This version of the Big East will be the toughest league in history.
And that's not hyperbole.
I'm projecting nine bids to the NCAA tournament and that any of the top four could make the Final Four. In the end, the guess here is that at least half of the teams in Detroit in April will be from this conference. So it's no wonder the Big East is CBSSports.com's top-ranked league in the country.
| Defending regular-season champion: |
| Defending tournament champion: |
| Top returning scorer: |
Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), 20.4 ppg
| Top returning rebounder: |
Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), 10.2 rpg
season previews & primers
Here's a look at the Big East:
The good: Any roster that includes Earl Clark, Terrence Williams and freshman phenom Samardo Samuels is a roster that can make a Final Four. Throw in experienced guards Jerry Smith, Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee, and surely you can see why these Cardinals are ranked second in the preseason Top 25 (and one).
The bad: Derrick Caracter is gone, but who cares? The real loss is David Padgett, Louisville's 6-11 center who averaged 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds last season in just 23.5 minutes per game. Honestly, I think Samuels in the middle more than makes up for Padgett. But many Louisville fans have told me I'm discounting what has been lost, and if that's the case then the Cards might not be as dominant as predicted.
The bottom line: This team (plus Padgett, of course) is basically the same team that seemed like a legitimate threat to make the Final Four last season, given the way the Cards played down the stretch. As it was, they ran into Tyler Hansbrough in the Elite Eight, and that was that. But don't be surprised if Rick Pitino makes a run at his sixth Final Four, and that second national title is possible, too.
The good: Hasheem Thabeet seemed like a lock to enter the NBA Draft almost up until the point when he didn't. The byproduct of that decision is that UConn has the best defensive center in the country, one who averaged 4.5 blocks last season. That he'll be joined in the frontcourt by Jeff Adrien and play beside a pair of electric guards in A.J. Price and Kemba Walker ensures UConn will again be a factor in the Big East and nationally.
The bad: Stanley Robinson is on a leave of absence until at least mid-December, Doug Wiggins transferred and freshman Nate Miles was expelled last month. So while it's likely UConn can still compete for a national title despite these developments, there's no denying that it's usually better to have as many solid options as possible at all times.
The bottom line: Simply put, this team is loaded and clearly good enough to win the Big East and/or a national title. Obviously, I'm giving Louisville a slight advantage, but it tells you something about the quality of the Big East when the team ranked third in the preseason Top 25 (and one) isn't a projected league champion.
3. Notre Dame
The good: Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney form perhaps the best inside-outside duo in the nation. They combined to average 35.5 points last season, and while the extended 3-point line might bother some college shooters I wouldn't spend much time worrying about McAlarney. He made 44.1 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, and the ones he missed almost always seemed to be grabbed by Harangody, the reigning Big East Player of the Year.
The bad: The Irish's lack of defense is the subject people most mention when talking about why Notre Dame can't make a Final Four. They ranked 42nd in adjusted defensive efficiency last season at KenPom.com, and for those confused just trust me when I tell you that's not very good, especially when you consider the two teams that played for the national title (Kansas and Memphis) ranked first and fourth in the same category.
The bottom line: I'm a believer in Notre Dame mostly because I'm a believer in Harangody and McAlarney. They are dominant college basketball players who are experienced in winning, and nobody should be shocked if they challenge Louisville and UConn at the top and compete for a Final Four just the same.
The good: Levance Fields, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair form quite a trio for the college game. They combined to average 41.6 points, 19.3 rebounds and 7.2 assists last season and should easily keep Jamie Dixon's streak of consecutive 20-win seasons intact. Dixon has never won less than 20 games, never not made the NCAA tournament in five years as a head coach, which is why Pitt is paying him big money and other schools are constantly interested.
The bad: Just when Fields was cleared to practice following a foot injury, Gilbert Brown went down with -- you'll never guess -- a foot injury. The sophomore guard who started 15 games last season is expected to miss at least 10 days. That means he'll miss the Nov. 14 opener against Fairleigh-Dickinson.
