Big East Report Card: Bottom Eight
DePaul: The Blue Demons were the third team tied for seventh in the conference with a 9-7 record. However, Coach Jerry Wainwright’s squad had the lowest RPI of the trio, significantly lower than Villanova’s, which is why the Wildcats received an invitation to the Big Dance and DePaul didn’t. The reality is that the Demons were probably the ninth best team in the conference, which happens to be right where I’d placed them in my pre-season predictions.
DePaul was relatively strong on the perimeter but had no one to man the middle. Neither of its two pre-season all-conference candidates, Sammy Mejia nor Wilson Chandler, showed consistent, significant improvement over the previous year, and Jabari Currie ended up winning the starting point guard spot more by default than anything else.
The Demons had some impressive wins during the year, most notably against Kansas at home and at Villanova. They also beat Marquette and Notre Dame in the friendly confines of the All-State Arena. However, losses to St. John’s and West Virginia, as well as a blowout defeat at Notre Dame seriously damaged DePaul’s credibility.
Though most of the Demon faithful won’t see it this way, a winning conference record and a trip to the NIT – where it won two games – is about the most DePaul fans should have expected this year given the lack of a quality center and a solid point guard.
Final Grade: B -
Providence: I picked the Friars to finish 10th in the league standings, which turned out to be right on the money. At times, the Friars looked like an NCAA tournament team, but other times they looked mediocre.
Given the fact that Coach Tim Welch had four players who probably ranked in the top five at their position in the league, the season could be viewed as disappointing. After all, no one could possibly have anticipated that Herbert Hill would become one of the best players in the conference and that Weyinmi Efejuku would raise the level of his game tremendously.
Along with Geoff McDermott, one of the most versatile players in the conference, and solid point guard Sharaud Curry, the Friars had four individuals who could take over a game. Yet the team never won more than two consecutive games in conference play. Even worse, against the top nine teams in the league, the Friars had a record of only 2-7, and they didn’t even play Georgetown . In short, Providence didn’t deserve to go to the NCAA Tournament.
Finishing the season with 13-point losses to St. John’s and West Virginia , and a 12-point loss to Bradley in the first round of the NIT has to leave a sour taste in the psyches of the players, staff, and fans alike.
Final Grade: C+
St. John’s : I expected the Red Storm to be one of the most improved teams in the conference, which is why I pegged them to finish eight in the final standings. Instead, they finished 11th with a 7-9 record, despite a relatively easy conference schedule. However, there are reasons for the discrepancy.
My pre-season prediction was based partially on Coach Norm Roberts having incoming freshman Rob Thomas available to play both the 3 and the 4 and fellow freshman Derwin Kitchen around to provide depth at guard. Thomas, in particular, had the potential to be a solid contributor and possibly earn a starting spot. However, the NCAA ruled that Thomas had to sit out the season, and then Kitchen left school for academic reasons.
Throw in the fact that senior guard Daryll Hill played in only five conference games as he succumbed to injury for the second year in a row, and it’s easy to see why St. John’s fell short of meeting initial expectations.
Finally, senior Lamont Hamilton was a first-team all-conference selection, but even some St. John’s fans questioned whether he deserved the honor. The fact is that he needed to carry this team, but too often he failed to deliver.
This once-proud program had high hopes at the beginning of the season, but academic and medical problems pretty much dashed those hopes. Based on who was actually available to play this year, the Red Storm ended up right about where they should have – in the Big East Tournament but out of post-season competition.
Final Grade: C -
Connecticut: Something tells me there aren’t many Big East fans, other than UConn’s of course, that feel much sympathy for the Huskies following their 12th place, 6-10 conference record. The proud program, which is accustomed to an automatic high seeding in the NCAA Tournament, barely made it into the Big East Tournament and was left watching the NCAA and NIT tournaments on t.v.
Some pundits had predicted Coach Jim Calhoun’s squad would become a force in the league by the second half of the season, and quite a few viewed the Huskies as a potential Top 20 team. I didn’t go that far, though I did think UConn would finish seventh in the conference and be on the bubble for an invitation to the Big Dance. I figured Calhoun would be able to take his abundance of young talent and mold it into a formidable squad by early to mid-February. I was wrong.
