Thanks to Louisville advancing to the Final Four last season the Big East has had a presence during the final weekend six of the last seven seasons, you can probably go on and pencil them in for seven out of eight, Louisville fans and the media seem to think that the Cardinals will be there.
Realignment will begin to take its toll on the Big East as West Virginia is gone and Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to follow in the years to come. Jim Calhoun has retired from his post at UConn leading the way for Kevin Ollie to take over. Steve Lavin is set to return to the sidelines after taking last season off due to prostate cancer.
Big East Preseason Rankings
1. Louisville – hard not to buy into the national hype. 3 starters return for Coach Pitino, as Peyton Siva guides the offense in his Senior season with help from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng, and don’t forget about Russ Smith (11.5 ppg, 2.2 steals in 21 mpg). The problem could be injuries, it seems every year the Cardinals have more players in the training room than the bench early in the year, and have already lost Mike Marra who torn his ACL for the 2nd time in as many years.
2. Notre Dame – for the past two years the Irish have exceeded expectationsso maybe I am a little too high on the Irish. However with all of the starters back for Coach Brey it’s hard not to like the Irish especially when in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion where they went 16-1 last season.
3. Cincinnati – Mick Cronin seems to have the Bearcats back on the national radar. Yancy Gates is gone but Cronin has Sean Kilpatrick who led the Big East with 92 3-pointers. Cashmere Wright also returns after averaging 10.9 ppg.
4. Pittsburgh – Sure Pitt missed the NCAA Tournament last year, they ended the year poorly but capped it off with a CBI Championship (a win is a win).Tray Woodall will lead the Panther’s who return five of their top seven scorers from last season.
5. Syrcasue – Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo have all departed but Syracuse has been so deep that they have players that return with experience. Brandon Triche will be ready to lead the Orange to what fans hope is a trip to Atlanta.
9. St. John’s
14. Seton Hall
All Conference Team
Shabazz Napier – taking control for the new reign of the Huskies.
Sean Kilpatrick – if teams don’t shut him down behind the arc the Bearcats may do better than expected.
Gorgui Diend – let’s see a guy that can rebound, score and block shots, yeah I will give him a All Conference nod.
Tray Woodall – a healthy Woodall should do better than last seasons 11.7 ppg
Jack Cooley – after voted Most Improved last season, the Irish have high hopes for Cooley who average 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Most Underrated Team – Cincinnati, Cronin has his team bonding.
Most Overrated Team – Notre Dame, could the Irish just be riding a wave of recent success?
Player of the Year – Peyton Siva, last years MOP at the Big East Championship should win if the Cardinals run the conference.
Coach of the Year – Heart wants to say Steve Lavin, but my mind says Rick Pitino with Cronin in 2nd.
Sleeper Impact Player – 1a Cleveland Melvin, was the leading scorer in the league last season. I am going to say D’Andelo Harrison is 1b especially if Lavin has the Red Storm on upset mode.
December 10, 2011 marked a day that many college basketball fans in Cincinnati want to forget. With 9.4 seconds left in the game in the Crosstown Shootout a fight broke out causing the officials to end the game. The video that everyone viewed many times was one that showed a few punches being thrown by Yancy Gates.
It would have been easy for Mick Cronin to kick Gates off the team as well as others involved in the brawl. Instead Gates received a six game suspension, and the Bearcats were thought to be in trouble, pretty much left for dead with non-conference losses to Presbyterian, Marshall (in OT) and Xavier, most of those fears were valid.
A quote from Cronin that sticks out to me from the fight is one that should have foreshadowed the support he was going to give his players: “I understand there is media and people asking for autographs. It’s a prime example of you guys thinking they are too important. I’m talking about everybody involved. There’s too much glorification of all of sports in our society. The fact is guys are here the get an education. They represent institutions of higher learning. Xavier has been a great school for years. We’re trying to cure cancer at Cincinnati. I go to school at a place where they discovered the vaccine for polio and created Benadryl. I think that’s more important than who wins a basketball game. And our guys need to have appreciation for the fact that they are there on a full scholarship and they better represent institutions with class and integrity.”
Cronin understands the college basketball concept, they are called student-athletes for a reason, and they are there to learn. They learn not only for basketball but for a career off the court and to learn about life. Gates learned that his actions were not appropriate; he suffered the consequences and learned that he has the support of his coach.
The team pulled together, won seven in a row before dropping a road contest at St. John’s then pulled another three victories. Since the fight the Bearcats are 19-6, just pulled off the biggest win of the season vs Syracuse and are one win away from claiming the Big East Tournament Championship. Let me say that again, Cincinnati can win the Big East Tournament, after those early losses and the fight most Bearcat fans would have laughed at you if you told back in December that they would be in this position in March.
Coming into tonight’s game Gates is averaging 12.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in 32 minutes, with 9 double-doubles. In the double OT win over Georgetown he played 46 minutes, put up 23 points and grabbed 8 boards. In the opener against Villanova he had 16 points and 9 off the glass. Tonight Yates went for 18 points and 7 rebounds.
The Bearcats stuck with Gates, and Gates has stepped up to the plate and has become the type of player Cincinnati needs to advance in the tournament.