Big East Basketball Preview Extravaganza

This is the fourth installment of a series of articles previewing the Big East basketball teams. This installment takes a look at Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. Johns.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Record last year:  11-20 (3-15 Big East)

Overview:  If you're a Rutgers basketball fan, you deserve credit for hanging in there.  The Scarlet Knights have only won three conference games in each of the last two seasons, failing to qualify for the Big East Tournament.  The last time Rutgers finished with at least an overall record of .500 was in the 2005-06 season, when it ended the year 17-12 due in large part to the scoring of guard Quincy Douby.  Head coach Fred Hill hasn't had a player with that kind of talent…until now.  Hill convinced guard Mike Rosario, a McDonald's High School All-American, to stay in-state.  This could be the year Hill starts to give the Rutgers program a little respectability as all five starters return.

3 Questions for Rutgers

·         Can Rutgers begin to show it can compete? 

Fred Hill has brought a tough attitude to a team that desperately needs structure and guidance.  While it hasn't shown in the win-loss record, the Scarlet Knights showed on occasion they can compete with the class of the Big East.  Last season Rutgers stunned Pitt by 13 points and beat Villanova by 12. It also took Louisville and Notre Dame to the wire, losing by only three points both times.  With everyone returning, Coach Hill hopes the experience of playing those tough games helps them steal a game or two in this loaded conference. 

·         Who will step up for the Scarlet Knights?

Out of the 15 players on the roster, 10 of them are either freshman or sophomores, which means the burden of leadership falls on seniors J.R. Inman and Anthony Farmer.  Inman's 12 points per game led the team while Farmar's 40 percent from three point range was tops for the Scarlet Knights.  The one young pup that could help the two seniors is guard Corey Chandler.  He finished second on the team in scoring as a frosh with just over 11 points an outing.

·         Should teams like Rutgers be allowed to play in the Big East Tournament?

It seems strange to say a team should not be allowed to play in a conference tournament.  That's why the Big East decided to let all 16 teams join the party at Madison Square Garden.  But does a team like Rutgers really deserve to play in these games?  The tournament will now cover five days, which seems like a bit too much especially when Rutgers probably won't be anything more than a punching bag.

Schedule Breakdown

December 28 (at North Carolina) – It's the first ranked team the Scarlet Knights will face.  Last year the Tar Heels won by 22 and it shouldn't be any different this year.

December 31 (vs. Pittsburgh) – It doesn't get any easier for Rutgers as it opens the Big East portion of the schedule against the Panthers.  Pitt will be hungry to get revenge on the Scarlet Knights after being upset at home last season.

January 24 (at St. John's) – An opportunity for the Scarlet Knights to separate itself from the bottom dwellers of the conference.  It jumpstarts a three game stretch including the Red Storm, Seton Hall, and DePaul.

Best Case Scenario

Rutgers should be able to win a few more games in the Big East, and will be able to play in the Big East Tournament this year.  If all breaks well, Mike Rosario will be a godsend to the program and the Knights will be able to finish somewhere around eleventh in the conference.  They'll have a shot to surprise a few teams and win a game (or maybe even two) in MSG.  Who knows?  Maybe a CBI invite could be in their future?

Worst Case Scenario

Fred Hill's tough love begins to splinter the team.  Rosario gets fed up with a losing atmosphere and transfers after the season.  Rutgers struggles to win three games in conference play.  Fred Hill's hoping that prognosis doesn't come true though.  He can't afford to have this team regress because there isn't anywhere to go at this point but up.

Seton Hall Pirates

Record last year:  17-15 (7-11 Big East)

Overview:  Bobby Gonzalez's Pirates got off to a good start in Big East conference play, winning five of its first eight games, including a win over a ranked Louisville team.  They were 15-6 overall, but then the bottom came out.  Seton Hall tanked, losing eight of its final ten games to end any chance of making the NCAAs after such a promising start.  One of the most important players on that squad is no longer there.  Gonzalez must find someone to replace the scoring punch of Brian Laing.  The senior scored over 18 points a game and the team's sharp shooter from last year, Jamar Nutter, is also gone.

3 Questions for Seton Hall

·         Who will replace Laing as the leading scorer?

It's a good question to ask, as Laing was a huge part of the Pirates offense.  The one player that looks like he could fill the role is guard Eugene Harvey.  The junior averaged 13 points a game, good for second on the team, and led the Seton Hall with just under five dimes a game.  One area the guard needs to work on is his three-point shooting.  Last year Harvey only shot about 23 percent from downtown.

·         Where is the depth?

On their current roster, Seton Hall has only 11 players total.  And in tonight's win over St. Francis (N.Y.), the Pirates only had six players play over 20 minutes.  Last year, Laing averaged over 38 minutes a game and the wear and tear of an 18 game Big East took its toll on him.  Somehow, Gonzalez has to find some options off the bench to give his starters a breather.

