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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Big East preview: Fewer 'names,' but still powerful

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No Big East players are on CBSSports.com's All-American team.

Not the first team. Or the second. Or the third.

So while I do believe the league will place eight teams in the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, I'm not sure there's similar talent in the league or power at the top when you consider that DraftExpress.com lists Connecticut's Kemba Walker as the Big East's only projected lottery pick, and that I only ranked Pittsburgh, Villanova and Syracuse in the preseason Top 25 (and one). Either way, the league will still be a nightmare for those in the middle, just like always. But whether any of the best teams prove to be legitimate national title contenders remains unclear.

Here's a look at the Big East Conference:

(Schools listed in predicted order of finish.)

1. Pittsburgh

Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown might not have made everybody forget about Sam Young, DeJuan Blair and Levance Fields, but they did a fine job and came close. They helped the Panthers start 15-2 overall, 5-0 in the Big East, and move into the top 10 team by the middle of January, and it all was unexpected. But nobody will be surprised when a similar start comes this season because much of that team returns, and the Panthers should finish in the top two of the Big East for the fourth time in five years, which is a testament to the job Jamie Dixon has done and is doing.
NCAA tournament? Yes

2. Villanova

Scottie Reynolds' 10-year contract with Villanova (Doesn't it seem like he played 10 years?) expired after last season, and the guess here is that the Wildcats will be better in his absence thanks to a three-guard attack of Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns. Those three combined for 60 points in a Tuesday night exhibition. I suspect they'll do that a few times throughout the regular season as well and have the Wildcats pushing for a Big East title that could lead to a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
NCAA tournament? Yes

3. Syracuse

That the Orange can lose Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku and still be picked in the top three of the Big East shows what kind of program Jim Boeheim is running. The Scoop Jardine/Brandon Triche guard tandem combined with Kris Joseph, Rick Jackson and freshman big man Fab Melo is plenty good enough to keep the Orange near the top of the league, especially if Joseph -- who averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in a reserve role last season --develops into the star he's capable of being.
NCAA tournament? Yes

4. West Virginia

Bob Huggins lost Da'Sean Butler and Devan Ebanks from last season's Final Four team, which means West Virginia is working without its best player (Butler), scorer (Butler), rebounder (Ebanks) and defender (Ebanks). So the Mountaineers naturally will slip. But they've got experienced guards in Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzula -- plus a no-longer-to-be-overshadowed star in Kevin Jones -- and that alone should keep WVU in the top third of the league.
NCAA tournament? Yes

2011 Tournament:
March 8-12 -- New York
Quick facts
Defending regular-season champion:
Syracuse
Defending tournament champion:
West Virginia
Top returning scorer:
Jeremy Hazell (Seton Hall), 20.4 ppg
Top returning rebounder:
Herb Pope (Seton Hall), 10.7 rpg
Accolades
First team
G - Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
G - Kemba Walker, Connecticut
G - Austin Freeman, Georgetown
F - Kris Joseph, Syracuse
F - Kevin Jones, West Virginia
Second team
G - Chris Wright, Georgetown
G - Corey Fisher, Villanova
G - Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
F - Jimmy Butler, Marquette
F - Yancy Gates, Cincinnati
Player of the year
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
Newcomer of the year
Fab Melo, Syracuse
Breakthrough player
Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Coach on the hot seat
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Click here for more
conference previews

5. Georgetown

The loss of Greg Monroe leaves a large hole in the frontcourt that won't immediately be filled. That's an issue. But a backcourt of Chris Wright, Jason Clark and Austin Freeman is capable of carrying the Hoyas through stretches, and they almost certainly will. In a perfect world, Julian Vaughn would develop into a serious low-post threat, but I'm not sure that's the case. This ranking is too low, however, if I'm wrong about that.
NCAA tournament? Yes

6. Marquette

A roster featuring Junior Cadougan, Darius Johnson-Odom and highly regarded freshman Vander Blue gives Buzz Williams options in the backcourt, and there's no reason to think Jimmy Butler will provide anything less than the 14.7 points and 6.4 rebounds he averaged last season. Will Lazar Hayward be missed? Of course. But I like some of the pieces Williams has in place, and I believe his third season at Marquette will be successful like the previous two.
NCAA tournament? Yes

7. St. John's

Steve Lavin didn't get the best job available last offseason, but he inherited one of the better rosters, highlighted by D.J. Kennedy (15.1 points per game) and Dwight Hardy (10.5 points per game). How the players transition from Norm Roberts to Lavin will ultimately decide how this season goes. But the pieces are in place to jump into the top half of the league, and the Red Storm could remain there for years to come given how Lavin is recruiting.
NCAA tournament? Yes

8. Notre Dame

The year after Luke Harangody once figured to be a bad year considering the lofty numbers the undersized post player routinely recorded. But Notre Dame spent part of last season proving it could play just fine -- and perhaps better -- without its star player, which is why it's reasonable to be optimistic. Tim Abromatis and Ben Hansbrough give Mike Brey a pair of double-digit scorers returning. A fifth straight 20-win season and fourth NCAA tournament in five years is on tap.
NCAA tournament? Yes

