Friday, December 08, 2006

Big East conference call

The first Big East conference call with coaches took place Thursday morning. Here are a few selected thoughts from some in the group. The other eight coaches speak next week and will continue to do so through the season on an every-other-week basis. UConn coach Jim Calhoun will speak with the national media next Thursday.

Tom Crean, Marquette

The Golden Eagles face in-state foe Wisconsin on Saturday in one of the top non-conference rivalries in college basketball. This year the Badgers have some depth and will figure prominently in the Big Ten standings. As for Marquette, its guard-laden lineup fell to No. 20 in the AP poll this week. Wisconsin enters the Bradley Center at No. 12.

The 113th installment of the game will air at 2 p.m. on ESPN.

Crean, though, was asked about all the early-season upsets around the country. He has a few theories. After all, Marquette fell to North Dakota State, 64-60, on Dec. 2.

“It’s happening all around the country with so many games,” Crean said. “One of the reasons why, I think, is that basketball started a week earlier this year and football runs so much later now. Everyone is excited to play games, but those games are now needed for learning. And there is still so much learning to do this early in the season.”

Also, why paying homage to current Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight, who is five victories away from passing Dean Smith as the all-time leader in victories in Division I men’s basketball, Crean discussed how much the coach has impacted the game with his motion offense.

“It’s something that is often imitated, but never duplicated,” Crean said of the motion offense. “He’s not the one who invented the game, but he's had a heck of an influence on how the game is played.”

Jamie Dixon, Pitt

The Panthers remain at No. 2 this week in the AP poll, but have done so in a unique way. They travel to Buffalo on Saturday after defeating cross-city rival Duquesne on Wednesday night.

Pitt has four non-conference road games before dipping into the Big East schedule, one of the most among conference teams. Dixon said he was warned by other coaches not to schedule Buffalo at Alumni Arena and called the matchup "dangerous".

Also, when asked if games like these eventually hurt Pitt when seeds are announced for the NCAA Tournament, Dixon used the Big East schedule and the school’s three regular-season titles from 2002-04, both outright and shared, as leverage.

“Sometimes I don’t know why those things happen,” Dixon said. “I did the research and over the last five years, we’ve had the fifth highest seed in the country on average. I’d say that’s pretty good.”

Fred Hill, Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights are trying to claw their way up the Big East much like their football colleagues at the school, but over the last few years, and perhaps decades, Rutgers has never been able to keep top in-state recruits within the borders of Jersey, now a fertile recruiting ground with 26 current Big East players.

Hill would like that to change. Also, he mentioned that the football team's recent success may help with recruiting and improve the overall perception of the school.

“There’s no question Jersey has some great players, in the metro area, down the pike, but we’ve been very fortunate to sign four players early this year and two are from Jersey,” Hill said. “There’s great awareness out there of Rutgers. You want to capitalize on that.”

Tim Welsh, Providence

After a loss to Brown earlier in the season, the Friars bounced back with a few easy non-conference wins before falling to Florida the other night.

Still, skeptics have wondered when Welsh will revive the program and elevate it to the next level. In his ninth year at Providence, Welsh has led the Friars to three NCAA Tournament appearances but has never advanced past the first round. They also have won just one Big East Tournament game since his arrival.

This year, he is trying to improve with a very young team.

When asked how crucial this season is for Providence, Welsh said, “Every year you try to build a program and establish that winning feeling and put yourself on the map a little bit. But we really don’t talk about it being crucial. … I don’t care what they say about our basketball team. … We keep our feelings within the family.”

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