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Big East questions: Will depth keep UConn #1?


Nov. 20, 2003
Conference Previews: ACC | A-10 | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Pac-10 | SEC

As a new college-basketball season begins, I'm identifying three key questions for each of the eight major conferences. We're going in alphabetical order, and now it's time for the Big East...

The strength of coach Jim Calhoun's Huskies starts with the junior inside-outside combo of guard Ben Gordon and center Emeka Okafor, a sensational 1-2 punch.

Ben Gordon
Ben Gordon scored a career-high 37 points Wednesday in UConn's 93-79 preseason NIT win over Nevada.
Okafor is my preseason national player of the year, and Gordon is on my preseason All-Rolls Royce Third Team.

But Calhoun has quality people at every position. Any coach would love to have that kind of problem, determining playing time with so much talent.

Senior Taliek Brown must be more consistent at point guard, distributing the basketball. That will allow Gordon to play the two-guard, where he plays his best, shooting the rock and slashing to the lane.

Sophomore forwards Denham Brown and Marcus White will contribute as well. Freshman forward Charlie Villanueva should be a factor once the questions about how he paid for some NBA-draft-related expenses are cleared up (he had explored the possibility of jumping straight to the NBA out of high school).

This will be a special year for UConn basketball. Does that mean the Huskies will cut down the nets at the Final Four in San Antonio? Not necessarily, because that's the beauty of the college game -- it's not four-out-of-seven like the NBA, and one bad night could send you home.

When you lose a talent like forward Carmelo Anthony, you obviously take a hit -- but Syracuse will be better than people think.

Anthony made every big play when the game was on the line last season, responding in a positive way. That's why he was one of America's premier players as a diaper dandy. Paced by Anthony's brilliance, Syracuse won its first national championship. Then, he jumped to the NBA, where he's now starting for the Denver Nuggets.

The Orangemen will have to make up for his scoring with the committee approach. Syracuse has depth, athleticism and a winning mentality. Coach Jim Boeheim has instilled that, and he has a super-sophomore backcourt: point guard Billy Edelin and sharpshooter Gerry McNamara.

Edelin is available for the entire season (he sat out a 12-game suspension at the start of the '02-03 campaign). And junior forward Hakim Warrick is an All-America hopeful.

Connecticut and Syracuse could be the best 1-2 punch of any conference in America.

The Panthers will miss Brandin Knight, the point guard who provided such tremendous senior leadership last season. But sophomore point guard Carl Krauser is ready to step up.

Jamie Dixon, given his chance as head coach, doesn't have much help off the bench at that position, though. Dixon was an assistant under Ben Howland, who rebuilt the Pitt program before taking the head-coaching job at UCLA last spring.

Look for Dixon to use his communication skills to provide a spark. Krauser has to be sensational running the offensive scheme, and he must excel at the defensive end too. That's where Knight was a star, putting pressure on the ball.

As with Syracuse and Carmelo Anthony, it's tough to replace a star. With a veteran cast, others should step up -- including senior guards Jaron Brown and Julius Page.

Pittsburgh expects more scoring from Brown, while Page's athletic ability should make him one of the premier players in the Big East.

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