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Big East Report

Important League Questions to this Point in the Year

 by Raphielle Johnson

 

            

As the Big East conference schedule is beginning, there are some questions that need to be answered. I’ll try to answer some of the more important ones for you.

 

  1. What’s going on at St. John’s?

I don’t even think the administration knows what’s up with that program. Willie Shaw is done. After many missteps, the coaching staff has decided that it be best for the two parties to go their separate ways. Mike Jarvis gets fired during the season. What this accomplishes right now, who knows, but all involved knew that he was done when the season ended anyway. The inability to keep the big time NYC talent home was the death knell for Jarvis. Add to that a team that frankly cannot shoot the ball and you have the makings of a very bad year in Jamaica.

 

  1. Which of these three teams is best positioned for a surprise run in March? Seton Hall, Villanova, or Providence?

In terms of the chemistry of the team as a whole, it’s Providence since they’ve had all their pieces involved since the beginning. And as many saw in their blowout of Illinois at MSG, they have the length that Jim Boeheim disciple Tim Welsh needed to make the 2-3 zone work. They host Texas on January 6th, and Texas is not a very good road team. Don’t want to call the Big Monday contest a must-win for PC, but we’ll learn a little more about them facing a team with a strong post game.

 

The Hall welcomed back Kelly Whitney a few weeks ago, and the post presence reaped immediate dividends for them. Add to that the increased contribution from J.R. Morris, and it looks like they can make a little more noise than originally expected. A big game with Rhode Island, who bounced them from the NIT last year, is on the horizon for the Pirates. As long as senior point guard Andre Barrett keeps everyone on the same page, Seton Hall can challenge in the upper half of the Big East.

 

Villanova finally has a full roster back, thanks to the end of the suspensions concerning the illegal use of a long distance access code. Give ‘Nova a few games to get their young talent together and the Wildcats will make some noise. But this was expected of them last season, and they went out with a soft meow rather than a roar. Increased contributions from Curtis Sumpter and freshman guard Michael Nardi have help Jay Wright’s squad immensely. The return to health of Jason Fraser and Derrick Snowden will determine how well Villanova starts out conference play.

 

  1. Who’s the best team in the Big East right now?

This is the one question that there is no definitive answer to right now. Talent-wise, it’s UConn, who finally can use Charlie Villanueva in their rotation. However, nagging aches for Emeka Okafor and Taliek Brown have slowed them down somewhat. Okafor is back close to full strength, while Brown will probably have to deal with the sore hip and turf toe for the remainder of the season. Matchups with Oklahoma and North Carolina early in 2004 will show how good the Huskies really are.

 

Pitt and Georgetown are undefeated, and Syracuse only has one loss, but none of these teams have played anyone. Pitt did beat Florida State, but they have not left home for a game other than their season opener against Alabama. If you’re familiar with the Big East, then you know what kind of teams Georgetown schedules to start the year. And with the young team that they have this time around, you can hardly blame them for doing so. Expect the Hoyas to sweat it out for an NIT berth by season’s end. Syracuse has only lost to Charlotte at home, but they also beat Rhode Island in a tough home contest. January matchups with the likes of Michigan State will show how good the Orangemen are.

 

  1. Which of the three defectors (Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College) will put up the biggest fight in their final season?

Boston College. With Uka Agbai and Craig Smith in the post, this isn’t even up for discussion. Expect Miami with Darius Rice and Danny Hite to get some wins in league play, but hoops season for Virginia Tech fans is little more than a diversion until spring football practice.

 

  1. Can Rutgers or West Virginia win eight games in league play this year?

Probably not, but that’s due to the strength of the league as a whole. A lot of people are sleeping on these two programs given the lack of success in recent years. But Gary Waters (RU) and John Belein (WVU) have squads that are more talented than people think. My prediction is that the Mountaineers win seven in league play, making the NIT as a result. The key for both teams is how they play on the road, given that they have both struggled away from home in years past.

 

 

That’s all for now…Happy New Year!

 

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