A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
After being fired from UCLA back in 2003 after a 10-19 season, Steve Lavin quickly transitioned to the ever-popular 'sports analyst' role for ABC/ESPN. Knowledgeable, outspoken, and greasier than ever, Lavin appeared to have found a new home in broadcasting.
But as time passed, Lavin's exposure started to grow and his own personal agenda came into view. Even though most insiders already knew he was desperately trying to get back into the coaching ranks at any cost, the common college hoops fan did not. Soon Lavin's appearances started to become more calculated than a trigonometry problem. He chose his words too carefully, played up to coaches and players and, above all, made a strong point not to criticize any specific programs that might yield future employment. In a sense, he simply was trying too hard.
As long as you could avoid making direct eye contact with his hair for more than six seconds, it's worth noting that Lavin did absolutely nothing wrong in this situation. If anything, the networks are to blame for snatching up raw personalities a mere days after they hit the unemployment line and instantly putting them to work. Lavin spent seven long years in the spotlight subtly campaigning for a job. And on March 20th, that time spent finally paid off when Lavin was named the 19th coach in St. John's history.
So with his television career in the rearview mirror, Lavin grabs the reigns of a program that happens to play select home games in Madison Square Garden. For a man who already had strong ties on the recruiting scene, this current destination is the equivalent of a goldmine for luring future prep stars away from local colleges. His 2011 recruiting class already boasts five signees, and four of them are currently ranked as 4-star prospects according to Rivals.com. A sleeping giant indeed. The Big East just got a little bigger...
What happened this summer?
Freshman Omari Lawrence packed his bags and left for Kansas State. Legendary Purdue coach Gene Keady was added to the staff as a special adviser. Lavin spent hours and hours indirectly testing the durability of Blackberry phones.
Games that really matter
- 11/16 @ St. Mary's
- 12/29 @ West Virginia
- 1/3 vs. Georgetown
- 1/12 vs. Syracuse
- 1/16 vs. Notre Dame
- 1/30 vs. Duke
- 2/5 @ UCLA
- 2/10 vs. Connecticut
- 2/19 vs. Pittsburgh
- 2/26 @ Villanova
Most intriguing player
Paris Horne (6’3" guard; senior) – Despite a significant drop in his numbers across the board as a junior, Horne was easily the most consistent player for the Red Storm down the stretch last season. His 14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game during the Big East Tournament offered a glimpse to his past (14.6 pts, 3.4 rebs, 1.6 stls as a sophomore), and also a firm nod to his future. The overall depth that St. John's features (along with the presence of star player D.J. Kennedy) probably won't give Horne the opportunity to shine like he did back in 2008-09, but he's an integral part of this team and should remain one of the best complimentary scoring options in the conference. Oh, and he can do this.
What’s on the line?
It's an interesting situation here. Fellow Big East coaches like Rick Pitino seem to think that the Red Storm are an immediate force with Lavin at the helm. Pitino even went as far as to rank St. John's No. 1 in the league's preseason poll. There might be ten seniors on this roster, but with stud recruits on the horizon and a brutal schedule at their feet, it's hard to say that Lavin has much, if anything, to lose in his first year on the job. As long as the Red Storm can pull a few big-time upsets and avoid the bottom fourth of the standings then the future will remain extremely bright.
Most people will see a more established coach running the show and immediately assume St. John's is a viable contender. The problem with this type of thinking is that Lavin himself is much more valuable as a recruiter rather than an in-game coach. Let's not forget that the Big East happens to be the most stacked conference in college hoops on a yearly basis. And remember, everybody reloads with regularity in the Big East. Just because St. John's has nearly a dozen seniors doesn't negate all the impact freshman set to debut around the conference. It's a shame that Lavin will lose so many key players like Kennedy and Dwight Hardy to graduation, but legitimate success in year one is too much to ask for this squad.
- Conference: 9th
- Postseason: NIT third round