Posted by Matt Norlander
It may still feel like the Final Four just ended, but for most schools, the offseason is now more than two months old. With that in mind, all of us at the blog are going to take this week to give you what we’re calling “Conference Catch-Ups.” The motive is to recap the biggest storylines in college basketball’s offseason so far, plus keep your appetite whetted in what is the longest offseason in major American sports. In case you missed any of what's happened in the Big East, here it is.
The Big Stories
Headline No. 1: Leave their coaches alone. Jamie Dixon and Jay Wright saw their names tossed in the conversation for potential job openings, most notably at Maryland. But Dixon and Wright aren’t going anywhere, despite the annual courtings that happen each year. It appears Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has also joined that club, as he was thought to be a willing and logical successor to Gary Williams at Maryland. And we won’t forget Buzz Williams, who was tossed into talk with Arkansas’, then Missouri’s, then Texas A&M’s job openings before Marquette re-negotiated his deal and made him one of the 15-best paid head coaches in the industry. It seems clear: The Big East wants to be a landing point with few, if any, steppingstone jobs.
Headline No. 2: The UConn championship tour. The Huskies held a big parade, toured the White House and soaked in about as much loved from the Nutmeg State and beyond as any champ could. With Kemba Walker leaving and Jim Calhoun’s future in doubt (more on that in a moment), it was only proper to have so much pomp.
Headline No. 3: Steve Lavin undergoes cancer treatment. This isn’t so much new, as Lavin got an early diagnosis of prostate cancer last fall, but we didn’t find out until early April. One of the game’s most affable coaches, Lavin will be a terrific spokesman and example in the continuing fight against cancer. Within the Big East, Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim are cancer survivors.
Headline No. 4: Providence fires Keno Davis, hires Ed Cooley. Davis, who was the only head-coaching casualty in the league this year, had his doubters from the first time he stepped on campus—which was three years ago, if you can believe it. Cooley comes from Fairfield, where he spent five years and never went to an NCAA tournament. But he’s from Providence and will be as media-friendly a coach as any other in this league.
The Great Unknown
Will Jim Calhoun retire in the coming weeks/months? The 69-year-old UConn coach has a legacy with some stain, but it’s a Hall of Fame one nonetheless, and how many coaches get the chance to retire after a title-winning season? Calhoun recently told our Bret McMurphy he was “55/45” on coming back next season. With Kemba Walker—one of the greatest players in UConn history—gone to the NBA and a team that won’t be nearly as good next season, why come back?
NBA Draft report
The Big East didn’t have a big problem with early entrants in this year’s Draft. Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh), West Virginia's Kevin Jones (right) and Hollis Thompson (Georgetown) got cold feet — or a warm sense of what they needed to improve on. Call it what you want; those guys are returning to their teams, and the conference and said teams, guys are better for it.
So who stayed in? Kemba Walker doesn’t really qualify — he left as a junior, but he also graduated from Connecticut in three years, just as Emeka Okafor did seven season ago. Terrence Jennings left Louisville (it was the right call; he wasn’t likely to grow in that offense). Carleton Scott (Notre Dame) is the ultimate head-scratcher. It’s nearly a bona fide guarantee he will not be drafted. I talked to Mike Brey back in January, and at the time he pointed to Scott’s critical nature to the team, from a chemistry standpoint. But that’s it, that’s the list. Only three early entrants into this year’s NBA Draft from the Big East, which didn’t have any good freshman play. Next year could be quite the development.
— Wally Judge (from Kansas State) to Rutgers.
— Garrick Sherman (from Michigan State) to Notre Dame.
—Dwyane Polee (St. John’s).
— J.J. Richardson (Pittsburgh).
— Dan Jennings (West Virginia).
— Anali Okoloji (Seton Hall).
— Vee Samford (Georgetown).
— Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (Connecticut).
— Tony Woods (Louisville), though this one sort of doesn’t count, as Woods never played a game with the Cards.
Team commentary in 20 words or Less
Cincinnati: Mick Cronin’s job appears safe. Will Cincinnati break through with him at the helm? Top 25 team here, you know.
DePaul: TCU arrives in 2012, meaning this could be the last season DePaul is the league’s worst team!
Georgetown: Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark will carry the burden. I’m very intrigued by this team. Let’s talk in October.
Louisville: Rick Pitino said he came close to retiring, but now he’s fully charged? Top-10 team helps, but I’m skeptical.
Marquette: This is your chic Elite Eight team by January, I assure you. And be wary of that.
Notre Dame: Brey (last year’s Coach of the Year) will impress me more if he gets to the tournament in 2012.
Pittsburgh: Robinson, Woodall, Gibbs, Taylor, Zanna. Just another crop of guys you hardly know that’ll keep Pitt near the top.
Providence: Cooley (right) will make rebuilding Providence fun. But he needs at least three years.
Rutgers: Mike Rice will have Rutgers in the tournament next year. Fans are starving to keep pace with St. John’s.
Seton Hall: Pirates are in third in Metro NYC race. Worried this team is doomed for irrelevance in the future.
South Florida: And if I feel that way about Seton Hall, how do you think South Florida measures up? Moving on.
St. John’s: Nine seniors are gone. This is the most unpredictable team in this conference right now.
Syracuse: Will be a consensus top-five preseason team, and that probably makes Orange fans nervous, even now.
Villanova: Jay Wright gets to shake up the puzzle box and start anew. He’ll, again, supersede early expectations.
West Virginia: Bob Huggins sits in his recliner, talking to Kevin Jones, who isn’t in the room, and thanks him for coming back.Photos: AP