MBB : Coaches pick Syracuse to finish 3rd in conference
NEW YORK – The Big East lost nine of its 10 all-conference first team members from last year. But that doesn’t keep commissioner Michael Tranghese from believing the conference this year will be more competitive than ever.
Tranghese was all smiles on Wednesday at Big East men’s basketball media day from Madison Square Garden as he spoke about the record-breaking success of the conference last season and the anticipation for extended media and television coverage this year.
The difference now is that the race for the conference crown is truly wide open.
Pittsburgh was selected by the league’s head coaches as the favorite to win the regular season crowd after finishing 25-8 last season and returning eight of its top 10 players, including preseason player of the year, 7-foot center Aaron Gray.
Georgetown was picked to finish second after a 23-10 season, while Syracuse was picked third. But no coach seemed to have a definitive answer for who they thought was a runaway pick to finish on top, a change from last season when Connecticut was the undisputed favorite.
‘Right after Pitt and Georgetown it’s pretty close,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. ‘You may see separation in the end. Maybe overall it’s a little closer. It’s hard to tell.’
Only the Big East could lose a record 11 players to the NBA draft in June and still talk of the upcoming season with eagerness. It’s partly because of the success of the off season’s recruiting class.
UConn replaces its top six scorers from last year with five blue-chip prospects, including 7-foot-3 Tanzania native Hasheem Thabeet, who was just declared eligible by the NCAA on Wednesday. Villanova lost Big East Player of the Year Randy Foye, as well as NBA draftees Allan Ray and Kyle Lowry, but returns two senior starters and former All-Big East performer Curtis Sumpter from injury. And Louisville looks to bounce back from a 13-loss season in 2005-2006 with four returning starters and four incoming recruits.
But the race for the crown isn’t limited to any six teams, and coaches are more wary about high expectations than ever.
‘For two years I’ve been going into the season worrying about making the Big East tournament,’ Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said. ‘It’s the same thing this year.’
New faces in old places
Big crowds of reporters huddled around the tables of three new coaches: Bobby Gonzalez at Seton Hall, Mick Cronin at Cincinnati and Fred Hill at Rutgers.
Gonzalez, talkative and energetic with a Rick Pitino-like personality, comes to SHU as a well-regarded recruiter from Manhattan. Hill fielded questions at his first media day as a head coach after a season as an associate for the Scarlet Knights and four years as an assistant at Villanova.
But the biggest crowd swarmed Cincinnati’s counter and probed Cronin, who took Murray State into the NCAA Tournament in 2004 and 2006.
‘Mick is as solid as any coach you will find,’ Louisville head coach Pitino said. ‘Cincinnati will be a lot better than people anticipate even though it’s supposed to be a rebuilding year.’
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