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.

Northwestern beats No. 20 Michigan State in Big Ten opener

Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
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EAST LANSING, Mich. – Boo Buie scored 20 points and Northwestern beat No. 20 Michigan State 70-63 on Sunday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Chase Audige added 15 points and Ty Berry had 13 for Northwestern (6-2), which ended a two-game losing streak.

“Needless to say, this was a huge win for us,” coach Chris Collins said. “Coming off our performance in the ACC-Big Ten challenge, where we lost badly on our home floor (to Pittsburgh), I was really pleased with our resolve the past couple days.”

Mady Sossoko and A.J. Hoggard each had 12 points for Michigan State (5-4) and Joey Hauser added 10. The Spartans have lost two in a row, falling to Notre Dame earlier in the week.

Hoggard cut Northwestern’s lead to 64-63 with 46 seconds left. After a timeout, Buie scored on a layup with 23 seconds left.

“We got out-toughed,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

Northwestern took the lead late in the first half on a layup by Buie and never relinquished it, leading by as many as nine points.

“We put (the loss to Pittsburgh) under the rug,” Buie said. “We turned the page, just like we do with any win or loss. The season is so long you can’t get caught up on one single game. Just like tonight. We’re super happy with the win, but after tonight it’s over. You can’t dwell on things.”

The Wildcats went 21 of 24 on free throws, while the Spartans were 9 of 12.

“I was concerned about a knockout punch early,” Collins said. ‘I knew they would be revved up after the Notre Dame loss. They hit us early and got a seven-point lead, and then we settled down.”

UP NEXT

Northwestern: Hosts Prairie View A&M on Dec. 11

Michigan State: At Penn State on Wednesday night.

Miles, No. 7 Notre Dame women beat No. 3 UConn; Fudd hurt

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Olivia Miles had 21 points and eight rebounds for No. 7 Notre Dame, and UConn star Azzi Fudd suffered a knee injury in a collision with a teammate, as the Fighting Irish handed the third-ranked Huskies their first loss of the season, 74-60 on Sunday.

“I think she’ll be all right,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said afterwards of Fudd, who went into the day averaging 24.0 points, but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes.

Fudd exited in the final minute of the first quarter after teammate Aaliyah Edwards fell on her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way as a precaution, according to Auriemma.

Maddy Westbeld had a season-high 17 points and nine rebounds for Notre Dame (7-1), which bounced back from a 74-72 loss to No. 20 Maryland three days earlier.

“I think Thursday’s loss really fueled us today,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “We learned a lot from that game. We have incredible scorers on our team, a lot of balance offensively, but it’s our defense that’s gonna win games, so that was our focus the last 48 hours. (The players) took the challenge and came out and played with heart and defensive intensity. I feel like if we can play that way, we can beat anyone in the country.”

Notre Dame shot 56% from the field while limiting the Huskies to 37%.

“We played very badly (Thursday), but we were still two points away,” Miles said, “so it’s kind of scary what we can do when we play really well.”

Led by Miles, the Irish roared to a 41-24 lead by intermission, outscoring the Huskies 30-11 over the final 11 minutes of the first half.

Miles scored 13 of Notre Dame’s 18 first-quarter points, going 6 of 7 from the field. Westbeld provided her scoring punch after averaging 5.2 points over her previous five outings.

Lou Lopez Senechal led UConn (6-1) with 21 points. Edwards added 14.

“We didn’t win the rebound battle and that hurt us,” said Auriemma, whose club was outboarded 39-26 and outscored in the paint. 46-16. “We just didn’t have enough scoring on the court and enough people playing at a real high level to get enough buckets when we needed them.”

The Huskies got as close at 49-44 at the 3:44 mark of the third quarter, but the Irish stretched their lead back to as high as 70-53 at the midway mark of the fourth period.

Notre Dame ended a seven-game head-to-head losing streak against UConn in regular-season play, prevailing for the first time since a triple-overtime decision in March 2013.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: The Huskies faced a top-10 opponent for the fourth time this season, but this one was their first true road game. If Fudd’s injury doesn’t turn out to be serious, UConn ought to still have a chance to do what it’s done for decades: craft a resume that will make them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame: The Irish, coming back from that loss at the buzzer to Maryland, showed that Thursday’s outcome may just be a blip on their promising season. Notre Dame matched last season’s win over No. 3 North Carolina State for the highest-ranked team it has beaten in its third year under Ivey.

