Big East Preview

TheInsiders.com takes a look at the 11 other basketball teams in the Big East.

BIG EAST PREVIEW

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BOSTON COLLEGE

EagleInsider.com
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GETTING INSIDE

    Boston College already has one foot out the door of the Big East, and would like nothing better than to win the conference title in its final season in the league.

    With almost everybody of note back from last year's 24-10 squad that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, it has to be considered among the favorites to do so.

    Four starters return for Al Skinner, the lone exception being team leader Uka Agbai. The Eagles lost three other players -- sophomore Johnnie Jackson, freshman Devon Evertsen and walk-on Tavio Hobson, who all decided to transfer. But none was a part of the core rotation.

    Team MVP Craig Smith, an All-Big East performer as a sophomore last season who led the team in scoring and rebounding, will once again be the team's rock on both ends of the court. Jared Dudley, Sean Marshall and Louis Hinnant also return, as do sixth man Jermaine Watson, backup center Nate Doornekamp and reserve point guard Steve Hailey.

    There's definitely some work to do this offseason for Skinner's crew. Last year, the Eagles won by shutting down opponents on the defensive end, but they often struggled with dry spells on offense. This was particularly true when Smith was on the bench with foul trouble.

    In addition, foul shooting was far from a strength -- particularly when Smith was at the line. He shot just 51.3 percent from the charity stripe.

    Skinner's big task will be to find a replacement for Agbai, who provided 10.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, strong defense and a steady hand when the team desperately needed one.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    It was a big step forward for the Eagles last season. Despite their youth and inexperience, the team overcame a disappointing trip to the NIT the previous year to return to the NCAA Tournament. Now, Boston College looks to take that next step to the Sweet 16 and beyond.

    Apart from an inside presence to replace Uka Agbai, this team doesn't have a lot of personnel needs. It does, however, need for a couple of people to emerge as scoring threats to complement Craig Smith.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "We try to wear and tear opponents down. That's part of our strategy going into each game, trying to beat people down."

    Boston College forward Craig Smith, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Forward Sean Williams -- At 6-9, Williams will have a chance to contribute early, particularly with his shot-blocking skills on the defensive end. Boston College brought him in for a visit before he had even played in a varsity game.

    Forward Akida McLain -- The 6-7 forward starred on the summer circuit last year before picking the Eagles over Arizona, Virginia and Penn State. He may be able to provide an offensive spark off the bench.

    INJURY IMPACT

    Boston College had a slew of minor injuries last year. Everyone looks to be healthy heading into 2004-05, though Craig Smith's back issues last season may be a lingering concern.

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GEORGETOWN

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GETTING INSIDE

    Craig Esherick always had big shoes to fill as Georgetown's coach. Literally and figuratively, Esherick was unable to make Hoyas fans forget about the John Thompson era, and last year's 13-15 finish was simply the final straw. It ended the Hoyas 27-year streak of postseason invitations, and also the brief Esherick era. Replacing Esherick is a familiar name; John Thompson III.

    The son of the legendary former Hoya coach (and current Washington radio talk-show host) inherits his father's old program, but it's hardly in tip-top shape. A series of player departures and poor recruiting have left the cupboard all but bare.

    Brandon Bowman, who almost transferred before last season, will be the rock upon which Thompson will likely build his offense. The 6-8 forward led last year's team in rebounding and was second in scoring. Indeed, alongside the departed Gerald Riley, he was often the only offense the Hoyas had, although rising junior Ashanti Cook had his moments as well and Darrel Owens provides some points, rebounds, and leadership.

    An encouraging sign is that the returning players seem very happy with the coaching change, and his message of a return to the glory days. Bowman in particular hopes he'll get to play more on the wing and not have to trade elbows with the big men of the Big East.

    Point guard Matt Causey, who averaged 1.7 assists off the bench during his freshman campaign, announced last week that he's decided to transfer to another program. This is Thompson's sole roster loss. Last offseason, two guards departed: Tony Bethel and Drew Hall left for North Carolina State and the College of Charleston, respectively, following their sophomore seasons.

