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October 25, 2006

Big East loaded with next wave of stars

Preseason Top 25
Top guys off the bench
The College Basketball Wire

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The four and five-star recruits arrive with much more hype, but sometimes it's the little-known players on your roster, the backups from the previous season who can make the biggest difference.

That was certainly the case in the Big East last season.

Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray went from a role player to one of the nation's top big men, averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds. His dramatic improvement was the top factor in the Panthers' 25-8 season.

Connecticut center Hilton Armstrong was a little-used reserve during his first three years in college, but as a senior he led the league in blocks with 3.1 per game. The Huskies went 30-4, captured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and Armstrong was later selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Expect similar transformations in the Big East again. Six of our top 10 sleepers hail from the 16-team conference.

Rivals.com 2006-07 Top Sleepers
1. Jeff Adrien, So., Connecticut, 6-7, 245
If Adrien didn't have to play behind Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone last season, he wouldn't be on this list. The big man would probably already be a star. Expect Adrien, who overpowers defenders with his strength and tenacity around the basket, to emerge this season. Limited to 16 minutes per game on a team with four first-round NBA Draft picks, Adrien still managed to average 6.5 points, five rebounds and shot 64 percent from the field. With the Huskies losing their top seven scorers, he has a chance to go from a backup to Big East Player of the Year candidate. Much of the UConn offense will be run through Adrien.
2. Tyrese Rice, So., Boston College, 6-1, 190
Everyone around the ACC already knows about Rice and how dangerous a scorer he can be. Now, the rest of the nation gets to find out. With the loss of veteran guard Louis Hinnant, Rice will be a full-time starter and play heavy minutes for a very thin backcourt. That should lead to some gaudy numbers for the former three-star recruit. He needed just 21 minutes to score 22 points in his fourth college game against Drake. He finished with 16 points in 22 minutes at North Carolina and put up 19 in 23 minutes against Maryland.
3. Ronald Ramon, Jr., Pittsburgh, 6-1, 180
Carl Krauser, Pitt's longtime leader, is gone. That means we are going to find out just how underrated Ramon has been. Unlike Krauser, Ramon does a good job setting up his teammates and uses good shot selection. In his first year as a starter last season, he led the team with a 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, shot 51 percent from 3-point range in league games and scored in double figures in seven of the last 10 games. Now placed in a more assertive role, Ramon's high basketball I.Q. and versatile skills will be showcased more.
4. Wilson Chandler, So., DePaul, 6-8, 230
The Blue Demons have NCAA Tournament hopes, thanks in large part to the emergence of young players like Chandler. The power forward showed flashes of being a dominating force on the inside in his first college season. He put together double-doubles against Notre Dame (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Seton Hall (26 points, 11 rebounds). Expect more performances like that for Chandler and for his name to pop up on any list of the Big East's top post players.
5. Terrence Williams, So., Louisville, 6-6, 210
With Taquan Dean gone and Brandon Jenkins and David Padgett expected to miss several games because of injuries, the Cardinals need someone to carry them offensively in the first half of the season. Williams looks like the best candidate. The athletic small forward possesses some of the best physical tools namely great leaping ability and quickness of any player in the Big East. It showed in his breakout game versus Pitt last season when he scored 25 points, grabbed five rebounds and added four steals.
6. Jeremy Hunt, Sr., Memphis, 6-5, 210
Nobody on the Tigers' roster can replace talented wings Shawne Williams and Rodney Carney. However, the return of Hunt - a fifth-year senior - will help soften the blow of losing two first-round picks. The versatile small forward can score from several spots on the court and can help on the glass he averaged 9.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg as a sophomore. After a series of injuries and off-the-court problems, he is finally healthy and will be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. The senior looks poised for a breakout year
7. Devon Hardin, Jr., Cal, 6-11, 235
It seems like Leon Powe has gobbled up just about every rebound and taken every key shot at Cal for the last two years. But with Powe gone to the NBA, it's now Hardin's turn to be the man in Berkeley. Hardin will be the first or second offensive option instead of the third or fourth. The center has the size and skills to be a double-double machine like Powe, but staying out of foul trouble will be his biggest challenge. He racked up four or more fouls in 13 games, and often had to be taken out of games early due to picking up quick fouls.
8. Jerel McNeal, So., Marquette, 6-3, 185
Steve Novak and Dominic James got most of the credit for the Eagles' NCAA Tournament trip last season. However, McNeal played a major role as well. The shooting guard averaged 11.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg (second on the team) and collected a team-high 64 steals. In one of the biggest wins in school history over then-No. 2 Connecticut, he had his best game. McNeal scored 19 points and pulled down 12 boards against the Huskies. Expect him to surpass those career-highs with Novak gone and the offense geared more toward the backcourt.
9. Melvin Buckley, Sr., South Florida, 6-7, 215
The injury-riddled Bulls won just one Big East game last season, but this Purdue transfer provided some hope for the future. Buckley went on some big scoring tears, racking up 16 points in one half against West Virginia and hitting five 3-pointers in one half against Providence. He was a scoring machine during the Bulls' European tour this summer, averaging a team-high 27.6 points in five games. With a much more healthy roster, look for the Bulls to take advantage of the offensive lift Buckley provides and pull off a couple big upsets.
10. David Hoskins, Jr., Kansas State, 6-5, 225
Nobody may benefit more from the arrival of Bob Huggins at K-State than Hoskins. The Central Michigan transfer looks like an ideal fit for Huggins' style of play with his athleticism and upside. He averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds last season, but showed the makings of an All-Big 12 player at times. He scored 25 points against Iowa State and Texas Tech. Expect more performances like that with Huggins placing a bigger emphasis on getting the ball in Hoskins' hands.
Best of the rest
11. Marcelus Kemp, Jr., Nevada, 6-5, 210
12. Mike Jones, Sr., Maryland, 6-5, 205
13. Maureece Rice, Jr., George Washington, 6-1, 215
14. Leemire Goldwire, Jr., Charlotte, 5-11, 190
15. Aleks Maric, Jr., Nebraska, 6-11, 270
16. Jamar Smith, So., Illinois, 6-3, 185
17. Sharaud Curry, So., Providence, 5-10, 165
18. Anthony Mason Jr. , So., St. John's, 6-7, 205
19. James Mays, Jr., Clemson, 6-9, 225
20. Curtis Jerrells, So., Baylor, 6-1, 195

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