NEW YORK CITY -- Val Ackerman believes the Big East is still the Big East.
In her opening address during the league’s media day event at Chelsea Piers on Wednesday, the Big East commissioner told reporters that she expects the conference to possess the same strength that it had in the pre-realignment years.
Ackerman, the former president of the WNBA, turned into a boxing promoter while she hyped the league as it prepares for its new beginning.
“We’re going to make this basketball conference a force,” she said.
This league is obviously different. A summer split with the previous version of the Big East resulted in seven former Big East squads linking up with Creighton, Xavier and Butler to form the new conference.
She acknowledged that the conference feels some pressure to prove that it’s still a power league in its inaugural year.
“There’s no doubt the eyes of the basketball world and the eyes of others in college sports are definitely on the Big East,” she said. “I think everybody in our league uses that as a source of motivation.”
There are, however, no immediate plans to expand. Ackerman said the conference will be “very selective” if it ever decides to add teams.
“Ten is a good number,” she said.
I think the Big East recognizes that it is not the same league, now that former powers Louisville, Syracuse, UConn, Pitt and Notre Dame are gone. But the new members certainly believe in the Big East’s ability to maintain a slot as one of college basketball's power conferences this season.
The overall success of league favorites Marquette, Georgetown and Creighton will certainly be pivotal in that aspiration.
Other impressions and notes:
Doug McDermott, a strong contender for national player of the year honors, said Creighton’s transition to the Big East was a major factor in his decision to come back for his senior season. “If it was the Missouri Valley, I don’t know if I would’ve come back,” he said. “This is just a new challenge.” That shows that McDermott still believes he has more to prove. He is not running from the new spotlight that he and his program are under now. He’s embracing it.
John Thompson III doesn’t seem too worried about the loss of standout Greg Whittington, and maybe he shouldn’t be. The team played without him for a chunk of the 2012-13 season when he was suspended midyear due to academic issues. Whittington could miss the entire 2013-14 season due to an ACL injury he suffered in June. “Greg played in, I think, one conference game last year and we won the conference,” Thompson said. “We have a group of guys that do not have to make the adjustment to playing without Greg.”
Villanova’s Jay Wright is one of multiple Big East coaches who have some concerns about the new handchecking rules. How do you play tough defense with the new rules that will be implemented this season? Coaches, although excited about the impact the rules could have on offense, aren’t completely sure. “That’s going to be interesting in the Big East because we’ve all taken pride in our defense,” he said. “And the three teams that are coming in are the same way. ... I think you’re going to see some ugly games early.”
When a teary-eyed Brad Stevens walked into their locker room, his former players were nervous. When he told them he was leaving, they were lost. But, Khyle Marshall said, players weren’t mad when Stevens announced that he was taking a job with the Boston Celtics. “Once he said the Boston Celtics, I was like, ‘I completely understand,'" Marshall said. Marshall and new coach Brandon Miller didn’t dwell on the past Wednesday. They’re ready to move forward. “I can only be like myself,” Miller said when asked about following Stevens.
St. John’s is the league’s most difficult team to project. Steve Lavin’s squad, which finished 17-16 last season, is arguably as talented and athletic as any team in the Big East. But it needs leaders to emerge. Lavin said D'Angelo Harrison, the team’s leading scorer who was suspended late last season, is staying on track to have a productive season. He said the talented junior underwent counseling to help him deal with some of his anger issues this offseason. “We sat down when he was dismissed and developed a road map where he could earn his way back the old-fashioned way,” Lavin said. “That checklist ... he’s taken care of.”