Conference Catchup: Revamped Big East looks for more postseason success

1 Comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

College basketball’s non-conference season is coming to a close, and to help you shake off post-holiday haze and the hangover of losing in your fantasy football playoffs, we’ll be providing you with some midseason primers to get you caught up on all the nation’s most important conferences.

MORE: All of CBT’s Conference Catchups

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Big East.


St. John’s finds themselves in the top 25 and at 11-1 on the season and Harrison, a senior guard, is a huge reason why. The Red Storm will start up to four seniors, but Harrison is the heart-and-soul of the team. The 6-foot-4 Texas native is second in the Big East in scoring (19 points per game), 10th in rebounding (6.5 per game) and sixth in free-throw percentage (83 percent) while shooting respectable percentages from the field (44 percent) and 3-point range (35 percent). Harrison has also been very consistent as a scorer. He’s been held to single digits just once this season and it was nine points in a blowout win over Long Beach State.


  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s
  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Great comeback season for the oft-injured sophomore as he’s averaging 13.3 points, a Big East-leading 7 assists, and 5.2 rebounds per game. Dunn also leads the conference in steals and is shooting 48 percent from the field. If Dunn limits turnovers in conference play, he’ll be even better.
  • Kellen Dunham, Butler: Butler is off to a surprising 10-3 start and the junior is averaging 16.6 points per game on tremendous shooting splits (45% FG, 45% 3PT, 88% FT). On a team desperately lacking floor spacers, Dunham has upped his efficiency numbers and scoring average despite playing four fewer minutes this season.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Field goal percentages have been underwhelming for the junior, but he’s averaging 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and carrying the Hoyas in big games. The Indiana native had 29 points against both Wisconsin and Indiana.
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence: The senior forward came close to winning early Player of the Year honors from D’Angelo Harrison, but Henton hasn’t rebounded as effectively and the Red Storm have been a better overall team. Still, Henton is leading the Big East in scoring at 20 points per game to go along with 5.3 rebounds on 48 percent shooting. He’s been one of the best go-to scorers in the country.


1. Villanova, once again, is legitimate: People forget that the Wildcats were 29-4 and a No. 2 seed entering the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32 last season, when they ran into the buzz saw known as UConn. Villanova is once again off to a great start and 12-0 this season and they return everyone from last season except for James Bell. Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins are all playing much better this season and this is an unselfish team that shoots 48 percent as a team and better from the perimeter this season. It’s hard to say if they’re Final Four good since they haven’t faced a superpower yet, but they’ve earned some good wins over VCU, Illinois, Syracuse, Temple and Michigan.

2. The Big East, top-to-bottom, is better than preseason expectations indicated: One of the early-season stories we’ve heard around college basketball is how the Big East is back this season. Besides DePaul and Marquette, eight of the teams in the league appear to be at least postseason teams in 2014-15 while the league looks like they’ll surpass last season’s four NCAA Tournament bids. While Villanova is strong once again, St. John’s is a legit top-25 team and teams 3-through-8 in the Big East is significantly improved. Seton Hall, Georgetown and Xavier have some talented freshmen who have played well this season, while Butler and Providence are relying on upperclassmen who have stepped up this season. Creighton was even a top-25 team at one point this season but has fallen back down to Earth at 9-4.

3. The Big East is still a power conference: Many wanted to dismiss the “new” Big East after one season and a mediocre showing, but the league has bounced back nicely this season with a lot of strong teams and higher expectations. The preseason talk that the Big East compared closer to the Atlantic 10 than the ACC, Big Ten and SEC was laughable. The Big East still maintains a national television contract, rising names in head coaching are still taking jobs for millions of dollars (Steve Wojciechowski to Marquette), and five-star recruits are still committing to the league for next season (Jalen Brunson to Villanova, Henry Ellenson to Marquette). The Big East might not be the new ACC — but what is? — and the AAC, Big Ten and SEC are all arguably having worse seasons in terms of top-to-bottom talent. The new Big East is going to be fine.