    Still, Thompson is taking over a program in a marquee league -- one now without perennial bottom-dwellers Virginia Tech and Miami -- with a lineup that would probably be underdogs against the Princeton team he left behind.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    Georgetown now has a coach that evokes the memories of the glory days of Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson. Unfortunately, what it doesn't have are the players. Brandon Bowman is a nice player, and will fill up the stat sheet in the upcoming season, but nobody is mistaking him for a Georgetown star of old.

    And with Gerald Riley gone, there's nobody else who appears to be able to carry the load.

    Even discounting the power of his name, John Thompson III is a fine coach with an excellent track record. But this is a program with fans and alumni who know how far they've fallen and are determined to get back to their accustomed berth in the NCAA Tournament. It's a new era at Georgetown, and Thompson will get every opportunity to succeed under the intense microscope.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "I am John Thompson's son. I've been John Thompson's son for 38 years. And I'm pretty comfortable being John Thompson's son. No one's going to put more pressure on me than myself. At Princeton I was John Thompson's son, and that's who I am. So if you guys can deal with that, I think I'll be OK."

    New Georgetown coach John Thompson III
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS:

    Forward Cornelio Guibunda -- A talented swingman, he'll get to play right away. The Hoyas will look for him to address some of the team's weaknesses on the offensive end.

    Center Roy Hibbert -- He's a project, but he's 7-2. Thus Hibbert will likely get the opportunity to learn from the best, butting heads against the legendary former Hoyas who return to the area during the summer months. He'll need to overcome the injury bug that plagued him during his high school career.

    INJURY IMPACT

    Georgetown doesn't have any particular injury concerns this offseason.

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NOTRE DAME

IrishEyes.com
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GETTING INSIDE

    It was not a year to remember for the Fighting Irish. A preseason Top 25 team struggled in the early season, then saw injuries derail a late-season surge that returned Notre Dame to the NCAA Tournament bubble. But an early loss in the Big East tournament dropped the team to the NIT, and a quarterfinal loss to Oregon ended the season early.

    If there was a silver lining, though, it was that the lack of success has everyone eligible committed to coming back for the upcoming season.

    Two years ago, Chris Thomas made coach Mike Brey sweat out the spring while he attended NBA pre-draft camps. He ultimately elected to come back for another season, only to find himself fighting through injuries throughout his junior year. Highly touted big man Torin Francis was also rumored to have considered a jump to the NBA, but had his sophomore season cut short by back surgery.

    In Francis' absence, Rick Cornett emerged as a rebounding threat down low. The duo will join Jordan Cornette, Arizona transfer Dennis Latimore and redshirt freshman Omari Israel to form an imposing frontcourt. Thomas, Chris Quinn and Colin Falls lead the guards.

    The Fighting Irish had to be tough simply to survive a season in which 53 man-games were lost to injuries. That toughness, and the increased depth added by those who took on expanded roles last season, leaves the team in excellent shape to rebound in 2004-05.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    After the Fighting Irish were relegated to the NIT, Mike Brey commented that only a few elite programs could expect to make the NCAA Tournament every year, and that Notre Dame might not be one of those schools. True or not, that didn't sit well with some Irish fans.

    With Notre Dame's fan base that transcends the school's boundaries, there's reason to expect the team to be very good nearly every year.

    The program is clearly moving in that direction. Brey already has four commitments for next year's recruiting class.

    With the ability to reload instead of rebuild, Notre Dame is building a program that can compete for the Big East crown every year.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "I don't foresee us losing as many games next year because we have some good guys coming back. You have to learn from a season like this. Not making it into the tournament is just fuel for next year. It shows us where we want to get to next year and where we don't want to be."

    Notre Dame forward Jordan Cornette.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Forward Dennis Latimore -- The 6-8 Arizona transfer sat out last season under NCAA rules. He'll give the team points and toughness this season, and will likely be a starter by the first day of practice.

    Forward Rob Kurz -- The 6-8 power forward will get a chance to help the team immediately on the inside, particularly on the defensive end.

    INJURY IMPACT

    Torin Francis underwent back surgery to repair a herniated disk in March. He'll be ready for conditioning drills this summer. Chris Thomas underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at the end of the season, and is likewise expected to be ready for the season. Omari Israel is ready to play after missing all of last season recovering from knee surgery.

