Around Big East Hoops

Basketball season is off and running, and Scout.com takes us around the Big East to check out the early action.

BOSTON COLLEGE
GETTING INSIDE

In their last season in the Big East, the Eagles are playing like a team that league opponents will be happy to see leave.

Boston College flew under the radar last year until making a late run at the league's upper echelon, and could follow the same pattern this season. While programs like Syracuse and UConn get the attention, the Eagles are playing as well as anyone in the league thus far. That shouldn't be too shocking, since everyone in the rotation except for Uka Agbai returned from last year's squad, which gave Georgia Tech everything it could handle before falling in the second round of the NCAAs. What has been a pleasant surprise is the ability of the freshmen to play significant minutes off the bench, providing production on both ends of the court.

The result is a team that may not need to lean on Craig Smith as much as last season, which is fortunate because Smith was practically hunched over at times with all the weight placed on his shoulders.

Five players are averaging double figures through the season's first four games. Craig Smith leads the way with 17 points per game, with Jared Dudley, Sean Marshall, Jermaine Watson and Louis Hinnant also over the threshold.

The Eagles have also been consistent in their production. The fewest points Boston College has scored all season is 72, and the most is 87. No opponent has scored more than 70.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Louis Hinnant, shooting guard Sean Marshall, center Nate Doornekamp, forward Jared Dudley, forward Craig Smith.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They did it against Clemson and they did it tonight: Let's attack the basket and let's not settle. If we can attack the basket, it makes us a better team." -- Coach Al Skinner in the Boston Globe, after his team walloped Long Island University by 41 points to improve to 4-0.

UPCOMING GAMES: at UCLA, Sunday, Dec. 5; vs. Holy Cross, Thursday, Dec. 9.

KEYS: The Eagles have been playing great thus far, particularly on offense. It's a more aggressive team that takes the court for Boston College this year, and if it can avoid the passivity that sometimes struck the players late in games last year and continue to provide a balanced scoring attack, there's no reason why this team can't once again surprise and contend for the league title.

ROSTER REPORT: Sean Williams and Akiba McLain have had the most impact among the Boston College freshmen. Each got minutes in three of the first four games. Williams leads the team in blocks with nine, and has also been strong on the glass, averaging 5.3 rebounds per game. McLain started the season opener and is sixth on the team in scoring at 6.7 per contest.

Both Craig Smith and Jermaine Watson missed the Eagles' season opener. Smith was sidelined due to illness, while Watson was out because of a violation of team rules.


CONNECTICUT
GETTING INSIDE

Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon are drawing hefty paychecks in the NBA, and surely Jim Calhoun regrets that they didn't decide that an additional year in Storrs, Conn., was worth putting the big payday on hold. Then again, where would he play them if they'd stayed? Some of the names are different, but it's the same old Huskies through the season's first two games.

Focus on the perimeter, and they pound it inside to the likes of Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong and Ed Nelson. Pack the zone in the paint, and Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown will kill you from the outside. Then, of course, there are the guys like Charlie Villanueva and Rudy Gay who can beat you from either place. In the team's 99-48 dismantling of Florida Atlantic, 10 Huskies played more than 13 minutes, and none played more than 26. Most teams shorten their rotation as the season goes on, but it's difficult to see how Calhoun can do that. Who sits ... superfrosh Rudy Gay? Georgia Tech transfer and inside force Ed Nelson? Rebounding machine Marcus White? Not a bad problem to have, to be sure.

Another good sign is the development of freshman point guard Marcus Williams, who had 35 assists in a four-game exhibition tour of England. Fellow freshman Antonio Kellogg has also looked like he can contribute at the point, though neither has faced the caliber of competition they'll see in the coming weeks.

Connecticut set a school record for blocked shots with 19 against Florida International. Coach Jim Calhoun said after the game that he planned to make a phone call to former UConn standout and current Charlotte Bobcat Emeka Okafor, telling him that the Huskies had real shot-blockers now that he was gone.

It wasn't all fun and games against FIU, though. Calhoun called a timeout nine seconds into the game, after the Golden Panthers got the opening tip and began the game with a monster dunk. Neither the coach nor any of the players could recall ever seeing a time out called so early in a game before.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Marcus Williams, shooting guard Rashad Anderson, center Josh Boone, small forward Denham Brown, power forward Charlie Villanueva.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They do things in games to keep themselves in games. Rashad starts off and they go zone, and it's bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.... Between Denham, Rashad and Josh, we became very tough to play. Pick your poison." -- Coach Jim Calhoun on starters Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown and Josh Boone.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Indiana, Saturday, Dec. 4; vs. Northeastern, Monday, Dec. 6; at Massachusetts, Thursday, Dec. 9.

