Notre Dame basketball fans are having to get used to something new: big-time expectations.
The Irish normally are off the national radar. They were picked to finish 11th in the Big East preseason poll two seasons ago and ninth last season.
That won't be the case in 2008-09. The Irish return seven of their top eight scorers, including reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody, from a team that was the surprise of the league this past season. Notre Dame finished in a tie for second place and winning 25 games. The Irish will be expected to contend for the league title and could start the season in the top 10.
Can the Irish live up to the hype? We explore that question and others in this week's mailbag.
Do you think Notre Dame is capable of winning the Big East and making it past the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament?
— Brendan Dugan from Brooklyn, N.Y. -----
Absolutely. I believe the Irish have a good shot at reaching the Final Four.
They have great balance and experience. Harangody is the top returning scorer and rebounder in the Big East. Tory Jackson led the league in assists last season. Kyle McAlarney is one of the top outside shooters in the country. If North Carolina's Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington hadn't pulled out of the draft, that probably would be the best trio in college basketball (the Tar Heels also have star big man Tyler Hansbrough).
I think the only big question for the Irish is dealing with being a favorite. Coach Mike Brey is used to playing the underdog card, making his players believe they have nothing to lose. That won't be possible this season. The Irish probably will start the season in the top 10 and be picked second or third in the Big East.
(Mississippi State's) Jamont Gordon wasn't drafted and as far as I know hasn't signed with a team or an agent. Is it possible for him to come back and do the same thing Randolph Morris did at Kentucky? And if so, do you think he will?
— Andrew from Starkville, Miss. -----
I'm afraid Mississippi State fans need to start thinking about life after Gordon. Unlike Morris, Gordon isn't interested in returning to school. He has signed with the Philadelphia 76ers and will play for their summer-league team. He fired his original agent after the draft and hired Mike Conley Sr., who represents Mike Conley Jr. and Greg Oden, among others.
The point guard of the future for the Bulldogs probably is freshman Demarquis Bost, a top-100 prospect who spent last season at Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy. Freshman Antiquawn Beckham, who played at a prep school in New Hampshire, also will be in the mix.
Illinios has Demetri McCamey, Jamar Smith and Alex Legion for the next two years, and the next two recruiting classes are loaded with skill players. What are your thoughts on their firepower?
— Kent from Atlanta -----
The key with Illinois is avoiding another season like this past one. I'm not sure the fan base or the athletic department can tolerate another year without as much as an NIT trip.
That won't be that easy. With the departures of Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle, the Illini are going to be hurting inside. But if they can find a way to cover up that weakness, 2009-10 does look particularly promising.
The 2009 class is by far the best coach Bruce Weber and his staff have landed. The group includes three four-star prospects. In the 2009-10 season, McCamey will have been a starter for a season and a half, and Legion will be eligible at the start of the season, unlike this season when he can't start playing until mid-December.
A Knight returns?
Do you think Bob Knight will be returning to coaching this season?
— Sam Wright from Morehead, Ky. -----
Not this season. All the 340-plus Division I coaching spots are taken, and I don't think even the bullish Knight could strong-arm his way into job in July or August.
But I do expect Knight to coach again, possibly as soon as 2009 or 2010. I just can't picture him being happy away from the game. He still can win. He took Texas Tech to the Sweet 16 just three years ago.
Plus, there always will be athletic directors trying to entice Knight. There may not be bigger name available, and he would bring a tremendous amount of attention to any program.
It's a numbers issue. To apply for a medical redshirt, the NCAA requires that a player participate in no more than 30 percent of his team's games. Frasor comes in just above the maximum, having played in 30.7 percent (12 of 39 games) last season. Cook comes in just below, having played in 29.7 percent (11 of 37 games).
If Pitt hadn't reached the Big East Tournament title game and beaten Oral Roberts in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Cook would have played in more than 30 percent of the Panthers' games. If the Tar Heels had beaten Kansas in the national semifinals, Frasor would have played in exactly 30 percent of their games and therefore been eligible to ask for a redshirt.
What do you think the expectations should be for South Carolina fans in Darrin Horn's first season as the coach? Do you think he can turn the program around? Where would you rank Devan Downey out of all the point guards?
— Josh Low from Lancaster, S.C. -----
Gamecocks fans definitely shouldn't expect more than an NIT appearance, and even that would be considered a success. The Gamecocks return all their key players – but from a team that went 14-18.
Horn's toughest job is competing in the SEC East. Only a handful of teams have more talent than Florida and Tennessee; the Vols probably will start the season in the top 10. Vanderbilt loses SEC Player of the Year Shan Foster, but returns A.J. Ogilvy - one of the league's top big men - and adds the nation's No. 15 recruiting class. Then there's Kentucky. The Wildcats probably will take a step back with the loss of their top two guards (Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford), but you can't imagine them being down long.
As for Downey, I would place him among the nation's top 10 point guards. Downey isn't as well-rounded as Maryland's Greivis Vasquez or as dangerous a scorer as Boston College's Tyrese Rice. But he is faster than both and might have the quickest hands of anyone in the college ranks. Outside shooting and decision-making are the areas he needs to improve for his stock to rise and the Gamecocks to get better.