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BE Bloggers Roundtable (May 2010) Part II: SurpriseTeams

The Big East season is long finished. But the programs play to win the game, and sometimes that simple goal and some good coaching takes a team to higher win totals than anyone outside of the program would have imagined. But of course, sometimes the best laid plans of coaches and recruits sometimes go awry... and we continue to be amazed by them.

Big East basketball logoJust as in Part I, I asked some other bloggers to answer a few questions on this past year's surprise teams in the Big East. Your cohort for this month of questions are:

Cincinnati: Bearcats Blog

Connecticut: TheUConnBlog

DePaul: Blue Demons Nation

DePaul: Chicago College Basketball

Georgetown: Hoya Prospectus

Pittsburgh: Eye of A Panther

Pittsburgh: Pitt Blather

Providence: Friar Basketball

South Florida: Voodoo Five

St. John's: Rumble in the Garden

Syracuse: Orange::44

Villanova: The Nova Blog

Villanova: Villanova by the Numbers

After you're done reading this post, please check out their websites; some very good stuff being covered around the Big East.

I will be posting the answers to these question-by-question; look out for another one tomorrow afternoon. And to feed your inner basketball dope fiend, look out for more roundtables, about once near the end of the month, during the summer. On to the second set of responses. Feel free to post (with credit) and comment. Enjoy, after the jump.

2. Good or bad, who was the most surprising team in the league?
Who Surprised in the League This Year? Good surprise Bad Surprise
Cincinnati: Bearcats Blog Syracuse
Connecticut: TheUConnBlog South Florida
DePaul: Blue Demons Nation Pittsburgh
DePaul: Chicago College Basketball Pittsburgh
Georgetown: Hoya Prospectus Marquette
Pittsburgh: Eye of A Panther Syracuse
Pittsburgh: Pitt Blather Cincinnati
Providence: Friar Basketball Marquette
South Florida: Voodoo Five South Florida Connecticut
St. John's: The East Coast Bias South Florida Cincinnati
Syracuse: Orange::44 Connecticut
Villanova: The Nova Blog Syracuse
Villanova: Villanova by the Numbers Syracuse

As The Nova Blog said about Syracuse, "Nobody saw them coming." Except the Syracuse bloggers, perhaps? Some combination of Wes Johnson and Brandon Triche, along with the losses of Devo/ Flynn/ Harris (and a dedication to defense) made the Orange a formidable team. "Addition by subtraction," as Villanova by the Numbers put it.

South Florida was next on the bloggers' fingers with their 9-9 record, far surpassing anything they had done in the Big East. Marquette and Pittsburgh turned some heads in the positive way as well. Both squads were tagged as having rebuilding years and few go-to players. Can't ever count out excellent coaches.

On the negative side, Connecticut's name came up a number of times. Friar Basketball notes that the "roster had a lot of holes after losing Thabeet, AJ Price, and the underrated Jeff Adrien." Even without those players, Orange::44 comments that "those players should have won more games than they did." It's hard to bet against Calhoun (if one is a betting man or woman), but last year's tumult has to give Connecticut fans some pause.

Cincinnati made a splash in the offseason with the signing of New York high school star Lance Stephenson, but as Pitt Blather notes, they "got worse as the season went along."

The full responses:

Blue Demons Nation: PittsburghJamie Dixon may not get the elite recruits, but the performance of his teams always is among the best in the Big East.

Voodoo Five: Can I say USF? Because it was. UConn was the bad surprise this year.

Friar Basketball: Some may say UConn, but that roster had a lot of holes after losing Thabeet, AJ Price, and the underrated Jeff Adrien. Throw in a leave of absence from Coach Calhoun and it was a trying year in Storrs.

Marquette was the surprise of the Big East though. Not only did they lose James, McNeal, and Matthews, but two highly-rated recruits they were counting on at this time of the year never saw the court. I mistakenly overlooked how talented Lazar Hayward was, but even with Hayward this wasn’t a roster you feared preseason. Buzz Williams continues to prove himself as one of the best young coaches in the country.