KEYS: The Huskies can run so many guys at opponents who can score and rebound that it's hard for anyone else to match the depth this team has. Long-term, the big challenge for coach Jim Calhoun will be to keep all those forwards happy with their minutes, and the offense running smoothly despite the constant substitutions.

ROSTER REPORT: UConn took a break in November and jetted off to London for four exhibition games. The Huskies finished 3-1 against British Basketball League teams. Freshman Rudy Gay averaged a team-high 15.5 points, with Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson right behind at 14.5.

Denham Brown sat out the second half of the victory over Florida International with a twisted ankle. It's not expected to sideline him further.


GEORGETOWN
GETTING INSIDE

There are no shortage of quality programs in the Big East, from perennial national championship contenders like Connecticut and Syracuse to up-and-coming teams like Boston College. But if you're looking for an early seat on a relatively unknown bandwagon, it may be worth checking out Georgetown. The Hoyas began the season with two wins in their first three games, but will still struggle to win games this season because the depth of talent simply isn't here. But one potential story is that of freshman walk-on Jonathan Wallace.

While other freshman took the preseason hype -- not to mention the scholarships -- it's Wallace who's taken advantage of injuries and roster shortages to make an instant impact. Georgetown discovered Wallace in the Kenner League, a summertime pursuit that takes place at McDonough Arena where the Hoyas typically play a few early-season games. Kenner League games are notorious for ending with scores like 155-150, so it wouldn't figure that someone would emerge that would be ready to star in the Princeton offense.

But Wallace earned a starting spot beginning with the team's season-opening loss to Temple, and shone in a 76-51 victory over Davidson. Against the Wildcats, he nailed six of eight three-pointers and led the team with 20 points.

Jeff Green, another freshman in the starting lineup, has also made an immediate impact, and 7-2 Roy Hibbert is the first big man off the bench. But pay attention to how Wallace progresses over the course of the season. If he keeps this up, he'll have an awful lot of Big East coaches wondering why they couldn't have found a scholarship for this guy.

Georgetown has been all about the three-ball this season. They tied a school record with 12 three-pointers against The Citadel, then shattered it by making 16 treys against Davidson. Of the Hoyas' 47 shots at Davidson, 31 were from long range.

Jonathan Wallace's six three-pointers came just one short of the school record. Mark Tillmon had seven threes in a game, back when the elder John Thompson roamed the sidelines.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Ashanti Cook, shooting guard Jonathan Wallace, wing guard Darrel Owens, forward Brandon Bowman, forward Jeff Green.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we take the kind of shots we should take and if we take the kind of threes off the right kind of motion and the right movement, I think we have guys that can knock them down." -- Coach John Thompson III in the Washington Times.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Penn State, Monday, Dec. 6; vs. Illinois, Thursday, Dec. 9.

KEYS: The big question for Georgetown this season has been who else besides Brandon Bowman can consistently score. The Hoyas still don't have an answer, but Ashanti Cook, Jeff Green, Jonathan Wallace and Darrel Owens have all shown potential. They'll need some good interior defense to stop a Penn State team that just stunned Rutgers on the road. To beat Illinois, Georgetown will need to slow down the game and take good shots, because the Hoyas won't win a fast-paced game against the talented Illini.

ROSTER REPORT: Ashanti Cook has done a good job of stepping up his offensive game. All 17 of his points against Davidson came in the second half.

Jeff Green, one of two freshmen in the starting lineup, has also made an instant impact. He finished the Davidson game with 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.


NOTRE DAME
GETTING INSIDE

So far, so good for the Fighting Irish. Everyone is reasonably healthy, the team is undefeated, and confidence is high heading into a week in which the schedule toughens considerably. But coach Mike Brey is still searching for a workable rotation, a process complicated by the addition of Arizona transfer Dennis Latimore.

Torin Francis, who starred as a freshman and continued to shine as a sophomore before back surgery ended his season prematurely, has had trouble adjusting to the presence of another forward playing beside him. He and Latimore have had some trouble co-existing, which reached its peak during the Irish win last week over Charleston Southern. Francis looked like he was going through the motions, and played just three minutes in the second half as Brey went with a smaller lineup.

