Notre Dame For Notre Dame, the 2002-03 men’s basketball season will be about the contrast between frontcourt and backcourt, and between youth and experience.

Notre Dame lost Ryan Humphrey, Harold Swanagan and David Graves from last year’s Big East West Division runner-up team. This year the leadership role falls squarely on the shoulders of senior guard Matt Carroll, as he is the only upperclassman who has started regularly for the Irish.

The lack of experience is most keenly felt in the frontcourt, where the Irish will rely heavily on three underclassmen. The starter at power forward will be freshman Torin Francis, a cDonald’s All-American who averaged 28.5 points per game as a high school senior. At 6-foot-10, he has the size to play forward in the Big East and the athleticism to be a standout.

Battling for playing time at small forward are sophomore Jordan Cornette and freshman Rick Cornett. Cornette played in all but two games for the Irish last season, averaging 14.3 minutes a game, but will be pushed by Cornett, who enters with a reputation as an excellent rebounder.

Improved offensive production from junior center Tom Timmermans is a must. He averaged only 2.2 points per game last season, although he did miss several games because of injury. If Timmermans struggles, Head Coach Mike Brey may be forced to turn to freshman Omari Peterkin, who has been on the Virgin Islands Junior National Team for two years.

If the frontcourt is a question mark for the Irish, the backcourt is an emphatic exclamation point, as Carroll and sophomore Chris Thomas form one of college basketball’s top guard tandems. Both are fantastic shooters and durable athletes.

Carroll has been a starter since his freshman year, averaging 12.0 points per game over his career. Last season, he scored 14.1 points per game and pulled down 4.8 rebounds. Even more impressive, Carroll has started 91 of 99 games at Notre Dame.

The scintillating Thomas matches Carroll’s dependability and may ultimately surpass his teammate’s offensive accomplishments. The Big East Rookie of the Year started all 33 games for the Irish, averaging 38 minutes a game. Thomas was among the Big East leaders with 15.6 points per game and led the conference with 7.64 assists per game, and in the process set school records for assists and steals.

Junior Torrian Jones and senior Dan Miller, a transfer from aryland, will be the first players off the bench.

The key to Notre Dame’s success lies in its youth. Francis and Cornett will be asked to contribute heavily as freshmen, and their ability to learn quickly will be crucial. Carroll and Thomas can dominate the perimeter game, but for the Irish to return to the NCAA tournament, they need the frontcourt to mature soon.

– Jon Shoup-Mendizabal

Pittsburgh After rising far above everyone’s expectations last year, Pittsburgh returns this year with the same squad it had last year, ready to take on the best teams in the country.

Pittsburgh welcomes back Head Coach Ben Howland, who last year was named both Big East and National Coach of the Year. Pitt also brings back all five of last year’s starters from a team that was expected to finished sixth in the West Division and instead took the crown. The Panthers made it all the way to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

This season has the potential to exceed last year’s outstanding performance. With a top-10 preseason ranking, Pitt looks to continue its strong defensive game. Its 60.9 scoring defense mark ranked 12th in the country.

Of the returning players, senior point guard Brandin Knight has the highest expectations. Knight received two celebrated decorations after last season, including Big East Co-Player of the Year and Most Improved Player. He averaged 15.6 points, 7.2 assists and 2.3 steals. Versatile and quick, Knight poses a threat to all opponents. Jay Bilas, an ESPN college basketball analyst, said in his season preview “No player in the Big East is more valuable to his team than Brandin Knight is to Pittsburgh.”

Howland will look to his other returners to put up solid numbers again this year. Junior shooting guard Julius Page averaged 12.2 points and 3.6 rebounds last season. Senior forward Donatas Zavackas and junior forward Jaron Brown look to continue strong play, with Zavackas averaging 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and Brown putting up 9.3 points and 6.1 boards.

Seating 12,000 fans, the new Petersen Event Center will attempt to add to the Panthers’ energy and enthusiasm. Pitt hopes that the new stadium will usher in a new era of Pittsburgh basketball.

In the new arena, the Panthers held a Blue-Gold intra-squad scrimmage as a preseason warm-up game. Page led all scoring with 26 points in front of an Events Center only one-third full. Knight posted 13 points and sophomore Carl Krauser, who sat out last season, added 15 points, showing that he wants to get in the action.

Howland felt the team was up to speed and ready to go for the season.

“We’re ahead of where we were last year at this point,” Howland said at Big East Media Day. “We have a lot of depth and we’re real excited about our backcourt.”