The bottom line: This is the fourth Big East team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason Top 25 (and one), which backs my theory that this is going to be the best and most competitive league in the nation. Any of the top four -- Louisville, UConn, Notre Dame and Pitt -- are capable of winning the conference, advancing to the Final Four and, perhaps, winning a national title if North Carolina somehow screws things up.
The good: That trio of guards that has led Marquette for three years will be together for a fourth, which seemed unlikely after their freshman seasons. In the beginning, Dominic James was considered the star. But now that label belongs to Jerel McNeal, a 6-3 combo who averaged 14.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season.
The bad: Tom Crean's exit was unexpected and abrupt and it caught the program by surprise. Credit the school for taking a chance on assistant Buzz Williams, who is absolutely capable, by the way. But there are still doubters who wonder whether Marquette couldn't have executed a more high-profile hire, which means Williams will have a lot of pressure on him to win early, often and all the way through the NCAA tournament despite being in a league that is capable of swallowing anybody.
The bottom line: Make no mistake, I like the hiring of Williams. He's a sharp guy who works hard and is respected in basketball circles. But the reality is that he will not enjoy the same honeymoon other new coaches get, which is why he must compete in the top third of the Big East and return the Golden Eagles to the NCAA tournament because this roster will probably be better than the roster he enjoys in his second season.
|3. Notre Dame||NCAA|
|9. West Virginia||NCAA|
|13. Seton Hall||none|
|15. South Florida||none|
|16. St. John's||none|
The good: John Thompson III has his program at the point where personnel losses are going to always be offset by a solid group of talented newcomers. This time that group is headlined by Greg Monroe, a 6-10 forward who was for a while considered the best prospect in the Class of 2008.
The bad: Despite the influx of talent, there's no good way to lose Roy Hibbert, Jonathan Wallace and Patrick Ewing Jr. in the same year. That's three of the Hoyas' top six players from a year ago, and it's fair to wonder whether DaJuan Summers, Jessie Sapp, Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and a group of newcomers are enough to keep the Hoyas near the top of the Big East.
The bottom line: The Hoyas are higher here than they are in most projections based upon the idea that Summers can finally be a marquee player and Wright and Freeman progress like any freshmen who are now sophomores would. So yeah, I might be reaching. But there aren't a bunch of teams with this much raw talent.
The good: Every relevant player from a Sweet 16 team is back, including All-American candidate Scottie Reynolds. He averaged 15.9 points and 3.2 assists last season and should have no problem posting similar numbers again.
The bad: Though the Wildcats made the Sweet 16, this is also a team that lost 13 times last season and finished 9-9 in the league. There's not an impact recruit on board, so if you like this team you have ask whether it was really a Sweet 16 team in the traditional sense or a .500 Big East team that just happened to get a nice draw in the NCAA tournament?
The bottom line: The Wildcats should be good provided Corey Fisher ups the assists (2.7 per game last season) and cuts the turnovers (2.0 per game last season). Can they make another Sweet 16? Perhaps. But the Clemson-Siena draw probably had more to do with that last season than anything else.
The good: The roster features a great point guard (Jonny Flynn), a really good wing (Paul Harris), an underappreciated post player (Arinze Onuaku) and a pair of quality guards set to return from injury (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins). On paper, there are reasons to be optimistic.
The bad: Problem is, on paper there were also reasons to be optimistic last year and the year before that, too. But those seasons still resulted in NIT bids, and now the Orange will be trying to snap that streak without their leading scorer -- Donte Greene -- from last season.
The bottom line: I'm picking Syracuse eighth in the Big East because it jibes with the preseason Top 25 (and one) that has already been established. But let me be clear: I like this team a lot. So when the Orange end up in the top 15 this season, I want you to remember this paragraph and that this is one of my favorite rosters in the country.
The good: Indiana's demise turned into West Virginia's gain when Bob Huggins was able to lure one-time IU recruit Devin Ebanks to Morgantown. Combine him with Da'Sean Butler, Alex Ruoff and Joe Mazzulla, and the Mountaineers should have enough to return to the NCAA tournament.
