Boston College The talent, the experience and the drive are all there as the Boston College Eagles gear up for another impressive season and may threaten the dominance of Connecticut’s champion Huskies.

The Eagles were the laughingstock of the Big East just three years ago, when they finished dead last. The team bounced back, answering its critics with a Big East Championship in 2000-01. Knocked out of the championship race last season by Pittsburgh in a disappointing end to the highly touted rematch of the conference championship game from two years ago, the Eagles are returning to the court with four experienced starters and a crop of newcomers and looks to make another drive for the title. Expectations are high this year, with Big East Coaches putting their money on the Eagles, ranking the team second only to last season’s champion.

Undoubtedly the strongest player on the team, senior guard Troy Bell looks to cap his NCAA career with more of the success he’s had over the last three years. Already a name to reckon with, Bell led the league in scoring last season, averaging 21.6 points per game – in line with the reputation he earned three years ago when his 20.1 average set the Big East record for freshman scoring, a record previously held by former Hoya Allen Iverson. Bell’s talent has been augmented by experience, as he has started in nearly every game over the past three years. His performance made him an All-Big East First Team pick last year and a former Co-Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Bell is in a position to lead three other strong returning starters into another solid season. “I think he’s motivated more by the fact that . we could’ve had more success in the tournament and throughout the year … we’re more motivated by that than anything else, than any individual award he’s going to receive. He recognizes that if the team has success he’s going to get his share of success,” Head Coach Al Skinner said at Big East Media Day.

Skinner will find strong support in versatile and reliable junior guard Ryan Sidney. Sidney is an offensive force, leading the Eagles last season in both assists and rebounding. The 6-foot-2 Sidney was No.11 in the Big East – but No.1 among players 6-foot-2 and shorter – in rebounds, racking up an impressive 79 total last season. He is also an asset as a tough defender and a team player.

Sophomore Jermaine Watson may have spent most of last year filling in during Bell and Sidney’s breaks, but playing second fiddle meant playing in every game, developing rookie experience that is sure to pay off in the coming season. Also looking for time in the backcourt are junior Adam Demong and freshman Louis Hinnant.

Returning starters also include senior forward Uka Agbai – at 6-foot-8 and 262 lbs., Agbai mixes dominant physical presence with good court speed and looks to continue the improvement he’s seen in his overall game in the past few seasons.

In his second season, sophomore center and returning starter Nate Doornekamp will be more noticeable if he works the foul troubles he experienced last year out of his system and adjusts more to the college court.

Older experience and fresh talent will vie for the vacant starting spot on the wing. Junior forward Andrew Bryant is a versatile player with a solid three point shot, but freshman Johnnie Jackson has the scoring and rebounding ability that could make him a regular presence on the court.

Another newcomer to watch will be freshman forward Craig Smith, a powerful player who should make a solid effort for the Eagles.

– Amanda McGrath

Connecticut Following a successful season in 2001-02, the University of Connecticut men’s basketball stands ready to embark on another year of achievement. Despite losing All-American Caron Butler to the NBA draft following last year’s Elite Eight appearance, Head Coach Jim Calhoun and the Huskies are ranked 14th in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ poll, a measure of the high expectations already placed on the season. With a talented core of returning players and a promising foursome of freshmen, UConn stands ready to make another attack on the top of the rankings.

Leading the Huskies this season looks to be a job for senior guard Tony Robertson, junior point guard Taliek Brown and sophomores Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, all of whom had standout performances last year. Robertson started all 34 games last year, averaging 11.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game while shooting 43.6 percent from three-point range. His experience in 99 games over three years will be valuable to the team as it looks toward winning its second consecutive Big East Tournament title.

Brown looks to return to his starting position as point guard for the third year, a job he has only missed in two games during his entire career at Connecticut. Last year Brown averaged 9.2 points per game and 5.1 assists, helping him achieve his current standing as the 10th all-time Husky leader in assists. Meanwhile, Gordon will look to improve on the performance that last year earned him Big East All Rookie and All Tournament Team honors. Gordon will also be asked to repeat his scoring prowess, averaging 12.6 points in each of last year’s contests, despite the fact that he only started two games.

This also looks to be a big year for Okafor, who, as a freshman, set a school record for blocked shots, averaging 4.1 per game. He also set a new benchmark for number of rebounds nabbed by a freshman Husky. In recognition of his superb efforts, he was named a First Team Freshman All-American, a Third Team All-Big East selection and a Big East All-Rookie Team selection. In addition to earning the team’s Outstanding Defensive Player and Outstanding Rebounder Awards at the end of the season, he was also recognized for his 3.9 grade point average with the annual Scholar-Athlete Award.

Connecticut will also gain strength from a strong recruiting class featuring guard/forward Rashad Anderson, forward/center Hilton Armstrong, forward Denham Brown and forward Marcus White. Armstrong and White were among the top 100 high school recruits, while Anderson was in the top 50. Brown gained notoriety in high school by averaging 30 points per game, once scoring 111 points in a single outing.