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PITTSBURGH

PantherReport.com
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GETTING INSIDE

    Jamie Dixon is already a hero of anonymous assistants everywhere. After serving under Ben Howland, the Panthers tabbed the unknown assistant to continue Howland's work after the former Pitt coach departed for UCLA. He responded to the school's show of faith with a 31-5 record and a trip to the Sweet 16.

    Though the record was impressive, Pitt basketball wasn't pretty. The Panthers were not a team that shone on the offensive end. In fact, it was often a team that looked like it couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. It won with defense and experience, and a lot of that experience left at the end of the season when Julius Page and Jaron Brown used up their eligibility.

    The cupboard, however, is far from bare. Carl Krauser returns to run the point, a season after he filled the considerable shoes of Brandin Knight to continue the recent tradition of stellar guard play at Pittsburgh. Krauser is particularly important on the offensive end, since the team tends to struggle even more when he's out of the game or hobbled by injury or foul problems.

    Big East Rookie of the Year Chris Taft anchors the middle. He's only a sophomore, but he may be NBA-bound at the end of the season if he improves as much this season as he did in the second half last year.

    Chevon Troutman and Mark McCarroll also return for their senior seasons, meaning the Panthers will once again be among the biggest teams in college basketball.

    Redshirt freshman Ed Turner elected to transfer in order to get more playing time, but some of the newcomers appear ready to step in and contribute early. If everyone adjusts to their new roles and Krauser and Taft continue to improve, this team can once again find itself atop the conference and playing deep into March.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    So far, Jamie Dixon has not appeared to be a big fan of the unknown. He stuck to essentially a seven-man rotation through much of last season, and valued defensive stars over others who may have been able to contribute more on the offensive end. Defensive and rebounding has been the key.

    At some point, though, Dixon will have to start recruiting players with more offensive weapons. He may have already signed one in John DeGroat, a junior college transfer who's eligible for the coming season. He has a reputation as a shooter, making 44 percent of his three-point attempts last season.

    If not him, expect someone else to crack the rotation who's an offensive threat, since it will be difficult to duplicate the team defense Pitt showed last season now that top defenders Julius Page and Jaron Brown are gone.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "A lot of times there could be a ripple effect if there was somebody else who came in and tried to do something different. There would be head-butting. We didn't think that kind of change would be good for the program. We wanted somebody who was already here."

    Panthers forward Chevon Troutman, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on the decision to name Jamie Dixon head coach before last season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Forward John DeGroat -- This 6-6 swingman has a reputation as a scorer, putting up strong numbers in junior college. If he's as good as advertised, he'll play a lot right away.

    Guard Keith Benjamin -- Another scorer, Benjamin is a 6-2 shooting guard who can light it up from three-point range.

    INJURY IMPACT

    The Panthers have no major injuries heading into the upcoming campaign.

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PROVIDENCE

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GETTING INSIDE

    The first big step toward a return trip to the NCAA Tournament has gone as well as coach Tim Welsh could possibly have hoped for.

    All-American Ryan Gomes declared for the NBA draft, but couldn't get the kind of guarantees he was looking for from the scouts. His return helps mitigate the considerable losses the Friars suffered this offseason: junior Rob Sanders left the team in April, and fellow starters Marcus Douthit and Sheiku Kabba graduated.

    The Friars have a lot of new faces coming in, and Gomes and point guard Donnie McGrath will be counted on heavily to indoctrinate the newcomers into the nature of Big East basketball.

    Also returning are Tuukka Kotti, a rising senior who contributed in a reserve roll, and Dwight Brewington, who played well in his first season and started six games when Sanders was injured in midseason. But that's pretty much it. This was not a team that played very many guys on a regular basis, and thus it will need some newcomers and reserves to take on key roles in a hurry.

    Welsh got a year extended onto his contract, locking him up through the 2008-09 season. He's been with the program for six years, and despite rumors that he was a candidate for the St. John's job, he provides stability to a program usually seen as a stepping-stone to greener pastures.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    This was just one of those teams that managed to have a satisfying season, but in a dissatisfying way. A 20-9 record and an NCAA berth would have been greeted like a triumph had they been guaranteed in October, but expectations were considerably higher by the time March rolled around.

