Big East Conference Preview (Part One)

Big East Conference Preview (Part One)
Oct 24, 2005, 01:17 am
Projected order of finish

1-5. Check back Wednesday
6-10. Check back Tuesday
11. Depaul
12. Marquette
13. Providence
14. St. John’s
15. Seton Hall
16. South Florida

One of the disadvantages of the new Big East might just be the inequality between the top and the bottom of a 16-team league. In addition to the schedule irregularities, there is a giant gulf between Connecticut and South Florida as the best and worst teams in the conference. For the most part, we see talented but young teams in the bottom half of the conference. Depaul, Marquette, Providence and St. John's certainly fit that description. All three will struggle at times this season, but the fans certainly have reason to be optimistic for the future. Given Tom Crean's excellent recruiting class and the return of several key contributors, the Golden Eages must be given the preseason edge to jump out of this group. Things really get ugly at the bottom, where Seton Hall and South Florida will have to do their best just to not get embarrassed on a nightly basis.

I would like to thank the good people over at the Big East Basketball Report for some much appreciated collaboration on this article. You won't find a better source for Big East hoops on the internet, so make sure to check them out on a regular basis.


2005 Record: (20-11, 10-6)
Postseason: NIT, lost to Texas A&M in 2nd round
Head Coach: Jerry Wainwright

Key Losses:

SG Drake Diener (14.2 ppg)
SG LeVar Seals (7.6 ppg)
F Quemont Grier (18.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg)
PF Jamal Nichols (3.5 ppg)

G Jabari Currie, Detroit, MI
SG Rashad Woods, Westbury, TX
SF Karron Clarke, so, transfer from Miami
F Wilson Chandler, Benton Harbor, MI

PG – 6’2 Cliff Clinkscales, so
SG – 6’6 Sammy Mejia, jr
SF – 6’6 Karron Clarke, so
PF – 6’7 Wilson Chandler, fr
C – 6’9 Marlon Brumfield, sr

G – Jabari Currie, fr
SG – 6’4 Draelon Burns, so
SG – 6’5 Rashad Woods, fr
F – 6’7 Marcus Heard, so
C – 6’8 Lorenzo Thompson, jr
C – 6’9 Wesley Green, so

Things look dramatically different than they did a year ago at DePaul. Dave Leitao jumped ship at his first opportunity, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the fan base. It didn’t help that his team folded over the second half of conference play, letting a likely NCAA Tournament spot slip away. Senior scoring leaders Quemont Greer and Drake Diener are gone, leaving an inconsistent Sammy Mejia as the number one option and a bunch of talented youngsters to support him. The DePaul administration bounced back nicely with the hiring of Jerry Wainwright, who will put an emphasis on toughness and defense – things have been lacking in the Blue Demon program for what seems like years now. The move to the Big East is going to be a rough one. This team probably would have taken its lumps in the old C-USA, let alone the most powerful conference in the country. Nonetheless, there is a lot of young talent here. Even if this is a losing season for the Blue Demons, it should be fun to watch this team come together.

Sammy Mejia (11.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.3 apg) is a versatile, athletic combo guard that will play the role of leading scorer this season. Mejia has the potential to be spectacular, but really struggled with consistency early in his career. What is clear is that there aren’t many guards as shifty, creative, and versatile at Mejia’s 6’6. Mejia will need to improve his long range shooting before he can be called a legitimate Big East first option. He will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore PG Cliff Clinkscales, a speedburner that knows how to run a team. Clinkscales has issues shooting it from anywhere, and he must improve on his 32% field goal percentage from a year ago.

There is plenty of depth here, and it starts with promising combo guard Jabari Currie, a freshman, and sophomore wing Draelon Burns (3.4 ppg). Currie can do a lot of things well and is ready to play early. Burns showed a lot of potential as a freshman and should develop a niche as a scorer on this team. Karron Clarke, a transfer from Miami, has the inside track on the starting small forward job. Clarke could have been on the verge of big things with the Hurricanes, and will bring toughness and athleticism to Wainwright’s perimeter attack. Also factoring in is touted freshman wing Rashad Woods.

