Conference Preview: Louisville is the favorite in Big East after run to Final Four

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

It came as no surprise last week when the Big East coaches resoundingly named Louisville the preseason favorite to win the conference, but what about the other storylines?

This year’s edition of the Big East has all of the ingredients for drama: realignment storylines, television negotiations, and a little preseason war of words.

Let’s break it all down:

Five Things to Know

1. “Realignment” is the word in the Big East. Absent at Media Day was a longtime fixture, Bob Huggins, whose West Virginia Mountaineers are now members of the Big 12. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are both entering their final season in the conference before heading to the ACC. Notre Dame is likely negotiating some sort of deal to head to the ACC early, as well. On the horizon wait Memphis, Temple, UCF, Houston, and SMU, ready to enter the league. Prepare yourself for frequent “this could be the final match-up…”-type storylines as the season progresses.

2. Louisville is the preseason favorite to win the conference, but much of its success hinges on Big East Preseason Player of the Year Peyton Siva. We saw different versions of the then-junior point guard last season. Who will ultimately prevail this season, the player who was the catalyst for Louisville’s run in the Big East and NCAA tournaments or the player who averaged 5.4 points and 3.6 turnovers per game for a seven-game stretch in late December and January?

3. Connecticut is in a season of change. Not only are they banned from the Big East and NCAA tournaments, but longtime head coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement earlier this year. Former Husky assistant Kevin Ollie now takes over the program. Players say that, though more stern, Ollie is the same optimistic leader as they remember him in his assistant role. He might be just what they need in this season of transition.

4. Syracuse has lost a number of key pieces from last season, among them Dion Waiters, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, and Scoop Jardine, but comes into 2012-13 as a top-15 team nationally that is ready to compete for a conference title. Expect sophomore Michael Carter-Williams to have a breakout year.

5. Stan Heath and South Florida surprised a lot of people last season when they finished 22-14 and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. Point guard Anthony Collins returns for his sophomore season and will be key. Interesting note: Despite the slow offensive tempo that produced just 59.2 points per game last season, Heath told NBCSports.com at Big East media day that this year’s team is built to play faster, so don’t be surprised if we see Collins lead the “Running of the Bulls.”

Impact Newcomers

C Steven Adams (Pittsburgh)

The 6-10 Adams was chosen by league coaches to be the Preseason Big East Rookie of the Year and will have expectations to match in 2012-13. The New Zealand native likely has been praised by scouts for his upside.

C DaJuan Coleman (Syracuse)

The local prospect will have to help in compensating for the loss of Fab Melo to the NBA. Reports are that he has lost significant weight (he was last listed at 6-9, 275 pounds), which should make him more mobile.

F Montrezl Harrell (Louisville)

Rick Pitino and the Cardinals were fortunate enough to land Harrell after he decommitted from Virginia Tech this spring. Point guard Peyton Siva says he already sees improvement in the 6-8, 215 forward, who should provide more stability in the frontcourt.

F Stephen Domingo (Georgetown)

Domingo was a member of the Class of 2013 until he committed to Georgetown and sped up his high school timeline. The lanky California native should provide the three-point threat that the Hoyas need.

F JaKarr Sampson (St. John’s)

Sampson is an elite athlete who returns to the Red Storm after taking a post-graduate year at Brewster Academy in 2011-12. He has a different skill set than Moe Harkless, who left for the NBA after one season in Queens, but has a high ceiling and an undeniable “wow” factor when his athleticism is on full display.

G Kris Dunn (Providence)

With Ricky Ledo being ruled ineligible to play this season, Providence head coach Ed Cooley will rely more on his other star recruit, Dunn. Injury is holding him back for now, but if he doesn’t redshirt, he will change the complexion of the Friar offense.

Breakout Players

F Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse)

Carter-Williams played sparingly during his freshman season, but he’ll have an increased role because of the loss of key pieces to the NBA.

G Anthony Collins (South Florida)

If coach Stan Heath wants to implement a faster brand of offense, Collins is his man. Quick and explosive, the sophomore is ready to lead.

G Vander Blue (Marquette)

Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder have moved on to the NBA, which leaves Blue with a chance to shine.