    Ryan Gomes is one of the best there is, as his All-America honors suggest. But if he thought teams were keying on him last season, that's nothing compared to the defenses he'll see over the coming year. Teams will focus on stopping Gomes and making the rest of the Friars beat them, and another NCAA berth hinges on whether his teammates can come through.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "In just six seasons, Tim Welsh has brought great stability and leadership to the Friar basketball program. Tim is the perfect person to be guiding our basketball program and we are excited that he will be coaching the Friars as we head into a new era in the Big East."

    Providence athletic director Bob Driscoll, after giving Welsh a one-year extension through 2008-09.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Forward Quinten Hosley -- A 6-7 swingman, Hosley transferred in from Lamar Community College, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. He'll be counted on to be an immediate scoring threat.

    Forward Charles Burch -- The 6-7 bruiser is undersized, but is capable of guarding opposing big men. He originally signed with St. Bonaventure, but backed out of his letter of intent with the Bonnies. He is expected to add some badly needed bulk inside.

    Guard JaJuan Robinson -- Robinson is a guard from Baltimore who can flat-out score. His high school coach told the Providence Journal that "I don't see anybody in the Big East that can cover him. He can handle the ball real well and has great court vision."

    INJURY IMPACT

    Providence signee Robert McKiver missed his entire senior high school season with an ankle injury, but will be ready for practice in the fall.

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RUTGERS

RutgersInsider.com
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GETTING INSIDE

    Rutgers coach Gary Waters was under consideration for the Ohio State job, but the Scarlet Knights athletic director denied permission for the Buckeyes to contact him.

    That's a measure of where the team is right now. Not only does a rival in a big-time basketball league want a key member of the program, but the school is successful in keeping the desired commodity home. That's exciting news for a program that is used to seeing talented recruits leave the state and talented players transfer elsewhere.

    Waters was unable to lead the Scarlet Knights back to the NCAA Tournament, but he did lead the team to the final of the NIT with a mix of freshmen and upperclassmen playing pivotal roles. The combination of youth and experience often leads to friction, and it occasionally did here as well. But the bottom line is that Rutgers is almost impossible to beat at home, getting better on the road, and enjoying a fan base that's once again excited about the team.

    There will be big shoes for next year's team to fill. Herve Lamizana is gone after a stellar college career, and his presence will be missed on both ends of the court. Calvin Wooten elected to transfer, but Waters dodged a significant bullet when Ricky Shields withdrew his name from the NBA draft. The rising senior guard knew that pro scouts weren't salivating to take him in the first round, but took advantage of the system to get a better sense of his strengths and weaknesses, and what he needs to work on to get to the next level.

    Joining Shields will be Marquis Webb and Quincy Douby, both of whom starred as freshmen and should be even better in the years ahead. Adrian Hill is back to bang around in the paint, and newcomer Ollie Bailey will get an immediate chance to play big minutes inside as well.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    Rutgers is one of a number of Big East programs that just can't seem to get that big win it needs to jump off the bubble and into the NCAAs. It's definitely a program on the rise, but it still has a long way to go and a lot of teams to leap past if it wants to be among the league's elite teams.

    The Scarlet Knights have a solid backcourt, but a lot of concerns in the paint, where Sean Axani did the dirty work and Herve Lamizana blocked shots. Lamizana's unique combination of skills will be particularly difficult to replace. Rutgers will also need to learn how to win on the road -- last season the team played much differently in East Brunswick than it did elsewhere.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "You can always learn something from losing. We learned that we have to take care of the ball and really run our offense to get better shots down the stretch. ... Next year we will be more mature and really understand what it takes to close games of this magnitude."

    Ricky Shields, in the Daily Targum, following the team's NIT loss to Michigan.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Forward Ollie Bailey -- This 6-7 banger from Chicago is a typical Rutgers power forward -- undersized, but ready to mix it up in the paint. He should play right away and may get the starting nod if he can replace Sean Axani's toughness.

    Center Dan Waterstradt -- Though 6-11, Waterstradt isn't ready to mix it up with the Big East post players. He'll play, but will be more dangerous taking his opponents outside and shooting jumpers than he will as a force in the paint,

    INJURY IMPACT

    Rutgers should be healthy to start practice this fall.

