Posted on: November 14, 2008 1:27 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2008 9:46 pm

Final thoughts on the upcoming Big East season

Now that every team has been previewed, it's time for me to collect my thoughts. This league is probably one of the toughest in history to predict, but I'm going to take a shot at it. First I'll arrange the teams by tiers, then I'll project the finish, and finally I'll have some thoughts on how the conference teams will do in the preseason tournaments. I had about 80% of this finished when my browser crashed before, so this is more hurried and probably has dropped in quality; apologies for that.

I believe that the nine-team-in projection is not at all far-fetched, and that as many as 12 might see some postseason play or other. It will all depend on nonconference performance and the new conference tourney format. I'm excited for the first Big East games tonight, starting at 7 PM, and can't wait for the season in general. Now, on to business...

Tiers of Teams

Stratifying the league even this way is difficult. There are four preseason title contenders, and I agree that they're the most likely winners, but I doubt they finish 1-4. The next groups of teams are hard to separate, with a lot of teams bearing hugely talented rosters and similar weak spots. Regardless, I think I have come up with a reasonable, though admittedly subjective, set of crieteria for differentiating what we've got. (Each tier is listed alphabetically)

Tier One:

Connecticut, Louisville

These teams have the best combination of talent, balance, and depth to be the clear-cut favorites. They aren't the only two who could win the league, but I'd be surprised if either finished outside the top 4.

Tier Two:

Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

These teams have a ton of returning talent, but lack either the balance (Pitt) or the depth (ND) to be favored over the above teams. The next group of teams could easily displace either of these, but I'd be surprised if either finished lower than sixth.

Tier Three:

Marquette, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Between tiers three and four is in my opinion the toughest place to draw a line. The distinction I drew is that these four teams I believe have the biggest chance to sneak into the top four, and would surprise me the most to finish out of the top half of the league.

Tier Four:

Georgetown, Providence

I believe one of these two teams will be left out of the Big Dance, and neither looks to me to have the talent to sneak into the top 4. Either one could surpass some of the teams in tier three, though, if things break the right way.

Tier Five:

Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall

These are the teams between NCAA rosters and terrible. I don't believe any is capable of squeezing into the top half of the league, but the one who puts together the best resume will probably land in the NIT. I think any of these could be competitive in some other conferences out there.

Tier Six:

DePaul, South Florida, St. John's

This is the dead weight. A 13th place finish would be a major victory for any of these three teams. I hate to be that harsh, but there's just no comparison between these rosters and most others in the Big East.

Projected Final Standings:

I'm not kidding when I say how hard this is. So before you flame me, homers, for having your team too low, remember that I've probably considered every legitimate argument your team has and decided that the others' have slightly more weight. Finishing tenth in this conference is not an insult...that team will be a very good one whether it's my pick or not. So before you say there's "no way" it could be your team, really consider the competition. I believe anyone but my top five could actually end up in the ten spot. OK, no more hedging, here's my order.