G Ryan Boatright (Connecticut)

Plagued by NCAA investigations last season, Boatright should be able to focus and find his groove in 2012-13 as part of a backcourt with Shabazz Napier.

G Jerian Grant (Notre Dame)

He averaged 12.3 points and led the Irish with 5.0 assists per game last season, but didn’t get the national recognition that he should be able to grab this year.

Player of the Year: G Peyton Siva (Louisville)

The biggest question will be which Peyton Siva shows up for most of the season, but if the end of the season is any indication, we could be in for a special season from him.

Coach Under Pressure: Oliver Purnell (DePaul)

After a 3-15 season in Big East play, Purnell and his reported $1.8 million annual contract will have to prove some things in 2012-13. The Blue Demons are still projected to finish in the bottom third of the conference.

All-Conference Team

(*) denotes Player of the Year

G Peyton Siva (Louisville)*

G Vincent Council (Providence)

F Otto Porter (Georgetown)

F Jack Cooley (Notre Dame)

C Gorgui Dieng (Louisville)

Predicted Finish

1. Louisville–Coming off a Final Four run and with Siva at the point, the Cardinals are the favorite.

2. Syracuse—Personnel losses shouldn’t be a problem for the Orange. They have reloaded and will be solidly in the nation’s Top 15.

3. Notre Dame—Jack Cooley and Scott Martin are key, as are guards Jerian Grant and Erik Atkins. Could be the final Big East season for the Irish.

4. Cincinnati—Yancy Gates’ departure will hurt Mick Cronin’s team, but guard Sean Kilpatrick should be able to continue capitalize on momentum from last season.

5. Georgetown—The top three scorers for the Hoyas—Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson, and Henry Sims—have all left. This is Otto Porter’s chance to step up.

6. Pittsburgh—With no Ashton Gibbs, Tray Woodall takes on more responsibilities in the backcourt. Big man Steven Adams will play a role, as will transfer Trey Zeigler.

7. USF—The element of surprise is gone for Stan Heath’s team. Can they compete when other teams expect it?

8. Marquette—Crowder and Johnson-Odom aren’t easily replaced. If we’ve learned one thing, though, it’s not to underestimate Buzz Williams.

9. Connecticut—The general sentiment around the program is that this is not a loss season, despite the postseason ban. We’ll see what Kevin Ollie can do in his first season.

10. St. John’s—Steve Lavin returns after undergoing prostate cancer surgery and has another young, talented recruiting class coming to the Red Storm.

11. Rutgers—Coach Mike Rice began to lay the foundation with his recruiting class last season and now he will build on it. Eligible transfer Wally Judge should help.

12. Villanova—Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek have departed, take with them a combined 30 points per game. Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault and freshman Ryan Arcidiacono will compete for the starting PG spot.

13. DePaul—Cleveland Melvin once again is the centerpiece. Injuries plagued the Blue Demons last season.

14. Providence—Ricky Ledo being ruled ineligible hurts the Friars in the short term, but the long-term outlook is bright.

15. Seton Hall—Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope have left, and the NCAA’s decision not to grant a hardship waiver to guard Sterling Gibbs will make life more difficult in Jersey.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.

 

N.C. State lands second transfer of day with Utah’s Devon Daniels

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A big recruiting day for N.C. State continued on Saturday afternoon as Utah transfer and guard Devon Daniels pledged to the Wolfpack.

Earlier in the day, N.C. State and new head coach Kevin Keatts landed another quality transfer in UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce.

The 6-foot-5 Daniels just finished his freshman season with the Utes in which he put up 9.9 points 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Just like Bryce, Daniels will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations before he has three more seasons of eligibility.

N.C. State now has two potential starters on the perimeter for the 2018-19 season with the addition of Bryce and Daniels as it will be interesting to see what kind of talent the Wolfpack can get around them.

 

UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce follows Kevin Keatts to N.C. State

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N.C. State landed an impact transfer on Saturday as UNC Wilmington guard C.J. Bryce will be following former head coach Kevin Keatts to the Wolfpack, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com

The 6-foot-5 Bryce averaged 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game last season as he helped the Seahawks to an NCAA tournament appearance. Bryce will have to sit out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, but he’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out one season.

