Monday, October 19, 2009

Big East 2009-10 College Basketball Preview

Predicted Order of Finish

Last season’s Big East featured an embarrassment of talents, up and down the standings, perhaps the strongest edition of this conference in history. And while a huge number of the star players from last year are playing elsewhere now, the Big East still features some outstanding returning veterans and some intriguing new prospects as well. Both Villanova and Connecticut were among the Final Four teams standing last season, and they will once again have something to say about the champion of this league. However, the middle of this conference is far more wide open this season, and there will be tournament slots available for the taking.

1. Villanova – while Jay Wright loses three major frontcourt contributors to last year’s Wildcat Final Four team, the backcourt not only returns, but adds even more talent for one of the deepest backcourt rotations in history. If they can get some contributions from the frontcourt, the ‘Cats have a strong chance to repeat last year’s March run.

2. West Virginia – Bob Huggins has assembled a fine collection of talent, highlighted by talented sophomore wing Devin Ebanks, but the ‘Neers will need contributions from up and down their roster to make this much noise.

3. Cincinnati – with heralded freshman Lance Stephenson joining last year’s squad that just missed the tournament, Mick Cronin has the pieces in place to make a strong run to the top of the conference.

4. Connecticut – gone are Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien, but Kemba Walker, Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson return. Coupled with some returning role players and new prospects, the Huskies will continue to be a tough team to beat.

5. Georgetown – the Hoyas will not be a deep team this year, but they boast one of the most talented players in the country in Greg Monroe and a solid backcourt. If Monroe plays up to his potential, JT3’s squad could compete for a conference title.

6. Syracuse – a trio of familiar faces is gone, but the cupboard is far from empty in the Carrier Dome. However, free throw shooting will once again be the Achilles’ Heel for the Orange.

7. Seton Hall – this has got to be the year it all comes together for Bobby Gonzalez in South Orange. Jeremy Hazell is the flash and Eugene Harvey is the motor, and with talented frontcourt man Herb Pope along for the ride, the Pirates look primed to rejoin the dance.

8. Lousville – ever since Terrence Williams and Earl Clark played their last game for the Cardinals (a terrible loss to Michigan State in the Midwest Regional Final last season), things have been a mess in Rick Pitino’s program. While there is still plenty of talent around, all the off-court issues can’t help but be a distraction.

9. Pittsburgh – DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and LeVance Fields, all gone. That is not a threesome that is easily replaced. These Panthers will not be the national power that they have been in recent years, but Jamie Dixon is too good of a coach to let his team fall too far.

10. Notre Dame – while last year was a disappointing season for the Irish, things were looking up in the offseason with a couple exciting transfers coming in to help out Luke Harangody. Unfortunately, Purdue-transfer Scott Martin tore an ACL last month and will miss this season, meaning this is much the same team that underperformed last year. ‘Gody is good enough to carry a team, which is what will have to happen for Mike Brey’s team to dance.

11. St. John’s – this is probably the deepest team in the Norm Roberts era, and if everything breaks right, they have enough talent to make a run at the tournament. Given how things have gone in the previous five years, 11th is probably a good guess.

12. Marquette – the three-headed Warrior backcourt is gone and while Buzz Williams had an impressive debut season, he’ll have his hands full this season. He’ll have to lean heavily on Lazar Hayward and hope for immediate contributions from his class of six newcomers.

13. Rutgers – with Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique leading the way, Fred Hill hopes he has the Scarlet Knights headed in the right direction. He likely does, but progress can be slow up this kind of mountain.

14. South Florida – another Big East program trying to rise from the depths and scraping their way up the hill, the Bulls have a talented backcourt and some potential difference-makers in the frontcourt. This could be the year they make their move.

15. Providence – at least Keno Davis had one good year with some Providence veterans like Greg McDermott, Jon Kale and Weyinmi Efejuku, but now it is time to start over. The Friars will be back at least in the middle of the pack in a year or two, but this is the year they take their lumps.

16. DePaul – give credit to the DePaul administration for sticking with Jerry Wainwright for another year, but the Blue Demons just don’t have the talent to compete for even an upper division finish in the Big East.

Preseason All-Conference

First Team
G Kemba Walker, So, Connecticut
G Scottie Reynolds, Sr, Villanova
F Devin Ebanks, So, West Virginia
C Greg Monroe, So, Georgetown
C Luke Harangody, Sr, Notre Dame

Second Team
G Mike Rosario, So, Rutgers
G Sharaud Curry, Sr, Providence
F Lazar Hayward, Sr, Marquette
F Jeremy Hazell, Jr, Seton Hall
C Arinze Onuaku, Sr, Syracuse

All Freshman Team
G Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
G Peyton Siva, Louisville
G Maalik Wayns, Villanova
G Brandon Triche, Syracuse
F Dante Taylor, Pittsburgh

Preseason Tournament Tie-Ins

Cincinnati – Maui Invitational
Possible Opponents: Vanderbilt, Maryland, Arizona/Colorado/Gonzaga/Wisconsin

Connecticut – NIT Season Tip-Off
Possible Opponents: Colgate, Hofstra, Western Kentucky/LSU, TCU/Arizona State/Duke/Charlotte

DePaul – Paradise Jam
Possible Opponents: Northern Iowa, East Carolina/Tennessee, Boston College, Purdue, St. Joe’s/South Dakota State

Marquette – Old Spice Classic
Possible Opponents: Xavier, Creighton/Michigan, Alabama/Baylor/Florida State

Notre Dame – Chicago Invitational
Possible Opponents: Northwestern, Iowa State/St. Louis

Pittsburgh – CBE Classic
Possible Opponents : Wichita State, Iowa/Texas

Rutgers – Legends Classic
Possible Opponents: UMass, Florida/Michigan State

South Florida – Charleston Classic
Possible Opponents: Davidson, La Salle/South Carolina, Miami/Penn State/Tulane/NC Wilmington

Syracuse – 2K Sports Classic
Possible Opponents: Cal, North Carolina/Ohio State

Villanova – Puerto Rico Tip-Off
Possible Opponents: George Mason, Dayton/Georgia Tech, Indiana/Kansas State/Ole Miss

West Virginia – 76 Classic
Possible Opponents: Long Beach State, Clemson/Texas A&M, Butler/Minnesota/Portland/UCLA

Top Ten Non-Conference Games

12/6 Villanova vs Maryland (Washington DC) – a semi-road game for the Wildcats in their toughest non-tournament non-conference game.
12/8 Georgetown vs Butler (Jimmy V Classic @ MSG) – this may be one of the most fundamentally sound games of the season
12/9 Kentucky @ Connecticut – Cal’s Cats gets a tough early season roadie up to Storrs in December.
12/12 Georgetown vs. Washington (Wooden Classic, Anaheim) – another Hoya neutral site game in a one-off game honoring a classic college coach.
12/13 Cincinnati @ Xavier – the battle of Cincinnati is always a heated rivalry, and this season’s matchup may feature the most talent in recent years.
12/19 UCLA @ Notre Dame – the Irish host a tough West Coast opponent in a test for both teams.
1/1 West Virginia @ Purdue – both of these squads fancy themselves national title contenders. This New Year’s battle will test both team’s beliefs.
1/2 Louisville @ Kentucky – the battle of Kentucky should be a wild one. Pitino might want to invest in ear plugs.
1/23 Texas @ Connecticut – Once again, UConn doesn’t really test itself on the road out of conference, but at least they host two national powers in Storrs this season.
1/30 Duke @ Georgetown – the Hoyas battle Duke for many of the same players year in and year out. Only fitting they should battle on the court too.

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