Creighton Bluejays Doug McDermott drives on the Cincinnati Bearcats Justin Jackson during the second half of their second round NCAA tournament game in Philadelphia

2013-2014 Big East Preview: Marquette’s favored, but the Big East could send seven to tourney

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Technically, the Big East conference that you will watch this season is a brand new league. When the Catholic 7 split away from the football schools, they brought the name and the rights to Madison Square Garden for the league tournament with them, but technically speaking, this is the new conference, not the American. And while it’s disappointing to know that Syracuse will never play Georgetown for the Big East title again and that UConn and Pitt will never have another overtime thriller in the Garden, there is still a lot to like about this league and its future. For once, we have a conference — and a very good one at that — whose main focus is hoops.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Creighton, Xavier, Butler
Out: Louisville, UConn, South Florida, Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Rutgers

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. This is the most difficult conference to predict this season: Heading into the start of the 2013-2014 season, Marquette has been the pick to win the Big East by just about everyone, including myself. But you shouldn’t take that to me that the Golden Eagles will have a cakewalk to the regular season title. There’s an argument to be made that as many as eight of the ten teams could earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. The consensus is that Butler, Seton Hall and DePaul make up the bottom three, but there’s really no way to differentiate between team No. 2 and team No. 7. Expect a wild race for the league title.

2. St. John’s will be better than you think: There really hasn’t been all that much hype about the Johnnies this offseason, but when you look up and down there lineup, there is quite a bit of talent. D’angelo Harrison is back from his suspension and God’sgift Achiuwa is back from his redshirt year. Freshman Rysheed Jordan only bolsters a back court that already includes Phil Greene and Jamal Branch, and with JaKarr Sampson, Sir’Dominic Pointer and Chris Obekpa up front, Lavin has the athleticism and versatility to matchup with any front line. If the pieces all come together, look out.

3. And so will Providence: This may be the year for Providence to break through. Former top 20 recruit Kris Dunn is finally healthy and will join a dynamic back court that includes the league’s reigning leading scorer, Bryce Cotton, and thrilling, 6-foot-7 lead guard Brandon Austin. Up front, transfers Tyler Harris and Carson Derosiers are eligible and will join Kadeem Batts and LeDontae Henton. The Friars will put up a lot of points.

4. Georgetown is dangerous with Josh Smith eligible: The Hoyas got a gift in October when massive center Josh Smith was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Smith is an all-american caliber talent — and a perfect fit as a five in Georgetown’s system — when he’s in shape. But will he be able to play 25 minutes a night? Will he avoid foul trouble? It’s up to Smith how good he wants to be, but if he finally flips the switch, Georgetown has the pieces around him — notably Markel Starks — to be a title contender.

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5. Keep an eye on Ryan Arcidiacono: As a freshman at Villanova, Arch was coming off of a back surgery that kept him off the court in his final season of high school hoops. He was never quite in rhythm or in shape last season, but after an offseason of work, particularly on his strength, don’t be surprised to see him become one of the better point guards in the country.

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Doug McDermott (Creighton)

McDermott will be a three-time all-american by the time his senior season is over, a fact that is unheard of in this day and age of early entry. McDermott is one of the purest scorers in the country, a 6-foot-7 forward with an array of post moves and a lethal three-point stroke. It will be interesting to see how he handles playing in a conference that features big men with much more size and athleticism that he saw in the Missouri Valley, but when a guy has a chance to score 3,000 points in his career, you stop worrying about whether or not certain matchups will slow him down.