The bad: It was always assumed that Joe Alexander would be at WVU for this season. But then he went wild in Big East play, enhanced his stock and turned himself into a lottery pick. Good for him. But the Mountaineers sure could use those 16.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
The bottom line: Any Huggins teams is going to be competitive, and this one will be no different. Put these Mountaineers in a different league and they'd be competing for the conference title. So don't be fooled by where WVU is predicted. It could very well finish ninth in the Big East and still go to the Sweet 16.
The good: The Friars will have a coach for their opener against Northeastern, which seemed in doubt for a while. They took forever (and were rejected by some) before finally securing Drake's Keno Davis. He'll benefit from the return of Sharaud Curry, a gifted guard who averaged 15.3 points two seasons ago before missing almost all of last season with a broken foot.
The bad: The reason it took Providence so long to get a coach is because the program is limited relative to its league affiliation. Though Davis is getting paid, and there's nothing wrong with that, can he ever reasonably expect to consistently compete in the top third of a league with Georgetown, Louisville, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia? The simple answer is that he cannot. But in fairness he does have a roster that could sneak into the top half of the league this season.
The bottom line: An unbelievable bit of trivia is that Providence remains the only original Big East member to never win a Big East regular-season title. Alas, there's no reason to think that won't be true this time next year, as well.
dookisevil: The Big East has always been one of the toughest conferences in all of college basketball, and this year will be no different. Compared to last year, there should be a bit of a shuffle as to who will win the conference.
UCONN was chosen as the preseason No. 1, with Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame rounding out the top four. However, even though Pitt is the defending Big East Champion, they will have their work cut out if they want to compete this year. Read more
The good: Deonta Vaughn is one of the most prolific guards in the country, and that he's added a jumper has made him even more of a threat. The junior averaged 17.3 points last season while making 39.8 percent of his 3-point attempts, and he'll finally have some decent frontcourt help in the form of Mike Williams, a transfer from Texas who would've played at UC last season if not for a preseason injury that cost him the season.
The bad: Once again, UC could not avoid a preseason mishap. This time it was point guard Cashmere Wright who tore an ACL in practice that will force him to miss the year. His presence would've allowed Vaughn to play more off the ball. But now that'll have to wait until next year.
The bottom line: Mick Cronin is quietly compiling the type of talent to compete in this league even if he still might be a year away from earning an NCAA tournament bid. But a 2009-10 roster featuring Vaughn, Williams, Wright, Yancy Gates and a healthy John Riek should be ready to make a push.
The good: Mike Rosario is on campus after scoring 18 points in the McDonald's All-American game. That's the kind of talent upgrade Fred Hill needed to go with Corey Chandler, J.R. Inman and Anthony Farmer.
The bad: The Scarlet Knights have some nice talent, but Rosario is just a freshman and Chandler a sophomore. Again, it's difficult to win in this league with that kind of roster. So while the days of Rutgers winning just three league games (like it did the past two seasons) are over, Hill's team remains outmanned relative to the middle of the Big East.
The bottom line: Hill's recruiting efforts have provided a reason for excitement. But like Cincinnati, the real breakthrough is probably a year away.
13. Seton Hall
The good: The Pirates upgraded talent when they added Robert Mitchell, a transfer from Duquesne. The 6-6 forward averaged 16.4 points two seasons ago and was named the Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year. Combining him with Jeremy Hazell and Eugene Harvey gives Seton Hall a nice core.
The bad: Bobby Gonzalez's intensity is starting to catch up with him. He was reportedly close to being removed last season, and he'll be suspended for the first Big East game this season for unbecoming conduct. His backers will point to a 17-win season in a rebuilding year as a reason things are going well, but the Pirates were 1-10 against NCAA tournament teams, meaning they mostly stockpiled victories against bad competition.