– James McEvoy

Rutgers Last year, in his first season at Rutgers, Head Coach Gary Waters turned in one of the most impressive coaching performances in the nation, leading a team with almost no postseason hopes to 18 wins and an NIT bid. Fifteen of those wins came in the Rutgers Athletic Center. This season, however, with the weight of bloated preseason expectations on their shoulders, the Scarlet Knights must prove that they can compete with the Big East’s elite at home and on the road to entertain any dreams of an at-large NCAA bid.

Last season’s entire starting three-guard backcourt, which includes solid junior point guard Mike Sherrod, and the team’s top-two scorers, senior three-point gunner Jerome Coleman and sophomore slasher Ricky Shields, return intact. That trio should account for the bulk of the Scarlet Knights’ offense, with Coleman looking to stake his claim as one of the conference’s best pure shooters. In the post, however, Waters and company will struggle to replace the undersized but effective scoring and rebounding of graduated center Rashod Kent. Looking to replace his production will be 6-foot-7 junior power forward Sean Axani, who posses a deft shooting touch, and 6-foot-9, 270 pound senior center Kareem Wright, who will add height and bulk to the fray underneath, but should prove unable to provide scoring and rebounding numbers comparable to Kent’s.

The key to Rutgers’ success, however, may start this season coming off the bench.

Versatile 6-foot-10 junior point-forward Herve Lamizana. He played his first season last year after being ruled academically ineligible his freshman year. Lamizana proved during last year’s Big East tournament that he was capable of scoring both in the post and from the perimeter, rebounding, blocking shots and handling the ball in transition. If his all-around game improves as much this year as it did the last, he could emerge as one of the Big East’s rising stars, and give his team a legitimate shot at a second consecutive postseason birth in the process.

Look for the Scarlet Knights to come away with a few upset wins at home, but end up just shy of last year’s win total, as they face a grueling Big East schedule, with games against the top four teams in the East, and none against Virginia Tech or Providence.

– Greg DeTrolio

Seton Hall This season, 5-foot-8 junior point guard Andre Barrett will be running the show for the Pirates. Barrett has been one of the Big East’s best-kept secrets over the past two years, posting team highs in points (16.9 per game), assists (five per game) and steals (1.6 per game) in 2001-02. Without having to worry about getting shots for now-departed Darius Lane, who spent many nights shooting the Pirates right out of games, or splitting time with since-graduated Ty Shine, he should see an increase in production in nearly all statistical categories. Were it not for the abundance of NBA-ready point guard prospects in the Big East, Barrett could have challenged for a spot on the All-Big East First Team.

As St. John’s learned last year, however, it is no easy feat to earn a postseason berth when your No. 1 scoring option is bringing the ball up the floor. Barrett is talented, but he has neither the scorer’s mentality or killer instinct of a St. John’s senior guard Marcus Hatten, and will therefore need his supporting cast to take a step forward with him for the Pirates to succeed. Sophomore swingman John Allen should provide plenty of complementary scoring from the wing this year. He established in his freshman campaign, for which he earned Big East All-Rookie Team honors, that he could make opponents pay for leaving him open anywhere on the court.

The No. 1 through No. 3 spots are all loaded with depth and potential. Freshman Donald Copeland had an impressive summer on a U.S. Select Team that toured China, and will back up Barrett at point. Senior Desmond Herod, in his third season with the Pirates, has yet to live up to his potential, but his ability to score from the perimeter will earn him some playing time early in the season. Freshman J.R. Morris was a top-100 recruit and should crack Head Coach Louis Orr’s rotation with his ability to score from the outside on the drive. Sophomore Andre Sweet, a Duke transfer and former Barrett teammate at Rice High School in New York City, who sat out last season as per NCAA rules, will add much needed defense, rebounding and versatility and could crack the starting lineup by season’s end.

The Pirates’ biggest hole to fill will once again be found in the frontcourt, where they have struggled to find consistent contributors for the past few seasons, and lost 6-foot-11 starting center Charles Manga to graduation this summer. Six-foot-7 junior combo forward Marcus Toney-El, who has been misused on the wing his first two seasons at Seton Hall, should see more time in the post where he can be more productive, defending taller players and getting out in transition to beat them down the court for easy baskets. In addition, 6-foot-8 senior Greg Morton remains serviceable, if unspectacular, as a rebounder and defensive presence. He will be joined by incoming freshmen Eric Davis and Kelly Whitney, both 6-foot-9, who may give Pirate fans hope of an interior presence who can pull down some offensive boards finish on some of Barrett’s feeds when he penetrates and dishes in traffic.

