As longtime followers of the blog know, I do love a roundtable. Coming into Big East play - which starts next week! - there are a lot of teams who have really surpassed expectations... so far. Rutgers is competent. Connecticut is incredible. Louisville's demise has been greatly exaggerated. Providence is winning. And there are teams that have fallen short of lofty goals, like St. John's and to some extent, Marquette.
How will these teams fare against the gauntlet of Big East opponents? It's been a fine start, but the Big East is not forgiving.
I asked some of the Big East basketball bloggers to answer a quintet of questions looking back on their team in the non-conference season and the league, over the same period.
I'll be posting these answers over the next few days, so come back and check out the answers. These folks will likely be posting and tweeting about it. Follow them. Here is the crew - and this time, we have a rep for each of the 16 teams in the league:
Cincinnati Bearcats Blog (Twitter) | Connecticut The UConn Blog (Twitter) | DePaul Chicago College Basketball (Twitter) | Georgetown Casual Hoya (Twitter) | Hoya Prospectus | Louisville UofL Card Game | Marquette Cracked Sidewalks (Twitter) | Notre Dame Rakes of Mallow (Twitter) | Pittsburgh Cardiac Hill (Twitter) | Providence Friar Basketball (Twitter) | Rutgers On the Banks (Twitter) | Seton Hall South Orange Juice (Twitter) | St. John's The East Coast Bias (Twitter) | South Florida Voodoo Five (Twitter) | Villanova Villanova by the Numbers | VUHoops (Twitter) | The Nova Blog (Twitter) | Syracuse Orange::44 (Twitter) | West Virginia The Smoking Musket (Twitter)
And the question for today:
1. What did you expect from your team up to this point, and how has your team exceeded/ fallen short of expectations?
The answers, after the jump.
Bearcats Blog (Twitter) I expected UC to roll through the non-conference season unbeaten, and that's pretty much what has happened. The margin over Dayton was unexpected, but as of now, UC is 10-0. The Bearcats have shut down opposing teams, and have had different guys step up nearly every game. I'll say exceeded right now.
The UConn Blog (Twitter) Well, I don't think anyone quite expected UConn to be No. 4 in the country and unbeaten at this point. The schedule has been Charmin-soft except for the excursion to Maui, but the wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Kentucky were both 1) completely shocking and 2) incredibly promising.
Chicago College Basketball (Twitter) I expected the record to be 7-4, not 5-6, but in the grand scheme of things that's not much different. The really unexpected thing was going 0-3 in the 76 Classic thanks to an 88-66 loss to Cal State Northridge. That's a very bad loss. The team does seem to be rounding into form though and has played more competitive basketball as of late.
Casual Hoya (Twitter) Coming into the season I think all of us in HoyaLand believed this team was good, not great, and that prevailing opinion was justified by a top 20 preseason ranking. But as the season has progressed, Georgetown fans have become very excited for the long-term prospects for this group, primarily because in addition to The Hoya Trinity of guards (Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, and Jason Clark) that we knew would be there, a solid frontcourt has developed as well.
Georgetown has the toughest non-conference schedule of any team in the country, and to be 10-1 at this is pretty remarkable. I mean hey, we can't all play William & Mary or Detroit.
Hoya Prospectus The Hoyas have exceeded expectations in terms of wins, though it's one of those things where close games with Missouri (win) and Temple (loss) could make you feel a whole lot different about the season.
The offense has been exceptional, and the defense mediocre, which is about what I'd figured going into the year. It's a plus that the team hasn't missed Greg Monroe on offense or on the defensive boards yet, and we've won a lot of games on the road against pretty good teams. I suppose it's been a lot of little small things exceeding expectations leading to a record with a win or two more than I thought.
We still have a tough road game at Memphis on the 23rd. That will color the perceptions of our non-conference significantly. If we win, it's a great pre-season. If we lose, I think it ends about as expected.
UofL Card Game: Louisville was doing fine, cranking out eight consecutive wins, taking down NCAA runner-up Butler and 19th-ranked UNLV, along with six patsies, dramatically raising expectations for what Rick Pitino had warned would be a bridge year.
But then UofL slipped off the edge in a shocking 52-46 loss to Drexel, exposing major weaknesses, specifically inept rebounding and lame free throw shooting. Suddenly, the outlook turned dour, forcing lineup changes and a return to basics.
Cracked Sidewalks (Twitter) Fallen short of expectations. We expected at least one win from among Wisconsin, Gonzaga, and Duke. While the casual observer may say "yeah right", we remind readers that MU tied the game with Duke with less than 10 min to go. However, the dispiriting way in which MU allowed itself to be dominated on the offensive glass was frustrating in both the UW and Gonzaga games.
MU has only one remaining chance for a quality non-conference win, a road game against Vanderbilt. A fanbase that built their hope up on Buzz's coaching job last year plus more talent is now revising expectations downward.
Rakes of Mallow (Twitter) We thought Notre Dame had some potential but wasn’t sure how the team would perform over a very decent out-of-conference schedules (Wisconsin, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Georgia, California), so I’d say coming out with only a loss to Kentucky in Louisville to go along with the win over Gonzaga and an Old Spice Classic title is pretty good.