1. Does Villanova have what it takes to make a Final Four? The Big East didn’t have any of its four NCAA Tournament teams make the second weekend in 2014, but that should change in 2015. Villanova is even stronger and the rest of the upgraded conference should help them prepare for the tournament even more this season. With tremendous scoring balance and a team full of unselfish players, the Wildcats don’t need to rely on specific players to get by and earn wins. That makes them tough to gameplan for in a tournament setting. As long as they don’t run into the future national champion on the first weekend.

2. After St. John’s, which team emerges as the third threat in the Big East? Villanova and St. John’s, the two top-25 teams in Big East, appear to be the clear-cut favorites in the conference to be No. 1 and 2, but after that, how will the order fall? Seton Hall, Butler, Providence, Xavier, Georgetown and Creighton have all shown positive signs of life this season and it’s nearly impossible to say how those six teams will fair against each other during the Big East conference season. If those teams don’t beat each other up too badly and take care of business against Marquette and DePaul, they should make the postseason.

3. Does Seton Hall make its first NCAA Tournament since 2006 despite the injury to Isaiah Whitehead? One team that the college basketball world will have its eye on these next few weeks is Seton Hall. The Pirates are off to a 10-2 start this season but freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead is out for the next few weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. Without Whitehead, who started all 11 games he played this season, Seton Hall has to open the Big East season with two home games against Villanova and St. John’s. The Pirates really could have used Whitehead for an upset there to propel its early-season momentum, but now they’ll like start the conference season 0-2. How does Seton Hall respond from there and how will Whitehead look when he comes back?


1. The Big East bounces back with five NCAA Tournament bids: In the preseason, three teams seemed like a safe number for Big East NCAA Tournament bids in 2015, but I’m going to be aggressive and go with five bids. This conference is off to a great start this season and the top eight look like they’ll at least make the NIT. I expect a few of the young teams to falter, but Butler and Providence have enough veteran leadership and experience to keep them on-track and Georgetown has shown that they can play with good competition.

2. More experienced teams like St. John’s, Butler and Providence will finish behind Villanova: Seton Hall is going to struggle a bit after losing Isaiah Whitehead and it’s hard to say if Xavier can sustain its hot start with so many young pieces, but it’s easier to imagine St. John’s, Butler, Providence and Georgetown sustaining hot starts because of their veteran all-conference selections.

3. Seton Hall takes a hard fall down the standings

Without Isaiah Whitehead, the Pirates lose another shot creator and that could spell significant trouble for the Pirates. Seton Hall starts the conference season by hosting the two best teams in the league — Villanova and St. John’s — and they only own one legitimate win over George Washington. Sterling Gibbs has that 40-point outing against Illinois State but hasn’t scored above 19 the rest of the season and senior Brandon Mobley is also prone to inconsistent play. With a deeper Big East and an uncertain lineup without Whitehead, that could spell trouble.


NCAA: Villanova, St. John’s, Butler, Providence, Georgetown

NIT: Xavier, Seton Hall, Creighton

NO POSTSEASON: Marquette, DePaul

Arizona State extends Hurley through 2025-26 season

Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State has agreed to a contract extension with men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley that runs through the 2025-26 season.

The deal announced on Tuesday is subject to approval by the Arizona Board of Regents. Hurley’s previous contract was set to expire after next season.

“Coach Hurley has made our program relevant nationally with many significant wins and an exciting style, along with a firm commitment to the academic success of our student-athletes,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a statement. “He has made it clear to us that he wants to be here and we have done likewise with him. We share a strong confidence in the present and future state of Sun Devil men’s basketball.”

Hurley led the Sun Devils to 23 wins this season and their third trip to the NCAA Tournament the last five times it has been played. Arizona State beat Nevada in the First Four before losing to Texas Christian on a last-second shot last Friday.

The Sun Devils have won at least 20 games four of the past six seasons. They are 141-113 in eight seasons under Hurley.

