“New” Big East Deserves Your Attention

It’s not your Dad’s Big East, sure, but the Big East is one of the most entertaining leagues in college basketball. Often not given the credit because it’s not the conference of old, the “new” Big East is quickly washing away that stigma. And if the first two days of conference play are any indication, this year the Big East should be more entertaining than ever. Let’s look at a few reasons why the new Big East is still just as good as the old.

Number One Team in the Country

First and foremost let’s start at the top with the number one team in the country: the Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright’s team has become a target for not just the Big East, but the entire country. That tends to happen when you win a National Championship and live in the Top 5 of the AP Polls week in and week out. Jay Wright’s recent clubs are good enough to be mentioned in the same sentence as any teams in Big East history. It’s hard to say the talent is down when the number one team in the country resides in the Big East.

Next Generation of Coaches

The name’s Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino and Huggins may not walk the sidelines of the conference anymore, but the current Big East has some of the best minds in the game. In addition to Wright, coaches like Greg McDermott, Chris Mack, Ed Cooley and Steve Wojciechowski are the next generation in the Big East lineage. And that’s still omitting two NBA Hall of Famers who are adjusting to coaching the college game. Fact is, only two of the four former Big East coaches mentioned above are still coaching. Don’t be surprised if the names above eventually join the list of great all-time coaches in the Big East Conference.

Teams That Replaced the Teams that Left Are Better (right now)

Similar to the coaching argument, the teams in this year’s Big East are better than most of the teams that left the conference. The top half of the conference is also better than the top half of most other power conferences. Nova, Xavier, Creighton, and Seton Hall are all currently ranked in the Top 25. Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia would definitely be in the top of the league, but two of those three lost to Big East opponents this year. Xavier handled Cincinnati in their yearly rivalry game and Seton Hall topped Louisville, a top team in the ACC, earlier this year. UConn and Syracuse would be a middle of the road teams in this conference at best this year. And don’t even get me started about Pittsburgh. The top of the Big East could go head to head with the top of any conference.

Less Teams = More Parity

A smaller Big East means less of a difference from top to bottom. With Georgetown and St. John’s looking much improved, there aren’t many bottom tier teams to pad your record against. We’ve seen it early on with Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas taking Butler to double overtime. We saw Marquette take Xavier down to the wire. And we saw Seton Hall and Creighton trade punches in a Pirates come from behind win. The first two days of Big East play has been terrific, and with the overall balance and depth of this league, expect it to stay.

The current Big East might not have the Syracuse vs UConn rivalry. It may not have as illustrious of a Big East Tournament as before. That said, this is one of the best conferences in the league. I would put it at number three behind the ACC and Big 12. If you’ve been living with the assumption that the Big East won’t ever be as good as it used to be, smarten up. If you don’t you’ll miss some great basketball.

Who Will Be the Last College Basketball Team to Lose?

It’s a weird week in college basketball. It’s finals week in colleges all over the country. Students are packing up and leaving campus for the winter, leaving only the basketball teams behind. It’s a time of year where we don’t see many elite match ups. Instead it’s a lot of “buy games” where high major programs host smaller schools on their home court to fill their schedule. Sometimes we get the rare Wofford over UNC upset, but more often than not, the results are predictable.

With Miami losing last night to New Mexico State, we are left with just three undefeated teams at the Division 1 level. Villanova, Arizona State and TCU have all been perfect thus far. Some of this is not a surprise, and some of it (looking at you, Arizona State) has been unexpected. With that let’s see which of these three teams has a chance to be undefeated the longest this season.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Bobby Hurley and Arizona State have been the surprise of the college basketball season. The Sun Devils have one of the best offenses in college basketball, with four players averaging 13 points or more a game. They have scored 90 points or more in seven of their ten games this season. It’s not against lesser programs either. Hurley and Co. dropped 102 on Xavier and 95 on Kansas in Phog Allen, something that is basically unheard of. ASU has a stud in Tra Holder, and freshman Romello White has made a larger impact than expected this early in the year.

The reason I don’t think Arizona State will be the last undefeated team is because they have a date with Arizona on the first day of Pac 12 play. I know Arizona has had its struggles, but they are beginning to come to form and are looking like the team we expected them to be in the Fall. Arizona will cause ASU problems because of their height. DeAndre Ayton is a man in the paint, and pairing another 7-footer in Dusan Ristic next to him is a problem for the Sun Devils. Add in the perimeter defense that Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Rawle Alkins bring, and Arizona could have the tool to neutralize the Sun Devils high powered offense.

