The theme at Big East media day was "bigger is better". It was a record media turnout at what is now the unquestioned biggest and most likely best conference in the land, the Big East. Commissioner Mike Tranghese was the ringleader of the three-ring circus that was Big East Media day. He stood and spoke with great authority that his latest creation of a 16-league conference was here to stay and that it will change the landscape of college basketball. He believes he has something special and something every other conference will vie for.
"We have too many tools going for us. First of all, we are here in New York. They can have all the other tournaments anywhere in the country. This is New York and its Madison Square Garden," Tranghese said with emphasis. "Nobody else has that. We have unprecedented television exposure. We operate in urban America. We're in over 26 percent of all television households. It's a formula for success."
Every coach hammered home the point of how much a struggle it will be every night and that preparation is key. But with every cautious word of not knowing what's ahead in this challenge, still every coach basked in the limelight when all were on even ground. In this story, I will cruise around the league and give you some quotes and news heard around the Garden.
Cincinnati: Much has changed in Bearcat land with Cincinnati legend Bob Huggins forced out. But new interim coach Andy Kennedy kept it light and straight. "We've always had an us-against-the-world mentality. I think if Coach (Huggins) was coaching this team, based on who we have returning, we would have been probably in that 4, 5, 6, 7(Big East Poll) range," said Kennedy. "Obviously with me, with about 550 fewer wins, I can understand the drop. If I was voting, I would have voted us lower than that based on my inability"
Connecticut: Jim Calhoun had many a reporter waiting on his every word, but I had to ask about his star coaching pupil and oh yeah, former DePaul head coach Dave Leitao too? "The Irony of it is we weren't going to play them (DePaul) this year, but yeah I am glad (of not facing them)," said Calhoun. "I am sure he will be very successful at Virginia. But I am very happy I don't have to face him. He's an outstanding coach and it always makes a very difficult game going against someone who's like a son to me"
Georgetown: John Thompson III still has to have that big shadow of being the son of legendary John Thompson hanging over him, and much of media day was still about how he lives in that shadow. But this year, his team is creating an identity all itself, being posed to breakthrough and make a run at the NCAA tournament. "Not a lot of teams will take us for granted this year," said Thompson. We need to focus" Last year, Georgetown were part of the hunters, now they are part of the hunted.
Louisville: The ever charismatic Rick Pitino also was not at a loss for words. He has plenty of praise for other teams in the league. He also went on about how he loved being a part of the Big East in its heyday. I asked Rick about going into West Virginia this year. Remember it was Louisville who made a great comeback last year in the Elite 8 to deflate West Virginia's run for glory. "I expect a lot of 3's," said Pitino. "Hopefully not 11 in a half! But I expect that to be tough and we'll have to be ready that day."
Marquette: With Travis Diener gone now, a lot will also be changing at Marquette too. Tom Crean is stressing defense. "The teams that have been really high in FG % defense (are the teams that do well)," said Crean. "Connecticut has been a national leader, probably three times out of the last, you'd have to check the stats, but I'd say maybe 5, 6, 7 years. That's phenomenal." Commended Crean "I think you got teams in this league that are really good in the rebound margin. I think you got teams in this league that create a lot from their defense. Great example, Connecticut, had 275 block shots last year, we had 88. Josh Boone had 90. Our team had 88. That's an area we have to keep addressing with recruiting and in our practice."
Notre Dame: The Irish have been knocking on the NCAA tournament door the last two years but haven't been allowed in. But that won't deter Coach Mike Brey who is confident in this year's squad. He likes Chris Quinn as his primary point guard and leader. His seniors (Quinn, Rick Cornett, and Torin Francis) were all part of a nice sweet 16 run in 2003, and he said they are dying to get back there. Brey is also a big ND football fan now. If they do well, he thinks it helps his basketball team. Less pressure and the atmosphere is now more loose.
Pittsburgh: Every year it seems Pitt loses someone key to their prior success, whether it's a coach or a player, and this year is no different. This year they lose Chris Taft, Chevon Troutman, and Yuri Demetris. Yet, Pitt is still expected to compete for an NCAA bid, mainly because of the engine that runs the Pitt Panthers, Carl Krauser, is back for his senior year. Dixon loves what he can bring to the table. "When he (Krauser) got here we went on this roll with NCAA tournament (appearances), school records, he was the guy there," said Dixon. "His redshirt year, was our first good team. He brought a lot of good things to the team as a redshirt and has continued to bring. The competitiveness, the intensity, the toughness. Those are all the things he brought to the program from the beginning."
St.Johns: Norm Roberts may be short on talent compared to the rest of the league but he thinks the right steps are being made to become competitive soon. He thinks hard work will pay off soon. "I think we just got to continue to do what we were doing last year, go from there," said Roberts. "Continue to compete every night. Continue to develop our players and get them to the point that they can do more things and be more versatile. And I think that will happen this season" said Roberts. Roberts also has kind words for new DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. "I know Coach Wainwright, he's a terrific coach, he's done a great job. His teams are always disciplined and play extremely hard. He'll do a terrific job there at DePaul. I think DePaul is going to be very good. I think they're going to be one of the teams that's similar to St.John's, Rutgers, Seton Hall and Marquette, all those teams will be developing young players."
South Florida: Despite being predicted to finish last, head coach Robert McCullum has an upbeat attitude and knows the challenge ahead. "We expect every game to be a great game, because of the balance of the league," said McCullum. "I can't think of a better way to measure a league than not only the great teams at the top, but the balance. From top to bottom, it's just an outstanding league and every night is going to be a war". Keep your head up; there will be brighter days ahead in Tampa.
Syracuse: Looking at Jim Boeheim at Media Day, you get the sense that he's been through this a lot and nothing fazes him. No matter what his teams will excel, even though they lose a key ingredient over the last years in Hakim Warrick. "We'll have more balance, I like our group," said the newly inducted Hall of Famer Boeheim. "We'll get contributions from more players." See you in March Jim.
Villanova: Last year at the beginning of the 2004-05 season, Villanova was pegged a sleeper, a team capable of making the NCAA tournament. Little did anyone know that a suspect traveling call against North Carolina kept Nova from reaching the Elite 8. So now, prior to Curtis Sumpter's injury, they are now atop the preseason Big East Poll. Wright and crew take it stride and know they will have a bulls-eye on their back. But Wright just hopes the Big East is not too much for one to chew on. "I have confidence, as Mike (Tranghese) said, that the NCAA Committee has to ultimately look at what's best for college basketball, and what's best for the NCAA tournament," said Wright. Wright said when asked if he is worried about not enough bids to go around. Wright added "If they look at our league during the year and they recognize that a very large portion of the best teams are (in this league) I think they'll do it, not for the good of the Big East, they'll do it for the good of the NCAA Tournament."
West Virginia: Also recovering from the hangover that was last years run to the Elite 8 and almost victory over now conference rival Louisville, is West Virginia. Head Coach John Beilein still feels no pressure to repeat last year's success. Anything can happen, he harps. "Last year we were 8th in the Big East and we ended up 12th in the Country". If that isn't an indication of how good this league is, I don't what would be. Beilein also stresses preparation. "It's a different prep (now). Now we have five (new) teams, we can't find a way to beat Connecticut or beat Syracuse and we know exactly what they are doing and now we have to worry about new teams. That's one problem you have," Beilien observed. "The other problem would be, I have never played against Tom Crean. Jerry Wainwright and I, we have played against each other, and he's got has different players now. It's very difficult to go thorough all those different preps and get ready to play every week"
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