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Big East Conference Catchup: Who contends with Villanova in 2014-15?

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This season marked the dawning of the new Big East. The Catholic 7 from the original conference merged with Butler, Creighton and Xavier to form the 10-team league. Four of those programs reached the NCAA tournament in 2014, although, all of which failed to reach the Sweet 16.

The disappointment from the conference’s showing the NCAA tournament will switch to uncertainty in Year 2 with plenty of questions needing be answered.

Villanova, the Big East regular season champion, will undoubtedly be the favorite heading into next season. One of the most efficient offensive and defensive teams in the conference last season will offset the graduation of James Bell with returnees Darrun Hillard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono among several other key contributors. A pair of four-star recruits — Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges — join the Wildcats as well.

RELATEDRead through all of our Conference Catchups here

Who challenges Villanova?

Creighton has to replace National Player of the Year Doug McDermott. Bryce Cotton won’t be racking up the minutes at Providence this winter. Xavier’s Semaj Christon and St. John’s Jakarr Sampson are other notable players to leave this spring.

Can Xavier and Providence find a way to get back into the NCAA tournament? Will strong recruiting classes for teams like Georgetown and Seton Hall propel them near the top of the conference? Does a darkhorse team emerge as a threat to the Wildcats?

THREE UP

Georgetown: The Hoyas stumbled to a sixth-place finish in 2013-2014, but returns D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and his 17.0 points per game. Matched with four freshmen listed in the Rivals 150, and Georgetown has the tools for a bounce-back campaign.

Seton Hall: The Pirates are 9-27 in conference play over the past two years. That could change with Isaiah Whitehead, and a talented recruiting class, joining Sterling Gibbs, the team’s top returning scorer, next season. With the conference as wide-open as it is, it wouldn’t be surprising if Seton Hall cracked the top half of the conference, and earned its way into the bubble conversation.

Kris Dunn, Providence: Shoulder injuries have plagued the first half of his career with the Friars, limiting him to only four games in 2013-2014. He committed to Providence as the top-ranked point guard, according to Rivals, and if healthy, can help the back court dealing with the loss of Cotton.

THREE DOWN

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Creighton: McDermott’s heralded career came to the end in the Round of 32. You can’t stress how important his departure is for the Bluejays, but three other senior starters graduate, too. Creighton made a smooth transition from the Missouri Valley to the Big East, but it’s time to rebuild. Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore, two Rivals 150 recruits, give Greg McDermott some nice pieces for the future while transfers Mo Watson and Cole Huff will make an impact when they resume their careers in the 2015-2016 season.

Butler: In its third different conference in as many seasons, Butler suffered its first losing season since 2005. The Bulldogs add Roosevelt Jones back to the lineup in addition to Kellen Dunham, Kameron Woods, Alex Barlow and Andrew Chrabascz. The second year of the Brandon Miller era should see some improvement, but Butler might very well be in the bottom half of the league once again.

Conference hype: Villanova and Creighton both ended the season in the top 20, though, to start the 2014-2015 season the Big East will have only one representative in the top 25. The conference’s first season with Fox Sports 1 produced less than stellar numbers. Without Doug McDermott, the conference lacks a headlining star. While there certainly is talent around the league, the pro potential, according to early mock drafts, is scarce.

FIVE NEW FACES

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Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette: For almost the entirety of the last two decades, Wojciechowski has been part of the Duke program. In April, he became the newest branch in the Coach K coaching tree, replacing Buzz Williams at Marquette. He’ll have some talent on this roster, though, only one of Williams’ recruit — Sandy Cohen — remains committed. BYU guard Matt Carlino, who has immediate eligibility, should help perimeter shooting.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The five-star recruit, ranked No. 16 overall, according to Rivals, headlines an impressive incoming class, which includes Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington. The 6-foot-4 Whitehead is a difficult matchup with the ball in his hands, and can put up points in a hurry when he gets hot. Whitehead can help the Pirates make some noise in Kevin Willard’s fifth season.