TCU Horned Frogs

TCU’s success this season isn’t a huge surprise, but the fact they havent’ had a blemish on their record yet this year is a testament to Jamie Dixon. The Horned Frogs have won 16 in a row dating back to last year’s NIT Championship and should enter Big 12 play 12-0, assuming they can handle William & Mary on Friday. There are not many teams that are more balanced on offense than TCU. Their top seven players all average between 14 and seven points a game. Preseason First Team All Big-12 player Valdimir Brodziansky leads them in scoring most nights, but TCU is the type of team that can have a different leading scorer any night they take the floor.

TCU will also not be the last undefeated team standing because their start to Big 12 play is brutal. They host Trae Young and Oklahoma, travel to Baylor and host defending conference champs Kansas in their first three games. To their advantage, two of the three are at home, but that is a tall task for any team in the Big 12. I think TCU has a chance to be a Sweet 16 team, but they won’t be the last undefeated team in the NCAA.

Villanova Wildcats

It’s not a shock that Villanova is undefeated and sitting atop the AP Poll. Jay Wright and his club are a well oiled machine, or as Jon Rothstein says, a “Fortune 500 company.” The Wildcats often don’t get enough credit from basketball outsiders because they play in the “new” Big East. To Villanova’s credit, they put together a good non-conference schedule. They had a home-and-home against Virginia the last two years, and have one scheduled with Kansas for the next two. They played and won the Battle 4 Atlantis, which consisted of Purdue, Arizona and Tennessee. They only played Tennessee, but that was no fault of their own. This year they also played in the Jimmy V Classic, where they manhandled Gonzaga. They have proven they will, and can play with anyone.

One weakness that Villanova has is their short bench, and that only got shorter when freshman Collin Gillespie fractured his hand. Foul trouble will cause a ton of problems for Nova on a given night. The week that stands out is the first week of January, when they host Marquette and Xavier. Marquette is a team that loves to shoot threes. The three-point shot can keep any team in a game. Then there’s number 9 ranked Xavier. The Muskateers have a pretty great duo of their own in Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura. This will be a tough early test after facing a pesky Marquette team a few nights prior, but I think the leadership of Jalen Brunson, skill of Mikael Bridges and emergence of Omari Spellman will let Nova pass this test unharmed. It’s not the “trophy” they are playing for, but I think Jay Wright and company will be college basketball’s last unbeaten.

Any of these three teams have the ability to remain undefeated for a couple more weeks. TCU no doubt has the toughest start, but all of them will play a ranked opponent in the first week of conference play. I know it’s tough to bet against a boiling hot Arizona State team, or a balanced TCU club, but you can’t go against Villanova right now. Does it win you a trophy? No, but it’s not a bad bragging right to have for a little while.

Recapping Tuesday Night in College Basketball

Photo via @VisionsByJeff

A lot happened last night for a Tuesday night in December. We had the Jimmy V Classic, which always features great basketball and a greater cause. We had two Top 10 teams fall, and two more teams in the Top 15 suffer losses. Let’s quickly recap what you may have missed last night.

Villanova Pounded Gonzaga

Villanova punished Gonzaga on a night where Jalen Brunson struggled and Donte DiVincenzo was in foul trouble. Granted, Jonathan Williams only played 18 minutes for the Zags, but this game was all Wildcats. Mikael Bridges was sensational, going off for a career high 28 points. Bridges was 5-9 from three point land and came up with big buckets every time Villanova needed one. The win showed both how short Jay Wright’s bench is, but also Nova’s ability to stay in games without a true point guard for stretches.

Tyus Battle Leads Cuse in Rivalry Game

The second game of the Jimmy V Classic featured an old Big East rivalry, as UConn and Syracuse met once again. In front of a terrific MSG crowd, it was the New Jersey product, Tyus Battle, who led ‘Cuse to a win. Battle had 22 and fellow Hoop Group alum Matt Moyer had a career high 18. The unexpected outburst from Moyer was huge, as Frank Howard struggled again for Syracuse. On the other end, the Huskies continue to struggle to pick up a resume building win. Jalen Adams led the way with 22 of his own, but it was not enough.

