I couldn't sleep at all last night. The valium wasn't helping, my roomate was jack-a-lacking around to the tunes in his room, so I began thinking about the Big East. Whose going to make the most noise next year? Is UConn's pre-season No.1 warranted? Will Thabeet finally pan out, reach his zenith and declare at the end of the season? So many questions, so many whispers of wonder. So I started to cook up a few thoughts and jot them all down, architecting a Big East roundup. I've only got three teams but a revision will follow (just not sure when yet). My palms are too hairy to hide and I've been scouring the CT landscape for some young females. Nothing. I have to wait until Mid-late August rolls in, when the traditional breeding house of some of the Northeast district's finest women (you know what I'm talking about :)) officially kicks off. The thongs of blue luster are more than I can muster and although I graduated there's no saying I can't hang out at the local bars and be the sketchy guy for the next 30 years of my life. Not a bad time. There are cats on campus older than I am, so I see no shame in doing it.
BREAKING DOWN THE BIG EAST
Providence Friars: The Friars return a torrent of talent and a well-balanced offensive unit led by seniors Weyinmi Efejuku (11.6 PPG) and Brian Xavier. Xavier, a transfer from Manhattan College, proved to be a savvy-bleeding, consistent scorer who can really heat it up at times (his 27-point, 7-for-11 3FG performance against Harvard is a testament of that). The return of spindly 6-foot combination guard Dwain Williams is also a plus. Williams is another reliable three-point sniper, no question, and the California native dialed in from a different area code while helping propel the Friars to a signature victory over UConn. Williams also caught fire in games against UConn and Notre Dame.
6-foot-11 Center Randall Hanke needs to step it up and evolve into a tough interior banger this season. A bit too soft and erratic, the Friars will need their behemoth to turn in jaw-dropping double-doubles like he did against Saint Peter’s (23 points, 14 boards) and score buckets like he did against West Virginia (when Hanke went off for 18 points in 14 minutes) night in and night out. With Roy Hibbert’s taking his low-post scoring game to the Toronto Raptors after being selected with the 17th pick of the NBA draft, Hanke has the opportunity to evolve into the Big East’s most menacing big man on this side of Hasheem Thabeet.
If Hanke pans out, it will provide coach Keno Davis with a reputable inside-outside punch.
Davis’ chief returnee is Geoff McDermott, a 6-foot-6 athlete so versatile that he can play some point forward. McDermott is a considerable 2009 NBA draft prospect because of his body and the upside to his potential. He can score from virtually anywhere on the floor, play 94 feet and the former All-State quarterback (he was recruited for football and basketball) has a knack for finding the open man and setting up Providence’s perimeter assailants. McDermott also uses his strength in the team’s favor, setting solid picks to allow the guards to float freely along the perimeter. Bilal Dixon, a 6-foot-9 freshman from Jersey City looks to add some much-need size and depth to the backcourt. The Friars also penned Trey Anderson, a 6-foot-4 off-guard from Texas, this offseason.
West Virginia: Joe Alexander, a super-athletic jumping jack established himself as such a thorny matchup in the NCAA tournament. The junior engendered drool from the NBA scouts on college basketball’s biggest stage, selling the pundits on his mid-range jumper and tremendous upside—was grabbed by the Milwaukee Bucks with the of the 2008 NBA draft. On the surface, it appears the Mountaineers lose a bit of their luster.
But the whispers of worry won’t be infiltrating Morgantown any time soon. Bobby Huggins hit the jackpot of the recruiting lottery this off-season, signing a promising freshman in Kevin Jones (versatile forward from Mount Vernon) and the lightning-quick Devin Ebanks, a highly sought after product on the recruiting marketplace due to his superior handles and scoring prowess (the kid jumps out of the gym). The freakish forward can be seen delivering rim-ringing dunks on a Youtube clip near you.
The driver’s keys will be funneled down to sharpshooter Alex Ruoff (13.8 PPG, 3.5 RPG), who shot 48 percent from the floor and 41 percent from beyond three-point territory last season. A seasoned veteran entering his senior year, Ruoff is flushed into a leadership role. He was around when Kevin Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey put this program on the map under the stop-n-stick system of John Beilein back in 2005-2006 and has that big-game experience in his veins. Ruoff has improved drastically in many other facets of his game—playing tighter defense, taking the ball to the rack more, and operating offense.
DeSean Butler (12.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG) will once again shoulder a significant role, John Flowers began to blossom towards the end of the season and Joe Mazzula showed why he was such a hotly-pursued recruit out of Rhode Island after turning in a player-of-the-game performance (13 points 11 boards, eight dimes) in a pulsating victory over Duke in the NCAA tournament. Darris Nichols’ approximated the error-free point guard play of his predecessor, J.D. Collins (Beilein’s first recruit at WVU). Nichols’ pin-point passing and smooth left-handed stroke won’t be forgotten but with the influx of talent, it won’t be missed too sorely either.
Huggins’ militaristic zeal and penchant for signing top-flight recruits should continue to keep the program intact.
UCONN: When A.J. Price is in full throttle, scoring at will and creating for his teammates—whose overall size and athleticism is as tough and intimidating as any team in the country—UConn is a tough team to beat.
The point guard who was plunged into the limelight after a second-rate sophomore campaign was easily the Most Improved Player in the Big East this year. Price, however, suffered a torn ACL which led to UConn’s devastating, 1-point overtime loss to San Diego in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Hasheem Thabeet did himself and Jim Calhoun good by staying another year. The 7-foot-3 mountain of a man is still as raw as a White Castle slider on Warburton Ave. offensively. He needs to refine his post moves so that he’ll be fully equipped with a manipulative arsenal that will complement his dominant defensive dexterity. The Tanzania native blocked, altered, and changed the trajectory of shots throughout his sophomore year. If he pans out offensively, Thabeet has the chance to become an All-American First Team selection, especially with Roy Hibbert going off to the league.
Jeff Adrien took some management of the team last season and will form a formidable frontcourt with Thabeet. A tough-as-nails veteran who has sustained a significant role on this team since being a sparkplug off the bench for that Marcus Williams-Rudy Gay-Hilton Armstrong-led team back in 2005-2006, the Husky culture expects big things from the kid out of Massachusetts.
Doug Wiggins transferred, which means that flashy New York City guard Kemba Walker has the chance to make an immediate impact in the backcourt. He’ll have ample competition, because Craig Austrie will return for his senior year. The off guard from traditional hoop breeding ground Trinity Catholic (Stamford, Conn.) turned it on during the absence of Jerome Dyson, who was suspended for a lengthy period after being arrested on campus. Dyson is the biggest question mark for the Huskies this season. After emerging as the go-to-guy his freshman season, Dyson’s lights-out set shot, wunderkind-like athleticism and high-flying dunks weren’t missed during his suspension. UConn reeled off a scintillating six-game win streak in his absence and, oddly enough, appeared to mesh better without the kid from Rockville, Md on the floor. Dyson struggled to work his way back into stallion form after returning from suspension and didn’t see the same minutes he saw during the first half of the season. Will the freakish Dyson, whose hounding defense and well-rounded offensive game is what the NBA scouts crave, morph back into the high-flying playmaker in 2009?