9. Louisville

The recruiting class Rick Pitino is expected to sign next week is evidence that his off-the-court issues haven't hurt nearly as much as some suspected, and that the Cardinals will be back competing for Big East titles soon. But it won't happen this year. Louisville got good news when Gorgui Deng was cleared to compete as a freshman (after previously being ruled ineligible). But there's just not much talent in place, and the only way the Cards will make the NCAA tournament is if Pitino pulls off one of the better coaching jobs of his career. The prediction here is that he falls slightly short.
NCAA tournament? No

10. Connecticut

The Huskies lost three of their top four scorers (Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards) and one of their more intriguing talents (Ater Majok) from last season's team, so any optimism you hear about UConn is based more on the program's reputation than roster. I love Kemba Walker and the potential of sophomore Alex Oriakhi and freshman Roscoe Smith. But this is not a typical UConn team in terms of talent, and the Huskies seem likely to miss the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
NCAA tournament? No

11. Cincinnati

Enrolling Lance Stephenson and all his baggage was done with the hope that it would push Cincinnati to the next level, allow Mick Cronin to make his first NCAA tournament at UC. But all it really did was produce a 7-11 record in the Big East, and now Cronin is under pressure to improve in his fifth season because Cincinnati fans simply aren't used to finishing in the bottom half of a league year after year after year. Yancy Gates is a nice centerpiece but probably not enough. So while I'm sympathetic to Cronin because it would've been difficult for almost anybody to inherit what he inherited and try to rebuild in a league as deep and strong as the Big East, the reality is that he'll likely need an administration more patient than his fan base when he finishes on the wrong side of the bubble again.
NCAA tournament? No

12. Seton Hall

Surprises -- i.e., teams picked high that finish low and teams picked low that finish high -- happen more in this league than most leagues because of the size and competitiveness of the Big East. I tell you that to tell you that Seton Hall is among the candidates capable of making these predictions look stupid. To be clear, I picked the Pirates here because I think they belong here. But the trio of Jeremy Hazell, Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope is talented enough to surprise. So while I don't believe a trip to the NCAA tournament is realistic, something better than a 12th-place finish is certainly possible.
NCAA tournament? No

13. USF

I'm sure there was somebody who meant more to their team last season than Dominique Jones meant to USF, but I can't think of many off the top of my head. The explosive guard averaged 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists, and he posted huge numbers in big games -- 29 in a win over Georgetown, 37 in a win over Pitt, 46 in a win over Seton Hall, etc., -- to help the Bulls finish a respectable 9-9 in the Big East. (You know where this is going, right?) But Jones is now gone, and so is the realistic chance of finishing .500 in the league. Gus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous give Stan Heath two returning double-digit scorers, but the Bulls don't have enough elsewhere to get much done in a league like this.
NCAA tournament? No

14. Providence

Keno Davis finished last season on an 11-game losing streak, then endured an offseason nobody could enjoy. Two freshmen were expelled, Jamine Peterson (who averaged 19.6 points and 10.2 rebounds last season) was dismissed, and, when you consider that Sharaud Curry has exhausted his eligibility, now Providence is without its two best players from a team that finished 4-14 in the Big East. A similarly dismal record seems unavoidable.
NCAA tournament? No

15. Rutgers

Mike Rice is assembling a nice roster for the future -- Have you seen what the first-year coach is doing on the recruiting trail? -- but he sure as heck didn't inherit one for the present. I liked the hire Rutgers made when it happened, and I like it more now. But wins will prove difficult to record until Rice gets his players on campus. Those back-to-back games around New Year's at North Carolina and Villanova won't be fun, nor will the season in general.
NCAA tournament? No

16. DePaul

Oliver Purnell has a history of turning around programs, so to completely dismiss him here would be a mistake. But the reality is that he's inherited a mess of a program (with a roster devoid of talent), and any turnaround won't be immediate. If DePaul is serious about winning, it must invest in the program over the next 24 months. To not do that would be to doom Purnell from the start, and then the athletic department can go through this entire process again in five years.
NCAA tournament? No

2010-11 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule
DateFeatureDateFeature
Fri., Oct. 15Preseason Top 25 (and one) Fri., Oct. 29Conference No. 6: Pac-10
Mon., Oct. 18Preseason All-Americans Mon., Nov. 1Conference No. 5: SEC
Wed., Oct. 20Player rankings: Points/Combos Tues., Nov. 2Conference No. 4: ACC
Thurs., Oct. 21Player rankings: Wings Wed., Nov. 3Conference No. 3: Big East
Fri., Oct. 22Player rankings: Big men Thurs., Nov. 4Conference No. 2: Big 12
Mon., Oct. 25Coaches on the Hot Seat Fri., Nov. 5Conference No. 1: Big Ten
Wed., Oct. 27Best of the non-BCS Mon., Nov. 8Projections: Parrish | Palm

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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