Campbell new TCU women’s coach after taking Sac St to NCAA

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

FORT WORTH, Texas – Mark Campbell was hired as TCU’s women’s basketball coach Tuesday after the former Oregon assistant took Sacramento State to its first NCAA Tournament in an impressive and quick turnaround.

Sacramento State was coming off a 3-22 season when Campbell was hired two years ago. The Hornets won 14 games in Campbell’s first season, and then made another 11-win improvement this season while finishing 25-8 with Big Sky regular-season and tournament championships.

During his seven seasons on Oregon’s staff before that, the Ducks had some of the nation’s top recruiting classes. That included Campbell recruiting Sabrina Ionescu, who became the AP player of the year in 2020 before she was the first overall pick in the WNBA draft.

Campbell replaces Raegan Pebley, who stepped down after nine seasons as TCU’s coach with a 141-138 record. The Horned Frogs were 8-23 this season, including 1-17 in Big 12 play during the regular season.

TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati described Campbell as an elite recruiter and program builder.

“Similar to his success at Sacramento State, he was instrumental in Oregon quickly becoming one of the nation’s most successful programs, reaching their first NCAA Elite Eight and then Final Four,” Donati said.

The Frogs haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010. That was their ninth NCAA appearance, all coming in a 10-season span without making it past the second round.

Boston College extends Earl Grant through 2028-29 season

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – Boston College coach Earl Grant has agreed to a two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the 2028-29 season.

Grant took over as Eagles coach prior to the 2021-22 season and finished 13-20. Boston College went 16-17 this past season, but it had three wins over nationally ranked teams for the first time in 14 years.

“My family and I have enjoyed being a part of this amazing community,” Grant said in a statement. “Boston is a great city and we are glad to call it our home. I am thankful for the efforts of my staff to help move the program forward.”

The Eagles finished 9-11 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, their most wins in the league play since 2010-11. Quinten Post also became the first Boston College player to be named Most Improved Player.

In announcing the extension, athletic director Blake James expressed optimism about the direction of the program.

“Earl has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program over the last two seasons and we are looking forward to him doing so for many years to come,” James said.

Pitino returns to big stage at St. John’s: ‘I’ve earned it’

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK – The video banner above the entrance to Madison Square Garden on Tuesday read: “Welcome Rick Pitino.”

More like welcome back for the new St. John’s coach.

Back to The Garden, where he once coached the Knicks.

Back to the Big East, the conference that launched his stardom and where he won his last NCAA championship.

Back to big-time college basketball after a series of scandals made it seem as if that part of his career was over.

“So, when I went to Iona, I said that Iona was going to be my last job,” Pitino said at his introductory news conference at MSG. “And the reason I said that is who’s going to hire a 70-year-old ? No matter how much I think I’m Peter Pan, who’s going hire a 70-year-old?”

St. John’s gave the Hall of Famer a six-year contract to turn back the clock on a program that once stole New York City tabloid headlines away from the Knicks in the 1980s under coach Lou Carnesecca but has been mired in mediocrity for more than two decades.

The Red Storm once played most of their biggest home games at The Garden. Pitino said the goal is to have all their Big East games played there going forward.

“Lou built a legendary program. Legendary,” Pitino said. “I’m all in with everything that St. John stands for. I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to get started.

“And it’s going to start with a culture of work.”

Pitino, who was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island, has won 832 games in 34 full seasons as a college head coach, including NCAA championships at Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013.

The title at Louisville was vacated for NCAA violations, and another NCAA case related to the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting led to Pitino being fired by Louisville in 2017.

The final ruling from the NCAA’s outside enforcement arm on the FBI case came down in November and exonerated Pitino.

There was also a criminal extortion case in which Pitino was the victim during his time at Louisville that revealed personal indiscretions.

“Well, it doesn’t matter what you believe, what you don’t believe,” Pitino said. “The one thing all my players have said, because they all wrote letters for me: I’ve never cheated the game. I never gave a player anything that he didn’t deserve in life.”

St. John’s president, the Rev. Brian Shanley, said the decision to hire Pitino was his call.