This might just be an early-season funk that the team gets out of, but it bears watching because the Irish have already shown problems finding the basket. Notre Dame scored just 66 points against Harvard and 54 against Charleston Southern, and neither of those teams have the defensive stoppers the Irish will see in the Big East. The Francis situation may just be one of a coach trying to get his star's attention, but Brey can't afford to wait forever for his big men to learn how to play well together.

As poor as the Fighting Irish have looked on offense, the defense has been outstanding in the early season. The 38 points allowed against Charleston Southern was the fewest ever by a Mike Brey-coached Irish team, and the second fewest ever at the Joyce Center.

Notre Dame's first-half point production has gotten worse every game. After scoring 43 in the first 20 minutes of the season opener, the Irish had 30 in its second game and just 22 against Charleston Southern.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Chris Thomas, shooting guard Chris Quinn, center Torin Francis, forward Dennis Latimore, forward Jordan Cornette.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll play a little smaller and spread people out. If our big guys are getting in the way and they're not in a rhythm, get the heck out of the way of the guards. Get ... out ... of ... the ... way." -- Coach Mike Brey in the South Bend Tribune, on the smaller lineup that helped the Irish hold off Charleston Southern.

UPCOMING GAMES: at Michigan, Saturday, Dec. 4; at Indiana, Wednesday, Dec. 8.

KEYS: Notre Dame tried to be a guard-focused offense last season, and it did not work. The Irish have to look for the big men inside to get them going early, and not give up if Dennis Latimore and Torin Francis don't shine right way. Otherwise, Chris Thomas won't be fooling anyone on his drives to the basket, and Chris Quinn and Colin Falls won't have those open three-pointers they love to knock down.

ROSTER REPORT: Omari Israel will be the big beneficiary if Mike Brey decides a smaller lineup is more effective. He scored four points and grabbed three rebounds against Charleston Southern in his freshman season after sitting out all of last year following knee surgery.

Chris Thomas and Chris Quinn combined to play 75 of the 80 available minutes against the Pirates. The starting backcourt combined for 32 points, seven assists and no turnovers.


PITTSBURGH
GETTING INSIDE

Balancing newcomers and veterans is always tricky. That job can get even more dicey when the coach is in just his second year at the helm and the veterans see vacant starting openings go to others instead. That could be an issue for the Panthers this season.

Sophomore Antonio Graves and senior Mark McCarroll both expected to start this season, but neither got the nod in the early going. While Graves is still easing his way back from an ankle injury, he came off the bench in favor of freshman guard Ronald Ramon even when ready to play. He returned to the starting lineup in the team's 65-41 victory over St. Francis (Pa.), but he and Ramon still essentially split time. McCarroll may have more problems.

The 6-10 senior was the sixth man this season, and thought he'd have a shot at the swingman position vacated when Jaron Brown graduated this offseason. Instead, Yuri Demetris and juco transfer John DeGroat have split minutes at that position. McCarroll has practiced at center and both forward slots but has not gotten a ton of minutes and has not produced at all when he's gotten the chance to play. Through four games, he's averaging just over two points per contest.

McCarroll was inconsistent at times last season, but often shone against tough competition. He scored 26 points against Georgia, and 15 in wins over UConn and Syracuse. Moreover, at 6-10, he provides matchup problems for nearly everyone when he gets on a role. Coach Jamie Dixon will have to pull McCarroll out of his senior slump before the cupcakes on the schedule are replaced by Big East competition.

Through four games, Chevon Troutman is having a senior season to remember. He leads the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game, and is also pulling down nearly nine rebounds per contest.

The Panthers have 19 straight victories over nonconference foes, which could be because the team's scheduling philosophy seems to be designed to give as many walkovers as possible in order to ease into the league schedule.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Carl Krauser, shooting guard Antonio Graves, center Chris Taft, forward Yuri Demetris, forward Chevon Troutman.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's just getting the best fit, the best collection of guys. It's a puzzle and we're piecing it together. What's the best group playing together? Right now that looks like it's the best group. It's really no surprise." -- Coach Jamie Dixon in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on an early-season starting lineup that did not include veterans Antonio Graves or Mark McCarroll.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Duquesne, Saturday, Dec. 4; vs. Memphis, Tuesday, Dec. 7.