  1. Louisville (NCAA) They're my pick thanks to an easier schedule than the Huskies
  2. Connecticut (NCAA) They have the most talent, but a very rough road.
  3. Pittsburgh (NCAA) I pick them here largely because they get my next two teams at the Peterson Events Center, where they don't lose many games.
  4. Syracuse (NCAA) Someone will oust one of the "top four" and my pick is the Orange. I choose them because I believe they have the best combination of returning scorers and new talent from my "tier three" teams.
  5. Notre Dame (NCAA) I choose them to be bumped from the top four because I believe they are the least set up for the long haul. Their talent makes them capable of beating any team, but its concentration in two or three players makes them vulnerable.
  6. Villanova (NCAA) Experience wins my vote among some hard to separate squads.
  7. West Virginia (NCAA) The Mountaineers return more talent than most realize, and have an excellent recruiting class. They will have the best defense of several BE teams relying on forwards and no center up front.
  8. Marquette (NCAA) I hate to pick a team with this much talent this low, but teams 1-7 are that good.
  9. Providence (NCAA) They have the schedule to make something of a run, and more talent than you think.
  10. Georgetown (NIT) There. I did it. The Hoyas are reloading and I think it costs them. If they prove me wrong (higher than 8th place) I'll eat my crow.
  11. Seton Hall (NIT) I throw them up here largely because of Cincinnati's injuries, but also recognizing that here are some good pieces in place here.
  12. Cincinnati (CBI) They were going to be my surprise NCAA pick until they lost three players. Watch out for this team in 2009-2010
  13. Rutgers (none) They have enough players I like to keep them out of the bottom three.
  14. St. John's (none) Down at this level, experience is king, and they have grown together as a team and are well-coached.
  15. DePaul (none) I give them a slight edge over the Bulls.
  16. South Florida (none) I could really see a 1-17 conference record here, with a home win over DePaul.
So there it is. Teams 8 and 9, whether they are my picks or not, had better 1) excel in the ooc and 2) not flame out in the BE tournament. If that happens it will get the top 12 a chance to play in a postseason tournament. Of course, teams 9-12 had better win those opening round games, too...

The Big East in preseason tournaments

Connecticut - Paradise Jam
They get an opening round matchup with La Salle that should be an easy win. Anything short of winning this tournament would be something of a failure, but Miami, San Diego, and Wisconsin are all very dangerous. I'd most like to see the SD - UCONN matchup in the final. I'll say UCONN wins it, but it won't be easy.

Georgetown - Old Spice Classic
There' a very winnable opening round game against Wichita State, followed by a matchup with Siena or Tennessee. That second round game could be tough for the Hoyas to win. I think they face Tennessee (though Siena could surprise some folks) and lose. That would put them in the 3rd/5th place game with either Gonzaga or Michigan State, both games I think they would lose. With its 5th place finish, I think we will learn that Georgetown isn't a top 25 team just yet.

Notre Dame - Maui Invitational
OK, I have said that I think Indiana could stun Notre Dame in this opening round game for a number of reasons. Understand that that only means I give them about a 10% chance. Notre Dame should win that game. If they avoid that crazy upset, I believe they will defeat Texas and face UNC in the title game. Anything could happen there with Hansbrough out, or even with him playing 80%. This is an opportunity for the Big East to really flex a muscle early.

Pittsburgh - Legends Classic
This almost doesn't deserve mention, but it is a preseason tournament...Pittsburgh first hosts Akron and Indiana (PA) (Fairleigh Dickinson, though in the tournament, doesn't count as part of the tournament in tonight's game @ Pitt). If Pitt loses either of those...OK, let's not think about that, but even if they do they meet Texas Tech in the semifinal and then either Mississippi State or Washinton State in the final. If Pittsburgh doesn't win the thing it will be a major failure.

Providence - Anaheim Classic
This is to me one of the more intriguing preseason tournaments, as it is loaded with teams trying to sneak into the national discussion but no clear powerhouses. There will be no easy games for the Friars, but I'm going to say they knock off Baylor, Arizona State, and Wake Forest consecutively to take home the title and secure one heck of an ooc resume. I realize I'm out on a limb, but Providence is better than the attention they're getting, and I look for them to prove it in a big way.

Seton Hall - Puerto Rico Season Tip Off
The Pirates will be without transfer Robert Mitchell for this tournament, and because of that I think they lose to USC with little contest. I do think they can win the loser's bracket and capture fourth place, though, with Chattanooga and Missouri as the likely opponents.

St. John's - NIT Season Tip Off
Cornell is a better team than St. John's, so I will say the Red storm likely go home early. However, if they pull that upset, the next round against Boston College or Loyola (MD) is easier. Again, I expect one-and-done, but if they win the first they might just win two. I see very little chance of further advance than that.