Connecticut opens its season at home in Harry A. Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., against Quinnipiac University on Nov. 23. Big East action starts on Jan. 11, against Miami at home.

– Mary Goundrey

Miami After chalking up a school-record 24 victories last season, the Hurricanes will be hard pressed to produce similar results this year.

An especially difficult non-conference schedule will make the season a trying one for Head Coach Perry Clark, now in his third year. Games against Charlotte, Florida State, North Carolina and Texas A&M will likely squash all hopes of putting together an undefeated run similar to the Hurricanes’ 13-0 record against non-conference rivals last year.

Miami suffered several crucial losses in the off season – most notably that of guard John Salmons, who was drafted in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. Salmons led the Hurricanes to their best record ever over any four-year period, 86-39. He was also the only player in team history to surpass 1,000 career points (1,287), 600 rebounds (687), 400 assists (423) and 150 steals (192).

Other players for whom Clark must find replacements are guard arcus Barnes, who averaged 12.3 points per game, and center Elton Tyler.

Junior forward Darius Rice, who led the team with 14.9 points per game was a Preseason First Team All-Big East selection, and senior forward James Jones are the only returning starters. Clark must build upon the foundation provided by these two veterans using benchwarmers and freshmen, a task that may prove to be even more daunting if they do not turn in consistently solid performances.

Expect senior Rafael Berumen and juniors William Frisby and Rodrique Djahue to rotate through the center position. Guard play will present the biggest problem. Last year’s sixth man junior Michael Simmons should fill one of the roster positions, but a freshman – either Robert Hite or Armondo Surrat – will most likely end the season occupying the other spot.

With four seniors leaving after this season, Clark will have to find a way to form a young team that will grow in strength and competitiveness as it matures. Whether or not he is successful in this venture will dictate to a large extent the success that the Hurricanes will experience in the next several years.

Despite ranking third in the nation in basketball graduation rate, the chances are good that Rice may depart for the NBA after this season, leaving the Hurricanes in desperate need of two productive forwards next November.

– Michael Kurdyla

Providence The Friars’ 2001-02 season was less than memorable, ending with a 15-16 record, and expectations don’t seem much higher for the men of Providence – Big East coaches predicted the team to finish sixth in the division. This could work in Providence’s favor, as surprising underdog performances have led once-forgettable teams to winning finishes. It has happened for the Friars in the past, when low expectations were proven wrong by an NCAA Tournament appearance two years ago.

The Friars have lost lightning-quick point guard John Linehan, the NCAA’s all-time career leader in steals. The experience of the returning team members combined with the return of junior forwards Romuald Augustin and Maris Laksa, who were injured most of last year, could mean marked improvements in the Friars’ performance.

Filling Linehan’s shoes will be junior point guard Sheiko Kabba, though his 5.6 average points per game can’t compare to Linehan’s 12.5 average. Providence will rely on Augustin and Laksa, two versatile and now-healthy frontcourt players who should be vital components in Friar offence. Senior guard Abdul ills led his team in scoring last year and has the experience of three years as a starter under his belt. Second in scoring was sophomore forward Ryan Gomes, averaging 13.8 points per game and leading his teammates with 7.8 rebounds per game. A good all-around game and considerable playing time earned Gomes a spot on last season’s Big East All-Rookie team.

Another returning starter, junior forward Christopher Anrin, is notable for his three-point shooting. Freshman point guard Donnie cGrath also has considerable three-point talent, scoring 96 his senior year of high school that contributed to his 30.9 average points per game. If he lives up to expectations, McGrath could be a defining player in the 2002-03 season.

Linehan’s departure will undoubtedly be felt by the Friar’s defense. The team’s defensive abilities now lie primarily in senior guard Kareem Hayletts and sophomore forward Rob Sanders. Effective shot blockers that could also play a defensive role are junior center Marcus Douthit and freshman forward Herbert Hill.

Though sophomore forward Tuukka Kotti got limited playing time, he showed some improvement at the end of last season, which could mean more minutes on the court this year.

– Amanda McGrath

St. John’s There is an influx of several highly-touted recruits into the Big East this year, among them Villanova’s Allen Ray, Curtis Sumpter and Jason Fraser, Notre Dame’s Torin Francis and Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony. Perhaps none will have the immediate, team-altering impact as the Red Storm’s 5-foot-10 point guard recruit Elijah Ingram, a cDonald’s All-American. Ingram will start immediately for Head Coach Mike Jarvis and should add playmaking and ball handling ability to a team that had very little depth at the guard position last season.

The most significant impact that Ingram’s arrival will have on the Red Storm, no matter how many points or assists he posts per night, will stem from senior Preseason All Big East guard arcus Hatten’s shift from point guard to his natural position of shooting guard. Hatten played last year, his first in the Big East after two seasons at Tallahassee, Fla. Community College, at the one slot. The Red Storm had no other guards with enough experience to take the role of floor general. Even with all of his point responsibilities, Hatten was able to lead the Big East in scoring with 22.3 points per game in conference games and often took the entire team upon his shoulders and led them to an impressive 20 wins and an NCAA berth. This year, with Hatten starting at his natural two-guard spot, he should be able to further increase his point production, while vying for a spot on the All-Big East First team.