Arizona Picked up a MUCH Needed Victory

Sean Miller’s seat has been on fire since the Battle 4 Atlantis. Not literally, his job is safe, but Arizona’s struggles have been put under a big microscope this year. The Cats quieted some of that talk last night with a win over #7 Texas A&M. Positively speaking, Arizona had four players score 13 points, and none of them were Allonzo Trier. DeAndre Ayton recorded another double-double, and a bonehead play that almost gave A&M a chance to tie it in the final seconds. With Rawle Alkins cleared for full contact, this could be the win that turns Arizona around.

Notre Dame Upset

In what was by far the upset of the night, the #9 Notre Dame Fighting Irish fell to Ball State in South Bend. Tayler Persons led Ball State with 24 points, none bigger than the 3 he hit with 1.7 seconds remaining. The Cardinals led by as much as 9 in the second half, surrendered that lead, and held on thanks to Persons’s heroics. The Irish will look to rebound this weekend against Delaware before an in-state battle with Indiana.

West Virginia is Streaking

It was defense vs defense as West Virginia picked up a big non-conference win against the #15 ranked Virginia Cavaliers. After giving up 88 points in a blowout loss on the first night of the season, Bob Huggins’s team has held teams to just 63 points per game and 37% shooting. None of these teams have as potent of an offense as Texas A&M , but it’s clear defense is still the key in West Virginia. In addition, Jevon Carter has been extraordinary. Last night was no different, as he recorded 23 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists.

Shaka Smart Returns to VCU Victorious

In what was an emotional game in front of a raucous crowd, Shaka Smart returned to Richmond and was victorious against his former team. The Longhorns look like they have a serious three headed attack with Andrew Jones, Dylan Osetkowski and Mo Bamba. This looked like Bamba’s most complete game, recording a double-double (13 points and 13 rebounds) and tallying 4 blocks. His defense has been a constant all season, averaging over 3 blocks a game, but his offense appears to be coming around now as well. Oh, and then he also did this…

Big Ten Takes Another Hit

The Big Ten’s struggle as a conference has been mentioned on multiple occasions so far. The early take on the conference has been that it has three definite tournament teams in Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue, and question marks everywhere else. Well one of those teams suffered a bad loss last night, as Minnesota lost on the road to Nebraska. Jordan Murphy was held in check for the Gophers, finishing with 10 points on just 4-12 shooting. Meanwhile, Glynn Watson Jr. went off for the Cornhuskers, recording a game high 29 in the win. The Big Ten looks clearly to be Michigan State, and then everyone else.

Cole Swider – HG Insider Player Spotlight

cole swider

Villanova commit Cole Swider shined at the Oladipo Skills Academy with his elite shooting ability. Swider is coming off a breakout AAU season with BABC. Other schools he was considering were Duke, Xavier and Syracuse. Swider showed what makes him such an intriguing prospect and why he was such a priority for Jay Wright and his staff. Swider led his team at camp in scoring, where he has made his biggest mark on the grassroots scene. He made a statement at the Nike Peach Jam as he averaged 23.2 points per game. Swider is intriguing as he is talented enough to make an impact right away for the Wildcats. He has done a great job showing that he is more than just a shooter this season. Swider is able to get into the lane and create for himself and his teammates because of his improved ball handling.

Swider was flying under the radar prior to this AAU season, but stepped up on the Nike EYBL circuit for BABC and his stock skyrocketed. He has been great during the July live period and seems to only be taking his game to a higher level as this season has progressed. The next step for Swider will be to bring home a NEPSAC “AA” championship for St. Andrew’s. He has played with a lot of confidence and will head into next high school season with a lot of momentum. They will heavily rely on him, but he has shown that he is more than capable of leading a team. The Villanova Wildcats got a great one in Cole Swider and it could be an even bigger get than people realize with the way he has played this summer. Swider is an excellent prospect and is yet another one to watch this high school season.

Pooley’s Picks – 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

Pooley’s Picks

2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

Qualifications:  This week we’ll have a little different approach to Pooley’s Picks.  Often, with working at the Hoop Group, I’ll get to travel and see different events.  This past weekend I was able to get down to The Hill School and watch the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase.  The event was loaded with coaches, talent, and great moments. The following are a selection of the Top 10 things I took away from the showcase.

Picks are in no particular order. Please enjoy the fourth installment of Pooley’s Picks.

