Thursday, October 20, 2011

UConn, Syracuse Tie For 1st In Big East Coaches' Poll

It had to be one of the most awkward Big East media days in memory.  The coaches picked both  national champion Connecticut and soon-to-be-gone Syracuse as the best teams in the upcoming  season.  However, the real topic hanging on everyone's tongue at Wednesday's annual event was conference expansion and realignment.

Most of the talk centered around Syracuse and Pittsburgh's announcements that they were leaving the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference and the TCU team which ran away.

TCU was slated to join the Big East but is now headed for the Big 12 before the Big East could do anything about it.  Big East commissioner John Marinatto announced at the conference he was looking to bring in schools to make up for the defections and prevent any others from leaving.

There has been a lot of talk-- some by the governor of Connecticut-- that UConn would also be interested in joining the ACC.  Marinatto would have none of it.

"In the past five years, we've had the best basketball league in the country," he said.  "We had [a record] 11 teams in the NCAA tournament last year and, on paper today, nine of them would be in it again."

Opinions about the defectors and the effect they will have on the league were at a fever pitch at the Manhattan gathering. 

"My problem is not them leaving," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino-- in a statement dripping with irony.  "My problem is you did it in 36-48 hours.  Don't run away with a girl after one date to get married in Las Vegas when you've been dating someone else for three or four years.  You've been dating this woman for 30 years, show a little respect."

Pitino, as you will recall, is the same man who almost threw away his career by cheating on his wife of thirty years for a 15-second fling with a woman who later tried to extort $10 million from him.

Last September, Pitino also compared Pitt's move to the ACC to Sal Tessio betraying the Corleone family in "The Godfather."  Funny, because rumors have been swirling about the Cardinals jumping ship as well.

Pitino's poorly-chosen analogy, along with Pitt and Syracuse wearing track shoes and ready to bolt aside, there were plenty of other topics at hand including the upcoming season and the coaches' pre-season picks.

Connecticut, which closed out their season with an 11-game winning streak by winning the Big East tournament and the national championship will have to do it without All-America guard Kemba Walker, the heart and soul of the team.

Head coach Jim Calhoun has three returning starters-- including sophomore guard Jerry Lamb, a pre-season first-team pick-- and junior Alex Oriakhi, a second-team selection.  Freshman center, 6-foot-11 Andre Drummond was chosen pre-season rookie-of-the-year.

Syracuse, which had five first place votes-- two less than UConn-- has senior Kris Joseph, a first-team selection, and second-teamer junior Scoop Jardine returning to the court.

Asked if he thinks the team will be treated differently during road games because of the school's decision to leave the Big East, Boeheim was philosophical.

"Nobody has ever cheered for us on the road," he said.  "We never get a lot of cheers."

Louisville, which got three first place votes, was third followed by Pittsburgh.

Pitt's senior guard Ashton Gibbs was selected pre-season player of the year after leading the conference in scoring (16.8) and 3-point shooting (49%) last season.

Cincinnati was fifth followed by Marquette, West Virginia, Villanova, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, South Florida, Providence and DePaul.  In addition to Gibbs, Lamb and Joseph,  the pre-season first team included seniors Darius Johnson-Odom of Marquette and grad-student Tim Abromaitis of Notre Dame.

Next year's coaches' poll might be without some familiar teams but not if Marinatto has his way.  The commissioner said he will not let Syracuse or Pitt out of their contracts, which requires them to stay in the league for two more years.

Georgetown coach John Thompson III got sentimental about the Big East's fracturing conference.

"When I think of the Big East, I think of Georgetown-Syracuse, Georgetown-St. John's, " he said.

So do a lot of fans.

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