UP NEXT

UConn: The Huskies host Princeton on Thursday before visiting Maryland next Sunday.

Notre Dame: The Irish have a couple apparent mismatches coming up as they visit Lafayette (2-7) on Thursday and host Merrimack (1-6) on Saturday.

Brink leads No. 2 Stanford women over No. 23 Gonzaga 84-63

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
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STANFORD, Calif. – Gonzaga may be rolling out an injury-depleted roster, but the Bulldogs nevertheless left a lasting impression on their West Coast rival in Stanford.

And that leads the Cardinal to wonder if the two power programs might meet again on college basketball’s biggest stage come March.

“This is a team that is a Top-25 team,” Hall of Fame Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I think if we can do it, they’re going to be in Seattle (for the NCAA Tournament).”

Cameron Brink had 14 points and a season-high 16 rebounds and Brooke Demetre made a career-high five 3s and scored 17 points, leading second-ranked Stanford past No. 23 Gonzaga 84-63 on Sunday.

The Cardinal (10-1) have now won five straight games after falling to top-ranked South Carolina in overtime on Nov. 20.

“I kind of call Brooke my secret weapon,” VanDerveer said. “She is a really special young lady, and when you have both Cam out there and Brooke, it’s a two-headed monster.”

“She has one of the highest releases I’ve ever seen, one of the quickest releases,” Brink said of Demetre. “She can shoot it, and we’ve always had confidence in her.”

Hannah Jump hit four 3s and scored 14 points, and Haley Jones had 12 points for Stanford.

Short-handed Gonzaga (7-2), limited to seven players because of illness and injuries, had won three in a row.

The Zags kept the pressure on Stanford early in the game, thanks to a 20-point first half from Kaylynne Truong.

Truong shot 4 of 9 from deep and finished with a career-high 22 points.

Brynna Maxwell contributed 19 points. Yvonne Ejim, Gonzaga’s leading scorer, was held to two points in the first three quarters but added six points in the fourth.

“We try to focus on a leading scorer and try to limit them,” VanDerveer said. “But you can’t just focus on (Ejim) because they’ve got Truong, they’ve got Maxwell. . I think we did a much better job (on defense) in the second half.”

STAT OF THE GAME

The Cardinal were able to pull away due to a strong game from beyond the arc, making 15 3-pointers on 15 of 28 (53.6%) shooting. A season-high eight different Stanford players made a 3, led by Demetre’s five and Jump’s four.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: Lost its fourth straight in the series with Stanford and dropped to 1-7 on the Cardinal’s home floor. The Zags haven’t won any matchups since a 79-73 victory at home on Dec. 2, 2018. … Despite playing short-handed, Gonzaga did not yield an easy win to its higher-ranked opponent, trailing by just one point after the first quarter before fading in the second half.

Stanford: Held a 37-23 rebounding advantage. … This win marked the beginning of a crucial stretch in the Cardinal’s season. Stanford’s next two games come against Tennessee – receiving votes in The Associated Press Top 25 poll – and No. 13 Creighton, followed by the start of Pac-12 Conference play against rival California on Dec. 23.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs return to McCarthey Athletic Center to start a five-game homestand, starting with a Tuesday matchup vs. Queens University of Charlotte.

Stanford: After a two-week break for final exams, the Cardinal will continue their seven-game homestand vs. Tennessee on Dec. 18.

Top-ranked Houston grinds out 53-48 win over Saint Mary’s

Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
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FORT WORTH, Texas – J’Wan Roberts scored 15 points, Marcus Sasser added 13 and top-ranked Houston held on to beat Saint Mary’s 53-48 on Saturday night.

The Cougars (8-0) won twice in their first week as the No. 1 team since the final poll of the 1982-83 regular season, when Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon led high-flying Phi Slama Jama.

Logan Johnson scored 17 points and Aidan Mahaney had 14 for the Gaels (6-3), who lost their third in a row following a 6-0 start.

Houston was the favorite to win it all in the second of three consecutive trips to the Final Four nearly 40 years ago, but lost to Jim Valvano and North Carolina State in one of the iconic championship games.

