Once again time for the SEC/Big East Challenge. This event started in 2007 and the Big East has the edge with a 16-12 record. Last year they won 8-4. Check out my previews and predictions of Kentucky at Notre Dame and South Carolina at St. Johns.
Coach: John Calipari (3 seasons at Kentucky 102-14) Overall 505-152, 20 years
2011-12: Record 38-2 overall, 16-0 in SEC (1st)
Starters Returning (0)
Preseason Tournament: Barclays Center Classic
Top Non-Conference Games: vs. Duke, at Notre Dame, vs. Baylor, at Louisville
Transfer In : Julius Mays (Wright State – play right away)
Sat Out: Ryan Harrow (NC State), Jon Hood (injured)
Early Departure: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague
Even after winning last year’s National Championship and losing their top six players the Wildcats are still a top 5 team. They just reload; not rebuild. This is John Calipari’s system to just keep on recruiting a bunch of one and dones. Who is going to argue this strategy when you’re winning the title. While he brings in elite players Calipari is one of heck of a coach he gets the most out of his players and they always play hard. For this year once gain he brings in the nation’s best recruiting class. He also adds an impact point guard that sat out last season.
The strength of this Kentucky team will be the frontcourt. Leading the way is the top recruit in the country in Nerlens Noel. Noel is almost the same player that Anthony Davis was minus the offensive skills. He is just a freakish athlete with great length that is a dominant rebounder and shot blocker.For a big man Noel is an excellent passer. He needs to get a little stronger. At power forward will be Kyle Wiltjer (5 ppg), the only real contributor off last year’s team. Even at 6’9” Wiltjer will be the best shooter on this Kentucky team; he shot 43% from three last season. He is highly skilled which allows to have some pretty good post moves. The question is can he defend and rebound? At small forward will be another five star recruit is Alex Poythress. His biggest strength is his explosiveness and athletic ability. What will make him tough to defend is that he is such a versatile scorer; he can score inside and out. He needs to improve his ballhandling. Poythress will remind fans of Terrence Jones. The top option off the bench will be Willie Cauley-Stein another talented freshman. He is basically the same player as Noel a dominant rebounder and shot blocker but offensive game still needs improvement. A problem for Kentucky could be depth here because the really don’t have any other options here.
Leading the Wildcats in the backcourt will be another stud freshman in Archie Goodwin. Goodwin is a flat out scorer. His biggest strength is his ability to attack the rim. He is explosive off the dribble and a freak athlete. He is also pretty good three point shooter. Goodwin also has the knack to get it done on the defense end. Like most freshman he needs to get stronger. Running the point guard duties will be NC State transfer Ryan Horrow, who sat out last season. He averaged 9.3 points pg in his freshman season with NC State. While he is not on the level of Calipari’s last 5 point guards he is still pretty darn good. The top option off the bench will be Wright State transfer Julius Mays. He averaged 14.1 ppg there and shot 42 % from three. Also providing depth will be Jon Hood, Jarrod Polson and Twany Beckhman.
Coach: Mike Brey (12 seasons at Notre Dame 260-132) Overall 359-184, 17 years
2011-12: Record 22-12 overall, 13-5 in Big East (3rd)
Starters Returning (5) Eric Atkins, Scott Martin, Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Jake Cooley
Preseason Tournament: Coaches vs. Cancer
Top Non-Conference Games: vs. Purdue, vs. Kentucky
Transfer Out:Alex Dragicevich (Boston College)
Sat Out: Garrick Sherman (Michigan State)
Not much was expected out of the Irish last season, especially after injuries, but once again Mike Brey did a great coaching job. Over the last two season the Irish are 27-9 in the Big East, but this could be their last year in the conference, as they are headed to the ACC in the future. There is plenty of hype around the Irish mostly because they basically return everyone off last year’s roster including all 5 starters. Brey also brings in a very good recruiting class. The next step for the Irish is to advance deep in the NCAA Tournament.
The strength of the Irish will be in the backcourt with two players that rarely leave the floor . At point guard will be Eric Atkins (12.1 ppg), his running mate will be Jerian Grant (12.3 ppg). Both players are very similar. Both can handle point guard duties, the two combined to average 9 assists per game last season. Both are very good three point shooters and defenders. Grant also can attack the rim more while Atkins has excellent leadership qualities. At the 3rd guard spot will be Pat Connaughton (7ppg). Connaughton had a great freshman season last year after starting because of injuries. He is an effective rebounder and he made the 3rd most threes on the team. The top option off the bench here will be Joey Brooks (3.2 ppg). Besides Brooks depth is a major concern here the only really player here is Patrick Crowley.
