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Conference Catchup: The Big East gets a makeover

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Brad Stevens and Butler spent one season in the A-10 before getting invited to the Big East. (USATSI)
Brad Stevens and Butler spent one season in the A-10 before getting invited to the Big East. (USATSI)

As we stroll into June, college basketball fades more and more into the background on the national sports landscape. But we know the diehard hoops fans still follow the sport every week of the year, and so we want to keep you aware of all that's happened since the end of last season, including what changes have transpired in all of the big leagues?

That's the idea behind the CBSSports.com Conference Catchups.

We'll post one every other day for the next four weeks.

We'll post them in alphabetical order.

First it was the American, then the Atlantic 10. Most recently, it was the ACC. Today we look at the new Big East -- and, boy, it's a lot different than what it used to be. Conference realignment comes to new form next season with this league. Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh: all gone. Seven former members -- the Catholic 7 -- broke off and formed this league, taking the Big East name with it.

Other schools, like UConn (a founding member of the Big East) and Cincinnati, they're left behind to build up the other half of the split Big East, the American Athletic Conference. (Louisville will likely have a one-year stay in the American before joining Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame in the ACC.) It's an adjustment, and it's going to take some time to get used to. But in terms of hoops, things are shaping up well. How so? Let's run it down.

FOUR OFFSEASON HEADLINES

1. This isn't your big brother's Big East: Though it doesn't become official until July 1, one of the biggest changes in major-conference realignment history is set to shift with this league. Yes, the Catholic 7 only brings in three more teams to make this league whole, but it's going to be an adjustment to say "Big East" and immediately connect it with the teams comprised in this conference. It's a whole new kind of union here, really. And it should be good. A lot of fun. But we still don't know what to expect. What seems clear, at least for now, is that the Big East is not going to be the best or even second-best conference in the country, which it's essentially been for the past 20 years.

But at least there's no football, and with that comes a clear vision and unification of schools who have the same interests at heart. This half of the Big East sought that sort of panacea for nearly two decades.

2. Doug McDermott opts to return: The Creighton junior will become a Creighton senior, and that's huge news for the Bluejays and the Big East, which will have a preseason All-American to proudly display. Creighton's no black sheep in this league, but it is the one school geographically mislaid, in certain ways. Yet it's going to have a shot at contending for the title thanks to McDermott's return.

3. Providence loses Ledo after all: The talented but somewhat-troubled Ricky Ledo said he'd eventually play in a Providence uniform despite the fact he was benched by the NCAA last season for failing to qualify academically. Well, if that day comes it'll be in some sort of alumni charity game, because Ledo's entered the draft, halting Providence's hopes of being a top team in this league. The Friars are still on the upswing, but losing Ledo eliminates the possibility that Ed Cooley's club will be top 25-worthy next season.

4. DePaul's getting a new arena? That's the plan as of now, though nothing is official. The controversy around this is two-fold. First, the location still isn't optimal in the eyes of many. Secondly, the cost (early estimates are $300 million) is staggering -- and the Blue Demons haven't put a product on the floor the past two decades that warrants such an undertaking. Basically, it's another case of DePaul thinking its more than it is, really.

BIG QUESTION THAT REMAINS

Who will lead this conference? Not in terms of a program, but an actual man or woman. The Big East still has no commissioner. This is a new league, essentially. The Catholic 7 paid to have the Big East name imported when they defected from the league. But the staff, the offices, the standing with the NCAA -- all of that groundwork laid in the original Big East was kept with the American, who merely had to go about concocting up a new name and rebranding itself. This league has the name to go by, but underneath that there's still a lot of work to be done and leadership to be put into place. (What we do know: Madison Square Garden is still the home of the league's tournament.)

NBA DRAFT REPORT

TRANSFERS

TEAM COMMENTARY IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

Butler: The Bulldogs continue their rise. By entering this league, Brad Stevens gives himself an even better chance at big-picture success.

Creighton: Jays actually might not have as much firepower on O as last year. Team is waiting to see if Grant Gibbs gets a sixth year of eligibility.

DePaul: Oliver Purnell is 30-64 in three seasons with the Blue Demons. With less competition, pressure's never been higher for the program.

Georgetown: Porter is gone, but the Hoyas have a lot returning -- most importantly Greg Whittington. Josh Smith via UCLA will be interesting.

Marquette: Here we go again, silly Qs if Buzz Williams can produce another tournament team after losing an early NBA departure. You know the answer.

Providence: Vincent Council graduating will hurt, but Kris Dunn should step up and compete for all-conference honors. Friars are fringe tourney team.

St. John's: Red Storm had a team too young and immature to handle itself last year. That can change, though the offense has such a long way to go.

Seton Hall: Kevin Willard's seat has to be warm, even though he's tight with the AD. Pirates haven't made NCAA tourney since 2006.

Villanova: Jay Wright's team will be better than it was last year, when it won 20 and made the NCAAs. Ryan Arcidiacono is a fledgling Big East star.

Xavier: X exited the A-10 with an atypical sub-par season. Now Chris Mack's club enters with I think the dark horse for Big East POY: Semaj Christon.

EARLY GUESS AT THE TOP FIVE IN THE LEAGUE

  1. Marquette
  2. Georgetown
  3. Creighton
  4. Butler
  5. Xavier

EARLY GUESS AT THE ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

Final thought: I think the breakup of the American and the Big East is a good thing for college basketball. In effect we get another league worth watching, inherently offering up another league worth of teams that will make non-conference basketball in November and December better down the road.

But I do think this new Big East will take a few years to establish itself in the hierarchy of hoops conferences. It's a major one, no doubt, but take a look at the pros that left the league and the ones that stayed. Not exactly a deep list. And look at my projection for the All-Conference team. Decent but nothing extraordinary, right? The Big East as it's currently erected is in a transition phase in more than one way. So if the league manages just four NCAA tournament teams, none of them considered better than Sweet 16 material, can we hold off on lamenting the breakup of the old Big East?

This alteration will take time, and I happen to think the fracture comes coincidentally at a down period for this league. All that said, here's my plea to the new shareholders of this conference: keep it at 10 teams. Keep the round-robin, 18-game schedule in tact and let us have a pure basketball league built on a decad. It's rare, it's beautiful. The Big East powers-that-be say they wanted a new league that was basketball-oriented. Prove it by sticking with 10 teams from here on out.

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