Coach Kelvin Sampson’s first top-ranked team is coming off trips to the Final Four and Elite Eight the past two seasons.

For the third straight year, the postseason path will start at Dickie’s Arena, where Sampson likes to bring his team during the regular season as prep for the American Athletic Conference tourney.

This victory in the Battleground 2k22 series improved the Cougars to 9-0 in the arena near downtown Fort Worth, where they have won AAC tournament titles each of the past two years.

Saint Mary’s whittled a 12-point deficit to a single possession when Mahaney hit a 3, and he made it a three-point game again at 46-43 with another from long range.

Roberts answered by backing down for a short jump hook before Sasser converted a three-point play to put the Cougars up 51-43.

Houston broke a 17-all tie with a 14-3 run to finish the first half, with Saint Mary’s going 1 of 11 from the field in that stretch against the vaunted Cougars defense. Both teams shot 37%.

BIG PICTURE

Saint Mary’s: Facing the No. 1 team isn’t foreign to the Gaels, who play in the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga. St. Mary’s is 2-7 against the Zags when they have the top ranking, with one of the victories coming last season.

Houston: The Cougars had no trouble in their debut with the No. 1 ranking, blowing out Norfolk State 100-52 at home Tuesday. A disciplined and tournament-tested opponent for the second game was just the threat Sampson’s club figured it could be.

UP NEXT

Saint Mary’s: Missouri State at home Wednesday.

Houston: North Florida at home Tuesday.

Clowney, No. 11 Alabama recover to beat South Dakota St

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Freshman Noah Clowney’s breakout game – 22 points, nine rebounds, four assists and a steal – helped No. 11 Alabama recover from blowing a 20-point lead and beat South Dakota State 78-65 on Saturday night.

Clowney shot 8 of 17, including 5 of 12 on 3s, in his highest-scoring game of the season.

“We’ve encouraged him to shoot it, I’m glad he did,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “His senior year of high school, he started out pretty poorly from 3 then shot it 40% after that, so I kind of referenced that.”

Alabama (7-1) led 37-17 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half. South Dakota State (3-6) rallied to go ahead 51-50 on Alex Arians’ 3-pointer with 11 1/2 minutes remaining.

Nimari Burnett’s foul shot a minute later put the Crimson Tide ahead for good at 54-53. Alabama used a 9-0 run to pull away.

Mark Sears scored 19 points and Brandon Miller had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Crimson Tide

Alabama made 14 of its first 26 shots to build a big lead before it slipped away.

“I’m not going to call them mature, we still have some room to grow,” Oats said. “Our guys have to understand, no matter who we’re playing, even if their record isn’t great, they’re Division I basketball players, they’re good teams. Last year, we had issues with this going down the road.”

Charlie Easley and Arians each scored 17 points for the Jackrabbits. Zeke Mayo added 12 points and Matt Dentlinger contributed nine rebounds.

BIG PICTURE

Sears continues to be a force at home for Alabama. In Alabama’s last three home games – wins over Liberty, Jacksonville State and South Dakota State – he has scored 22, 18 and 19 points, making at least three 3-pointers in all three games. Alabama’s next home game comes against a Memphis team that already has two wins over SEC competition.

SECOND HALF SPRING

South Dakota State coach Eric Henderson noticed that in Alabama’s first two home games, Longwood and Liberty both trailed by fewer than 10 points at halftime before losing by 21 and 36 points, respectively. He viewed the first five minutes of the second half as critical in both instances, seeing an Alabama team using the home environment to its advantage.

Henderson stressed to his team that it had to win those five minutes to have a chance. Down 42-35 at the break, it did, and ultimately took the lead.

“They really increase the pressure, they try to play a little faster, they get downhill and they really spray it,” Henderson said. “I thought we were getting some 50-50 balls, I thought we were playing with some confidence. There’s been a lot of schools to come in here and have a good first half and it ends up being a 30- or 40-point game.”

UP NEXT

South Dakota State stays on the road to face Montana on Tuesday.

Alabama takes a weeklong break before its second game against the current No. 1 team in the nation, this time a road game against Houston on Saturday. The Crimson Tide beat former No. 1 North Carolina in its first shot at the top-ranked team, winning 103-101 in four overtimes on Nov. 27.