Chase Audige: The 6’4″ junior from Hill was very impressive in the win over Isaiah Christopher Academy.  Chase had some electrifying plays, but was also a consistent scorer willing passer.  The wing is quickly going from a high potential kid, to a star.  Look for Chase to continue to develop over the next year and look for Hill to have an extremely successful year under coach Seth Eilberg.




Tyler Jones: The 5’11” senior from Peddie had 20 in an overtime win against Canada Top Flight Academy.  The guard can do it all, and has a much improved jump shot with excellent form and rotation.  Tyler earned his MVP late in the game scoring crucial buckets and running the show.  Thus far uncommitted: Tyler may be a guard that could be on a lot of scholarship schools radars as the HS season draws to a close.

Canada Top Flight Academy (Ottawa) at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

Canada Top Flight Academy (Ottawa) at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

International Flavor:  The 2016 PSA Prep Showcase featured a little basketball from our friends to the north.  Canada Top Flight Academy probably didn’t have their best showing but kept Peddie on the ropes into overtime.  2017 Lual Akot impressed, hitting a couple of deep threes and flushing a couple dunks in traffic.  Overall CTA came down and represented well.  Look forward to see what they have to offer as the season continues.



Walter Whyte: The 6’6″ BU bound guard was tough as he always is.  Carrying St. Luke’s at times, Walter rebounds, scores, handles to ball, and plays defense.  The senior also did what seniors have to do: lead.  Walter was under control and facilitated Coach Gladstone’s game plan all night. An impressive win for St. Luke’s against a talented and well coached Hun School.



Mohammad Bamba: The 6’11” uncommitted senior is the real deal.  The entire Westtown team is the real deal.  Going up against a very good St. James team Mo looked like the NBA prospect that he is.  He blocked shots, scored, rebounded, and most importantly looked comfortable after coming back from injury.  He really is fun to watch.  Worth the trip to the 2016 PSA Prep Showcase just for him.  Lucky for us there was much more.



The Venue: The Hill School was the perfect venue for the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase.  The gym has a throwback feel, with excellent baskets and a redone floor.  Looks a little like a gym out of the movie Hoosiers with one high rise set of bleachers separated from the court by a 3 foot high padded wall.  On top of that the event felt full, but not crowded, and was loud with a good atmosphere during the close games.




View from the packed coaches section at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

College Coaches:  The 2016 PSA Prep Showcase was loaded with college coaches.  An entire area of the bleachers was dedicated to the college recruiters and it was close to full for every game.  D1, D2, D3, JUCO, and scouts were all on hand to take a look at some of the top talent.  John Calipari, NCAA defending champ Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, Fran Dunphy, and Phil Martelli, were among the few who evaluated and scouted.



Hamidou Diallo: The 6’6″ senior is as sought after as anyone.  Up to #11 in the class of 2017, “Hami” got to the rim all night long.  The explosive guard is one of those players who can score in a variety of ways and create energy on the defensive end of the floor.



Atmosphere: First, the college coaches, next the fans, then the players, this had it all.  There was just an atmosphere of elite basketball and the feel that you get from seeing kids in HS who will be on TV in a few years.  NERR’s National Prep Showcase always signals the start of high school basketball for me.  This event had a similar feel to me: teams early in their season competing at a high level.




Noah Collier, 6’7″ at Westtown, a top 2020 at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

The Freshman: Not necessarily something you think of when talking about a Prep Showcase.  However, the freshman that I got to see in limited minutes were excellent.  Westtown’s Noah Collier is a great kid, with a ton of upside, who can play multiple positions.  His ceiling is exceptionally high, and he even knocked down a couple jumpers.  Seth Berger’s son, backup guard TJ Berger, played limited minutes but showed a lot of potential on and off the ball.  Backcourt mate Seyon Kpaan, looked good in some extended minutes.  Niels Lane played more minutes for a freshman on a Hun School team than I’ve seen.  Coach Stone has some confidence in that youngster, who moves well and has a good feel for the game.  Much better 2020 representation than you would think with so many talented upperclassmen.


Special Thanks to Hoop Major for the videos and helping me cover the event in this article.  Ian Finnen is a rising star, and is going to be very good at whatever he decides to do.

Special shout out to Terrence Williams and the rest of the PSA Cardinals family for running a great event and being so media friendly.  Look forward to this event in the years moving forward.


And of course as always, everybody’s favorite: