The Hokies revolved around Matthews this season, as he led or was second on the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks. Taylor recorded 10 double-doubles en route to leading in rebounding, Dixon and Chase shot the ball well from long range, and Dimari Thompkins showed some potential in the low post. Freshmen Harris, McCandies and Calloway contributed more when they got more minutes.

West Division

Syracuse Orangemen (30-5, 13-3)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 2/3
Key players departing: Carmelo Anthony (declared for the NBA Draft), Kueth Duany (graduating)
Key players returning: Gerry McNamara (Fr. G), Hakim Warrick (So. F), Craig Forth (So. C), Jeremy McNeil (Jr. F-C), Billy Edelin (Fr. G), Josh Pace (So. F)

Leading scorer: Carmelo Anthony (22.2 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Carmelo Anthony (10.0 rpg)
Assists leader: Gerry McNamara (4.4 apg)

Notes: It was two freshmen, Anthony and McNamara, that led this team to the national title. Anthony was one of the nation’s best players, while McNamara was one of the best no one heard about. Warrick was the most improved player in the conference and made some big plays, while Duany was a steady contributor at both ends and McNeil became a defensive terror late in the year. Edelin and Pace were key contributors off the bench, and the Orangemen will need more from them next season since Anthony declared for the draft as expected. Offense led the charge, as the Orangemen led the Big East in scoring and were second in field goal percentage, though the 2-3 zone also helped them place second in field goal percentage defense.

Pittsburgh Panthers (28-5, 13-3)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing: Brandin Knight (graduating), Ontario Lett (graduating), Donatas Zavackas (graduating)
Key players returning: Julius Page (Jr. G), Jaron Brown (Jr. F), Chevon Troutman (So. F), Carl Krauser (Fr. G), Toree Morris (Jr. C)

Leading scorer: Julius Page (12.2 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Chevon Troutman (5.1 rpg)
Assists leader: Brandin Knight (6.3 apg)

Notes: After the season ended, Ben Howland left to take the head coaching job at UCLA and returning to the west coast. Former associate coach Jamie Dixon was named the new head coach after a search that included Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser and rumors involving Memphis head coach John Calipari, both Pittsburgh natives. Balance was the order of the day for one of the best defensive teams in the country, as six players averaged between 9.7 and 12.2 points per game. Knight didn’t shoot the ball nearly as well as he did as a junior, but Page came alive and Zavackas closed out his career in fine fashion. Troutman rarely misses and has the makings of an excellent post player the next two seasons, while Krauser looks ready to run the show. Knight and Zavackas were part of 88 wins in their four seasons, a school record.

Seton Hall Pirates (17-13, 10-6)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 0/5
Key players departing: Greg Morton (graduating)
Key players returning: Andre Barrett (Jr. G), John Allen (So. G-F), Kelly Whitney (Fr. F), Andrew Sweet (So. F), Marcus Toney-El (Jr. F), J.R. Morris (Fr. G)

Leading scorer: Andre Barrett (16.7 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Kelly Whitney (6.1 rpg)
Assists leader: Andre Barrett (5.3 apg)

Notes: Head coach Louis Orr was an easy pick for Coach of the Year after nearly guiding the Pirates to the NCAA Tournament after a slow start and with questions up front. Barrett remains one of the conference’s best players, leading the team in scoring and assists for the second straight year. Whitney gave them a much-needed boost up front, as did Duke transfer Sweet. Allen didn’t shoot the ball as well as he is capable of, but was a good second scorer and was good at the defensive end.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-10, 10-6)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing: Matt Carroll (graduating), Dan Miller (graduating), Chris Thomas (declared for NBA Draft, may return)
Key players returning: Jordan Cornette (So. F), Torin Francis (Fr. C), Chris Quinn (Fr. G), Torrian Jones (Jr. G-F), Tom Timmermans (Jr. C)

Leading scorer: Matt Carroll (19.5 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Torin Francis (8.4 rpg)
Assists leader: Chris Thomas (6.9 apg)

Notes: Carroll was always a good player and deadly shooter, but he busted out this year en route to first team All-Big East honors. Add that to Thomas having a super sophomore year and Maryland transfer Miller’s contributions, as well as the immediate contributions of freshman Torin Francis, and the Irish were a fixture in or near the top 10 for most of the season. Cornette had a nice season as one of the conference’s best defenders, while Quinn filled in admirably for Thomas and at times played with him for two lead guards. The Irish made the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1987.

Georgetown Hoyas (19-15, 6-10)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 4/1
Key players departing: Mike Sweetney (declared for the NBA Draft), Wesley Wilson (graduating), Victor Samnick (graduating), Courtland Freeman (graduating)
Key players returning: Gerald Riley (Jr. G-F), Tony Bethel (So. G), Brandon Bowman (Fr. F), Drew Hall (So. G), Ashanti Cook (Fr. G)

Leading scorer: Mike Sweetney (22.8 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Mike Sweetney (10.4 rpg)
Assists leader: Tony Bethel (3.6 apg)

Notes: Head coach Craig Esherick was thought to have saved his job with the Hoyas’ run to the NIT title game, but he later signed an extension through the 2008-09 season. Sweetney not only scored and rebounded, but was a great passer and helped shooters like Riley and Bethel. The Hoyas’ guards struggled for much of the season, though the numbers they put up weren’t bad. Wilson missed a good portion of the season, hurting the inside game, while Bowman showed flashes of potential stardom as he is a big-time athlete. With Sweetney gone, as well as Wilson and Samnick, the Hoyas have a new problem heading into next season: big questions up front.

West Virginia Mountaineers (14-15, 5-11)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing: Chaz Briggs (graduating), Josh Yeager (graduating)
Key players returning: Drew Schifino (So. G), Kevin Pittsnogle (Fr. F-C), Tyrone Sally (So. F), Johannes Herber (Fr. G), Patrick Beilein (Fr. G), Jarmon Durisseau-Collins (Fr. G)

Leading scorer: Drew Schifino (20.1 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Kevin Pittsnogle (4.8 rpg)
Assists leader: Johannes Herber (3.8 apg)

Notes: For a while, it looked like new head coach John Beilein would be a shoe-in for Coach of the Year. The Mountaineers had a patchwork team in every respect, but scored a big upset of Florida during a six-game winning streak as part of a 7-1 start. Eventually, they slowed down and were beaten up in Big East play, especially on the glass as they had the worst rebounding margin in the conference by far. Drew Schifino broke out this season, finishing sixth in the conference in scoring, while Pittsnogle made an immediate impact in part from his ability to shoot from long range. Herber, Beilein and Durisseau-Collins started their careers off well on the perimeter. The Mountaineers had problems offensively despite turning the ball over less than all but two teams, as they were last in the conference in scoring.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (12-16, 4-12)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 1/4
Key players departing: Jerome Coleman (graduating), Kareem Wright (graduating)
Key players returning: Ricky Shields (So. G), Herve Lamizana (Jr. F), Calvin Wooten (Fr. G), Mike Sherrod (Jr. G), Juel Wiggan (So. G), Sean Axani (Jr. F)

Leading scorer: Jerome Coleman (16.0 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Herve Lamizana (6.4 rpg)
Assists leader: Mike Sherrod (3.4 apg)

Notes: The Scarlet Knights struggled for much of the season, not having the homecourt advantage they had last season when they lost just twice at the RAC. Lamizana is the team’s most talented player and one who could be a star, but he has never played consistent basketball, and that reduces this to a team of nice players – not a team that will make NCAA Tournament appearances. Shields got hot shooting the ball at times, as did Wooten, while Sherrod capably runs the show and Wiggan is a good defender. With Lamizana’s inconsistency, the frontcourt’s lack of talent and depth was exposed as well.


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