THE REST OF THE ALL-BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:

  • Semaj Christon, Xavier: Christon is a big point guard that averaged 15.2 points and 4.6 assists as a freshman. The biggest reason Xavier has a chance to contend in this league.
  • Bryce Cotton, Providence: Coming off of a season where he averaged 19.4 points, expect Cotton to be a major factor is the Friar’s resurgence.
  • Davante Gardner, Marquette: Gardner is similar to Josh Smith in that he’s an immense low-post talent that’s battled some weight issues through his career.
  • Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall: It’s a shame that Edwin has been hidden at Seton Hall throughout his career. A terrific defender that averaged 16.5 points and shot 41.2% from three.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
  • Markel Starks, Georgetown
  • D’angelo Harrison, St. John’s
  • JaKarr Sampson, St. John’s
  • Kris Dunn, Providence

BREAKOUT STAR: Kris Dunn (Providence)

Dunn was one of the most highly-sought after players in the country in the Class of 2012, but he spent much of last season battling a shoulder injury. Now that he’s healthy, and with an offseason of improvement under his belt, don’t be surprised to see Dunn take over Vincent Council’s role as the Friar point guard and post big numbers while helping the Providence turnaround.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Brandon Miller (Butler)

It would be easy to say Kevin Willard in this situation, because most people will have Willard listed on the hot seat entering the season. But I’m going with Miller. This single most difficult thing to do in coaching is to be the guy after The Guy, and Miller is replacing Brad Stevens, The Guy that led Butler to back-to-back national title games and orchestrated a jump from the Horizon to the Big East in the span of 15 months. That ain’t easy.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : The Big East got more bids than the American.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: Watching Davante Gardner battle for position against Josh Smith.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 16, Ohio State at Marquette
  • Dec. 7, Marquette at Wisconsin
  • Dec. 15, Syracuse at St. John’s (at MSG)
  • Nov. 8, Georgetown vs. Oregon (In South Korea)
  • Dec. 21, Georgetown at Kansas

PREDICTED FINISH

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1. Marquette: The Golden Eagles will have a different look than we’re used too as their strength will be the front court, but there are few coaches better at maximizing talent, regardless of roster makeup, than Buzz Williams.
2. Georgetown: It’s difficult to overstate just how important it is for the Hoyas to get Josh Smith eligible at the start of the season. With the underrated Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera holding down the back court, the Hoyas could win the league if everything breaks right.
3. Creighton: The Bluejays caught a couple of breaks this offseason, as Doug McDermott returned to school and Grant Gibbs got a sixth year of eligibility. Losing big man Gregory Echenique is really going to hurt, especially against teams with big low-post scorers.
4. St. John’s: The Johnnies have loads of talent and athleticism on their roster this season, and the presence of shot-blocker Chris Obekpa around the rim should allow Steve Lavin’s to apply a lot of pressure defensively. Can Lavin find a way to turn the talent into wins?
5. Providence: Much of this depends on the health of Kris Dunn’s shoulder, but if he’s at 100%, the Friars have quite a bit of talent on their roster, especially on the perimeter. Expect a lot of points when Providence plays.
6. Villanova: Ryan Arcidiacono should be in line for a big sophomore season, and the Wildcats return six of their top seven scorers, including Jayvaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard. The key will be the play of Daniel Ochefu inside, as Mouphtaou Yarou has graduated.
7. Xavier: Semaj Christon has the potential to turn into an all-american this season, and with Dee Davis and Justin Martin back, Chris Mack’s club should hold their own on the perimeter. Three-point shooting and the effectiveness of Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore inside will be key.
8. Seton Hall: I love Fuquan Edwin, and the addition of Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina will help solidify the perimeter attack, but there are just so many unknowns with this group.
9. Butler: A new head coach leading a team that loses Rotnei Clarke, Andrew Smith (graduation) and Roosevelt Jones (wrist) into a new, tougher conference is not the ideal recipe success.
10. DePaul: The Blue Demons should be more competitive than what we’ve become accustomed to, but until this group proves they can get themselves out of the cellar, that’s where we’ll assume they end up.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova reigns supreme

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats drives to the basket against Chris Clover #15 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the second half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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1. Villanova (8-0, Last Week: 1): We had Villanova No. 1 last week, they’re still undefeated and they’re now beating Big 5 foes by 30 points while Josh Hart is posting triple-doubles. Plus, they have that really nice win at Purdue in their back pocket.

2. UCLA (8-0, 11): You knew the Bruins were going to take a jump in the rankings after winning at Kentucky.

3. Kansas (7-1, 3): They’re still my pick to win the national title, but what have they done this season to deserve being ranked above UCLA or Villanova? Beat a depleted Duke team? Frankly, there’s an argument to be made that Baylor could be ranked over them as the best Big 12 team.

4. Duke (8-1, 4): Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden are back. Harry Giles III is not, and Grayson Allen missed the last game. Will we see them on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic?

5. Kentucky (7-1, 2): They drop after losing to UCLA at home, but let’s be honest, how much are they going to drop when they lost to the team currently ranked No. 2?

6. North Carolina (8-1, 5): The Tar Heels did not have their best night in a loss at Indiana, but there are going to be a lot of teams that don’t have their best night in that gym.

7. Gonzaga (8-0, 6): Another week, another two wins for Gonzaga. They landed a win over a depleted Arizona team over the weekend.

8. Baylor (8-0, 8): The Bears picked up another huge win over Xavier this week, winning by 15 points at home, but they remain at 8th in our rankings thanks to UCLA jumping up nine spots.

9. Creighton (8-0, 9): The Bluejays keep piling up the wins as Marcus Foster keeps piling up the points. The top of the Big East race is going to be a lot of fun this season.

10. Indiana (7-1, 12): Indiana has the two best wins in the country right now, but they also have that pesky loss to Fort Wayne. Inconsistency is going to be a killer for this team.

11. Wisconsin (7-2, 16)
12. Louisville (7-1, 13)
13. Xavier (7-1, 7)
14. Saint Mary’s (5-0, 15)
15. West Virginia (6-1, NR)
16. Purdue (6-2, 14)
17. South Carolina (8-0, 18)
18. Virginia (7-1, 10)
19. Cincinnati (7-1, 21)
20. Butler (8-0, 24)
21. USC (8-0, NR)
22. Florida (7-1, NR)
23. Syracuse (5-2, 19)
24. Notre Dame (8-0, NR)
25. Iowa State (6-2, 22)

DROPPED OUT: No. 17 Rhode Island, No. 20 Maryland, No. 23 Michigan, No. 25 Arizona
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 15 West Virginia, No. 21 USC, No. 22 Florida, No. 24 Notre Dame

Williams helps No. 3 North Carolina beats Radford 95-50

LAHAINA, HI - NOVEMBER 21: Kenny Williams #24 of the North Carolina Tar Heels pushed the ball up court during the second half of the Maui Invitational NCAA college basketball game against the Chaminade Silverswords at the Lahaina Civic Center on November 21, 2016 in Lahaina, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Kenny Williams III finally had the shooting flurry that third-ranked North Carolina has been waiting to see.

The sophomore had 14 of his career-high 19 points in the opening five minutes, helping the Tar Heels build a huge early lead and beat Radford 95-50 on Sunday.

Williams made his first five shots, including all four 3-point tries, during that opening flurry. Quite a change for a player who was buried on the bench for a veteran team last year, making just 1 of 13 3-pointers and seeing his confidence suffer as a result.

“I’ve been waiting a year-and-a-half for a game like that,” Williams said. “I don’t want to say I knew it was coming, but with the confidence I have right now, I kind of expected it.”

While Williams’ play stood out, the Tar Heels (8-1) got a scare when they lost point guard Joel Berry II to a sprained left ankle early in the second half. The junior, averaging 16 points, came up hobbled as he drove into the paint and fell to the floor. He got up and walked slowly to the locker room for evaluation with 17:36 left, but didn’t return to the UNC bench with the Tar Heels up big.

Coach Roy Williams said Berry would have X-rays to confirm the sprain diagnosis and he was hopeful that Berry would be able to practice before Wednesday’s game against Davidson.

“We’ll have to wait and see what they say (Monday),” Williams said, “but I’m encouraged about it right now.”

The Tar Heels (8-1) were coming off a loss at No. 13 Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. They had no trouble in this one, running out to an 18-4 lead behind Kenny Williams’ opening burst and shooting 57 percent in the first half to build a 51-27 lead by the break.

