Big East media day was this week, which means one of the silliest annual traditions in college sports takes place. The pre-season poll and awards are released, which, as always, mean absolutely nothing.
Every coach fills out a form for the Big East office with the predicted order of finish for both sides of the league. Each coach also selects a pre-season all conference team, as well as player of the year and rookie of the year, but you are not allowed to pick your own team or your own players.
While I'm sure most coaches take the task seriously, it is still pretty easy to understand why the standings in March usually don't reflect what was predicted in October. Do you really think that Tim Welsh has a great idea how hard Jerome Coleman has worked at Rutgers during the off-season? Would you expect John Belien to have a good feel for the impact that Donnie McGrath and Herbert Hill could have for us? In a lot of ways, it's just a guessing game.
Now throw in the fact that we have 14 teams in our league and we are split in two divisions, and that makes it even tougher. The Big East is really two different leagues, and clearly we pay the most attention to the teams on our side that we will play twice every year. Somebody asked me over the summer about how the loss of Deshaun Williams would affect Syracuse, and it occurred to me that it really didn't matter to us. We don't play Syracuse. It makes it a little weird when you are watching games and scores in the Big East, and there are some games that have no effect on us at all.
In the last two years both Pittsburgh and Boston College (How did Rome's shot roll off the rim???) have won their divisions in the regular season after being picked sixth by the coaches. We're picked in the 6th hole this year, which is fine with us, and means, as always, absolutely nothing. To be honest, I'd bet most of our guys don't even know that there is a pre-season poll, let alone where we were picked or by whom.
So how good are we going to be this year? I guess the point is, even for coaches who work with their teams every day, it is very hard to tell. Throw in all of the injury problems we've had and it becomes even tougher. Two years ago we weren't expected to be any good, picked to finish 5th, and we set a school record for Big East wins and went to the NCAA Tournament. It is a lot of fun to look ahead, hypothesize and predict, but individuals and teams are hard to quantify with numbers in terms of wins and losses. We all knew we had a good one when we got Ryan Gomes, but did we think he'd get 32 as a freshman at Miami? Probably not.
So much can happen during the course of a season, and there is such a long way to go. Everybody participated in live practice at some point this week, but we still have not had our entire team on the floor in the same day. In fact Coach was amazed one day when he was handed the injury report and it had 8 names on it - 8 of our 13 scholarship players.
What we do see right now, which is the only way we can measure our team, is progress. Everyone is much more comfortable than they were the first week, and our upperclassmen have a lot to do with that. We have a number of juniors and seniors who have all played in the Tournament and are thirsty to get back. As hard as it may be to tell where we could end up, we do know one thing we will be able to put on the floor - experience. That is something that should be a big factor in the Big East.
We will get a much better feel when we play our first exhibition game this Saturday night. Donnie and Herbert will be suiting up in the Dunk for the first time. As a team we will finally get a chance to go against somebody other than ourselves, somebody who doesn't know all of our tendencies, our plays and our defense.
Every team every year has a different personality. It will be great to be back at the Dunk to lace 'em up, and take a peek at what we've got.