Orange Watch

Lost amidst this month's fanfare over the new-look Big East Conference for 2004-05 and beyond (and arguably the additions of Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and to a lesser extent South Florida, make it the top hoop league in the land), is the fact the basketball portion of the Big East has embarked on its 25th anniversary season, with Syracuse's 2003 national title the latest in a long line of impressive accomplishments on the national college hoops scene for a league so young.

As play is underway in November, it's Connecticut as the league (and national) favorite, followed by Syracse, then Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Providence is a popular choice to be on the rise and make noise, along with Seton Hall, Villanova, Boston College and West Virginia (what, no Georgetown?).

During our annual trek around the tables to speak with each league coach at the conference media day at Madison Square Garden just before the start of the season, there was an unmistakable buzz in the room about the new hoop additions, a tip of the hat from fellow coaches to Jim Boeheim finally reaching the sport's pinnacle, and plenty of disdain towards BC for its messy exit to the ACC.

In alphabetical order, we sought the various thoughts from the league's other 13 coaches.

Boston College's Al Skinner on why his voice was not heard, unlike BC's football coaches, during the school's move to the ACC. "I think we all recognize that it's a football decision so there's really nothing for me to say. There was nothing for me to get involved in (negotiations) so we just kind of keep moving along. It's a win-win situation for us whether we stayed in the Big East, which is a great conference, or the ACC, which is a "great conference."

Connecticut's Jim Calhoun on his close coaching friend Jim Boeheim joining him in the exclusive club of 42 coaches to win the NCAA championship. "I've been so happy for him. We talked a lot after we were knocked out in the Sweet 16. He's headed to the Hall of Fame. That's all you can say. At our banquet (Coaches vs. Cancer in Conn.) in Sept. we kidded him that even in his championship season we got him twice (2 of the team losses in a 30-5 season). He got up to speak and reminded everyone that he won the last one."

Georgetown's Craig Esherick on who he feels is the team to beat. "I think you'd have to say it is Syracuse. Carmelo Anthony was truly a great player, but they're still national champions and they still have a big part of that group together, along with a terrific recruiting class. I think Connecticut is just below them, call it 1A and 1B, but you have to give the team credit that won the national championship."

Miami's Perry Clark likes the league going back to one 14-team division. "It gives you a chance to play everybody. Like last year. I was asked what do you think about Pittsburgh? I never saw them, so I had no opinion. And within a conference structure, that's not necessarily the best situation."

More on this story can be found in this month's issue of The Juice.

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