Leading the Irish in the frontcourt will be center Jake Cooley (12.5 ppg). He was named the Big East’s Most Improved Player last season. He came close to averaging a double double last season but look for him to accomplish that this season. Cooley is really tough around the basket; he shot 63 % from the field last year. Joining him in the frontcourt is Scott Martin (9.5 ppg), who was granted a 6th year by the NCAA. He is a very versatile scorer; he can shot the three and score around the paint. He has guard like skills playing around the basket. The top option off the bench will Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman. He started 20 games at MSU. He might start some games especially against bigger teams. The Irish would than shift Martin to small forward. The Irish have plenty of depth here thanks to three highly touted freshmen in Cameron Biedscheid, Zach Auguste, and Austin Burgett. Veterans Tom Knight (2.9 ppg) and Mike Broghammer(1.7 ppg) add more depth.
Prediction: Notre Dame over Kentucky- This game will all be about the youth of Kentucky versus the experience of Notre Dame. I like the Irish to win for three reasons. First they will hurt Kentucky with there three point shooting. Second the Wildcats have point guard issues while the Fighting Irish have a very strong backcourt with Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins. Lastly this will be Kentucky’s first true road test, I think the crowd will get to the young players.
Coach: Frank Martin (1st season at South Carolina). Overall 117-54 , 5 years
2011-12: Record 10-21 overall, 2-14 in SEC(12th)
Starters Returning (2) Bruce Ellington, Damien Leonard
Preseason Tournament: None
Top Non-Conference Games: at St. John’s, vs. Clemson
Transfer in : LaShay Page (Southern Mississippi- eligible right away)
Transfers Out : Anthony Gill (Virginia); Damontre Harris (Florida)
Out of nowhere Frank Martin left Kansas State and took the South Carolina job. Why Martian did this I don’t know. He clearly had more talent at KSU than he does South Carolina. The Gamecocks lose their 3 out of their top 4 scorers. What really hurts is that two of those players transferred out of the program.
The strength of this South Carolina team will be in the backcourt, they are returning two starters from last year’s team. Heading the point guard duties will be Bruce Ellington (11 ppg). He is a very talent athlete, who is also on the school’s football team. Joining him in the backcourt will be Damien Leonard (6.8 ppg). Leonard needs to increase his scoring load. The Gamecocks have plenty of depth here. Lashay Page (11.6 ppg) is a transfer from Southern Mississippi. Eric Smith (4.1 ppg) has starting experience. Brenton Williams (6.1 ppg) and Brain Richardson (3.2 ppg) have plenty of experience. Freshman Tarik Phillip may also provide depth.
The questions for the team will be in the frontcourt. They already received bad news when Carlton Geathers (1 ppg) suffered a fractured new cap. It is unclear when he will return. Two roles players last season will need to produce more as starters this season. Lakeem Jackson (3.2 ppg) should handle the three spot and RJ Slawson (4.5 ppg) will be the power forward. Freshman Laimonas Chatkvevicus will likely start at center he followed Martin from Kansas State. The depth is very inexperienced. It consists of freshman Thaddeus Hall, Mindaugas Kacinas, and Michael Carrera
Coach: Steve Lavin (2 seasons at St. Johns 34-31) Overall 179-109, 9 years
2011-12: Record 13- 19 overall, 6-12 in Big East ( Tie 11th)
Starters Returning (4) Phil Greene, God’sgift Achiuwa, D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’ Dominic Pointer
Preseason Tournament: Charleston Classic
Top Non-Conference Games: vs. South Carolina
Transfer Out: Malik Smith (Fairmont State)
Transfer In : Max Hooper (Harvard), Jamal Branch (Texas A&M)
Early Departure: Moe Harkless
It was a tough year for the Red Storm but it was pretty much expected after losing so many seniors. Last year head coach Steve Lavin brought in 9 recruits, but now those players are a year older. However they lost their best player from the class to the NBA Moe Harkless. It was also a tough year for Lavin who missed most of the season after defeating cancer. The Red Storm once again add 6 new talented players to the mix.
Leading the way for St. Johns will be shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison (17 ppg). He is the second returning leading scorer in the Big East. He also led the Red Storm in three point shooting and steals. Joining him in the backcourt is point guard Phil Greene (7.6 ppg). Greene did a great job as a freshman last season, expected bigger things this season. Sir Dominic Pointer(6.6 ppg) will likely start at the 3 position he had a disappointing season last year, it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back. The depth here will get a boost in December when Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch becomes eligible. Also providing depth here will be freshman Felix Balamou and Jamal White (1.6 ppg).
The Red Storm really lacked the beef inside and it appears the same way this season. Leading the way for St. Johns here is God’sgift Achiuwa (9.4 ppg). He is really the only true post player on the roster. Joining him in the frontcourt is the super athletic Amir Garrett (7.4 ppg). Garrett is also a minor league baseball player. The Johnnies look at have a lot of young talent here for depth but they are unproven. Providing the depth will be JUCO transfer Marco Bourgault, freshman JaKarr Sampson, JUCO Orlando Sanchez, and freshman Chris Obekpa. Sampson is the a top 50 recruit and should be the top option off the bench. Obekpa is known for his shot blocking.
Prediction- St Johns over South Carolina- Frank Martin and the Gamecocks are in rebuilding, they lost to Elon earlier this season. The Red Strom will be too athletic for South Carolina. The Johnnies will have the best player on the court in D’ Angelo Harrison.
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