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SETON HALL

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GETTING INSIDE

    When Andre Barrett and Marcus Toney-El graduated this offseason, it marked the true end of the brief, tumultuous Tommy Amaker era. Both were freshmen during Amaker's final season with the Pirates, and were subsequently the foundation upon which new coach Louis Orr rebuilt the program.

    It's a tribute to both players and coach that the Pirates rebounded from a 2002-2003 NCAA snub to return to the Big Dance last season, beating Arizona to reach the second round. But while Barrett was only 5-10 in high-tops, his loss will be an immense one for the Pirates.

    There's still plenty of talent in South Orange. John Allen returns to the Seton Hall backcourt, hoping for some more consistency on offense this year. Kelly Whitney anchors the inside, with slasher Andre Sweet able to score from anywhere when he gets hot. J.R. Morris averaged double-figures off the bench; he'll get to start this season.

    But the situation at the point is still very unsettled. Indications are that incoming freshman Justin Cerasoli will get the chance to win the job early, with Donald Copeland again serving as the backup. Jamar Nutter may figure into the backcourt mix as well, if he's eligible.

    Senior forward Damion Fray left the team rather than seek a fifth year of eligibility. His was the only unexpected departure. The team did add transfer Stan Gaines, who left Minnesota and will be eligible in 2005-06.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    The Pirates took a big step forward last season in returning to the NCAA Tournament, but it faces an uphill battle to get back. Without Andre Barrett or Marcus Tony-El, Seton Hall starts the season with a significant void both on the stat sheet and in the locker room.

    Toughness and leadership carried the Pirates in several games that could have gone either way. That's what Louis Orr will be looking for in the early season -- if anyone is able to pick up the mantle from two who gave all they had to the program. That will determine whether the Pirates are once again building a program to be reckoned with, or simply took advantage of a special player who success belied his size.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "Whenever you're building something, it's a process. It doesn't happen overnight. You have to persevere and build endurance to press forward. Growth never stops."

    Seton Hall coach Louis Orr, in the New York Post.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Guard Justin Cerasoli -- At 6-5, he doesn't look much like Andre Barrett, but he still will have an opportunity to replace him at the point. He's a skilled ballhandler who can also put the ball in the basket.

    Center Marcus Cousin -- The 6-10 center fought an ankle injury and didn't put up great numbers as a senior, but he looked strong on the summer circuit. He'll get a chance to earn playing time in the paint.

    INJURY IMPACT

    No major injuries.

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ST. JOHN'S

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GETTING INSIDE

    Maybe it's a sign that things are getting better for the Red Storm that sophomore guard Darryl Hill removed his name from the NBA draft list after his initial ill-advised decision to declare.

    That's certainly the first thing that went right for St. John's in quite some time.

    After a slow start led to the firing of Mike Jarvis, a scandal that began in a Pittsburgh strip club and ended with six players suspended or expelled effectively ended the competitive portion of the Red Storm's season. Only a victory over woeful Georgetown kept the team from going winless in Big East play.

    The upcoming season isn't likely to be much better. All scandals and coaching changes aside, this team wasn't all that good when it had a full roster, and it doesn't have the talent to compete for a first-division finish with the current players. Expect another year of players who play very hard for 40 minutes but can't overcome the superior ability of their league rivals.

    In addition to Hill, Lamont Hamilton and Tyler Jones give the Red Storm some inside heft. But it will be a very inexperienced team that takes the court for the opening tip in November, albeit one that knows full well what not to do with a free evening on the road.

    New coach Norm Roberts faces an uphill battle, but the longtime Bill Self assistant may be the man who can get the job done. He was far from the biggest name bandied about during the Red Storm's coaching search. But he has a reputation as a great talker and good recruiter, both of which will play well in the New York market and help begin the long road back to respectability.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    This program is a long, long, long way from the glory days of Walter Berry and Chris Mullin, or even from the brief Erick Barkley - Bootsy Thornton era. Suspensions, expulsions, transfers and graduation have left this team bereft of much in the way of talent, and the off-court scandals eroded much of the credibility the program once had.

