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_

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.