With N.C. State getting center Omer Yurtseven back for next season, and with the addition of Bryce, it means that Keatts has retained, or added, some talented players for the next few seasons. The Wolfpack still have to fill a lot of roster spots from last season’s team, but Keatts seems to be having a really good week.

Seven identified after threats made against referee John Higgins following Kentucky Elite Eight loss

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College basketball referee John Higgins received threats to his home and business in late March after some controversial calls in North Carolina’s win over Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Seven people have now been identified for making threats against Higgins, according to an Associated Press report. The FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska field office said that information on the seven people will be referred to authorities in their jurisdictions.

An investigation over the last few months helped find the culprits, as the Omaha-based Higgins received emails, phone calls and voicemails to his personal home and roofing company following Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament departure. Wildcat head coach John Calipari might have ignited some of the anger in Kentucky fans by criticizing the officiating following the North Carolina loss.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The length of the investigation was drawn out due in part to the large volume of potential evidence requiring analysis, and the multi-jurisdictional issues arising from the multiple states in which the communications originated.”

Polikov also said that at least two media outlets were exposing and promoting Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation of the potential violations related to applicable federal communications regulations,” Polikov said.

Higgins received about 3,000 phone calls at his office in the two days following the game. Sheriff’s investigator Matt Barrall told the AP that an estimated 75 percent of the calls were from Kentucky area codes.

The roofing business that Higgins owns was also flooded with bad online reviews and negative star ratings, causing his Google rating to fall while also forcing Higgins to take down the Facebook page for his business.

Beilein still upbeat after Michigan loses another to NBA

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — For a major program, Michigan is a somewhat unlikely candidate for this kind of NBA-induced attrition.

The Wolverines have fielded some very good teams under John Beilein, but they haven’t been relying on prospects expected to jump to the pros as soon as they can.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” Beilein said. “Given that, our numbers right now are extraordinary.”

Beilein was referring to the number of players Michigan has sent to the NBA, particularly as early entrees. The Wolverines lost D.J. Wilson to the draft this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, and now they’ll go through the familiar process of trying to replace a key player who turned pro.

The most significant early exodus occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all went pro before their eligibility was up. Michigan won a lot of games with those players, reaching the Final Four and Elite Eight those two years, but their development made them attractive to NBA teams and shortened their college careers.

Wilson’s rise followed a similar pattern. He averaged only 2.7 points per game in 2015-16, and then increased to 11.0 this past season and became Michigan’s leading rebounder. His efforts helped Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the Sweet 16, and now he’s off to the NBA draft. The entire sequence of events would have seemed highly improbable a year ago.

The Wolverines won’t receive much sympathy from their Big Ten opponents, especially since Michigan will still have big man Moe Wagner, who tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to stay in school. The 6-foot-11 Wagner averaged 12.1 points last season and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range, showing huge improvement in much the same way Wilson did.

After losing senior point guard Derrick Walton, it will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense operates if Wagner becomes even more of a focal point. When Beilein was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers achieved success behind center Kevin Pittsnogle, whose skill set and 3-point shooting ability was at least somewhat similar to Wagner’s.

“We’re not going to put him in that category yet,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say, having a big man who can shoot the ball like that changes a lot of things.”

Michigan was also able to add a new point guard recently in Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio. Simmons is eligible immediately in 2017-18 and will move up from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten.

“A lot of the mid-majors are having this happen to them, and I don’t like it at all, but the fact is if Jaaron doesn’t come here, he ends up probably somewhere else in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “He’s just fundamentally so sound. He’ll be here this summer. Just as a person, I just wanted to coach the kid after spending an hour with him — just the leadership, the desire to win.”

Simmons could help the Wolverines withstand the loss of Walton, and Beilein indicated he could serve as a bit of a mentor to players like point guard Xavier Simpson, who is entering his sophomore season.

“We went all-in with (Simmons), knowing we had that scholarship,” Beilein said. “We felt that was a huge need for us, is to just have a little bit more experience in the backcourt next year.”

Follow Noah Trister on Twitter @noahtrister