Conference Catchup: Big East will be tough, but no clear-cut Numero Uno

by | CBSSports.com Senior College Basketball Blogger
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Will Jim Calhoun retire? If so, when? We keep asking but the answers remains elusive. (Getty Images)  
Will Jim Calhoun retire? If so, when? We keep asking but the answers remains elusive. (Getty Images)  

Before the Big East swells to 18 programs next season the conference actually shrinks by one in 2012-13, altering to the awkward comprisal of 15 teams since West Virginia is gleefully wasting no time in making its way to the Big 12. The Big East again will be a very good -- but not dominant. Two teams, Louisville and Syracuse, are in our not-to-be-taken-lightly Top 25 (and one). They're top-10 teams. But no other Big East team resides there. Let's look at where the league is right now. C'mon -- you love the hoops and it's late May. Let's have a little fun and assess where this league stands with (looks at calendar, sees November beyond the horizon, stifles tears) a ways to go before the start of next season.

Offseason headlines

1. UConn takes a bunch of hits: Because of the Academic Progress Rate, UConn isn't eligible for postseason play in 2012-13. That means the Big East tournament, too, kiddos. So it's a wasted season for the Huskies, who also got hit with some roster attrition. Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond are off to the NBA, and Alex Oriakhi, Michael Bradley and Roscoe Smith transferred.

2. Lawsuits abound at Syracuse: Jim Boeheim dodges them ; Laurie Fine tosses them at ESPN; Zach Tomaselli admits he lied about being touched inappropriately by Bernie Fine -- then says he lied about the lying. It's been a blast to chronicle.

3. The Big East tournament remains stupid: At the league meetings this week, coaches pushed for the Big East tournament to have all 18 teams eligible for the conference tournament when the monstrosity and overall geographical and logistical farce that is this league gets to its button-bursting capacity in the coming years. The league should be aiming to lose teams, not add more -- and I'm talking in pretty much every capacity in regard to that.

4. Hey, no coaching changes: Yep, for the first time in who knows how long, the biggest conference in college basketball has gone an offseason without a change among its coaches. Then again, Jim Calhoun stands ready to mess this narrative up; until he's on the sideline with his team in the preseason, we're not counting anything out.

Big question that remains

Will Jim Calhoun retire?

It's the question that's been asked every summer for the past few seasons. The reason this one's much more layered than that proposition is because UConn's new athletic director, Warde Manuel, has said there will be no coach-in-waiting, publicly going against Calhoun's hopes that current assistant Kevin Ollie would get the gig. Calhoun always wants the power, and he wants a big say in his successor, naturally, so will he call it quits close to the start of the season, effectively forcing Manuel's hand? Not likely, and I'm not saying Calhoun would be that sinister, but he is 70 now and next season will be fundamental. Plus, there hasn't been a declaration from the man himself that he'll be back. Same thing happened last year, though.

NBA Draft report

Could've gone and did: Andre Drummond (UConn), Jeremy Lamb (UConn), Fab Melo (Syracuse -- but he had to), Dion Waitiers (Syracuse), Hollis Thompson (Georgetown).

Could've gone but stayed: Otto Porter (Georgetown), Chane Behanan (Louisville), Wayne Blackshear (Louisville).

Transfers

Coming: Wally Judge (Rutgers from Kansas State), Garrick Sherman (Notre Dame from Michigan State), R.J. Evans (UConn from Holy Cross), Trent Lockett (Marquette from Arizona State), Luke Hancock (Louisville from George Mason), Tony Chennault (Villanova from Wake), Dylan Ennis (Villanova from Rice).

Going: Octavius Ellis (Cincinnati), Alex Oriakhi (UConn), Roscoe Smith (UConn), Michael Bradley (UConn), Tony Freeland (DePaul), Elisha Justice (Louisville), Jared Swopshire (Louisville), Jamail Jones (Marquette), Alex Dragicevich (Notre Dame), Isaiah Epps (Pitt), Gerard Coleman (Providence), Bilal Dixon (Providence), Ron Giplaye (Providence), Tyree Graham (Rutgers), Gil Biruta (Rutgers), Nuri Lindsey (St. John's), Malik Stith (St. John's), Sean Grennan (Seton Hall), Blake Nash (South Florida).

Team commentary in 140 characters or less

Cincinnati : A kid who played in three games last year got into a bar fight recently. Then he got kicked off the team. Cincinnati, oh, you.

Connecticut : Putting it bluntly: I have no idea what UConn basketball will be between June 2012 and April 2013. Completely unpredictable horizon.

DePaul : There's actually really good news! I'm predicting junior forward Cleveland Melvin will be a first-team Big East player next year. A guarantee.

Georgetown : Otto Porter and Nate Lubick will be massive, because they are already tall. Hoyas will be a notch below from last year.

Louisville : Will be under pressure to reach a Final Four that I think it falls short of. By the by, Kyle Kuric graduated and publicly proposed.

Marquette : Sounds nutty, but MU could be nearly as good next year, even without Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder. Trent Lockett is a major coup for Buzz Williams.

Notre Dame : Pleading now, don't sleep on the Irish. I did it and so did you last last year. They'll be good -- and should be in our Top 25 (and one).

Pittsburgh : It's hard enough getting riled up about Pitt basketball in February. So why expect something out of me now?

Providence : Friars got this spunky, talented point guard in Kris Dunn. He's going to be a lot of fun -- and Providence will make the NCAAs.

Rutgers : Young team hit a little with two transfers. It's not going to happen (it: NCAA tourney) for Mike Rice in 2013. All judgment comes in 2014.

St. John's : Steve Lavin is back, healthy and has a young team. All that matters: Steve Lavin is back and healthy. Onward!

Seton Hall : With Kyle Anderson bypassing the Pirates for UCLA, SHU fans will have one eye on each coast next year. Seton Hall feels like a bubble team.

South Florida : If you still find it hard to believe that this team won a game in the 2012 tournament, you're not alone.

Syracuse : Offseason has brought more lawsuits/attention to Syracuse related to Bernie Fine. That's pretty much all that's carried over from last year.

Villanova : 'Nova's in this weird in-between state. The Wildcats should be better, but until I see them with an 18-5 record again, I'll remain pensive.

Early guess at the top five in the league

1. Louisville
2. Syracuse
3. Notre Dame
4. Marquette
5. Georgetown

Early guess at the all-conference team

G: Kris Dunn (Providence)
G: Peyton Siva (Louisville)
F: Wayne Blackshear (Louisville)
F: Jack Cooley (Notre Dame)
F: Otto Porter (Georgetown)

Final thought
Overall, this has been a pretty nondescript offseason for the Big East, at least from a basketball perspective. There's still a lot to go, though. The Calhoun thing lingers, who knows what commitments will come in recruiting between tomorrow and October. Overall, I think we're seeing the natural descent back to the collective class of college basketball, though. The Big East had a three-year run when it was the sport's best. Now, it's in the thick of the conversation, and that's OK. But as we go forward, I fear that the league's best days are well behind it.
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