Isaac Copeland, Georgetown: The Hoyas recruiting class stars Copeland, the five-star forward, along with combo forward Paul White and wing L.J. Peak. Copeland benefited greatly from his one season at Brewster Academy (New Hampshire) this past year, displaying an array of skills. The incoming class puts John Thompson III’s program in a good spot for the future, though, Copeland can make an immediate impact, and help Georgetown improve on an 18-15 (8-10 Big East) season.

Matt Carlino, Marquette: The graduate transfer guard will finish his career with the Golden Eagles after stops at UCLA (never played a game) and BYU. Carlino will provide some experience to the Marquette back court, but more importantly add a 3-point threat, connecting on 34 percent of his threes with BYU last season.

Roosevelt Jones, Butler: The 6-foot-4 guard has been with the Butler program since 2011, but an injury to his left wrist delayed his Big East debut to November 2014. Jones averaged 10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in 2011-2012, and his return will boost a back court led by top scorer Kellen Dunham, though, the perimeter lost depth when Rene Castro and Elijah Brown both decided to transfer.

Way-Too-Early Power Rankings

1. Villanova

2. Georgetown

3. Xavier

4. Providence

5. Seton Hall

6. Marquette

7. St. John’s

8. Butler

9. Creighton

10. DePaul

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.

Jim Boeheim’s Melo comments are evidence of why athletes hate the media

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States poses with Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has a habit of creating headlines that are not all that flattering, to himself or to the people that he’s commenting on, which is why it wasn’t much of a surprise that a quote he gave to Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard has been making the rounds this week.

The quote in question?

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of his former star and now three-time Olympic champion Carmelo Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

That sounds bad, doesn’t it?

But … I mean, he’s right, isn’t he?

Melo is 32 years old and title-less. He’s been to the conference finals once and gotten out of the first round of the playoffs just twice, and now he’s on the downside of his career. Athletes don’t get better as they exit their early 30s unless they’re taking whatever it was that turned Barry Bonds into a cyborg. Adding the remnants of Derrick Rose and a 31 year old Joakim Noah is helpful, but unless those contracts can teleport the Knicks back to 2011, Rose will be the only person calling this group a Super Team.

So yeah, Boeheim is right. You probably think so, too. Melo is probably never going to win an NBA title unless he finds a way to get to the Cavs.

But here’s the thing: focusing on that one line totally ignores the point that Boeheim was making in the interview. As always, context is critical, and if you read the story that Waters wrote, it’s pretty obvious the message that Boeheim was trying to get across. Melo is not going to leave a legacy in the NBA beyond being a guy that got a lot of buckets. It just didn’t work out for him that way. Ask Karl Malone how that feels.

But by going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, by becoming the first men’s basketball player to win three Olympic gold medals, Melo did solidify himself a legacy.

He’s the most accomplished and, arguably, the best player that Team USA has ever had. That’s not going to make up for the rings that are missing on his fingers, but it does cement his place in the history of the game.

That was Boeheim’s point, and it was a salient, intelligent point, one that complimented Melo for the success that he had in international play.

But if you scroll through your favorite blogs and see that headline, it looks like he was taking a shot at the player that brought him his only national title.

And given how twisted that quote has gotten, is it any wonder why athletes and coaches hate the media?

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Boeheim has weighed in:

Oregon wins their opener on Spanish tour

Oregon forward Elgin Cook, from left, forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey react after a play against Washington during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas. Oregon won 83-77. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Oregon won the opener of their tour in Spain 109-88 on Tuesday night, as the Ducks knocked off a team of all-stars in Madrid.

Tyler Dorsey had 19 points to lead the Ducks while Kavell Bigby-Williams and Dylan Ennis, who is coming off of a season derailed by foot injuries, both added 16 points. Chris Boucher, who was terrific at the Nike Skills Academy in July, had 12 points.

While Ennis’ health was noteworthy, it is also worth pointing out that Oregon’s star Dillon Brooks did not play on Monday and will not be playing on the trip. I know this because, in every photo posted by the official Oregon team accounts, Brooks is in a chair with a boot on his left foot.

The rising junior, a potential all-american, had surgery on the foot earlier this month.