The frontcourt isn’t going to win games by itself, and its goal will be to put up enough of a fight that the backcourt can do its job. The most intriguing name here is newcomer Wilson Chandler. Chandler, a super athletic combo forward, was Mr. Basketball in his home state of Michigan a year ago. He may start from day one at the power forward spot, though eventually expect to see him on the perimeter a lot more. The other frontcourt options are your typical back-to-the-basket bruisers. Senior Marlon Brumfield (4.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is the most accomplished. Backing him up at Center will be junior Lorenzo Thompson (3.1 ppg). Both players weigh in at 260 pounds. Also factoring into the frontcourt rotation could be the promising yet raw Wesley Green, and combo forward Marcus Heard.

The future of this program looks bright. The coaching change went off without a hitch, and Wainwright was able to both keep any current players from transferring and keep Leitao’s recruiting class intact. Players like Mejia, Currie, and Chandler are definitely capable of shining in this new conference. Jerry Wainwright and his no-nonsense approach might just be perfect for this young and talented group of players. Expect DePaul to be successful against the lower half of the division, and perhaps steal a game or two from the more established programs.

Recruiting Update: Wainright needs to pick up a few big bodies, but doesn’t look to have much on the horizon in terms of long term commitments in that regard. He will gain the services of 7-foot Temple transfer Keith Butler for a season. He did win the battle for highly regarded PG Will Walker, but lost out on both Devan Bawinkle and Desean Butler, both wings, to West Virginia earlier this month. A couple of other possibilities include combo forward Thinjin Moses and the recently de-committed wing Will Harris.


2005 Record: (19-12, 7-9)
Postseason: NIT, lost to Western Michigan in 1st round
Head Coach: Tom Crean

Key Losses:

PG Travis Diener (19.7 ppg, 7.0 apg)
SF Dameon Mason (11.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
SF Todd Townsend (5.9 ppg)
PF Marcus Jackson (3.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg)

5’10 PG Dominic James, Richmond, IN
6’3 SG Jerel McNeal, Country Club Hills, IL
6’5 SG Wesley Matthews, Madison, WI
6’6 SF Matt Mortensen, Provo, UT
6’9 SF Dan Fitzgerald, jr, transfer from Tulane
6’7 PF Jamil Lott, jr, North Dakota Schol of Science
6’8 PF Dwight Burke, St Bennedict’s (NJ) Prep

PG – 5’10 PG Dominic James, fr
SG – 6’3 Jerel McNeal, fr
SF – 6’10 Steve Novak, sr
PF – 6’7 Jamil Lott, jr
C – 6’8 Ryan Amoroso, so

SG – 6’5 Wesley Matthews, fr
SG – 6’4 Joe Chapman, sr
SF – 6’9 Dan Fitzgerald, jr
C – 6’10 Ousmane Barro, so
C – 6’10 Chris Grimm, sr

When Tom Crean guided Marquette to the final four three seasons ago, many people expected that season to mark the beginning of great things for the Golden Eagle program. Unfortunately, things don’t always go as planned. Dwayne Wade jumped to the NBA, and while Crean has coached his share of formidable individual players since then, the Eagles haven’t been able to reach the bar that the final four appearance set. With Travis Diener graduated, the move to the Big East, and a formidable recruiting class coming in, a new era of Marquette hoops begins. Last season’s injury plagued and generally mediocre effort ended with key wing Dameon Mason's decision to transfer, and leaves this year’s squad a bit short on experience. Shooting specialist Steve Novak must diversify his game and become a more consistent producer, but is somewhat of a rarity with his combination of height and shooting ability. The freshman class is led by three highly regarded freshman guards, the most prominent being Diener’s heir-apparent at PG, Dominic James. Other players, such as Tulane transfer Dan Fitzgerald, junior college transfer Jamil Lott, and promising sophomore Ryan Amaroso, will fight to carve out roles. With all the youth, it could be a tough transition year for Tom Crean. Nonetheless, there is quite a bit of talent amongst all the new faces. This season will be one of learning on the job and overall team growth, but the Golden Eagles should be a fun team to watch and very competitive on many nights.