KEYS: Memphis is a significant step up in class from the usual fare on Pitt's nonconference schedule. While the Tigers won't do anything the Panther vets won't have seen before, it'll be interesting to see how freshman guard Ronald Ramon and JC transfer wing DeGroat play in their first taste of big-time competition. The key, as always, is how many points the Panthers can score. One thing Memphis showed in a blowout loss to Maryland is that it gets impatient and frustrated against a good, physical defense, which is something Pittsburgh will show the Tigers as well.

ROSTER REPORT: Freshman guard Ronald Ramon is finding the nets as kind in college as he did in high school. He was shooting three-pointers at a 42.1 percent clip before going 1-of-7 from outside against St. Francis.

Chris Taft entered the St. Francis game averaging 15 points and 7.3 boards per game. However, he got most of the game off, with four points and two rebounds in just 19 minutes.


PROVIDENCE
GETTING INSIDE

It's always easy to make too much of an early-season loss, but Providence will be an interesting team to watch this week following its home defeat at the hands of Winthrop on Nov. 30. The Friars seemingly had the game in hand, up 41-25 with 17 minutes to go in the game against an opponent who, though always dangerous, had never beaten a Big East foe. Instead, Providence collapsed down the stretch and lost 60-54.

Why? Well, a lot of reasons, but the main one is that Winthrop switched to a zone defense, and forced all-everything forward Ryan Gomes to catch the ball away from the basket. And Providence looked lost, firing up long three-pointers and standing around passively while the Eagles got to the loose rebounds. Providence had just five field goals in the second half, and four of those were from Gomes.

The Friars can now expect to see a whole lot of zone for the rest of the season until they prove they can do something against it. Sure, there will be days when the open threes fall and Providence puts up big numbers, but the team needs to develop some offensive weapons in a hurry. Particularly given his stellar performance last year, there aren't many teams that are going to sit around and let Ryan Gomes take over a game and beat them.

Providence made just 1 of 15 attempts from three-point range in the second half against Winthrop. The starting backcourt of Donnie McGrath and Dwight Brewington finished 2 of 17.

The Friars have been outrebounded in all seven games this season.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Donnie McGrath, shooting guard Dwight Brewington, center Randall Hanke, forward Ryan Gomes, forward Tuukka Kotti.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You can't score 20 points in a half and expect to beat anybody. We took a lot of threes, but they were wide open most of the time. When they don't go down, you have to find a way to win, but it seemed like we were in slow motion in the second half." -- Coach Tim Welsh, in the Providence Journal, on the loss to Winthrop.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Rhode Island, Saturday, Dec. 4.

KEYS: It's no secret that this team lives and dies with Ryan Gomes. Most teams have tried to take him out of the game, but Dwight Brewington and Tuukka Kotti have, at times, made that single-minded focus on Gomes a costly one for opponents. Brewington in particular needs to bring his offensive game every time out, and the Friars need to be aggressive on both sides of the ball. Rhode Island is struggling to score as well, so Providence should make it through this week, but there are some definite problems to work out before Big East play starts.

ROSTER REPORT: Three-year starter Donnie McGrath still runs a steady point, but he can't seem to find the basket. He's 5 of 21 from three-point range over his past four games.

Adding to the Friars' problems, particularly on the defensive end, is that they often have to use a smaller lineup for increased production. The inexperience of Randall Hanke and Herbert Hill hasn't given Providence much offense in the paint, and a frontcourt solely made up of Ryan Gomes and Tuukka Kotti will have a hard time stopping Big East foes on defense.


RUTGERS
GETTING INSIDE

The Scarlet Knights have one big weakness. Literally. While the season opened with impressive wins over St. Mary's and Charlotte, the Rutgers post players were unable to stop the opposition on the inside. Facing a Penn State team with only two guards available after the game was three minutes old, the Scarlet Knights still allowed the Nittany Lions to shoot 70 percent in the first half and 61 percent for the game in an 83-80 upset.

Penn State got Byron Joynes and Jimmie Inglis in foul trouble, and overwhelmed freshman Ollie Bailey to the point where Gary Waters sat him down for poor defense. The Nittany Lion frontcourt dominated the action. Waters said after the game that he may go to a zone defense to protect his big men. Joynes and Inglis combined for more fouls (9) than points (8), and 6-11 freshman Dan Waterstradt also picked up four fouls in his 17 minutes.