Syracuse - CBE Classic
This is the same format as the Legends Classic but less of a joke. Syracuse has all but assured wins in LeMoyne and Richmond to get things going, followed by a tough smeifinal against Florida. I say that Syracuse gets it done, beating Florida and then the defending champs. I think Florida will be the tougher of the two games, but this is the Orange's Chance to say "we're here."

Roundup: So, I see four preseason tournament champions (Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Syracuse), one runner-up (Notre Dame) and two top half finishes (Georgetown, Seton Hall) for the Big East. The lone one-and-done I suspect will be St. John's. 

Note tournaments that I couldn't find brackets for include: West Virginia and DePaul in the Las Vegas Invitational, Cincinnati in the Global Sports Classic, Villanova in the Philly Classic, Marquette in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, and South Florida in the San Juan Shootout.  Of those, the most important game I'm aware of is a WV-Kentucky matchup, which I'll go ahead and pick the Mountaineers to win.

So, there you have it, my complete opinion on Big East basketball '08-'09. Thanks to everyone who took the time to bother reading all this the last few weeks; I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together. Let me know what you think, even if you think I'm an idiot, because I want to hear it! Also, check out the Second Annual year-long Big East thread for constant discussion of all relevant Big East topics. Go Big East!
Posted on: November 8, 2008 5:29 pm

Big East Preview 12, South Florida Bulls

This may have been the most difficult of these previews to pull together (though Seton Hall was tough too).  I started without a ton of knowledge about this team, and all sorts of changes happened to the roster.  Some of the new freshmen were listed at some sources and not others, so I had to go figure out what the deal was.  A couple of rosters I checked had conflicting information on the two transfers.  A bunch of underclassmen were apparently cut from the team.  So bear with me while I try to break this one down.  Some of my statements may seem brutal.  they aren't meant that way, but South Florida is in a tough spot.

12-19 Overall, 3-15 Big East (15th)
No postseason


Mobolaji Ajayi              F
Solomon Bozeman    G
Orane Chin                  F
Dante Curry                 G
Mohamed Esseghir   F
Kentrell Gransberry    C
Chris Howard              G
Dominique Jones       G
Eddie Lovett                
Amur Saaka                  F
Jeses Vedejo               G
Aris Williams                F


Esseghir, Gransberry, Lovett, Bozeman, Chin, Curry, Saaka

Gransberry alone is a big loss.  He was their most consistent player, averaging a double-double last year against very solid competition.  The sheer number of players leaving is also alarming, as only 5 of last year's Bulls return.  To give you an idea what that does to their frontcourt, the best numbers for a returning forward or center is Ajayi's 2.7 points and 3.8 boards a game.  That's going to put a lot of pressure on the new guys.


Augustus Gilchrist      F/C  (transfer from Maryland) Gilchrist is the only player on this roster I've had the privilege to see play live, and he does have loads of talent.  He was dominant at times last season, but also inexplicably a non-factor in some games.  He will have to improve his consistency if USF wants to have any kind of inside presence compared to the rest of the league.  He will be eligible to play as of December 14th, and there 2 or 3 tough games for the Bulls before then.

Mike Mercer
                 G   (transfer from Georgia)  He averaged 136 and 4.4 his last season on the court, and he's done his time.  He should be a big help to Jones in the backcourt...a place where the Bulls have more strength than a lot of people probably realize, but still probably not enough to win a lot of Big East games.

Gaby Belardo               G
BJ Daniels                    G
Mitch Emory                  F
Eladio Espinosa          F
Justin Leemow            G
Alex Rivas Sanchez     C
Gene Teague              F/C

This is something of a patchwork roster, featuring the five returning players and two transfers outlined above and seven freshmen.  The freshmen class is two three star recruits (Espinosa and Sanchez), two two star recruits (Belardo and Teague), a high school quarterback (Daniels), a high school walk-on (Emory) and the 110th ranked junior recruit...in New York City (Leemow).  That isn't to say it is empty of gifted athletes, but there isn't anyone who seems to have the potential to step into Big East competition and be dominant as a freshman.