This team’s roster is very deep and unsettled, and key roles are still being defined. One area that isn’t up in the air is the point guard spot, recently vacated by the graduation of star and local legend Travis Diener. Crean recruited Indiana native Dominic James to replace him, and the freshman appears to be up to the task. He is an incredible athlete, capable of getting into the lane and playing above the rim with the type of ease that Diener never matched. As far as getting shooters like Novak open looks, he might even be an improvement. Freshman point guards always take their lumps in the Big East, but James is as ready as you could expect a newcomer to be. The backup spot is a bit of an issue, as there are no other true point guards on the roster. Always willing to get creative with the ball-handling duties, Crean may turn things over to Tulane transfer Dan Fitzgerald when James is shaken or taking a breather. Fitzgerald measures in at 6’9 and didn’t exactly set the world on fire in C-USA, but Crean has been raving about him the entire off-season. Expect Fitzgerald to play a major role on this team, whether it is giving James a five minute break at the point, or using his size and skill as a jump shooter on the wing.

The proven commodity here is senior Steve Novak (13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg) who will always be remembered for his ridiculous NCAA tourney shooting display against Missouri as a freshman. Much like the Marquette program as a whole, stardom seemed to be in the cards for the lanky shooter, but Novak has yet to fulfill those expectations. You might not see a more pure stroke in the entire country, but Novak’s size tends to go to waste when he floats around the perimeter waiting for open looks. He could be a much bigger factor off of the dribble, and in the paint as a rebounder. You could also make the case that Novak has been a bit underutilized over the past few seasons. Any chance of Marquette putting in a successful inaugural Big East season rides on Novak developing into that all-around star that he clearly has the potential to be.

The rest of the minutes in the backcourt should be split between freshmen Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews, as well as senior Joe Chapman (8.1 ppg). Another holdover from the final four team, Chapman played a much bigger role on last year’s team. While he will never be more than a role-player, his experience will be invaluable when the freshman that will be relied upon so much get the jitters. Of the two touted freshmen, McNeal appears the more ready to contribute right away. He is tough and aggressive, and should emerge as a feared perimeter defender before too long. Matthews is a smooth all-around scorer, and will be counted on to play a big role this season as well. Both freshmen suffered injuries during the first week of practice. McNeal has a high ankle sprain and may miss some time, but Matthews’ injury is considered minor.

The frontcourt is also full of interesting, yet unproven options. Sophomore Ryan Amoroso (6.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg) had a promising freshman season, displaying a fundamental understanding of how to score in the post, and very nice touch on his outside jumper. While Amoroso is thick-bodied enough to play center, he is also mobile enough to operate on the perimeter. Junior college transfer Jamil Lott could be the other starter in the paint. He capable of scoring on the low block, and has long enough arms to be a factor as a shot blocker.

There are several other players fighting for minutes in the frontcourt. Sophomore Ousmane Barro (2.0 ppg) was very raw as a freshman, but flashed tremendous potential. If his skill ever catches up to his impressive size, he will be a very good player. Also back is senior Chris Grimm, used mostly as a space eater in the key. Senior Mike Kinsella didn’t get much of a chance in his first season out of junior college, and is still sidelined due to an injury he suffered this summer. Freshman Dwight Burke is even further down the depth chart.

This is one of the tougher teams to figure out in the new Big East. Crean’s program has gone through a rough couple of seasons, though it hasn’t been for a lack of talent. Last season the team just never clicked offensively, and Diener’s season-ending injury was only the final nail in a coffin that had already been built. This year’s roster has all sorts of new faces, but the competition level will be a dramatic increase. There is plenty of talent here and Golden Eagle fans have a right to be excited about the future. If Marquette were to gel as a team and make a run at .500 in the Big East, Crean will have managed a very impressive coaching feat.