Pitt Blather: Bad way: Cinci. They showed promise but got worse as the season went along. Joyless to watch. Then nearly got it together at the end of the season.

Villanova by the Numbers: Syracuse - in a good way - with Pittsburgh and Marquette very close seconds. I always liked Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku, and believed that the departures of Flynn (painful but necessary), Devendorf and Harris would translate into addition by subtraction. But I also believed the March 5 West Virginia/Villanova game would decide the Big East regular season title & settle the #1 and #2 seeds for the Big East Tournament.

I tabbed Syracuse to finish in the second quartile (#5-#8) in the pre-season, expecting a conference record similar to 2009 (11-7). I did not have much faith in Wes Johnson's development, though, nor in Rautins' and Onuaku's ability to expand significantly their offensive presence... wrong on both accounts. While I thought Andy Rautins might have deserved the Big East POY honor (or Da'Sean Butler from West Virginia), the Syracuse squad was a pleasure to watch, and the kind of players that made it easy to root for. I am not a fan of the "What if...?" game, but I have to wonder how much farther the Orange would have gone with a healthy and effective Onuaku in the low post.

Eye of A Panther: I think Pitt was right there, but finished a close second to Syracuse. At the beginning of the season, they were picked by many to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack. Instead, they became a #1 seed and one of the top teams in the country. Jim Boeheim would have had my vote for Coach of the Year and I was amazed at the year they were able to put together.

Chicago College Basketball: In terms of good surprises I think Pittsburgh was the most surprising team in the Big East last season. The Panthers lost a ton of playmakers and Jamie Dixon still managed to put a competitive team on the court and get a double-bye in the Big East Tournament.

Bearcats Blog: Syracuse was the most surprising. I thought they would be middle of the pack, and they took control of the league from the start.

TheUConnBlog: South Florida, for winning nine games and being a respectable representative of the Big East. Good on them for finally joining the league.

Hoya Prospectus: It has to be Pitt or Marquette, right? I suppose Connecticut surprised some people, but that poor season seemed fairly predictable.

Pitt lost a ton of talent in Blair, Young and Fields and still stayed a strong team, if never the Final Four or Big East contender people made them out to be.

But Marquette surprised me more. They have a highly vaunted recruiting class, but I still wouldn't have predicted that level of success. Jimmy Butler really developed, and that combined with some fantastic shooting at times made them a very good team. This was with several of their best recruits being lost to transfer and injury.

Orange::44: I think you have to pick Connecticut as the most surprising team and no, definitely not in a good way. There is no reason with the talent on that team they couldn’t finish in the top 8 of the Big East and at least come close to making the NCAA Tournament. Jim Calhoun or no, those players should have won more games than they did.

Rumble in the Garden: In a good way: South Florida. Pittsburgh is the most obvious choice, but Jamie Dixon’s just that good of a coach; but South Florida has never been that good in conference (and one wonders if they were even that good last year).

Syracuse gets a mention from me here as well.

Cincinnati is the bad surprise, the razor in the Halloween candy. Supposedly personality conflicts may have played a role, and they played like a bunch of guys who didn't have direction or any love for each other. One hates to see a basketball team disintegrate like that...

But besides personalities, I really think the Bearcats had too many guys who needed to shoot, dribble, or otherwise spend some quality alone time with the basketball in their hands. Yancy Gates took 28% of his team's shots in 08-09, and Deonta Vaughn took 24% (Dion Dixon and Larry Davis weren't necessarily shy about putting it up either). Add to that freshman Lance Stephenson, who took a lower percentage of shots (26.2%) than I would have expected, given his role as lord and savior of New York with a high school team built to support his scoring exploits... well, those numbers mean that at least three chuckers would be on the court at all times, and that's not a recipe for success unless everyone else is playing defense while rebounding for, and passing to, said chuckers.

The Nova Blog: Easy pick: Syracuse. Nobody saw them coming. And if you did, what's the deal with this 2012 thing?

They're going to really, really miss Andy Rautins though. I don't think they'll overcome that loss for a few years.