    Norm Roberts begins with a clean slate -- literally and figuratively. Not many players remain from last year's disaster of a squad, and even the biggest Red Storm booster knows that the team isn't likely to contend for an NCAA berth for at least a couple of years. Roberts will get the chance to put his stamp on a program that has been floundering for years, but he'll have to do it amid the scrutiny of the biggest media market in the world.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "This is coming home. It's very exciting to be coaching in New York again, at a place where I always dreamed of doing the job."

    St. John's coach Norm Roberts

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Forward Rodney Epperson -- This New Yorker comes back home after detours at a pair of junior colleges. He'll be expected to compete for playing time right away.

    Guard Jermaine Maybank -- Another juco product, this 6-4 guard will also get the chance to play from his first day on campus. The team hopes he can fill the desperate need for backcourt depth.

    Guard Eugene Lawrence -- The backcourt partner of NBA first-rounder Sebastian Telfair, he averaged 14 points per game as a senior.

    INJURY IMPACT

    The few scholarship players on the roster appear to be healthy.

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SYRACUSE

CuiseJuice.com
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GETTING INSIDE

    It's déjà vu all over again for the Orangemen. After spending most of last season wondering about the status of Billy Edelin -- who left the team for personal reasons -- the junior point guard's status is once again in doubt. After most observers assumed he'd played his last game for the Orangemen, Edelin enrolled in summer school at Syracuse and is trying to regain his eligibility. Coach Jim Boeheim says Edelin still a long way from being able to play, and may need a waiver from the NCAA to do so, since he'll be short of the number of credits needed to be eligible as a first-semester junior.

    If Edelin somehow is able to rejoin the team, it would only add to what was a great offseason for the Orangemen. Hakim Warrick might have been a first-round pick in the NCAA draft, but elected to return to school for a chance to be a lottery selection down the road. Sharpshooter Gerry McNamara also returns, giving Syracuse what may be the best inside-outside combo in the nation.

    In addition, Craig Forth returns to man the middle, though he hopes to do a better job of staying out of foul trouble this year. Starting guard Josh Pace returns as well. Terrence Roberts should be ready to contribute after a lukewarm freshman season, and Demetris Nichols and Louie McCroskey will also benefit from their experience playing as freshmen.

    The key will be developing another offensive weapon. When McNamara or Hakim Warrick struggled, the offense often ground to a halt. Coach Jim Boeheim needs someone else to step forward to carry more of the scoring load, particularly if Edelin does not return.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    The national championship two years ago was the final proof of Syracuse's status as an elite program. That was illustrated again last year, when the team reached the Sweet 16 even in a year filled with peaks and valleys.

    Syracuse will be one of the favorites to take the Big East crown this season, and deservedly so. It has inside scoring and defense, and arguably the best three-point shooter in the country in Gerry McNamara.

    It could use a good ballhandler in Billy Edelin's absence, but besides that the team looks to have all it needs to contend for another title, two year after Carmelo Anthony led the team's magical run.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "Jimmy just has a great knack for putting things together, making them work and going on. What he has done has been amazing because there hasn't been any dropoff at all."

    Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, in the Boston Globe.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Forward Dayshawn Wright -- The 6-7 power forward is a Syracuse local, but played his final high school season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Coach Jim Boeheim will count on him to be a physical presence in the paint.

    Guard Josh Wright -- The 6-1 point guard will get the chance to earn minutes quickly alongside Gerry McNamara in the Orangeman backcourt.

    INJURY IMPACT

    Nothing major, though Gerry McNamara was bothered by nagging injuries for much of last season.

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VILLANOVA

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GETTING INSIDE

    This offseason must really seem like a vacation to Villanova coach Jay Wright.

    Not having to juggle starting lineups every night as his team slowly pays off NCAA suspensions. No more questions about his team's youth and inexperience. No more injury concerns -- or, at least, not quite as many. The biggest loss of the offseason may have been assistant coach Billy Lange, who left to take the top job at Navy.

    Whereas last offseason saw Wright forced to waste time developing gimmick defenses and offenses designed to highlight the skills of whatever players the NCAA wasn't making sit on the bench, Wright had the luxury of spending this summer working on getting the most out of his quality returnees.

    Allan Ray, Curtis Sumpter, Randy Foye, Mike Nardi, Jason Fraser and Will Sheridan -- the team's six leading scorers from last season -- are back. Moreover, there's not a senior among them.