Recruiting Update: With the number of players that just entered the program, recruiting isn’t a major issue at the moment. Crean does have commitments from two more wings for 2006. Lazar Haywood is an athletic shooter that was fought over by numerous Big East programs. Anthony Green committed over a year ago. It looks as though Crean would like to add a big man to the class as well. Coveted combo forward Jonathan Mitchell picked Florida over Marquette, and 7-footer Chas McFarland recently visited.


2005 Record: (14-17, 4-12)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Tim Welsh

Key Losses:

G Gerald Brown (7.1 ppg)
PF Ryan Gomes (21.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg)
PF Tuukka Kotti (9.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

5’10 PG Sharaud Curry, Gainesville, GA
6’5 SG Weyinmi Efejuku, Brewster (NH) Academy
6’7 SF Geoff McDermott, New Rochelle, NY
6’8 PF Jonathan Kale, Mattapan, MA

PG – 6’4 Donnie McGrath, sr
SG – 5’10 Sharaud Curry, fr
SG – 6’5 Dwight Brewington, jr
PF– 6’7 DeSean White, so
C – 6’11 Randall Hanke, so

SG – 6’5 Weyinmi Efejuku, fr
SF – 6’6 Charlie Burch, so
F – 6’7 Geoff McDermott, fr
PF – 6’8 Jonathan Kale, fr
PF – 6’10 Herbert Hill, jr

It’s tough to justify what happened last year in Providence. Ryan Gomes was one of the top players in the nation, and there were enough proven veterans for the Friars to compete as a middle of the pack Big East team. Unfortunately, this team couldn’t put together a close win, losing heartbreaker after heartbreaker. The efforts of Gomes, a true rags to riches college basketball success story, ended up going to waste in his final season on campus. With Gomes gone, the Providence program has a lot to prove. If Tim Welsh couldn’t win games with one of the more productive players in the nation, what can he possibly do with this group of role-players and youngsters? Given the fact that last year’s team wasn’t nearly as bad as the record indicated, there might be some hope. Sometimes, a team can come together a bit better with the loss of a star. Upperclassmen Donnie McGrath and Dwight Brewington will be responsible for the majority of the scoring, and Welsh must figure out which of his promising big men deserve to play big minutes. Depth is a major issue here, as three players expected to get increased roles this year transferred out. Though it is not as if the cupboard is bare, last season did a lot to erase some of the optimism that had been building up in the Friar program. A bottom four finish is a distinct possibility.

Point guard Donnie McGrath (9.7 ppg) and shooting guard Dwight Brewington (13.3 ppg) are the two major producing returnees, and that could be both good and bad at this point. McGrath brings a lot to the table in terms of experience, running a team, and getting people scoring chances. However, he must do more on the offensive end beyond shooting 3-pointers. Somehow, all but 18 of McGrath’s made field goals came from outside the arc last year, and he shot just 43 free throws. Brewington, one of the best stories in college basketball because of the way he’s overcome his hearing problems, is an athletic wing with some scoring pop, but consistency remains an issue for him.

The backcourt might be in trouble if an injury were to take place, as guards Gerald Brown and Rob McIver have transferred out of the program. The two backup guards in the program this year are both freshmen. Sharaud Curry will have to give McGrath a breather from time to time, and actually spent a lot of time playing next to the senior in the opening season intrasquad scrimmage. Weyinmi Efejuku is a well-rounded, polished guard capable of playing both guard spots. The lack of true guards may force Welsh to go big once again. Sophomore combo forward Charlie Burch is an option.

