Big East Basketball Report - Part II

Part two of's look ahead at the Big East basketball season.

Part one of our July roundup looked at six teams in this year's Big East basketball conference. Today, we conclude our midsummer report.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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.



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 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.


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.


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.



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.


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


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.



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.


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


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.

Guard Darris Nichols - A talented guard who may be able to provide help at both guard positions.

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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