Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK – Jamie Dixon says change is coming to the Big East next year.
While Louisville, Pitt and UConn dominated the conference a year ago — going a combined 46-8 — Dixon says a new group of teams could move up this year.
“Cincinnati, St. John’s, Seton Hall,” Dixon said Wednesday at a coaches clinic at Madison Square Garden. “Those are going to be more experienced teams. There are some very experienced teams and it’s not the teams that were at the top of the conference last year.”
Pitt is losingDeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields to the pros (Read my feature today on SNY.tv), while Louisville (Earl Clark, Terrence Williams) and UConn (Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price) will also lose top players.
Dixon said the key to success in the Big East is retention, the ability to keep players over a numbers of years who can succeed as juniors and seniors.
“It’s going to be the seniors and juniors that win the games,” Dixon said.
St. John’s will have seven juniors next year: Malik Boothe, Justin Burrell, Dele Coker, Sean Evans, Paris Horne, D.J. Kennedy and Rob Thomas.
The Red Stormalso bring back redshirt senior Anthony Mason Sr., as well as a recruiting class that includes talented guards Omari Lawrence, Malik Stith and Dwight Hardy.
Cincinnati returns two key seniors in Deonta Vaughn and Steve Toyloy and six juniors (Kenny Belton, Rashad Bishop, Larry Davis, Anthony McClain, Alvin Mitchell and Darnell Wilks).
Seton Hallreturns redshirt senior John Garcia, seniors Eugene Harvey and Robert Mitchell and junior Jeremy Hazell. The Hall also brings in some talented transfers in Herb Pope, Keon Lawrence and Jeff Robinson to go with a recruiting class that includes JUCO guard Jamel Jackson and freshman Ferrakohn Hall.
Villanova could be the cream of the Big East depending on what Scottie Reynolds does. Reynolds will test the NBA Draft waters after his junior season but did not hire an agent, meaning he could return.
The Wildcats lose Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson from their Final Four team, but return guards Reggie Redding, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher and bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the nation in McDonald’s All-American Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, as well as big men Mouphtaou Yarou and Isaiah Armwood. Duke transfer Taylor King and redshirt big man Maurice Sutton also become eligible.
“From year to year you see a number of programs that make that one-year jump because they just have a bunch of upperclassmen. They have experienced guys,” Dixon said. “Year after year, that’s the challenge because you have to replace guys.”
PITT / ST. JOHN’S/ BIG EAST NOTES
**Dixon said people shouldn’t be surprised that he stayed at Pitt instead of taking the Arizona job, which ultimately went to Sean Miller.
“I think only the people that don’t know our university and don’t understand what we have there [were surprised],” he said. “We have a great place and there’s a sense of loyalty to the kids and the school on my part.”
He added: “Sean’s going to do a really good job there.”
**Dixon will coach the U.S. U-19 team this summer, taking over for Davidson’s Bob McKillop, who coached last year.
The 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship will be held July 2-12 in Auckland, New Zealand. The team’s training camp will be held June 16-28 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Here are the confirmed players for the trials: Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas; Kemba Walker of UConn; Darryl “Truck” Bryant of West Virginia; Larry Drew of North Carolina; Klay Thompson of Washington State; Seth Curry of Duke; Kenny Boynton of Florida; Maalik Wayns of Villanova; Gordon Hayward of Butler; Sylven Landesberg of Virginia; Al Farouq-Aminu of Wake Forest; Howard Thompkins of Georgia; Drew Gordon of UCLA; and Arnett Moultrie of UTEP.
**Dixon said he fully expects Jersey natives Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall to step in and take over next year at the point for Fields.
“Travon had some injuries so we decided to redshirt him,” Dixon said of the former St. Anthony star. “I think that’s something that’s very key to our success. We haven’t had to bring in a brand new freshman point guard so that’s important.”
**Dixon said Pitt probably won’t use its last scholarship this year and will save it for next year.
**Pitt commit Isaiah Epps of Plainfield (N.J.) High will prep next year, but Dixon said he didn’t know where.
**Pitt recently signed on with Nike after being sponsored by adidas, and Dixon says he thinks that helps recruiting.
**Dixon talked to the coaches on hand about his late sister, MaggieDixon, the former coach of the West Point women’s team. He said the Maggie Dixon Classic this year at Madison Square Garden would host Rutgers against Tennessee and Baylor vs. Boston College.
“My goal is to fill in Madison Square Garden for a women’s event and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Dixon said.
**St. John’s will play in the Philly Classic over Thanksgiving weekend. The event will feature Siena, Temple and Virginia Tech. St. John’s will play a non-conference schedule that also includes games with Duke and Georgia, the latter in the SEC-Big East Invitational.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.