In 2022, the Big East is certainly looking different. With new coaches, exciting transfers and more, all signs point to another incredible season of college basketball in the Big East. However, before another season of college basketball, it was time for another Big East Media Day to kickoff. Whether it was UConn basketball or another institution, there were plenty of interesting stories to look out for ahead of the 2022-23 season.
A Georgetown guard with a Connecticut connection
The battle for the starting point guard spot for the Hoyas has been very competitive. One of the newest transfers for the Hoyas is a part of that battle and he happens to have a connection with Connecticut.
Amir “Primo” Spears played high school basketball at Windsor High School and grew up in Hartford, CT. He was a two time GametimeCT all-state selection and averaged 20 points and 10 assists in his senior season. He was even better in his junior season, averaging 25.3 points and 9.3 assists.
When it came to make the jump to college basketball, Spears chose the Duquesne Dukes. During his time with the Dukes, Spears averaged 12.7 on 32.7 minutes per game. The guard showed the ability to be a high-scoring threat in college basketball, and while he does have some skills to work on like being a more efficient three point shooter, the skills are certainly there for Spears to improve under a coach like Patrick Ewing.
When asked about what Spears brings to the table for the Hoyas, Ewing had high praise for his new sophomore transfer, saying, “I love what he’s done. He’s been playing extremely well. He can do a lot of different things. He’s an outstanding passer. He can defend the basketball. He can make every pass. I’m looking forward to see how good we’re going to be with him on our team.”
With plenty of games for Spears in Connecticut and in a new role with the Hoyas, he’ll certainly be a guy that Big East fans should want to keep their eye on.
Puerto Rico in the Big East
It’s a homecoming for André Curbelo in 2022. When the former Illinois guard moved from his home in Puerto Rico to New York, he enrolled at Long Island Lutheran High School, 20 miles away from his current campus at St. John’s University. He impressed as a four-star recruit and eventually committed to Illinois, where he struggled in his time.
After entering the transfer portal, he returned to the Big Apple as a member of St. John’s, where he’s already began to work on having a great rebound season in his sophomore year. Coach Mike Anderson is certainly seeing Curbelo settle into his role early.
“I think our guys have welcomed him with open arms. One thing about André is that he’s a very personal guy, so that makes that transition a whole lot easier.”
When asked about the connection between Curbelo and fellow Puerto-Rican teammate Rafael Pinson, Anderson said that the general team chemistry beyond their relationship has made major leaps.
“This team here is a lot closer. They’re spending more time together,” said Anderson.
In Pinson’s case, he’s looking to get even better in year two. Now that he’s joined by his former high school teammate in Curbelo, Anderson has seen the progression in Pinson’s game.
“Rafael has got stronger. He’s healthier. I think that’s the biggest thing. I’m really excited for him. I think he gets a chance to showcase what he brings to the table. A guy that’s 6’6”, can handle the basketball, can score and can distribute it. He’s got what I call moxie. We always talk about guys that have toughness and grit, but he’s got moxie and I think that bodes well for him,” said Anderson.
For the Red Storm, they’ll have two players with tremendous upside that are ready to show everything they’ve got on the court. It will be even better knowing they’ll both be representing the area of Puerto Rico well on the Division I level.
Shaka Smart is ready for year 2
After former Marquette Golden Eagles coach Steve Wojciechowski was fired in 2021 after missing the NCAA tournament, the team opted for Smart. He’d shown that he had the talent to coach at the Division I level at Texas where he’d led the Longhorns to multiple NCAA tournament berths.
But the Golden Eagles were a new challenge and Smart was tasked to take Marquette to the next level. In his first season with the team, he’s off to a great start. After leading the team to its first tournament berth since 2019, Smart and the Golden Eagles are looking to do even better in year two of Smart’s tenure as head coach.
In year two, what is the team’s biggest improvement not only with the head coach, but also with the entire team?
“Prescence,” said Smart. “Just being more in the moment, being grateful for the moment and being grateful for each other. We need that presence on the court too. It’s huge. We really emphasize being lost in the fight and you can’t do that if you’re not present.”
With so many stars in the Big East such as Adama Sanogo and Posh Alexander, there are bound to be some surprises from players that were overlooked going into this season. Smart believes that one of those players is junior Oso Ighodaro. Coming off a season where he averaged 5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks, the second-year head coach believes that he’s a guy that needs to be scouted when playing the Goldean Eagles.
“What they’re saying about him based on the past is different than what they’ll see from him in the game. Now the way basketball works after we’ve played a handful of games, they watch this year’s games. But, he will definitely surprise some people,” said Smart.
Ahead of the 2022-23 season, the Golden Eagles will have plenty to prove after the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll placed them at ninth. But, if there’s anything for certain, they’ve got a talented coach with plenty of pieces to make noise in a competitive Big East conference.
UConn wants to stop the Blue Jays
For UConn captain Andre Jackson, he’s got one team that he wants to beat more than any other in the Big East.
“Creighton,” said Jackson. “We never beat them. I’ve never beat them while I was here and this year I feel like this is the team. We have to beat Creighton. Me and Adama [Sanogo] talk about it every day. Me and Hawk talk about it every day. Creighton is definitely at the forefront of my mind right now.”
Anyone who watched UConn basketball last season saw one repetitive trend, and that was the team’s inability to get past Creighton. If it was difficult to get past the Blue Jays in Big East play last season, it’s going to be an even tougher battle now.
The team returns a big three of Ryan Kalkbrenner, Arthur Kaluma, and Ryan Nembhard. They all pose high scoring threats and with the departure of Ryan Hawkins, their numbers will certainly be getting even better. That’s all without mentioning additions to the roster like Baylor Scheierman, one of the top players in the transfer portal over the offseason.
However, even with the Blue Jays at the top of the Big East Coaches’ Preseason Poll, Jackson says beating Creighton stands as a top priority for him this season.
“I just want to beat them cause they beat us. It’s not really about the numbers or rankings. It’s just I don’t want to lose. If we all just had it our way, we would win every single game. Nobody wants to lose,” Jackson said.
With the Huskies’ first matchup against the Blue Jays on Jan. 7, it’s undoubtedly going to be one of the best games of the season to watch. Jackson will have the help of the Husky faithful at Gampel Pavillion to take down the top foe in the Big East this season. Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear that Jackson wants to turn the tide of history more than ever.