The player most likely to start at PF is combo DeSean White (5.5 ppg), who was productive in his first season on campus. He is a skilled, bulky post player with some bounce to his step, and has been compared to the player he will replace, Ryan Gomes. Also in the mix as a combo forward is promising freshman Geoff McDermott, who chose the Friars and the chance for immediate playing time over interest from several other major programs. McDermott, a blue collar athlete, has been lauded for his intensity and physical tendencies.

Welsh has quite a stable of young big men to work with. While there is little proven production, there are a lot of options. In addition to White and McDermott, Welsh also has consensus top 100 power forward Jonathan Kale coming in. An AAU sensation last summer, Kale could make an immediate impact. There are also two shot blocking types to man the middle of Welsh’s zone. Slender sophomore Randall Hanke (6.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) became a major factor down the stretch last season, and should be the opening day starter at center. Hanke put up some impressive numbers, including shooting 72% from the field, blocking 62 shots, and scoring in double figures in five of his last six games. Also in the mix is the athletic Herbert Hill (4.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who showed flashes in a few big performances last year.

Not all is lost at Providence, but it is hard to get too optimistic about this team’s chances. McGrath and Brewington are the beginnings of a serviceable backcourt, but neither has proven they can be the type of impact player that this young team needs. Depth is a big issue in the backcourt, and any injury to one of the guards would be a serious blow. Welsh always manages to recruit a diamond in the rough or two, and there are certainly a couple of them in the frontcourt this year. Nonetheless, it is probably going to take a year before this team can come into its own. Welsh may have to start answering questions about his job if the Friars put in a second straight dismal season.

Recruiting Update: It is never easy to get top-flight talent to consider Providence, but Welsh has always managed to find talent in unlikely places. With last year’s ugly record, it might be even tougher for him this time around. PG Corey Lowe could be a 2006 sleeper, but it’s unclear who else ends up as a member of the Friars’ 2006 class. Combo forward Ben Eaves recently visited, but his stock is taking off and the bigger fish may be lurking.

St. John’s

2005 Record: (9-18, 3-13)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Norm Roberts

Key Losses:


6’5 SG Ricky Torres, Bronx, NY
6’6 SF Anthony Mason Jr, Memphis, TN
6’9 PF Aaron Spears, jr, Highland (KS) CC
6’11 C Tomas Jasiulionis, Richmond, VA

PG –6’1 Eugene Lawrence, so
SG –6’0 Daryll Hill, jr
SF – 6’6 Anthony Mason Jr, fr
PF – 6’9 Lamont Hamilton, jr
C – 6’9 Aaron Spears, jr

G – 6’2 Cedric Jackson, so
SG – 6’5 Jermaine Maybank, jr
SG – 6’5 Ricky Torres, fr
SF – 6’5 Ryan Williams, sr
PF – 6’6 Dexter Gray, so
C – 6’11 Tomas Jasiulionis, fr

Norm Roberts took one of the toughest jobs in America last season, not only because of how far the talent level of the St. John’s program had deteriorated, but also because of the high expectations of the fan base. Talented yet inexperienced players like Daryll Hill and Lamont Hamilton were forced to try and carry a team when they weren’t ready yet, while Roberts’ emergency recruits simply tried to keep their heads above water. Last season was a painful growing experience for everybody on the roster, but the Red Men certainly weren’t embarrassed most nights. They played the tough style that Roberts is trying to infuse in the program, and that should carry over into this season. Roberts managed to reel in a recruiting class that might not be up to the Red Storm standards of old, but is certainly a step in the right direction. In terms of size and skill, Roberts has a lot more to work with than he did a season ago. St. John’s remains young and still a bit overmatched, but not nearly to the extreme of last season. With several really bad teams at the bottom of the conference to pick on, the Red Storm should be able to climb out of the bottom two this year.

The conference’s third leading scorer last season and top returnee, Daryll Hill (20.7 ppg, 3.5 apg) bought into Norm Roberts’ system and developed into one of the conference’s better players. No, he probably wouldn’t have scored 20 points per game if he had played on a better team. Nonetheless, he is electric off of the dribble, and underrated as a defender. While there will be many new options on offense, Roberts will still probably give Hill free reign to shoot as often as possible. Hill can play both guard spots, and will spend a lot of time teaming with sophomore point guard Eugene Lawrence (7.1 ppg, 3.8 apg), who will play more under control and is developing a reputation as a defensive specialist.