    Hopefully, that will help the team avoid the downturn that plagued it down the stretch. At a time when many would expect a young team to be hitting its stride, the Wildcats lost five straight in late February and early March, going from an NCAA contender to a team that needed two Big East tournament victories just to qualify for the NIT.

    Wright is counting on his experienced core to show up every night in 2004-05 so that his Wildcats don't again find themselves struggling to make the postseason in March.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    Villanova has been one of those teams that's been stuck in a holding pattern. The Wildcats have made five straight trips to the NIT, and there's a sense of urgency that the program needs to take the next step this season.

    Jay Wright was one of college basketball's hot young coaches when he took the job. To stay that way, he needs to get this program out of the NIT inertia that it finds itself in. With everybody of note back from last year's squad, there's no reason that shouldn't happen this time around, but it's a deep Big East this season without weak sisters Virginia Tech and Miami.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "If everyone is healthy, and we get everyone playing our best basketball, we have a shot to contend for an NCAA tournament bid, and a shot to contend for a Big East championship. That's going to be our goal going into the season."

    Villanova coach Jay Wright

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Guard Kyle Lowry -- Though he's just six feet tall in basketball shoes, Lowry was one of the top prep point guards. Keeping the Philly kid at home was a priority for coach Jay Wright, and Lowry will get minutes as Mike Nardi's backup.

    Guard-Forward Dwayne Anderson -- The 6-5 wingman will be counted on to provide scoring and defense on the perimeter.

    INJURY IMPACT

    No major injuries plague the Wildcats this offseason.

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WEST VIRGINIA

BlueGoldNews.com
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GETTING INSIDE

    West Virginia will spend its August traipsing through Europe, visiting three countries over a 12-day span. Unlike some of their classmates, though, the Mountaineers won't be sleeping in train stations and hostels. They're going overseas not just to see the world, but to take another step forward on the court.

    Last year wasn't the easiest in coach John Beilein's career -- it's never a good sign when the player the offense is built around gets kicked off the team in midseason, as Drew Schifino was. But the Mountaineers rebounded to finish 10th in the Big East and win a couple of games in the NIT.

    Moreover, Beilein will have most of the important building blocks back this season. All five starters return, as does sixth man Patrick Beilein. Joe Herber has started 60 games over two years, J.D. Collins 59 and Kevin Pittsnogle 55, and Patrick Beilein has played in 60 games coming off the bench.

    In addition, seniors Tyrone Sally and D'or Fischer looked ready to take their games to the next level by the end of the season.

    Key reserve Tyler Relph elected to transfer, as did fellow freshman Jerrah Young, so the Mountaineers may not be quite as deep as Beilein anticipated. But some new additions may help West Virginia contend for an NCAA berth during the upcoming campaign, particularly Mike Gansey and Brad Byerson, both of whom sat out last season but will be expected to contribute this year.

NOTES, QUOTES

    PROGRAM OVERVIEW

    West Virginia will be one of the most experienced team in the league this year, which doesn't mean there isn't a lot to work on. Without Drew Schifino, the Mountaineers offense was often missing in action last season. In a four-game losing stretch spanning February and March, WVU's high game was 58 points.

    Still, this is a team that can get to the next level if it can develop during the summer, whether in individual workouts or on the European trip. The Mountaineers play hard every night, and probably won't surprise any Big East rivals during the upcoming season, since the league has gotten used to the team's effort.

    Now it comes down to whether the Mountaineers are simply an average team that tries very hard, or a very good team ready to contend for an NCAA berth.

    QUOTE TO NOTE

    "We can't every time down the court have five passes and have a guy run a play that's been called. We've got to score easy points. Whether they're dribble drives to the basket or fastbreak opportunities we've got to get people to learn how to score at the college level which is not like high school."

    -- West Virginia coach John Beilein

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    KEY RECRUITS AND TRANSFERS

    Guard Mike Gansey -- Gansey transferred from St. Bonaventure and sat out last season. He'll be counted on to provide strength, toughness and defense on the wing.

    Center Luke Bonner -- The 6-11 center from New Hampshire will be D'or Fischer's understudy this year, but will be expected to make a major contribution in the future.

    INJURY IMPACT

    West Virginia doesn't appear to have any major health concerns this year.


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