·         Does Seton Hall have a chance at challenging the big boys?

Well, the Pirates are a hard team to read.  Last year it looked like they could give teams like UConn and Louisville a challenge, as it actually did beat the Cardinals.  But then they fell off the face of the earth.  It's probably going to be the same result for the Pirates, especially without Laing.

Schedule Breakdown

November 20 (vs. USC) – Only the third game of the year for the Pirates and they'll have an opportunity to see where they are.  USC starts the years ranked at #21.

January 6 (at Villanova) – Well, here's the start of one of those horrendous three game stretches that no Big East team can avoid.  After the Wildcats, the Pirates travel to Notre Dame and Connecticut.

January 29 (vs. Rutgers) – After the brutal three game stretch earlier in the month, here's an opportunity for the Hall to feed on the bottom half.  In four games it faces Rutgers twice along with St. John's and DePaul.

Best Case Scenario

Seton Hall took a nosedive last year, so if it plays with a little bit of consistency, it should finish better than last year.  If Harvey can morph into an indomitable team leader, the Pirates have a chance to finish near the middle of the pack in the Big East under Bobby Gonzalez's fiery guidance.  But unless they win the Big East Tournament, the Pirates will have to settle for the NIT.

Worst Case Scenario

Laing and Nutter prove to be…irreplaceable, as one Beyonce Knowles might say.  The Pirates continue to be as inconsistent as the stock markets, pulling off one surprise but losing to many of the conference's bottom dwellers.  Lacking a true scorer, the Hall finishes with just four wins in conference play and gets knocked around early in the CBI.

St. John's Red Storm

Record last year:  11-19 (5-13 Big East)

Overview:  Head Coach Norm Roberts has been at the helm for four years trying to rebuild a program after scandals took away scholarships and cast a shadow over the university.  It hasn't been easy, as the Red Storm's highest win total in the Big East was seven games back in the 2006-07 season.  St. John's took a step back last year, going 5-13 in the expanded conference schedule.  The one player on this team that can bring people out of their seats is senior Anthony Mason Jr.  Last year he led the team with 14 points a contest and was one of only two players to average double-digits.

3 Questions for St. John's

·         Can Norm Roberts get this team headed in the right direction?

Well, the Red Storm has certainly taken steps towards respectability.  They qualified for the Big East Tournament two years ago when the league only let the top 12 teams make the trip to New York City.  But what separates St. John's from the other cellar dwellers of this mega conference is the storied history.  They opened the season with a win over Long Island on Friday which is a good start.

·         Is there anyone else on this team other than Anthony Mason?

While Mason may be the one to make the Sports Center highlights, there are a couple players Norm Roberts can expect to contribute this season.  Sophomore forward Justin Burrell will be a bright spot for the Red Storm.  He was second in scoring behind Mason, the only other player to average double-digits in points.  Burrell also took down just about six boards which was tops on the team.  And after tonight's game, perhaps point guard D.J. Kennedy can be called upon to score.  He dropped 23 points in the Johnnies' win over Long Island.

·         How can St. John's compete in such a loaded conference?

It's a daunting task for all the lower tier programs of the Big East.  Constantly looking up at power house programs like UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown.  About the only thing Norm Roberts can do is tell his team to play hard for 40 minutes.  With so many big games this year, St. John's could catch one of the big boys sleeping.

Schedule Breakdown

December 27 (vs. Miami, FL) – The one big non-conference test for St. John's, as it takes on a ranked Hurricanes squad.  It'll be a good learning experience before the Red Storm enters Big East play.

January 3 (vs. Notre Dame) – It's a new year, but for St. John's it means a four game stretch against ranked opponents.  After the Irish come games against Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Villanova.  Ouch!

March 3 (vs. Georgetown) – At this point the Johnnies probably will be at the bottom of the conference, but it could ruin tournament seeding for these a couple of the big boys.  St. John's takes on the Hoyas and the Irish to end the year.

Best Case Scenario

A successful season would probably be an increase in its win total which was only five last year.  If Mason can get a bit of help (Wanted:  Competent Big Man) and continue his one-man band shenanigans, the Johnnies could finish in the top 12 of the conference.  A win over Duke at home is likely the only cherry St. John's will have to top their sundae off with this season.    

Worst Case Scenario

As with Rutgers, St. John's really has only one place to go, and that's up.  But with a lack of big-time recruits from the city, it's likely the Red Storm will wallow in mediocrity for at least one more year.  This could get ugly for them.  The only thing saving them is their storied basketball tradition, but it won't save them from a two-win effort in conference play this year.  If this happens, Norm Roberts will be on the proverbial hot seat.

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