Junior Jermaine Maybank actually transferred from Junior College last season, but tore up his knee in a preseason practice and missed the entire season. He is still developing the polish necessary to be a scoring wing at the Big East level, but has the size, athleticism, and instincts to make an instant impact. Whether Roberts starts Lawrence and Hill or Hill and Maybank, you can count on Maybank to get a lot of playing time early. The other factors on the wing will be sophomore Cedric Jackson (4.1 ppg), and freshmen Ricky Torres and Anthony Mason Jr. Mason Jr may have the inside track to start at the three. Mason has much of the talent of his father, the former NBA power forward of the same name, but as of right now is more of a sleek athlete type than feisty bruiser. Torres was Roberts’ first major recruiting victory, as the promising scorer was recruited by numerous Big East programs.

Big man Lamont Hamilton (13.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg) will once again anchor the frontcourt, after a breakout sophomore season. He is athletic and long enough to be a presence around the basket, and may improve on his 2005 numbers. Hamilton will actually get some help this year as well. Junior college transfer Aaron Spears played his freshman season at Illinois, and has the bulk to help out right away. Joining him will be 6’11 import Tomas Jasiulionis, who got some experience on his native Lithuania’s U-20 national team this summer. Also around will be sophomore Dexter Gray (6.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg), who plays much bigger than his listed size.

This team still needs time to come together, but is certainly headed in the right direction. The newcomers won’t be stars right away, but several are ready to play, and will more importantly help with depth. Daryll Hill won’t have to play 38 minutes per game this year, which is significant considering how the Red Storm struggled in close games last season. Roberts’ club is still probably in the bottom tier of the conference, but one can reasonably expect the Red Storm to significantly improve on last season’s win totals. A season from now, look for this team to be legitimately competitive in Big East play.

Recruiting Update: Roberts has immediately upgraded Red Storm recruiting, although that isn't hard to do when you are taking over for Mike Jarvis. There are two very impressive prospects signed on for 2006. Top 50 PG Doug Wiggins had a dominant summer, and is a legitimate top 50 recruit. Forward Qa'rraan Calhoun is a household name, and will be an imeddiate contributor if academics don't trip him up. Roberts has missed out on several other targets and hasn't landed his first home run recruit yet, but it's obvious that the talent level in this program is continuing to rise.

Seton Hall

2005 Record: (12-16, 4-12)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Louis Orr

Key Losses:

PG Justin Cerasoli (6.2 ppg)
SG JR Morris (10.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
SF John Allen (11.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
F Andre Sweet (8.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

5’11 PG Carl Marshall, jr, Indian Hills (IA) CC
5’11 SG Paul Gause, Pittsgrove, NJ
6’7 F Stan Gaines, jr, transfer from Minnesota
6’8 F Mike Pilgrim, so, transfer from Cincinnati
6’9 PF David Palmer, Oak Hill (Va) Academy
6’9 C John Garcia, Bayshore, NJ

PG – 5’10 Donald Copeland, sr
SG – 6’2 Jamar Nutter, jr
SF – 6’5 Brian Laing, so
PF – 6’8 Kelly Whitney, sr
C – 6’10 Grant Billmeier

PG – 5’11 Carl Marshall, jr
G – 5’11 Paul Gause, fr
F – 6’8 Mike Pilgrim, so
F – 6’7 Stan Gaines, jr
C – 6’9 John Garcia, fr

People were prepared to see Seton Hall to a backward step last season. After all, star point guard Andre Barrett had just graduated. However, nobody expected to see the type of complete collapse that took place. Wings JR Morris and Andre Allen never developed into the go-to scorers they should have become, and talented freshman Justin Cerasoli openly feuded with the coaching staff. Transfer rumors became run of the mill, and it looked as though Louis Orr had lost control of his program. While only Cerasoli ended up jumping ship, the remains of a program that was very competitive just two seasons ago probably isn’t going to win many games this year. The team is young, inexperienced, and has a coach that is being pressured to turn things around now. There will undoubtedly be some bright spots, but this team will be in a dogfight just to win a few games and avoid the conference cellar. There isn’t much silver lining here at all.