This Seton Hall team will be better than last year’s, though with a difficult Big East schedule to face, dreams of an NIT bid are the only dreams that seem realistic. They do, however, have the depth and ability to challenge a few highly touted opponents, as they did Duke and Kansas in Maui, Hawaii last year. Texas, the preseason No. 5 team in the nation, hopes to avoid a similar scare when the Pirates visit on Nov. 30 in a game that will be worth watching just to see two of college basketball’s quickest playmakers in Barrett and 5-foot-10 Texas sophomore point guard T.J. Ford match up against one another.

– Greg DeTrolio

Syracuse Despite key losses, the Syracuse Orangemen appear ready to contend again in 2002-03. After a 23-13 season in 2001-02, the Orangemen appear strong and poised for a good year in the Big East.

Leading Syracuse in preseason play is freshman Carmello Anthony, one of last year’s most heavily recruited players. He played on Team USA in the 2002 Men’s Junior World Championship, which finished with the bronze. In the Orangemen’s 93-74 victory over Nike Elite, Anthony put up 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds, evading his opponent’s man-to-man defense. Anthony felt comfortable playing in the Carrier Dome. “Coming out, I felt relaxed. I’ve been in this type of atmosphere before, playing in front of all the fans, so I was relaxed,” Anthony said, according the Syracuse Sports Information Department.

Sophomore forward Hakim Warrick commented on Anthony’s success against the man-to-man defense.

“If they want to keep on playing him man-to-man, then he’s going to keep putting up those types of numbers. When they start doubling and tripling him, that’s when it is going to open up for the other guys like myself, Kueth [Duany] and Josh [Pace],” Warrick said, according to Syracuse Sports Information.

Warrick returns this year as a sophomore who began to show great potential toward the end of last season. He started 19 games and averaged 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-8, Warrick looks to use his athleticism to add more to the team in his second year.

Senior Kueth Duany started every game last season and posted solid numbers, averaging 12.2 points and 5.3 boards per game. He played big guard and small forward, finding success in both roles. Sophomore Josh Pace looks to work his way up the team’s ladder, acting as a reserve last season and averaging 12 minutes per game. Sophomore center Craig Forth, standing at 7 feet, played 21 minutes per game, averaged 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds, and hopes to continue strong play at center.

All in all, the team has said it feels confident in itself and looks forward to the season. The team has a youthful trend, but that does not bother them too much. Warrick said that everything will fall into place as the season progresses, according to Syracuse Sports Information.

“The talent is there, but right now we’re young so we’re just putting it together. You can see it out there. We scored 90-something points and did a pretty good job defensively at times. We just need to keep putting it together and practicing certain things,” Warrick said according to Syracuse Sports Information.

– James McEvoy

West Virginia The Mountaineers will be lucky if the actual basketball games can come close to the drama and entertainment of this past off season, when the departure of long-time Head Coach Gale Catlett forced West Virginia to scramble for a new head for the program.

West Virginia first focused on Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins, but the West Virginia alumnus turned them down. No fewer than seven candidates were interviewed for the job until Bowling Green’s Dan Dakich accepted the position April 4 – only to resign eight days later after encountering difficulties with players.

John Beilein was ultimately hired as West Virginia’s new head coach. Beilein has a history of turning programs around, most recently at Richmond. Beilein inherits a team that went 8-20 overall last season, including a 1-15 mark in the Big East.

West Virginia’s problems extend off the court as well, however. The team lost six players from last season, but only two (John Oliver and Chris Moss) because of graduation. Chris Garnett and Alex Chan left the school. Sophomore point guard Jonathan Hargett, who averaged 13.8 points per game last season, is off the team after the NCAA disqualified him for rules violation concerning his amateur status as a recruit. Senior guard Tim Lyles was dismissed for violating unspecified team rules.

Adding insult to injury, incoming freshman center Jabbary Young asked to be released from his Letter of Intent.

The question then is, who is left? The departures and dismissals leave the Mountaineers with several holes. The loss of Hargett and Lyles hurts the backcourt, which features only sophomore Drew Schifino and junior Jay Hewitt as returning guards. Schifino will start alongside freshman point guard Jarmone Durisseau-Collins.

The forwards are both returning starters. Seniors Chaz Briggs and Josh Yeager are the bright spots on the team, and West Virginia will count on them to provide the bulk of the offense. Briggs is a threat from the perimeter, but averaged only 7.0 points per game last season. Freshman center Kevin Pittsnogle demonstrated significant shooting and passing skills in high school, but will be asked to carry the load in the middle from the beginning on.

Given the number of losses West Virginia endured during the summer, freshman guards Patrick Beilein and Johannes Herber will see significant playing time.

A unanimous pick to finish last in the Big East West Division by the conference coaches, West Virginia looks to have a long season in store. Coach Beilein could be the man who can turn the program around, but it will be a long, slow process.

– Jon Shoup-Mendizabal

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