How I Spent My Summer Vacation: The Big East Conference (Part 1)

With the fall beginning and college basketball just around the corner, it's time to look back at what our favorite teams did during their summer vacations. Some did some good things; some had a bad time. So let's look back at who did what in our How I Spent My Summer Vacation series.

Today's look is the Big East Conference. Since the conference is a 16-team beast, this will be in two parts. Part 1 looks at the group of teams that missed the NCAA Tournament last season. Part 2 will look at the teams that made the NCAA Tournament.

The Big East sent half its teams to the NCAA Tournament. That was the good news. The bad news was that not a one made it to the Final Four, and even worse only two made it out of the opening weekend.

This year the Big East looks to be even better, with four teams being discussed as legitimate Final Four teams, and a lot of strong teams behind them. Some of these teams will make the NCAA Tournament, or at least be perched precariously on the bubble in March.

South Florida
It's been relatively quiet in Tampa. Stan Heath will be in his second year, and has to contend with the loss of center Kantrell Gransberry and a reliable double-double every night. The attrition that naturally occurs when a new coach takes over means an incoming class of six freshmen and two junior college players. Most intriguing among the new faces will be Gus Gilchrist, who may or may not be available. Gilchrist committed to VT but got his release after the tragic shooting because he decided to be closer to his family. He chose Maryland, but didn't realize that the ACC required him to sit out the first half of the season. He ended up never seeing a minute of playing time and transferred to USF, and is now seeking a hardship waiver.

Seton Hall
Bobby Gonzalez is still the head coach after an offseason that had tons of rumors suggesting the combustible Gonzo would be fired. He and his athletic director have a distinct distaste for each other. Gonzalez will serve a one-game suspension when Big East play begins for some of his antics. He's been unable to build any depth on the team because he takes chances on academically shaky kids, and several have been unable to qualify. That's led to one player filing a lawsuit against the NCAA. Gonzalez has also brought in a couple transfers -- Keon Lawrence, late of Missouri, and Herb Pope, from New Mexico State. Both planned to seek hardship waivers for family reasons, but Lawrence has academic issues that would prevent him from playing until the winter semester. Pope's hardship waiver is also shaky since he is going to a school nearly 500 miles from his family.

There's optimism that Rutgers is headed in the right direction, as they're actually bringing in talented players under Mike Hill. They have their first McDonalds All-American recruit in Mike Rosario coming in this season. Rosario, along with Greg Echenique, is going to see plenty of action early -- if he's not starting right away.

St. John's
To the surprise of many, Norm Roberts remains the head coach at St. John's. Even more surprising, he was given a new five-year extension. Granted, another bad season and that contract will be irrelevant, but it provided some security. The extension provided excitement on the recruiting front as four-star recruit Omari Lawrence chose the Red Storm over UConn, Arizona, Memphis, Louisville among many others. They are also in contention to land another top player in Durand Scott.

Every year it seems, DePaul has a couple of potential star players, but little else around them to provide any consistent help. This has resulted in an annual struggle in the conference, and diminishing crowds at the Allstate Arena. Coach Jerry Wainwright gets talent, is respected as a coach, and is a media favorite. He also knows he has to win this season or else.

This is year Mick Cronin is supposed to move to above .500, both overall and in the Big East. The depth and talent issues appear to be resolved. Last year, they struggled early in the season, but became a better and more dangerous team in the grind of conference play. They have Deonta Vaughn at the point to lead and score. Freshman forward Yancy Gates should start almost immediately, plus they have Mike Williams healthy this season.

The main thing Providence wanted to do was find a coach, after finally giving up on the Tim Welsh project. It took a lot longer than expected. First Providence alum and George Mason coach Jim Larranaga turned them down to stay at Mason for less money. Then they failed to lure Travis Ford from UMass, though after Ford got a raise from UMass he got more money to jump to Oklahoma State anyway. The third time was a charm with a coach who received several national coach of the year honors. Keno Davis was lured from Drake. There is talent on this squad and they can score. The challenge will be to get the players to understand the concept of stopping the other team -- an unfamiliar idea most call "playing defense."

Coach Jim Boeheim spent the summer in China as an assistant coach for the 2008 US Olympic basketball team. No doubt trying to forget a second consecutive missed trip to the NCAA Tournament. This team, however, seems unlikely to miss a third time. The Orange had addition-by-subtraction with the departure of talented but ball-hogging, defense-free Donte Greene. They also get addition by the return of guards Andy Rautins and Eric Devendorf. Rautins will help with depth and occasionally give point guard Jonny Flynn a breather. Devendorf will provide the energy and source of annoyance to opposing fans. As usual, Syracuse has an outstanding group of recruits led by forwards Mookie Jones and Wesley Johnson.

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