Justin Cerasoli was expected to be the face of Seton Hall for the next three years as the team’s floor general and star. Things didn’t work out, as Cerasoli struggled through an inconsistent freshman campaign and transferred to Mississippi over the summer. While it is never good to have a disruptive presence in the locker room, his loss hurts. The backcourt is paper thin, and lacking in size. Senior Donald Copeland (6.9 ppg, 2.4 apg) was actually the most stable point guard presence a year ago, and will enter the season as the unquestioned starter. He will provide stability, experience, and consistency to a team that desperately needs it. Late signee Carl Marshall, a junior college transfer that played his freshman season at Baylor, will be counted on for the backup minutes.

Orr is in desperate need of some proven production from his wings, a collection of transfers and little-known newcomers. Last season’s tandem of JR Morris and John Allen was an unequivocal disappointment, but both still managed to average double figures. Sophomore Brian Laing (2.8 ppg) probably gets the first crack at starter’s minutes, and is the type of athlete that Orr needs to have on the floor. He will be joined by combo guard Jamar Nutter (4.3 ppg), who nearly joined Cerasoli in transferring during the off-season. Nutter is capable of handling the ball, but definitely has a scoring mentality. Also in the mix is undersized freshman scorer Paul Gause, who was a local prep star and has impressed in preseason practice.

Two transfers also figure into the mix at the swing positions. Stanley Gaines played his first two seasons at Minnesota, contributing as a hard-nosed, blue collar presence around the basket. Gaines will be a major contributor this season, but is certainly stuck between the wing and power forward positions. Also eligible is former Cincinnati swingman Mike Pilgrim, an impressive athlete with a sweet perimeter touch. While he can shoot from the outside, the rest of Pilgrim’s game is a work in progress.

Down low, senior Kelly Whitney (11.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg) hopes to rebound from his toughest season as a Pirate. He has the natural talent to be a star, but lost focus last season with all the locker room drama. Orr needs him to step up and become the on-court leader of this team. Double digit scorer Andre Sweet has graduated, and the players surrounding Whitney will be quite green. Junior Grant Billmeier has put on weight and made some strides last season as a shot blocker and scorer. Billmeier could be the open night starter at center, and really needs to draw some of the attention that will attempt to focus on Whitney all season.

Sophomore Marcus Cousin didn’t play much last season, but showed flashes of great shot blocking and rebounding ability. Cousin could push Billmeier for the starting center job. Also available will be junior power forward Mani Messey and freshmen John Garcia, considered a top 100 recruit nationally, and Oak Hill big man David Palmer.

After last spring’s meltdown, Pirate fans are bracing themselves for a rough season. There are reasons to be optimistic, but Orr would have to get shocking improvement from several players for these to turn into actual on-court wins. It’s looking like the end of the line for Orr, as his job is on the line and he can’t really recruit with the possibility that he might not be back next fall. Only former C-USA doormat South Florida keeps the Pirates out of the preseason cellar.

Recruiting Update: There isn’t much to be done on the recruiting path, as Orr must hope for a rebound season to generate some spring signing interest. Orr does have a commitment from area guard Malcolm Grant, and is in the mix for East coast guards like Earl Pettis, Brian McKenzie, and Ruben Guillandeaux.