The best the Rutgers defense has been able to do is hold Charlotte to 47.3 percent shooting. On normal Gary Waters teams that stat gets you a lot of wind sprints. On this one, for now, it's an unusually good day at the office.

The complete stats paint an ugly picture of the Rutgers defense. In the season opener, St. Mary's scored 50 of its 58 points inside, and shot 53.1 percent.

Juel Wiggan, the team's top reserve, didn't help matters against Penn State when he got called for a technical for slamming the ball to the court after being called for traveling in the first half.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Marquis Webb, shooting guard Quincy Douby, shooting guard Ricky Shields, center Byron Joynes, forward Ollie Bailey.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He never stops working. ... He just makes it a lot easier because it gives them someone else they have to respect (offensively) besides myself and Quincy (Douby)." -- Ricky Shields on freshman Ollie Bailey, in the Newark Star Ledger

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Wisconsin, Saturday, Dec. 4; at Princeton, Wednesday, Dec. 8.

KEYS: Rutgers couldn't stop Penn State from scoring at will, and the Nittany Lions were picked to finish last in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is much better, as evidenced by the Badgers' ranking in the Top 25. The Badgers might be flat after beating Maryland at home on Nov. 30, but if the Scarlet Knights can't do some quick damage control on the inside they'll lose their second game in a row. Princeton puts more pressure on the Rutgers guards to fill the passing lanes and deny easy passes to the paint.

ROSTER REPORT: Freshman point guard Manny Quezada was counted on to provide relief for the backcourt, but hasn't gotten many minutes and hasn't done much with the minutes he's gotten. He played five ineffective minutes in the first half against PSU, and was replaced in the rotation in the second half by walk-on Shayle Keating. Quezada has played a total of 12 minutes over the first three games.

One bright spot against the Nittany Lions was the Rutgers backcourt. Ricky Shields led all scorers with 21 points, and last week's Big East co-Player of the Week Quincy Douby added 20.


SETON HALL
GETTING INSIDE

The questions surrounding Seton Hall this offseason concerned how the Pirates would score in Andre Barrett's absence. The answer, clearly, is "with difficulty."

Seton Hall split its first two games of the season, and managed that despite scoring just one basket over the last nine minutes of a 59-49 victory over Rhode Island. That followed a 77-71 home loss to Richmond in the season opener. The Pirates shot 39.6 percent from the field against Richmond, and 38.6 percent against Rhode Island. It's going to be tough to win as long as Seton Hall makes it so hard on itself on the offensive end.

One other change from last season: Rhode Island tried the press against Seton Hall with some success, something few even attempted when Barrett ran the helm.

The farther away from the basket they shoot, the better off the Pirates are. Through the season's first two games, Seton Hall knocked down 48.3 percent of its three-point attempts (14 of 29). The team is shooting just 35.3 percent (24 of 68) on two-pointers.

Louis Orr used 10 players within the first 15 minutes of the Rhode Island game. The coach said afterward that the frequent substitutions were necessary to keep up the defensive intensity, even if it caused the offense to sputter.

Seton Hall's bench managed to score just six points in each of the first two games.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Donald Copeland, shooting guard John Allen, guard J.R. Morris, center Kelly Whitney, forward Andre Sweet.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He wants to win and he was aggressive. He relishes the role of being our leader. ... He'll fit into that role. He'll know when to go (and when not to). But he's a warrior and, at the end of the day, I'll take my chances with him with the ball." -- Coach Louis Orr about guard John Allen, in the Newark Star-Ledger

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Texas, Saturday, Dec. 4; vs. St. Francis (N.Y.), Wednesday, Dec. 8.

KEYS: This season is looking uncomfortably like the last for guard John Allen, in that he has had a hard time finding the basket. Last year Andre Barrett could counter the Allen cold streaks, but this year Allen has to be the centerpiece of the offense for this team to go anywhere. As long as he struggles with his shot, expect the Pirates to struggle on offense.

ROSTER REPORT: Donald Copeland, in his first year as a starter at the point, set a career high with 13 points against Rhode Island.

Seton Hall managed assists on 12 of its 17 baskets against Rhode Island. John Allen led the way with five.

Starting center Kelly Whitney was hospitalized after the Richmond game for dehydration.