“Yeah, sure, there’s some reputational risk because of things that have happened before, but I think Rick is at a point in his life where he’s learned from things that have happened in the past,” Shanley told The Associated Press. “I think he’d be the first one to tell you he’s done things that he regrets. Who doesn’t when you get to be that age? I know I have. I’m a believer in forgiveness and new beginnings as a priest, and I think Rick’s going to do a great job for St. John’s.”

Carnesecca, 98 and getting around with the help of a walker these days, sat in the front row of Pitino’s news conference.

“I think it’s a home run with the bases loaded,” Carnesecca said.

Carnesecca was one of the Big East’s brightest coaching stars, along with Georgetown’s John Thompson and Villanova’s Rollie Massimino, when Pitino became Providence head coach in 1985 at the age of 32.

Thirty-eight years later, Pitino’s Providence ties helped him land at St. John’s after three seasons at Iona, a small Catholic school in New Rochelle, just north of New York City.

Shanley previously was the president of Providence. He helped turn around a lagging men’s basketball program by hiring coach Ed Cooley and investing in facilities upgrades.

“If I wasn’t a Providence Friar, he would have never even considered it,” Pitino said.

Shanley attempted to lure Pitino away from Louisville and back to Providence years ago, but he didn’t know much about the coach personally back then. He said he talked to a lot of people about Pitino this time around.

“I’d say my behind-the-scenes wisdom person was Mike Tranghese, the former commissioner of the Big East,” Shanley said. “He got me Ed Cooley last time, and I think we came out pretty well this time, too.”

Cooley was hired by Georgetown on Monday.

Pitino said he’s bringing his entire staff with him from Iona, which announced the hiring of Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson to replace Pitino earlier in the day.

Pitino will try to become the first coach to take six different schools to the NCAA Tournament as he gets one more shot on the big stage.

“I deserve it,” he said, “because I’ve earned it.”

Tobin Anderson leaving FDU to replace Rick Pitino at Iona

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Tobin Anderson is leaving NCAA Cinderella Fairleigh Dickinson after one fairy-tale season and replacing Rick Pitino at Iona.

Iona athletic director Matt Glovaski announced the hiring a day after Pitino left to take the job at St. John’s of the Big East Conference.

Anderson led the No. 16 seed Knights to a win over No. 1 Purdue in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last week, only the second time a No. 16 seed has knocked off a top-seeded team. UMBC beat No. 1 Virginia in 2018.

“Iona University represents everything my family and I were looking for in a school, a basketball program and a campus atmosphere,” Anderson said in a statement. “Our goal is to build upon the tremendous tradition of Iona basketball and elevate the program to greater heights.”

Iona of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference was knocked out of this year’s tournament by UConn on Friday.

“We have long known him to be a fantastic coach and an even better person,” Glovaski said. “Now, with his team’s impressive run in the NCAA Tournament, everyone paying attention to March Madness also knows this. We’re delighted that he will be at the helm of our men’s basketball program.”

Anderson led FDU to a 21-16 overall record and 10-6 in Northeast Conference play. The Knights lost to Merrimack in the conference title game but got the NCAA berth because Merrimack was ineligible to compete as a transitioning school from Division II.

FDU, one of the shorter teams in the 68-team field, beat Texas Southern in a First Four game and followed that with the upset over Purdue. Florida Atlantic knocked the Knights out of the tournament on Sunday.

FDU had a 4-22 record in 2021-22. Anderson was hired after running the program at St. Thomas Aquinas, located less than 25 miles (40 km) from Iona’s campus. In nine seasons, he turned the team into a perennial Top 25 program in Division II after inheriting a team that won just five games prior to his hire.

Anderson got his first taste of Division I coaching, serving as an assistant at Siena for two seasons from 2011–2013. Before his time at Siena, Anderson was a head coach at the Division III level at Hamilton College and Clarkson University in upstate New York. He worked as an assistant at Clarkson and Le Moyne College.

Anderson graduated from Wesleyan University in 1995.