The bottom line: It's not as important for Gonzalez to win as it is for him to act the part, avoid confrontations and not rub his athletic director the wrong way. Sure, winning will help. But he's reached the point where people are looking for a reason to start suggesting it's time for a change, and as long as he doesn't provide one he should be allowed to continue building his program.
|G - Jonny Flynn, Syracuse|
|G - A.J. Price, Connecticut|
|F - Sam Young, Pittsburgh|
|F - Luke Harangody, Notre Dame|
|C - Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut|
|G - Scottie Reynolds, Villanova|
|G - Jerel McNeal, Marquette|
|F - Earl Clark, Louisville|
|F - Jeff Adrien, Connecticut|
|F - DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh|
| Player of the year |
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
| Newcomer of the year |
Samardo Samuels, Louisville
| Breakthrough player |
DaJuan Summers, Georgetown
| Coach on the hot seat |
Norm Roberts, St. John's
The good: Few outside the Big East are familiar with Dar Tucker, who posted fine freshman numbers in the Year of the Freshmen. The 6-4 wing averaged 13.6 points and 4.8 rebounds, and if he could focus a little more on defense and make a couple of more shots (Tucker shot 32.1 percent from 3-point range last season) he could develop into the go-to-guy Jerry Wainwright needs.
The bad: The Blue Demons only won six Big East games last season, and now their best player (Draelon Burns) is gone. What's left are mostly freshmen and sophomores, and that's probably not a good thing in this league.
The bottom line: The move from C-USA to the Big East has not been smooth for DePaul or the coach it hired to run its program. Wainwright is 20-30 in Big East games the past three seasons, and barring something unexpected he's going to finish outside the top 11 in the league for the third time in four years.
15. South Florida
The good: Dominique Jones became the first Big East player since Allen Iverson to record consecutive 30-point games last season. His return will be aided by a pair of transfers -- Mike Mercer (from Georgia) and Augustus Gilchrist (from Maryland) -- set to become eligible in mid-December.
The bad: Even with Jones, Mercer and Gilchrist, the Bulls don't have the talent to compete in the top half of the Big East. Things seem to be headed in the right direction, but the loss of Kentrell Gransberry (16.0 points and 10.8 rebounds last season) is a lot to offset.
The bottom line: The Bulls are 7-43 in the Big East since joining the league, and three of those wins are against Rutgers. There's a chance those trends could improve this season, but there's a limit on what this team (and perhaps this program in this particular league) can do.
16. St. John's
The good: St. John's elected to give Norm Roberts at least one more season, which is a good thing for a solid guy fighting uphill in a monster league. Will it matter? Probably not in the grand scheme of things. But it's nice to see a school offer patience and the benefit of the doubt in a profession that essentially lacks both.
The bad: This is basically the same roster that lost 13 league games last season, and the only obvious bright spot is senior Anthony Mason Jr. In other words, there's no reason to think St. John's will improve enough to keep up with the ever-improving Big East.
The bottom line: St. John's was once a basketball power, but things have slipped drastically. Assuming the Red Storm finish down here, it's doubtful Roberts can hang on for another year even if he secures a commitment from New York phenom Lance Stephenson, which is too bad, yet the nature of the business.
|2008-09 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule|
|Monday, Oct. 20||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Thursday, Oct. 30||Ranking the best of the non-BCS|
|Tuesday, Oct. 21||Preseason All-America Team||Friday, Oct. 31||No. 6: Big Ten|
|Wednesday, Oct. 22||Player rankings: Points/combos||Monday, Nov. 3||No. 5: Pac-10|
|Thursday, Oct. 23||Player rankings: Wings||Tuesday, Nov. 4||No. 4: Big 12|
|Friday, Oct. 24||Player rankings: Big men||Wednesday, Nov. 5||No. 3: SEC|
|Monday, Oct. 27||Impact Freshmen||Thursday, Nov. 6||No. 2: ACC|
|Tuesday, Oct. 28||Coaches on the hot seat||Friday, Nov. 7||No. 1: Big East|
|Wednesday, Oct. 29||Games to watch||Monday, Nov. 10||Preseason tourney projections|