If the baseball playoffs are in full swing, that must mean college basketball is just around the corner.
It’s a wonderful thing the way the hardball and college hoops seasons work together to provide year-round viewing and betting pleasure. There’s hardly any overlap, save for the NCAA Men’s Championship Game taking place right at MLB’s Opening Day. Just ask my wife, Queen Bee, who is accustom to the TV being on one sport or the other most of the year.
There are, of course, easier ways to trek through college basketball season previews than starting with the Big East Conference. Sixteen teams strong, the group is a perennial force in the country on the court and in the minds of the public, be they simple fans or hard-core bettors. How public is the conference? How about this stat courtesy of BigEast.org: 73 of its 144 conference matchups will be televised nationally.
A good reason to start with the conference is that with 16 teams, we get a quick look at roughly four percent of the 340 or so schools in the NCAA Men’s Division I lineup.
There’s no way, and no reason try, to adequately cover all 16 teams in one short season preview. No offense to fans of South Florida, Providence, Cincinnati and DePaul, but your teams don’t stand a chance of making it to the dance next March. Yes, they will win some games and no doubt pull off some key upsets in conference play…well, maybe not DePaul. But that’s it.
We can also add another half-dozen schools to a column under the heading “Will Take a Minor Miracle” to win the conference: Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Marquette, St. John’s, Connecticut and Rutgers. Wait. Did I just say Connecticut?
Yes, I did. The Huskies are under investigation right now and have all but pleaded no contest with self-imposed sanctions that include a two-year probation period. Trust me, I’m not buying one bit of UConn’s pitch that head coach Jim Calhoun is entirely innocent. I can’t believe any major program’s coach and AD are innocent.
Subtracting those first 10 schools from serious consideration, we are left with Pittsburgh, Villanova, Louisville, Georgetown, West Virginia and Syracuse. Pitt and ‘Nova are both listed as plus 250 to take the conference crown at TheGreek.com, with the Wildcats (plus 1800) topping the conference on the National Championship odds list.
Syracuse (plus 500), last year’s regular season champs, Georgetown ( plus 650), Louisville (plus 800 and West Virginia (plus 800) round out the current conference odds.
I’ve donated some coin to books the past few seasons backing Jay Wright’s Villanova and Jamie Dixon’s Pittsburgh teams on futures, so I’m a bit gun-shy this time despite there being a lot to like about both squads.
Pitt has its two outstanding guards, Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wannamaker returning after leading the team in scoring last season with 15.7 and 12.3 scoring averages respectively. Gary McGhee‘s presence and improvement inside will be crucial. One freshman I’m keen to see is JJ Moore, a 6-6 forward out of Brentwood, NY.
Wright and the Wildcats will begin life without Scottie Reynolds for the first time in four years, and those will be big shoes to fill. But ‘Nova does return its two Corey’s, seniors Stokes and Fisher, to ease some of that pain. I’m interested to see if either soph center, Mouphataou Yarou or Maurice Sutton, have enhanced their skills enough to truly be a force inside. JayVaughn Pinkston, a McDonald’s All-American, is the new face to watch for the Wildcats.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the recent past, it’s to never bet against Jim Boeheim.” That’s what Collin O’Connor of bleacherreport.com penned in his Big East Preview, and I couldn’t agree more. The Orange came out of the blocks unranked last season only to rip off wins in its first 13 games and ultimately take the regular season BE title with a stellar 15-3 conference mark.
However, Syracuse subtracted three of its top four scorers from a year ago – Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku – leaving Boeheim a lot to fill in this time around. Look for 7-foot Brazilian Fabricio ‘ Fab’ Melo to have some growing pains, but remember he’s a 20-year-old freshman with international experience.
West Virginia is going to be an interesting commodity after a strong 2009-10 season. Bob Huggins’ squad took down Villanova for the Big East Tournament Title and then made it to the Final Four before losing out to eventual champion Duke. Top scorer Da’Sean Butler and top rebounder Devin Ebanks are gone, but look for big things from Kevin Jones.
Perhaps it’s my dislike for Rick Pitino weighing to heavy on me, but I do not like the Cardinals’ chances this season. Louisville does have a freshman that will be fun to watch this year and in coming years, Elisha Justice who was the top high school player in Kentucky last year.
Last but not least, Georgetown. John Thompson III’s Hoyas will no doubt miss their big man, Greg Monroe. The seventh overall pick in the recent NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, was very often a man among boys on the college hardwood. Still the Hoyas will have expert senior leadership in the backcourt with Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. Julian Vaughn has to step up with Monroe gone now and Hollis Thompson will also be expected to take his game to the next level.
Here’s a quick rundown of futures odds as listed at TheGreek.com (Oct. 10, 2010)
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