Though the Red Storm has added depth and stability to its first-rate backcourt, it will once again be extremely undersized, starting at least four players under 6-foot-7. Junior guard/forward Willie Shaw and sophomore wing forward Eric King will add some inside-out scoring and defensive quickness, and senior power forward Anthony Glover, while standing only 6-foot-6, has proven over the past two years that he is tough and athletic enough to defend and rebound with any interior player in the conference, while also adding enough second-chance baskets to be the team’s second leading scorer last season.

The Johnnies will again be loaded with talent and frontcourt depth, but unless 6-foot-11 junior Mohammed Diakite or 6-foot-10 senior Abe Keita can establish themselves as a presence at center, opponents will be able to scheme against Hatten and limit his nightly output. In such a scenario, the Red Storm will have trouble matching its win total from 2001-02.

– Greg DeTrolio

Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright returns for his sophomore season as coach of the Villanova Wildcats. He hopes to improve from last year’s solid 19-13 overall record and mediocre 7-9 Big East record as well as progress past the NIT quarterfinals, the team’s final destination last year. They finished fifth in the East Division of the conference.

Despite the loss of three players, two to graduation and one to transfer, the team will probably continue to develop and mature, keeping many top players. The ‘Cats will hold onto four of their top starters, including co-captains Gary Buchanan and Ricky Wright. Senior guard Buchanan averaged 17.8 points per game and had a .423 three-point percentage, the second best in the conference. He led the league with a 91.1 free throw percentage and holds the career conference record for with a 93.6 percentage. Senior forward Wright had 13.7 points per game, averaged 8.0 rebounds and shot 52.8 from the field. In last year’s 83-72 overtime victory against the Hoyas, these two players combined for 34 of the Wildcats’ points.

The team will also feature six new faces, a group of players recruited from New York’s metropolitan area. The 6-foot-10, 225 lbs., freshman forward Jason Fraser from Amityville, N.Y., will surely add some size to the team and will probably take over the vacant spot that now-graduated Brook Sales has left at center. Freshman forward Curtis Sumpter, 6-foot-7 and another New Yorker, is a dangerous player with a good all-around game who can make an impression this season.

The team has a lot of height on the bench, primarily freshmen and sophomores eager to play; they will add strength in the paint. The balance between Wright and Buchanan’s shooting and the size down low could produce positive results for the Wildcats. Wright has tried to develop a more defensive team with an emphasis on pressure defense. Last year the team concluded the season with the second best in field goal defense and third in scoring defense. Their top shooters will also make them tough on offense as well. This year they have a number of capable players who can do some damage, and have a good shot of returning to the postseason.

Villanova plays its first non-exhibition game Nov. 15 against arquette University at Madison Square Garden. Unlike last season, they will not meet the Hoyas in the regular season.

– Michael Grendell

Virginia Tech Virginia Tech returns to the Big East for its third year. The team hopes to improve upon last year’s 10-18 season record and 4-12 Big East record, which left the Hokies near the bottom of the conference. While this represents an improvement from their first year in the conference, the team had major struggles such as a 10-game losing streak.

The Hokies do have reason to hope for better things; four of their starters are returning and have developed their skills further. Junior guard Carlos Dixon led the team in scoring averaging 12.2 points per game, while senior guard Brian Chase was the team’s leading scorer and had a the league’s best three-point shooting percentage (.423). Senior center Terry Taylor, a bulky 6-foot-8 and 292 lbs., should be effective in the paint. Last year he averaged 11.1 points per game and 6.5 rebounds.

Expect junior small forward Bryant Matthews to pick up his game to compensate for the loss of forward Carlton Carter, who added 10 points per game last year and had a team-high average of 8.2 rebounds per game. Matthews averaged 9.9 points per game and 5.1 rebounds.

The Hokies are also witnessing an influx of young talent. Head Coach Ricky Stokes has managed to recruit a strong assortment of freshmen to add depth to the team. The newcomers compose half the squad and guards Markus Sailes and Shawn Harris have especially shown promise. Either one may end up on the starting lineup. Freshman forward Harding Nana could also provide some support grabbing rebounds and coming off the bench to spell Matthews or Taylor.

Stokes has developed a fast-paced game that seems to suit the team. He can also rely on outside shooters like Chase and Dixon to rack up points. With their four returning starters, Stokes should feel that he has reliable talent. The freshmen will certainly propel the team as well. This team has the chance to raise its profile in the conference in the next few years if the talent they recruited develops to potential.

While the team will probably post better results this year and may continue its upward trajectory in the years to come, do not expect them to dominate the Big East this year.

The team starts its season against St. Bonaventure Nov. 22. While the Hokies and the Hoyas did not match up last season, this season they will face each other on Feb. 15 in Blacksburg, Va.

– Mike Grendell

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