ST. JOHN'S
GETTING INSIDE

On the court, St. John's has split its first four games and renamed its home court Carnesecca Arena. Unfortunately, the skeletons in the closet from the past few seasons will have more of a short-term impact.

The latest saga for the Red Storm is the self-imposed sanctions it gave itself in late November. It banned itself from postseason play this season, which by Big East rules means the team is ineligible for the conference tournament as well. It also surrendered one scholarship for each of the next two seasons, gave itself two years probation, said it would give back 90 percent of the money it received from its 2002 trip to the NCAAs, and will forfeit any victories in which former player Abe Keita participated. The school found evidence that a basketball staffer paid Keita while he was on the team.

Now, banning itself from the postseason this year is kind of like Ralph Nader disqualifying himself from the presidency. Nobody's likely to offer either Nader or the Red Storm those kind of honors anyway, so the team is simply giving away something it's not likely to have earned in the first place. And the loss of a single scholarship for two seasons may not be enough to cause the NCAA to close the book on the St. John's scandal.

Complicating the issue is that this isn't the NCAA's first trip to the Big Apple recently to investigate problems in the program, and the organization may not be inclined to view the school with much favor after the verbal beating it got from then-coach Mike Jarvis when they came to town checking Erick Barkley's car registration. Jarvis, of course, is on ESPN instead of the St. John's sidelines. But we'll know soon if the NCAA holds a grudge.

Darryl Hill leads the team in scoring, averaging 17 points per game. It's a little scary to think of how few points this team would score right now if he'd actually stayed in the NBA draft this offseason, but expect things to flow much smoother on offense later in the season for the Red Storm, once players get more used to Norm Roberts' offense and to each other.

The Red Storm have just 40 points off the bench through the season's first four games.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Daryll Hill, guard Cedric Jackson, forward Lamont Hamilton, forward Rodney Epperson, forward Dexter Gray.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The thing we want is to just get this past us and move on to the future. If things were not done right in the past, we need to take the penalties. We will do things right in the future." -- First-year St. John's coach Norm Roberts, in the New York Post, on the self-imposed sanctions.

UPCOMING GAMES: at Illinois State, Saturday, Dec. 4; vs. Virginia Tech, Wednesday, Dec. 8.

KEYS: Keep focusing on the opponent on the court and not the headlines off it. It's also still a little too much of the Daryll Hill Show on offense, though Rodney Epperson has helped shoulder some of the load.

ROSTER REPORT: Daryll Hill's streak of eight consecutive games with 20 or more points ended in the Red Storm's 53-52 loss to St. Francis (N.Y.).

Juco transfer Jermaine Maybank got hurt in the team's Red-White scrimmage, and underwent surgery for a torn patella tendon in his left knee on Nov. 10. He'll miss the season with a medical redshirt.

In addition to Maybank's injury, forward Ryan Williams has sprained right ankle, forward Tyler Jones is hampered by back spasms, and center Mohamed Diakite is playing with a strained shoulder.


SYRACUSE
GETTING INSIDE

The stereotypical Syracuse team has five excellent players and nothing useful off the bench. This year's edition has the outstanding players, led by all-league candidates Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara, and it's no surprise that the team won its first five games and the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. What is a surprise is that this team may also have the depth that recent squads have lacked.

Syracuse's 91-67 blowout victory over an undermanned St. Bonaventure squad gave coach Jim Boeheim a chance to get his reserves some meaningful game action, and five subs played more than 11 minutes. Among those to open some eyes was sophomore Darryl Watkins, who scored 12 points in 19 minutes. Fellow sophomore Louie McCroskey knocked down a pair of three pointers and is now 5 of 12 from long range on the season. Freshman Josh Wright had four points, one turnover and six assists in his 15 minutes.

Moreover, another of those reserves was Billy Edelin. The starting point guard before leaving the team down the stretch last season, Edelin returned to the team on Nov. 21 after getting a waiver from the NCAA in October restoring his eligibility. Edelin, McNamara and Josh Pace comprise one of the best backcourts in the country. As Edelin works his way back into game shape, McNamara will get more minutes at shooting guard, and get more open looks at the basket.

Hakim Warrick played the most minutes of any starter against St. Bonaventure, a status reflected in the stats. He led all players with 18 points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes, though he did miss four of his eight free throws.