Justin Cousin scored 14 points to lead the Highlanders (3-5), who shot 31 percent.

“Tough team, man,” Radford coach Mike Jones said. “They’re so big and physical. We played some good defense inside and they made the shot over us and that’s going to happen.”

BIG PICTURE

Radford: The Highlanders, picked sixth in the Big South Conference, had no way to slow the Tar Heels’ early tear. And that led to a fourth loss by double-digit margins, three coming by at least 21 points. Still, Radford isn’t likely to run up against a team such as UNC in the Big South, either.

UNC: The big shooting performance from Williams and Berry’s injury stood out here, with the Tar Heels potentially bolstering their perimeter scoring punch while seeing their floor leader go down to an injury.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Tar Heels will slide a bit in the AP Top 25 when the new poll comes out Monday, though losing on the road to a team ranked No. 13 nationally likely won’t cause a big drop.

POINT GUARDS

If Berry sits out, senior Nate Britt – who has played both guard positions in his career – would appear to be the next man up at the point. Freshman Seventh Woods also will figure into the mix; he had nine points in 22 minutes – both season highs – while getting plenty of work after Berry’s exit.

WILLIAMS’ SHOT

Williams, a 6-foot-4 wing from Midlothian, Virginia, made 5 of 6 3-pointers with a good-looking and confident stroke. Four of those came in the opening minutes, the last one a wide-open look from the left wing that brought Smith Center fans to a roar.

Williams said he worked in the offseason to minimize how much his guide hand pushes on the ball to affect his release.

“He’s put in a lot of time,” Roy Williams said. “I said even last year when he wasn’t putting the ball in the basket that he was going to be a good defensive player and I’m not sure he’s not our best perimeter defender right now.”

UP NEXT

Radford: The Highlanders host Elon on Saturday.

UNC: The Tar Heels play at home against Davidson on Wednesday night.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell suspended

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Sindarius Thornwell #0 of the South Carolina Gamecocks drives to the basket defended by Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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South Carolina senior guard Sindarius Thornwell has been suspended indefinitely due to a violation of athletic department policy, the school announced on Sunday.

Thornwell is averaging 18.7 points, 6.7 boards and 4.1 assists for the Gamecocks, who are undefeated and sitting at No. 20 nationally. Thornwell is the reigning SEC Player of the Week.

South Carolina plays FIU in Columbia at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Melo Trimble’s heroics get him a shout-out from Wale in a song

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Melo Trimble #2 of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after hitting the game winning shot as they defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 69-68 during the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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For the fourth time in the first three weeks of the college basketball season, Melo Trimble won a game for Maryland.

His two free throws in the final ten seconds gave the Terps a come-from-behind, 71-70 win over Oklahoma State in College Park, and the win not only was the sixth time this season that the Terps have won a game decided by six points or less, it improved Trimble’s record in those games to 26-5.

26-5!

That’s an insane statistic, one that should allow Maryland fans to truly appreciate just how valuable their junior point guard is.

At least one Maryland fan does. Rapper Wale, who hails from Maryland, just outside DC, made sure to name-drop his favorite Terp in a verse in a song he released on Saturday night:

And you better believe that Trimble is aware of it:

"My therapist terrible , I'm uh Terp Melo Trimbling" @wale

A photo posted by Melo Trimble (@olem__) on

Rick Pitino on Grand Canyon: ‘The toughest crowd I’ve ever faced’

Rick Pitino
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Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said after his No. 14 Cardinals struggled to put away a tough Grand Canyon team on the road had some kind – and hyperbolic – words to say about the atmosphere.

“This, in college basketball in my 40 plus year, was the toughest crowd I’ve ever faced,” he said.

Umm, but Rick, you’ve coached in the Big East and the ACC! This was tougher than any of those crowds?

“Whether we go to Duke, Kentucky, nothing was as tough as that crowd tonight,” he said.

Well, now.

That seems like a bit much, but to be fair, the atmosphere there was, shall we say, lit: