Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Big East 2008-09 College Basketball Preview

Predicted Order of Finish

This much is clear in the Big East: there is no shortage of contenders for the regular season championship. While the teams that have been basement dwellers the last several years will continue to hang around down there, all the usual suspects are back with strong returning casts, new blood and hopes to be playing deep into March and beyond.

1. Notre Dame – This is the one team in the Big East that will look pretty much the same this year as it did last year. Rob Kurz is gone, but beyond that, the same talented faces remain and a great inside/outside combination highlighted by All-American candidate Luke Harangody will make this team a tough out every night.

2. Marquette – Tom Crean is gone, but a lot of talent remains. Despite being a little thin and undersized up front, there is not a team in the country with the type of back court depth that Buzz Williams’ squad possesses.

3. Louisville – A ton of talent here, including freshman superstar Samardo Samuels. Plus, this team returns several upperclassmen who flirted briefly with the NBA before returning for the Cardinals, and they get the benefit of addition-by-subtraction as Derrick Caracter and his problems are no longer around.

4. Georgetown – The Hibbert/Green team is no longer. Role players like Ewing, Rivers, and Wallace have moved on to other pastures, and yet JT3 still has plenty of talent, including an infusion of young, talented big men Greg Monroe, Henry Sims and Julian Vaughn.

5. Pitt – A lot of Pitt’s prognosis depends on the status of Levance Fields’ left foot. Fields underwent his second surgery of the year on the foot just before the start of practice and he is not expected back until the season is underway. However, if Fields is healthy by the time the Panthers start Big East play, this team can play with anyone.

6. Connecticut – Nothing can ever be easy for the Huskies, it seems. With PG AJ Price recovering from a devastating knee injury in the first round of last March’s NCAA tournament, Stanley Robinson’s academic future in question, and incoming freshman Nate Miles now matriculating at the University of Southern Idaho after getting expelled from school , there are some questions in Storrs. However, plenty of talent remains, and if some of the early season questions are answered to Jim Calhoun’s satisfaction, the Huskies will again contend,

7. West Virginia – Bob Huggins continues remaking the Mountaineers in his image, and incoming freshman like Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant will help. Throw in returners like Alex Ruoff, Da’Sean Butler and Joe Mazulla, and Huggins will have his team dancing into March again.

8. Providence – Keno Davis takes over a team that has underachieved, but there are plenty of pieces here. Senior forward Jeff McDermott has a varied skill set, and combined with back court players like Jeff Xavier and Sharaud Curry, the Friars could surprise.

9. Villanova – The fact that a strong Villanova team is being picked 9th in their conference should tell you a little something about how deep the Big East is this year. It is just as likely that the Wildcats will challenge for the top spot, flush with talent both on the perimeter and the interior.

10. Syracuse – After a nightmare season in 2007-08, when the Orange were down to six scholarship players at one point during the Big East season, Jim Boeheim welcomes back guards Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins from knee injuries. Sophomore point Jonny Flynn, junior wing Paul Harris and a trio of rookie small forwards should make this season more successful than last, and yet the competition around them is even stronger. But, if things break right here, the Orange could be among the big boys in March again.

11. Seton Hall – Some talent on the perimeter, a bunch of big stiffs in the middle and the Pirates mark the delineating point between the contenders and the pretenders in the Big East. They’ll fight with DePaul for the title of top pretender, and will surprise a team or two.

12. DePaul – Sophomores Dar Tucker and Mac Koshwal will team with senior point Jabari Currie to lead a dangerous team whose best days are ahead of them. Don’t look past this team, but probably not a contender in a league this tough.

13. Rutgers – McDonald’s All-American freshman Mike Rosario will put some fight in the Scarlet Knights, and the rest of a pretty strong freshman class will make this the best Rutgers team in quite some time. Just good enough to finish near the bottom of a loaded Big East.

14. St. John’s – While talented enough to finish a few slots up this list, history tells us that Norm Roberts’ squad will finish somewhere right around here. And Roberts will be looking for work in April.

15. Cincinnati – The Bearcats lost incoming freshman Cashmere Wright to an ACL injury in practice, and a hopeful season in Cincinnati turns sour quick. Once again the Bearcat offense will feature Deonta Vaughn, and not a whole lot else.

16. South Florida – But a strong 16th. There will be a ton of new faces for the Bulls, including Georgia transfer Mike Mercer, but not enough talent and not enough size, to be much of a contender.

Preseason All-Conference
First Team
PG Lavance Fields Sr Pitt
SG Jerel McNeal Sr Marquette
SG Scottie Reynolds Jr Villanova
PF Luke Harangody Jr Notre Dame
C Hasheem Thabeet Jr Connecticut

Second Team
PG AJ Price Sr Connecticut
SG Deonta Vaughn Jr Cincinnati
SF Geoff McDermott Sr Providence
PF Sam Young Sr Pitt
PF Samardo Samuels Fr Louisville

Third Team
PG Jonny Flynn So Syracuse
SF Earl Clark Jr Louisville
SF DaJuan Summers Jr Georgetown
PF DeJuan Blair So Pitt
C Greg Monroe Fr Georgetown

All Freshman Team
PG Kemba Walker Connecticut
SG Mike Rosario Rutgers
PF Samardo Samuels Louisville
PF Kevin Jones West Virginia
C Greg Monroe Georgetown

Preseason Tournament Tie-Ins

Connecticut – Paradise Jam
Potential Opponents: La Salle, Southern Miss/Miami, San Diego/Wisconsin

Georgetown – Old Spice Classic
Possible Opponents: Wichita State, Tennessee/Siena, Maryland/Michigan State/Gonzaga/Oklahoma State

Notre Dame – Maui Invitational
Possible Opponents: Indiana, St. Joe’s/Texas, North Carolina/Oregon/Alabama

Pittsburgh – Legend’s Classic
Possible Opponents: Texas Tech, Mississippi State/Washington State

Providence – Anaheim Classic
Possible Opponents: Baylor, Arizona State/Charlotte, Wake Forest/St. Mary’s

Seton Hall – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Possible Opponents: USC, Memphis, Missouri/Xavier/Virginia Tech

Syracuse – CBE Classic
Possible Opponents: Florida, Washington/Kansas

West Virginia – Las Vegas Invitational
Possible Opponents – Iowa, Kentucky/Kansas State

Top 10 Non- Conference Games

12/6 Marquette @ Wisconsin
Big intrastate, interconference matchup between national powers.

12/9 Villanova @ Texas
The Wildcats travel down south for a big early season test.

12/9 Davidson @ West Virginia
The Mountaineers host last season’s Cinderella, and a team who will be plenty dangerous this year as well.

12/13 Memphis @ Georgetown
An intriguing matchup between young athletic squads.

12/16 Marquette @ Tennessee
Another tough early season test for Buzz Williams’ new charges.

12/17 Siena @ Pittsburgh
Pitt hosts one of this year’s top mid-majors.

12/20 Connecticut @ Gonzaga
The Huskies go across country to visit a strong Zag team.

12/20 Syracuse @ Memphis
This intersectional battle should have no lack of highlight reel fodder.

1/17 Georgetown @ Duke
An intriguing battle between traditional basketball powers.

2/7 Notre Dame @ UCLA
One of the final non-conference battles of the regular season between two potential national championship contenders.

Predicted NCAA Tournament Invites (9):

Notre Dame, Marquette, Louisville, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, West Virginia, Providence, Villanova

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