With the fall beginning and college basketball just around the corner, it's time to look back at what our favorite teams did during their summer vacations. Some did some good things; some had a bad time. So let's look back at who did what in our How I Spent My Summer Vacation series.
Today's look is the Big East Conference. Since the conference is a 16-team beast, this will be in 2 parts. Part 1 looked at the group of teams that missed the NCAA Tournament last season. Part 2 takes a look at the teams that made the NCAA Tournament.
The Big East sent half its teams to the NCAA Tournament. That was the good news. The bad news was that not a one made it to the Final Four, and even worse only three made it out of the opening weekend.
This year the Big East looks to be even better. The conference is actually deeper and has four teams being discussed as legitimate Final Four teams. There are a lot of strong teams behind them. Every team in this part made the NCAA last year, and are expected to do it again this year. The top four teams in the conference -- Pitt, UConn, Louisville and Notre Dame -- are all being projected in most preseason prognostications in the top ten, nationally. All four are fully capable of winning the Big East.
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You don't have to like Bob Huggins. You can rail against his behavior. Express disgust at the academic and criminal records of the players he has had. That said, he is an excellent basketball coach. He came to a team that was built to shoot from the perimeter. They played a quirky zone defense, and generally didn't rebound. He made them tougher, better rebounders, and better defensively. All without much sacrifice on the offensive end. The big offseason fun came for starting point guard Joe Mazzula and reserve forward Cam Thoroughman, as they got themselves pepper sprayed and arrested at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. They eventually pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
The Golden Eagles spent the offseason getting to better know their new head coach, Buzz Peterson, after Tom Crean left for Indiana. Yes, Peterson was an assistant last year, but that was his first year with Marquette. Guard Jerel McNeal explored his NBA options, but came back for his senior season for one more go with Dominic James and Wesley Matthews as the most dangerous backcourt in the Big East. Marquette did have one surprising loss when Trevor Mbakwe transferred out for personal reasons. Mbakwe was expected to provide muscle and toughness in the frontcourt.
A team that underachieved for big spells, most of the season, ended up overachieving by making the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. They had a very quiet offseason. The only person they lost was guard Malcolm Grant, a sparkplug reserve guard who shot well, but found himself in Coach Jay Wright's doghouse late in the season. Otherwise, this is essentially the same guard-heavy team as last year with just another year of experience.
Life without Big Roy Hibbert begins. That's okay, because here comes Greg Monroe, a forward-center that was one of the top recruits in the country. There's additional front court help with Julian Vaughn a center that transferred from Florida State, and received a hardship waiver due to family issues allowing him to play this year. Still even with DeJuan Summers and some other very talented players in the frontcourt, the backcourt lacks depth.
Coach Mike Brey got a contract extension and a veteran team coming back. They do lose Rob Kurz but they have redshirt freshman Carleton Scott and senior Luke Zeller to try and make up his numbers. Whether they make up his intangibles -- he was their glue-guy -- is not their responsibility. They had a late departure in little used guard Ty Proffitt. The sophomore transferred to Morehead State. Otherwise, it's been a blissfully uneventful summer for the Irish.
Derrick Caracter. Derrick Caracter. Derrick Caracter. Derrick Caracter. Derrick Caracter. Derrick Caracter. That's what most of the Louisville summer centered. First he's turning pro, then he changes his mind, Rick Pitino doesn't want him back, Caracter keeps begging, Pitino keeps saying no, Caracter's academics turn out to have him ineligible, he still wants back, Pitino sets conditions, Caracter accepts them, then he gives up and goes home. It continues for Caracter, but it no longer concerns Louisville.
Lots of expectations on this team. Addition by subtraction with Caracter gone, but pure subtraction with Scott Padgett finally graduating. The team has lots of talent, and even more coming in with Samardo Samuels as the headliner. The question is heart and leadership. Padgett had both in spades, but now Edgar Sosa, Earl Clark and Terrence Williams have to supply that. The Cards also have to contend with playing without Williams, possibly until December. Williams suffered a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.
There has been plenty of drama, stories and goings on in Storrs. Hasheem Thabeet declined to go pro. Coach Jim Calhoun had another go-round with skin cancer. He responded well to the treatment and seems ready for another year. Point guard A.J. Price is recovering from his torn ACL right on schedule and should be ready for the season. A very talented freshman forward from Australia, Ater Majok, was cleared by the NCAA, so that will help with the frontcourt depth. That was the good news over the summer vacation.
Now the bad stuff. After more off-the-court trouble for Doug Wiggins last year, he was strongly encouraged to consider other options. Curtis Kelly was also encouraged to look elsewhere as he just wasn't good enough, and the scholarship was needed. Both transferred. Then there was enigmatic power forward Stanley Robinson. Lots of talent, but rarely showing heart. His academics cost him at least the first semester, if not his time at UConn.
Finally it was seeming good news gone wrong with incoming freshman swingman Nate Miles. He managed to get cleared academically by the NCAA, but quickly found himself expelled from the school. He was accused of trying to force a woman -- his girlfriend at the time -- to have sex with him, and then arrested for violating the restraining order she got against him. A whole 20 minutes after he received the order. The complaint was dismissed, but the expulsion still stands.
Coach Jamie Dixon got a nice raise and extension. Forward Sam Young did not even test the water in the NBA draft. So the team returns its strong trio with point guard Levance Fields, forward Young and forward/center DeJuan Blair. It could have been a core of four, but the NCAA denied Mike Cook a medical redshirt. The goal of this team is to be the first Pitt team to make the Final Four. A Pitt basketball team has never won more than two NCAA Tournament games -- ever.
The team also has to figure out who will take over for Ronald Ramon at the shooting guard spot. Ramon was the reliable perimeter threat, and it isn't clear who will win the spot. Sophomore Bradley Wanamaker struggled as a freshman, and shot horribly. Junior college transfer Jermaine Dixon will certainly be given a shot, but his outside shooting was not particularly impressive. The spot may fall to one of two incoming freshmen in Travon Woodall or Ashton Gibbs. Both are decent three-point shooters. Woodall is the more accurate of the two, but being able to play defense will really determine which one gets out there.