College Preview

2006 Big East Conference Preview




HOW THEY'LL FINISH



Conference

Overall



W

L

W

L

1.

+Notre Dame

14

9

38

24

2.

South Florida

--

--

33

31

3.

Pittsburgh

15

10

33

22

4.

Louisville

--

--

32

24

5.

St. John's

19

4

41

18

6.

Rutgers

12

12

32

21

7.

Villanova

8

16

28

21

8.

West Virginia

10

15

25

30

9.

Connecticut

11

12

34

22

10.

Cincinnati

--

--

25

30

11.

Seton Hall

8

17

17

35

12.

Georgetown

7

18

25

31

(2005 records listed; 2006 national ranking in parentheses)
+ 2005 conference tournament champion; NCAA regional participants in boldface

Projected NCAA Teams (2): Notre Dame, South Florida.
Conference Schedule: 27 games. Schedule begins March 24.
Conference Tournament: Four teams, May 26-28 at Somerset, N.J.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
* 2005 conference leader

C—Brian Baisley, Sr., South Florida (.349-9-47). 1B—Craig Cooper, Sr., Notre Dame (.325-7-58). 2B—Jim Negrych, Jr., Pittsburgh (.349-*16-59). 3B—Brett Lilley, So., Notre Dame (.355-0-28). SS—Todd Frazier, So., Rutgers (.295-9-36). OF—Isaiah Howes, Jr., Louisville (.319-4-33); Stan Posluszny, Sr., West Virginia (.286-12-50); David Williams, Jr., Rutgers (.312-6-32). DH—Ryan Craft, Sr., Georgetown (.335-13-48). P—Casey Hudspeth, Jr., South Florida (8-6, 3.97, 104 IP/95 SO); Billy Muldowney, Jr., Pittsburgh (7-3, 2.47, 84 IP/89 SO); Tim Norton, Sr., Connecticut (4-0, 3.07). RP—Chase Lirette, Jr., South Florida (2-3, 5.86).

Player of the Year: Jim Negrych, 2b, Pittsburgh.
Pitcher of the Year: Casey Hudspeth, rhp, South Florida..
Freshman of the Year: Chris Dominguez, 3b, Louisville (HS—Miami).

Top Newcomers: 1. Chris Dominguez, 3b, Louisville. 2. Scott Barnes, lhp, St. John’s (Fr., HS—Chicopee, Mass.). 3. Ryan Mahoney, c, St. John’s (Jr., .228-2-14 at South Carolina). 4. Luis Monell, lhp, St. John’s (Jr., Tr.—El Paso, Texas, CC). 5. Alec Lowery, of, Louisville (Fr., HS--Miami).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2006-07 DRAFTS

1. Casey Hudspeth, rhp, South Florida.
2. #Todd Frazier, ss, Rutgers.
3. Jim Negrych, 2b, Pittsburgh
4. Jeff Manship, rhp, Notre Dame.
5. Chase Lirette, rhp, South Florida.
6. Jeff Samardzija, rhp, Notre Dame.
7. Billy Muldowney, rhp, Pittsburgh.
8. #Daniel Thomas, rhp, South Florida.
9. Tim Norton, rhp, Connecticut.
10. Kevin Mulvey, rhp, Villanova.

# Not eligible for 2006 draft

BEST TOOLS

Best Pure Hitter--Jim Negrych, Pittsburgh. Best Raw Power--Stan Posluszny, West Virginia. Best Strike-Zone Discipline—Brett Lilley, Notre Dame. Best Athlete—Jeff Samardzija, Notre Dame. Fastest Runner—Boomer Whiting, Louisville. Best Baserunner—Jim Negrych, Pittsburgh. Best Defensive Catcher—Sean Gaston, Notre Dame. Catcher/Best Arm—David Carpenter, West Virginia. Best Defensive First Baseman—Edgard Sucre, Pittsburgh. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Nick Haley, Louisville. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Brett Lilley, Notre Dame. Best Defensive Shortstop--Greg Lopez, Notre Dame. Infielder/Best Arm—Todd Frazier, Rutgers. Best Defensive Outfielder—Boomer Whiting, Louisville. Outfielder/Best Arm—David Williams, Rutgers. Best Fastball—Casey Hudspeth, South Florida. Best Breaking Ball--Jeff Manship, Notre Dame. Best Control--Tom Thornton, Notre Dame.

SHORT HOPS

• The two-year shakeup in the membership of the Big East Conference that has had a profound impact on football and basketball competition in that conference has carried over to baseball. The changes have had much less fanfare, primarily because Miami never competed in baseball in the Big East. A year after losing Miami and Virginia Tech, the addition of Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida from Conference USA and the departure of Boston College to the Atlantic Coast Conference has left the conference at 12 teams for baseball. Basketball has 16 members, but DePaul, Marquette, Providence and Syracuse do not field baseball programs. The Big East landscape is now so vast that South Florida’s closest competitor, geographically, is Georgetown, more than 800 miles to the north.

• All-America wide receiver Jeff Samardzija, who caught 77 passes for a Notre Dame record 1,249 yards and 15 touchdowns, is the best known college football player playing college baseball this season. The 6-foot-5 junior righthander will be a weekend starter for the Irish this season after going 8-1, 3.89 with 56 strikeouts in 79 innings a year ago. Prior to his breakout season with the football team, Samardzija projected as a fourth- to eighth-round pick in this year’s baseball draft, but that may change depending on what he decides for his future in football, a sport in which he could be drafted as early as the second round after next season.

• St. John’s captured its first Big East regular-season title in 13 years in 2005, winning a school-record 41 games, but the Red Storm lost seven players to the draft, including its top three hitters along with starting pitchers Anthony Sullivan (8-3, 2.43) and Anthony Varvaro (9-3, 2.32) and All-America closer Craig Hansen (3-2, 1.68, 14 SV), the Big East leader in ERA and saves.

• The Big East returns just three first-team all-conference performers from a year ago: Georgetown senior DH Ryan Craft (.335-13-48), Pittsburgh junior 2B Jim Negrych (.349-16-59) and West Virginia senior SS Doug Nelms (.349-3-28). None of the league’s top seven hitters return, including Boston College junior 3B Jared McGuire (.381-6-41, 27 SB), the 2005 conference player of the year who finished second in the batting race. McGuire has joined his Boston College teammates in the ACC.

• Notre Dame is primed to win its fifth straight Big East tournament title as it returns 10 of its top 11 hitters, including senior 1B Craig Cooper (.325-7-58) and sophomore 3B Brett Lilley (.355-0-28), and six of its top eight pitchers, though junior RHP Dan Kapala appears lost for the season with a torn rotator cuff. The Irish are pinning a lot of their hopes on the return to form of junior RHP Jeff Manship (2-1, 3.97), who had Tommy John surgery in February 2004, sat out that season and worked just 23 innings last year. Manship, whose brother Matt pitches for Stanford, entered Notre Dame as one of the nation’s most highly-touted freshmen.

• In a league that is top-heavy in pitching prospects for the 2006 draft, Pittsburgh switch-hitting 2B Jim Negrych stands out. Only 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Negrych led the Big East in home runs last year with 16 while hitting .349. “He’s an outstanding baseball player,” Pitt coach Joe Jordano said. “He loves the game, love to practice, loves to play. He’s a very intelligent player. What he lacks in size does not affect the way he plays. His bat has pop, he hits pitchers from both sides equally and can drive the ball out to all fields. He’s very solid defensively and a very smart base runner.”

• The Baisley twins were South Florida’s top two hitters a year ago, but only Brian (.349-9-47), a senior catcher who was redshirted earlier in his career, remains with the team. Jeff (.356-8-71), a third baseman, was drafted in the 12th round by the Athletics a year ago. A third Baisley brother, Brad, a righthanded pitcher, was drafted in the second round by Philadelphia in 1998.

• After two seasons as a backup catcher at South Carolina, Ryan Mahoney has returned to New York, where he’ll start behind the plate for St. John’s. He’ll replace all-conference C Joe Burke (.348-1-41). Mahoney, a top recruit out of a New York high school, hit .228-2-14 in 2005 for the Gamecocks.

• West Virginia senior OF Stan Posluszny may never become as famous as his younger brother Paul, the decorated Penn State linebacker who won this year’s Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker. Stan (.286-12-50), one of the Big East Conference’s top power hitters at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, is just looking to be drafted again after going in the 21st round to the Angels in 2004 and being passed over a year ago. The Angels also failed to sign their fourth-round pick in the same 2004 draft, Alabama high school OF Pat White, who quarterbacked West Virginia to a 38-35 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl as a redshirt freshman. White, the highest unsigned high school pick from the ’04 draft, does not plan to play baseball for the Mountaineers this spring. He started six games for the Mountaineers this year and completed 65 of 114 passes for 828 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for 952 yards and seven more TDs.

• Pittsburgh has become a legitimate NCAA tournament contender by going 143-76 overall since bringing up the rear in the Big East in 2001. The Panthers could make their best run yet to a tournament berth this year as they return their two best pitchers, junior RHP Billy Muldowney (7-3, 2.47, 83 IP/89 SO) and sophomore LHP Rob Brant (7-2, 2.07, 61 IP/68 SO). “We lack a true, dominant No. 1 but I like the quality we have available, both for conference and non-conference matchups,” Jordano said.

• Connecticut won a school-record 34 games in 2005 under first-year coach Jim Penders and returns 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior RHP Tim Norton, who went 4-0, 3.07 with 49 strikeouts in 59 innings last year but is coming off a breakthrough summer in the Cape Cod League, where he earned all-star honors by going 5-1, 1.77 with 77 strikeouts in 61 innings.