South Florida

2005 Record: (14-16, 5-11)
Postseason: None
Head Coach: Robert McCullum

Key Losses:

PG Brian Swift (15.9 ppg, 5.4 apg)
SG Marlyn Bryant (8.0 ppg)
SG Marius Prekevicius (5.7 ppg)
PF Terrence Leather (18.2 ppg, 9.6 ppg)
PF Konimba Diarra

6’1 PG David Sills, jr, College of Southern Idaho
6’2 PG Chris Howard, Lorton, VA
6’6 SF Melvin Buckley, jr, transfer from Purdue
6’6 SF Mattis McHugh, jr, St Petersburg (FL) JC
6’6 F Zaronn Cann, Seffner, FL
6’7 PF Melyvn Richardson, Lon Morris (TX) JC
6’10 C Frane Markusovic, Kent (CT) Prep

PG – 6’1 David Sills, jr
SG – 6’2 James Holmes, sr
SF – 6’2 Collin Dennis, so
PF – 6’6 Melvin Buckley, jr
C – 6’10 Solomon Jones, sr

PG – 6’2 Chris Howard, fr
SF – 6’6 Mattis McHugh, jr
PF – 6’7 Melvyn Richardson, jr
F – 6’6 Zaronn Cann, fr
C – 6’10 Frane Markusovic, fr

All analysis, prognosticating, and roster-digging aside, how is a fairly awful Conference USA team losing three starters and two standout statistical performers supposed to compete in a power conference like the Big East? Robert McCullum may have been able to get by in the C-USA this season without getting embarrassed, but that’s highly unlikely in the new Big East. Gone are Terrence Leather and Brian Swift, both all-conference caliber performers, as well as fellow starter Marlyn Bryant and promising bench scorer Marius Prekevicius. McCullum has brought in a giant recruiting class, but the word giant is describing the number of players coming in, not their talent. Purdue transfer Melvin Buckley is probably the closest thing on this roster to a go-too scorer. In short, it is going to be a long season for the South Florida Bulls.

Gone is Brian Swift, one of the more productive point guards in the C-USA last year. In his place will be a two-man platoon, featuring freshman Chris Howard and the well-traveled David Sills. Sills spent time at three different junior colleges before finally finishing his degree, but contributed at powerhouse College of Southern Idaho two years ago. If McCullum can get him to reign things in on the court, Sills could fill a valuable role for this team.

The Bulls have more experience at the wing, where Purdue transfer Melvin Buckley is expected to step right in and play major minutes. After a decent sophomore season at Purdue, he will bring his length, athleticism, and scoring ability to South Florida. Also on the wings are holdovers Collin Dennis (6.1 ppg), and James Holmes (6.0). Neither has done much to earn their playing time in the last two seasons, but both know the system and will be relied upon that much more this year. If either could develop into a legitimate spot up shooter, things would get more comfortable for everybody on this team. JC transfer Mattis McHugh may also figure into the mix.

As ugly as it looks in the backcourt, the guards might be the strength of this team. Senior center Solomon Jones (6.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is the one returnee. Jones is rail-thin, but contributed as a shot blocker and rebounder in his first season after junior college. From there, it gets ugly. JC transfer Melvyn Richardson comes in with little fanfare, and you can say the same thing about Croatian big man Frane Markusovic. Zaronn Cann is an intriguing freshman with some bullish athleticism, but is undersized and it will take time for him to adjust into a division one contributor.

The C-USA was essentially split into two halves, and the Bulls are the only new Big East team that was in the second, mid-major division. There just haven’t been enough opportunities to take advantage of Big East status on the recruiting path, although McCullum is already making progress in that area for 2006. Thus, McCullum has the toughest job of any Big East coach this season, as not finishing in last place would be a pleasant surprise at this point.

Recruiting Update: McCullum is going to have to build this program up from basically nothing, and needs to find high-caliber kids quickly. He is actually off to a decent start, with commitments from touted combo forward Rob Thomas, the humongous Franklin Jackson, and combo guard Dante Curry. All three have what it takes to compete in the Big East. If the Bulls could land highly recruited big man Jeremy Mayfield, this would be a truly standout class.

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