One of a Series
Undated (AP) _ When Mark Macon was a freshman, Temple soared to the top of the college basketball polls and a gaudy 32-2 record with the 6-foot-5 guard grabbing honors in a season that ended one game short of the Final Four.
As a sophomore, Macon was hounded defensively and could only shoot and watch as the Owls dropped to 18-12 and an NIT bid.
It looks as if those things will change for the Temple junior. The Owls, ranked 15th in the preseason poll, have the height and talent to draw some of the attention Macon faced last season.
″It’s still just Mark Macon, and I don’t think we were frustrated last year and I don’t think anybody on my team would say they were,″ he said. ″It’s just my team coming in with a different cast of players and we’re going to try to play our best every game.″
Macon averaged 18.3 points last season and handed out 115 assists, but his shooting percentage dropped from .454 as a freshman to last season’s .407.
Macon’s only frontline help last season came from 7-0 Duane Causwell. He was second in the nation in blocked shots and averaged 11.3 points and 8.9 rebounds. But when Causwell was in foul trouble, the size of the team dropped dramatically.
It won’t this season, with the addition of Prop 48 sophomores 7-0 Donald Hodge, 6-11 Chris Lovelace and 6-9 Mark Strickland.
″It’s been different in practice but not that much,″ Macon said of the new pro-size frontline. ″Size can help you make up for a lot, but it may also hamper you.″
Lack of height will hurt Rutgers and West Virginia in the Atlantic 10 race with Temple.
Rutgers has four starters back from last season’s team which caught the country’s attention with an emotional ride to the NCAA tournament. West Virginia lost three players from an offense that was balanced and had been together for three seasons.
The Atlantic 10 has two new coaches, with Seton Hall assistant John Carroll taking over at Duquesne and former Gannon head coach Tom Chapman moving to St. Bonaventure.
Maybe no coach can expect as big a turnaround this season as George Washington’s John Kuester. His team went 1-27 last season, matching the NCAA mark for losses in a season.
The Colonials have eight new players plus all of last season’s starters. Three of the new players are transfers - 6-9 Byron Hopkins and 6-5 Matt Nordmann from Navy and 6-7 Mark Karver from Maryland.
″I am impressed with how this team stayed together through the season and how they all returned as ready as they could be for this season,″ Kuester said.
The Big East starts its second decade with a conference loaded in the frontcourt.
The group of starters 6-9 or better includes: Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo; Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman, LeRon Ellis and Billy Owens; Pittsburgh’s Brian Shorter and Bobby Martin; St. John’s Jayson Williams and Robert Werdann; Providence’s Marty Conlon and Abdul Shamshid-Deen; Villanova’s Tom Greis, and Seton Hall’s Anthony Avent.
With all those names up front, could it be possible the title could be decided in the backcourt?
″I think a lot of concentration is going to be on the big men and I think the Big East has the best corps of big men in the country,″ said Dwayne Bryant, who will team with Mark Tillmon in Georgetown’s senior backcourt. ″A lot of defensive focus is going to be on stopping those guys and I think the team with the guards who are going to be able to hit the open jump shot and play under control and keep things in focus may be the team that has a little edge.″
The Big East got four teams into the preseason poll, with Syracuse at No. 3, Georgetown No. 5, Pittsburgh No. 18 and St. John’s No. 25.
Pittsburgh and St. John’s are waiting for key players to recover from foot fractures. Pittsburgh lost point guard Sean Miller on the opening day of practice and the Redmen lost Williams with the same injury about a month ago. There is no definite date of return for either player.
The best kept secret in the East may be La Salle’s Lionel Simmons. He has a chance to become the first Division I player to score 3,000 points and grab 1,500 rebounds.
The 6-6 swingman makes the Explorers favorites in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but first-year member Siena may make a serious challenge.
The Saints upset Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season and the smooth backcourt of Marc Brown and Jeff Robinson is back.
Boston University has won 83 games over the past four seasons and the Terriers should win the North Atlantic title. The challengers should be Northeastern and Hartford.
Princeton’s Pete Carril, still reveling in the attention after the team’s near upset of Georgetown in March, has more than enough back to win the Ivy League.
Robert Morris dominated the Northeast Conference last season and Towson State will rely on Kurk Lee and his 25.4 scoring average in the East Coast Conference.