Obviously the Big East road is long and arduous – heck, the Irish’s first three games are against Georgetown, Syracuse and UConn – but this is certainly a fine start to the season for a team losing two big senior leaders in Luke Harangody and Tory Jackson.
Cardiac Hill (Twitter) Pitt was expected to start well, but they had several non-conference challenges this year including Tennessee, Texas, Maryland, and even Rhode Island to a degree. They stand at 11-1 and I think most fans would have taken that considering the schedule. This is a typical Panthers team that doesn't have big-time stars, but its depth is a big reason they're having success.
Friar Basketball (Twitter) Expectations were low in Providence after a 12-19 season and much of the roster being stripped bare after an ugly offseason. With a win over Sacred Heart the Friars will finish their out of conference schedule at 11-2. The competition hasn't been great, but no one saw this coming on a team with so few proven Big East level players and seven freshman.
With two freshmen and two sophomores starting, PC fans are looking for growth more than anything else this season and have seen it, with the exception of step back games against Boston College (a two point loss on the road) and a poor showing versus LaSalle in Cancun.
On the Banks (Twitter) I expected to have lost one more game. Most likely the Miami game. But Rutgers has completely surprised me. They're winning the games they should and for the most part they've blown them out. And the two losses were close losses. So, they're ahead of my expectations for them.
South Orange Juice (Twitter) At this point, I projected the Pirates would be sitting at 8-2 with a split of their final two non-conference games (Home Vs. Dayton, Home Vs. Richmond), to carry a 9-3 record into conference play. Of course, that was my projection accounting for a relatively healthy and behaved Seton Hall squad. Needless to say, the projection hasn't run it's course. Jeremy Hazell broke his wrist in the Pirates third game of the season and his teammates posted a 4-3 record in his absence.
The behaving part? Herb Pope was benched for the first half of their game with Arkansas in Louisville, a neutral court contest that ultimately ended in a loss and Keon Lawrence was benched in Seton Hall's victory over Longwood. Both players were disciplined for missing curfew. Absolutely unacceptable for upperclassmen.
The East Coast Bias (Twitter) I expected a better record for the Red Storm– 5 and 3 is very surprising. More than that, I expected more than one (-and-a-half) dominating performance from the Red Storm. Besides Drake and the second half of the Columbia game, the Johnnies’ defense has really struggled rotating and covering jump shooters. The team was poor at defending outside shots last year. This year, they are far worse AND allow more threes to be taken – a bad combination.
The Storm have exceeded my expectations in how well they have handled the basketball; the point guards look competent, and they can score a little, which is welcome.
Voodoo Five (Twitter) I thought we'd be around 9-3 or 10-2 at this point of the season, so 6-6 isn't where I'd like to be. Our season hinged on how our point guard play, and it's fallen short of where we needed to be.
Orange::44 (Twitter) I expected Syracuse to cruise through the majority of the non-conference season as per usual. While the majority of SU’s opponents are not great, they pepper a few solid teams in and this year was no exception with the highlight being Michigan State. Syracuse has both met and fallen short of expectations.
They are currently undefeated and beat #8 Michigan State big in MSG. I was convinced Syracuse would lose at least one game but they haven’t. However in some instances they have cut it close with far lesser teams. But either way wins are wins and they have all wins which is very good.
Villanova by the Numbers Hoped – Villanova would run the table in their out of conference slate and stay in the top 5 of the national polls going into Big East play.
Expected – Villanova would get nicked once (or twice…) before conference play starts. Probably be a top 10 team going into January.
If the general storyline has unfolded as I expected, a good many details are very different, and that’s why you have to play the games. I thought the staff might experiment more with the back court, specifically starting different combinations of guards alongside Corey Fisher. The staff apparently wants to feature Fisher’s scoring abilities in one-on-one settings and fast breaks, so they have moved him to the off guard spot and turned ball handling responsibilities over the Maalik Wayns (when both play at the same time).
VUHoops (Twitter) I expected that they would be undefeated so far, with an NIT Tip-Off win. They clearly didn't accomplish that, but an easy schedule early has allowed them to get to 9-1 so far. Other than record, I expected a more efficient offensive showing from the Wildcats early on, but it seems like some of those stud guards have taken a step backward that needs to be corrected.
The Nova Blog (Twitter) To be honest, I expected a lot more - so I think it's fair to say that I have been very underwhelmed so far this year. If there was any game we'd lose up to this point, I knew it'd be in the Preseason NIT though. The defense has been superb so far with the exception of the Tennessee game (refs killed both teams by calling over 50 fouls and sending each team to the line countless times) and the LaSalle game (no excuses, just bad D). The offense has been way off lately ,which is concerning.
The Smoking Musket (Twitter) I'm not entirely shocked by the record, so I'd say to this point we are about on par for where I thought we'd be. However, the way we lost to Minnesota (missed free throws) and Miami (blowing a 13-point lead in the second half)) was really frustrating. Nobody expected us to be as good as we were last year after losing Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith.
However, I did think we would see more development out of guys like Dalton Pepper, Dan Jennings, and Deniz Kilicli. So far, it just hasn't been there and as a result we ended up losing a couple games we could have won. Fortunately, there's still a lot of basketball left to be played and Coach Huggins is known for his ability to develop players. So all is not lost.