Sunday, October 5, 2008

Big East Roster Notes

With classes in session for a month or so, and Midnight Madness a fortnight away, it seems a good time to catch up on the roster changes that have occured since the schools first released them in late July-early August. For the past 4+ seasons (fans of Louisville, Syracuse and Villanova will no doubt hunt me down if anything happens between now and November 14...), injuries tended to drive last minute roster changes. Not so (so far) this off season. Discipline and academics appear to be running neck-and-neck as the culprits...
Cincinnati -- Forward Nick Aldridge was dismissed from the program after his arrest for drug trafficking on September 17. Aldridge, a well regarded transfer out of Western Carolina who sat last season per the NCAA transfer requirements, would have faced a good deal of competition for playing time from senior Mike Williams (transfer from Texas, former MDAA) and sophomore Kenny Belton, had he not been derailed with legal problems. The Bearcats added 7-1 center John Riek in early August. Riek, while listed on the "official" roster, has yet to be cleared to play by the NCAA.
Connecticut -- Nate Miles was expelled last week. Miles a very well regarded but (as a high school bballer) much traveled student, signed an LOI for the Huskies back in 2006 and had worked to clear Connecticut admissions standards (and NCAA clearing house requirements) virtually all of last season. He started summer classes back in June, but ran afoul of a court order in early September. Desipite entering an early intervention program as mandated by a hearing Tuesday, the UConn administration convened an administrative hearing Thursday, and after hearing from each of the parties, decided to expel him. Mile's guardian promises an appeal, but it looks like Miles will never suit up for Coach Calhoun. Ater Majok's uncertain academic status (he returned to Australia in early August to "finish up" his classes), combined with the Miles expulsion and Stanley Robinson's continued absence (taking courses locally, but is not enrolled at UConn for the Fall 2008 semester), cloud Connecticut's prospects. Coach Calhoun's 2008-09 squad has heretofore been consistently listed among the 5 - 10 best in D1 going into the season. But the UConn faithful have to wonder if Dyson, Price and Walker can shoulder virtually the entire PT responsibilities for the #1, #2 and #3 with a very short bench.
Marquette -- Trevor Mbakwe's sudden withdrawal in late August (transferred to Miami-Dade?) was the second off season blow to Warrior fans. Losing head coach Tom Crean to Indiana was bad enough, but losing their most promising prospect to man the middle since Ryan Amoroso donned the Blue and Gold back in 2006 really hurts. Freshman Chris Otule may be forced to log even more PT than originally planned. And first year head coach Buzz Williams will have to fashion a makeshift front line out of Lazar Hayward, senior Dwight Burke and transfer #3s Joe Fulce and Jimmy Butler.
Rutgers -- Senior forward JR Inman and senior forward Jaron Griffin have been suspended for an indeterminate number of games. The suspensions, announced by Coach Fred Hill in early September, were for non-academic, non-basketball related offenses. According to the Courier-News Rutgers beat writer Jerry Carino, the suspensions will be for games only and will most likely last for no more than three weeks. With the recent influx of talent Griffin, a starter in 57 games at the #3 over his career as a low percentage 3 point shooter (.256), would most likely have moved into a supporting role this season. Inman, a starter from virtually his first game as a freshman drew Coach Hill's wrath at the end of last season for lacking "heart". Hill has repeatedly challenged Inman to step up and be the Scarlet Knight's leader. The suspension is a setback for Inman, and will force a very young team to (yet again) search for leadership early in the season.
Seton Hall -- 6-3 #2 guard Jamel Jackson was denied admission in late September. Jackson, a junior college transfer out of Technical Career Institute, needed transfer 27 credits to be eligible fell 1 course short when Seton Hall denied transfer credit for two courses he took over the summer (a C- in one and an D in the other). The news reduces the Pirate roster to eight scholarship players going into the season, assuming freshman center Melvyn Oliver (Long Beach California, out of Mississippi Elite Christian Academy) is cleared by the NCAA. In a true "When It Rains, It Pours" moment Seton Hall AD announded that sophomore Robert "Stix" Mitchell, a 6-6 wing forward transfer out of Duquesne, would serve a two game suspension for a minor NCAA transgression he committed while sitting out last season.
South Florida -- Justin Leemow, a post-grad player out of Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, N.C was signed in the middle of August. Leemow was rated the 110th best recruit in NYC as a junior. He will join an incoming class that includes guard Gabriel Belardo, center Augustus Gilchrist, forward Eladio Espinosa and junior college transfer center Alex Rivas Sanchez. #2 guard Mike Mercer, a transfer from Georgia who was arrested for public drinking back on September 9 will be eligible to join the team at the end of December. The Bulls roster has been depleted this off season, equal parts graduation and transfer, but Leemow will most likely see (very) limited minutes this season, especially if Mercer joins the team as expected, for the Big East season and freshman phenom Dominique Jones stays healthy throughout the season.

Connecticut, rated as high as #2 in some of the early 2008-09 previews has a number of uncomfortable roster questions to resolve going into the season. As of May the most vexing question was the speed and degree of AJ Price's ACL rehabilitation. But academics and the law have virtually wiped out the small forward position over the summer (and early fall). Granted the Huskies have enough talent to cover between junior reserve Gavin Edwards and converted guards Craig Austrie, Jerome Dyson and AJ Price. Freshman Kemba Walker will have to man the point (possibly?) a bit earlier than anticipated, but going into the more physical Big East season, Price's durability and Austrie's and Dyson's stamina may be more severely tested than the staff anticipated. Getting Stanley Robinson eligible for the spring might become the staff's highest priority over the next 3 months. Seton Hall has been pleagued by depth issues every one of Coach Gonzalez's three seasons. Pirates fans watched the team fade in February each of the last two seasons, unable to preserve early (conference) season high rankings as Big East play ground those teams down by February. The Hall is, at this point, the only Big East team to have accepted high quality transfers in the latter part of the off season. Adding both Herb Pope and Keon Lawrence would certainly represent a talent upgrade. But the odds of getting both is very small.

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