Despite some superb athleticism, the incoming freshmen generally lacked sufficient skill sets, toughness, and understanding of the game to defeat quality opponents. Plus, none of the newcomers except Jerome Dyson lived up to their expectations.
The bottom line is that this team did not get the job done. A record of one win and 10 losses versus conference teams with a winning percentage of .500 or higher is not business as usual in Storrs.
Final Grade: D
Seton Hall: The Pirates finished with a 4-12 record to end up 13th in the conference, one spot higher than I’d predicted last summer. Coach Bobby Gonzalez had some nice young talent in freshmen Eugene Harvey and Larry Davis, along with holdovers Brian Laing and Paul Gause. However, a lack of quality big men doomed this team from the beginning. In fact, the 6’5” Laing ended up having to defend power forwards much of the time he was on the court.
Gonzalez did instill an exciting brand of basketball with his trapping, pressure defense and his fast break, up-tempo approach on offense. However, he just didn’t have the horses or the depth to beat quality opponents. In fact, the Pirates did not beat a single conference foe that had a winning record in league games.
For awhile, it looked like Seton Hall might sneak into the final slot in the conference tournament, but losses in seven of its last eight games, including crucial defeats at Connecticut and at Cincinnati, sealed the Pirates’ fate.
Final Grade: D
Rutgers : The Scarlet Knights did not do as well as I’d anticipated. I envisioned them doing just well enough to earn one of the final two spots in the conference tournament; instead they finished tied for 14th with a record of 3-13.
There was not a wealth of talent on the roster when Fred Hill took control of the program, but senior Marquis Webb and sophomores JR Inman and Anthony Farmer were regular starters the previous year. Fellow sophomore Jaron Griffin had shown some potential as well.
Projected starting center Byron Joynes was forced to red-shirt this season, but senior Adrian Hill more than picked up the slack, averaging 9.7 ppg and 6.9 rpg. However, prized recruit, 6’11” Hamady N’Diaye struggled making the transition to college ball, and transfer Courtney Nelson had nowhere near the impact that Knights’ fans had hoped for.
No one expected a first-division performance from this squad, but to end up with only three wins – two of them against Cincinnati – is disappointing.
Final Grade: D –
South Florida : The Bulls’ 3-13 conference record has already cost Robert McCullum his job. USF finished tied for 14th, one game ahead of Cincinnati, whereas I had picked them to finish dead last in the conference.
For the second consecutive season South Florida did not win a single road game in conference play, and the only quality win was an upset of Notre Dame. The Bulls’ other two wins came against equally hapless Rutgers and Cincinnati .
However, this team was not without talent, particularly along the front line. Kentrell Gransberry had an excellent season (15.6 ppg and 11.4 rpg) and became a dominant offensive presence. Senior forward McHugh Mattis also put up some nice numbers (12.8 ppg and 7.2 rpg). Fellow senior Melvin Buckley was a dangerous outside shooter, who, unfortunately, could shoot his team out of a game as well as keep it in a game.
The Bulls, however, had very little depth in the frontcourt. Combined with a lack of consistent scoring in the backcourt, McCullum just did not have enough talent to earn a place in the conference tournament.
Final Grade: D –
Cincinnati : Last summer, I picked the Bearcats to finish 13th in the league, one slot out of the conference tournament. However, that was before prized 6’10” junior college recruit Hernol Hall was deemed ineligible by the NCAA and fellow juco recruit Adam Hrycaniuk, also 6’10”, was forced to sit out the year by college basketball’s austere governing body. A third 6’10” interior player, Abdul Herrera, transferred as well. Given these developments, it is not surprising that Cincy ended up the cellar dweller in the conference.
The team lost three heartbreakers on the road – by one point to Syracuse , one point to Providence , and four points to Rutgers . In short, the Bearcats, especially in a 13-point home win over West Virginia, flashed occasional signs of potential. Unfortunately, they couldn’t seal the deal in those games.
The bottom line is that Cronin simply could not find ways to overcome the team’s lack of height and its lack of experience. The top six players had a combined total of exactly one year of D-1 ball prior to this season. Whether one views these as excuses or merely logical reasons for the squad’s performance this season, the fact is last place is still last place.
Final Grade: D-
The final grades for the top half of the league will be up tomorrow.