Syracuse has now won 30 games in a row against opponents from New York State.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Gerry McNamara, shooting guard Josh Pace, center Craig Forth, forward Demetris Nichols, forward Hakim Warrick.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I didn't know what to expect, but it makes you feel really good when the fans stand up and support you like that. It made it a lot easier for me to do what I wanted to do which was go out, contribute, and help my team win." -- Point guard Billy Edelin, on the hometown crowd's reaction when he made his season debut against St, Bonaventure.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Colgate, Saturday, Dec. 4; vs. Oklahoma State, Tuesday, Dec. 7.

KEYS: Against Colgate, the key will be not to trip and fall on the way into the Carrier Dome. Oklahoma State will be, oh, just a slightly bit tougher. Although the younger kids are playing well and Billy Edelin is working his way back into the rotation, the OSU game will come down to the performance of Hakim Warrick, Gerry McNamara and Josh Pace. The Orange's three-headed offensive machine will have to carry most of the load against a tough Cowboys defense.

ROSTER REPORT: Billy Edelin scored four points, pulled down two rebounds and dished out three assists in his return to action against St. Bonaventure. He'd missed the team's previous 17 games for personal reasons. Syracuse went 14-3 over that period, including a run to the Sweet 16 last year.

Syracuse signed Eric Devendorf, Tiki Mayben and Arinze Onuaku to letters of intent during the fall signing period.


VILLANOVA
GETTING INSIDE

Villanova played only one game in November, but it likely strikes Wildcat fans as no surprise that the injury situation is already more than a little ridiculous. After finally enjoying a relatively healthy summer, Jason Fraser started feeling pain in his left knee at the Pete Newell Big Man camp in August. Swelling in the knee sidelined him again after two days of fall practice, and he underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove loose cartilage. He's working his way back into game shape.

For those keeping track, Fraser has now had three knee surgeries over the past 18 months. He also missed nine of the team's first 10 games last season with a stress fracture. Moreover, Fraser's was far from the only injury to pop up during the first weeks of practice. Mike Nardi was sidelined by a sprained left foot and missed two weeks of practice before returning. As soon as he did, he collided with guard Randy Foye in practice, giving Foye a mild concussion. Both missed three additional days of practice. In addition, reserve Michael Claxton missed nearly three weeks with a dislocated shoulder. Oh, and Kyle Lowry, the freshman point guard who was the most highly-touted member of last year's recruiting class, tore his ACL in August and may have to take a medical redshirt.

Next October, look for coach Jay Wright to have his team practice in full pads.

Look for Villanova to use a variety of starting lineups this season, depending on matchups. While the starting five for the season opener featured four of last year's starting five, the exhibition game saw Will Sheridan get the start over point guard Mike Nardi, giving the team a little more size. The Wildcats, when healthy, have enough depth to make such tweaks when needed.

The three-ball was a strength for the Wildcats last season, and so far not much seems to have changed. Villanova knocked down 10 of 24 from long-range in the season opener.

Villanova has now won 18 of its last 19 home openers.

PROBABLE LINEUP: Point guard Mike Nardi, shooting guard Allan Ray, wing guard Randy Foye, forward Chris Charles, forward Curtis Sumpter.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had a very consistent defensive effort, which is something we have got to establish. To do well in the Big East you have to be able to cover up some poor offensive possessions with some good defensive possessions. That's what we did tonight. It was still a little sloppy offensively, but we covered some of those possessions by consistently playing good defense." -- Coach Jay Wright, on the season-opening victory over UMBC.

UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Temple, Saturday, Dec. 4; vs. Monmouth, Tuesday, Dec. 7.

KEYS: As long as Jason Fraser is less than 100 percent, frontcourt depth will be a problem for this team. The backcourt is both deep and versatile, but Chris Charles needs to replace some of Fraser's points and toughness inside against the weightier teams on the schedule. The guards will need to be on their game against Temple, since points will be at a premium.

ROSTER REPORT: Jason Fraser's injury has inserted Chris Charles into the starting lineup. The redshirt junior made six starts last year under similar circumstances.

The Wildcats signed three players during the early-signing period this fall. Joining Villanova next season will be 6-5 forward/guard Dwayne Anderson of St. Thomas More (Conn.), 6-7 forward Dante Cunningham of Potomac (Md.) High School and 6-8 forward Frank Tchuisi of St. Benedict's (N.J.) High School.


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