As an aside here, I want to say that I think the USF coaching staff did a great job.  The program is in a tough position because it doesn't have a history of success and is 1) in the Big East and 2) is in Florida.  So they have to compete with not only Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia etc but with Florida, Tennessee and the rest of the SEC...not to mention some schools from less dominant conferences where kids might have a better chance to get to an NCAA tournament by making a run in the conference tourney.  So grabbing players where you can is what they have to do...as well as attacking the problem with numbers to try to find those diamonds in the rough.  Just getting nine new players of any caliber at once is impressive for this school.

The Schedule

Nonconference Games
:  Southern Methodist, Virginia, High Point, Northeastern, UAB, Central Florida, Niagra, Vanderbilt, Murray State, Wright State, Oral Roberts, Iona

I don't like the way this slate shook out for them.  They have three games (at least) where they should be outmatched (UVA, UAB, and Vanderbilt) and none of them is really a statement win if they score the upset.  Two of those three are before Gilchrist is eligible.  The rest of the slate is filled with mediocre but not cupcake teams.  Yuck.

Two Time Opponents:  DePaul, Louisville, West Virginia

Only DePaul looks like a team USF should be able to play with.  It is a fair draw, though, as it is something of a Big East cross-section.

Remaining Roadies:  Pittsburgh, St. John's, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Seton Hall, Rutgers

As if it weren't enough of an uphill battle, the Bulls must visit the courts of all 4 preseason top ten teams in the conference.

Home Games:  Syracuse, Villanova, Marquette, Providence, Georgetown, Cincinnati

So the Bulls wound up getting the best (so they'll be dominated) and worst (so the bad teams have a better shot to beat them) conference teams on the road, while the very solid middle of the conference visits Tampa.  The schedule makers were not kind here.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
    Somehow the Bulls get to December 14th with just one loss, behind guard play good enough to make up for the lack of experience up front.  When Gilchrist returns, they close out he ooc on a winning streak, though I doubt they can beat Vanderbilt even with the full team.  As the season progresses, the freshmen up front improve and combine with Gilchrist to be more effective than expected in the paint.  That's enough to open things up, and the guards really start scoring.  Someone from that enormous freshman class comes through in a big way, and the Bulls avoid the basement in the Big East.  The absolute best I would expect from this team is a 12th or 13th place finish and no postseason.  A moral victory would be if the Bulls can win one game in the Big East tournament.

Worst Case Scenario:
   OK, this is the worst worst case scenario I've done so far.  Gilchrist retains his inconsistencies, and Mercer is rusty after a year off the court.  Only Jones is a big-time scorer.  The frontcourt is bad at times, completely absent at others.  Out of seven freshmen, none averages double figures.  They lose four before Gilchrist gets in there, and even his insertion in the lineup isn't much.  They go down 3 more times in the noncon, for a 5-7 ooc mark.  That nasty Big East schedule gets them, and they only manage to win two conference games and finish in last place.  The 12th place team smokes them in the Big East tourney's opening round, and they limp out of the season 7-24.

My Take:
    Don't be fooled by the large recruiting class; as I mentioned above it's good work but those freshmen aren't as good as a whole lot of others in the conference.  Maybe someone will shine, but it will take time.  Also, though, don't be fooled by the long list of leaving players.  They lose seven guys, but apart from Gransberry they were awful.  Gilchrist and Mercer are nice additions, and Jones is a very good guard.  I just don't believe that Gilchrist and a couple of reasonably talented freshmen are enough to make a frontcourt worthy of the Big East.   I have no idea if the huge turnover of players will result in a better or worse team, but the roster they ended up with doesn't stack up in the Big East.  They very well could finish last, because they are inexperienced and because they got a stinker of a schedule.  I don't think it's clear that they are the worst team in the conference, though, because a couple of others are in bad shape as well.
Category: NCAAB
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