A fair and balanced look at the best basketball conference in the nation.
While we're eagerly anticipating Georgetown's renewal of acquaintances with the hated Florida Gators, every other college basketball team also is preparing to
play on an aircraft carrier tip off its season. Several of those teams, for this season at least, will compete with our beloved Hoyas in a conference that, for this season at least, continues to be known as the Big East. So how do those teams stack up against one another? Who's going to be hoisting the hardware in MSG in March? Will anyone break DePaul's death grip on the cellar? Let's have a preseason look-see.
Tier 1: The Favorite
- Last season: 30-10, 10-8, Big East Tournament Champions, lost in Final Four.
- Key departures: Kyle Kuric (12.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Chris Smith (9.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
- This year's cast: Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Chane Behanon, Gorgui Dieng, Luke Hancock (transfer from George Mason), Wayne Blackshear.
- Outlook: The Cardinals caught fire at the end of last season, mounting a run through the Big East Tournament and their NCAA regional. Rick Pitino returns three starters; add the sharp-shooting transfer Hancock and the promising sophomore Blackshear (who missed much of last year with an injury), and Louisville has the most talented, deepest roster in the conference.
- Prediction: 14-4. v. Georgetown (at GU): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 1st.
Tier 2: The Challengers. After Louisville, things get hairy. Most polls put Syracuse 2nd; on a talent basis, that may be true, but many of the parts are young or inexperienced. Several other teams in the next two tiers project anywhere between 2nd and 7th. Given the uncertainty, I've penciled a separation of just two games between the six.
2. Notre Dame.
- Last Season: 22-12, 13-5, lost in Big East Tournament semifinals, opening game of NCAA Tournament.
- Key departures: none. Tim Abromitis was denied a sixth year of eligibility, but also missed most of last year; sixth man Alex Dragicevich opted to transfer instead of getting replaced by better incoming players.
- This year's cast: Jack Cooley, Jerian Grant, Eric Atkins, Scott Martin, Pat Connaughton, Garrick Sherman (transfer from Michigan State).
- Outlook: The Irish have the greatest continuity of this season's contenders, as Mike Brey, in an effort to turn Notre Dame into BYU East, continues to find eligibility for his players into their mid-20s. Last year's thin rotation is bolstered by a quartet of newcomers that should provide needed depth.
- Prediction: 13-5. v. Georgetown (at ND): Hoyas lose. Big East Coaches' Poll: 3rd.
- Last season: 27-8, 14-4, lost in Big East Tournament quarterfinals, Sweet Sixteen.
- Key departures: Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom.
- This year's cast: Vander Blue, Davante Gardner, Todd Mayo, Jamil Wilson, Chris Otule, Junior Cadougan, Trent Lockett (transfer from Arizona State).
- Outlook: Last season, the loss of Jimmy Butler to the NBA and Otule to injury hardly mattered as the Golden Eagles rolled through the Big East and narrowly missed a chance to play for the Final Four. This year, they've lost conference player of the year Crowder and two-time leading scorer Johnson-Odom. The return of Otule and the addition of the (presumably eligible) transfer Lockett, who led Arizona State in scoring and rebounding last year, should keep the Golden Eagles soaring (sorry).
- Projected finish: 12-6. v. Georgetown (home-and-home): split. Big East Coaches' Poll: 7th.
- Last season: 24-9, 12-6, lost in Big East Tournament quarterfinals, round of 32.
- Key departures: Henry Sims, Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson.
- This year's cast: Otto Porter, Markel Starks, Greg Whittington, Nate Lubick, Jabril Trawick, Mikael Hopkins, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera...big man to be named later.
- Outlook: Last year's Georgetown team replaced 57% of its scoring, 43% of its rebounding, and 62% of its assists from the season before by riding two program stalwarts, a late-blooming big man, and youthful exuberance to an excellent season. This year brings more turnover, with Sims, Clark, and Thompson departing with 56% of last year's scoring, 43% of rebounding, and 49% of assists. While more comprehensive previews of the Hoyas are forthcoming, suffice it to say I think that this year's Hoyas can replicate last year's surprise.
- Projected finish: 12-6. Big East Coaches' Poll: 5th.
- Last season: 34-3, 17-1, lost in Big East Tournament semifinals, Elite Eight.
- Key departures: Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo.
- This year's cast: Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman.
- Outlook: Syracuse has the most overhaul of any of the contenders, losing four of its top six players. With plenty of talent leftover and arriving, the Orange probably have the highest ceiling of any of the four contenders. But there probably will be some slip-ups along the way. The only certainties are lots of whining and Magoo imitations from Jimmy B and an utter, complete, program-disbanding rout by your Hoyas during CXIV.
- Projected finish: 12-6. v. Georgetown (home-and-home): split. Big East Coaches' Poll: 2nd.
Tier 3: Tournament-bound. Both of these teams are as talented as their rivals above, but suffer from a significant hole that might cost them an extra game.
- Last season: 26-11, 12-6, lost in Big East final, Sweet Sixteen.
- Key departures: Dion Dixon, Yancy Gates.
- This year's cast: Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker, Justin Jackson, Cheikh Mbodj, Titus Rubles (junior college transfer).
- Outlook: Gradually, Mick Cronin has returned the Bearcats to respectability, and last year was Cincy's best in his tenure. Plenty of talent and experience returns, especially in the back-court. How Cincy will staff its front-court is unclear: Gates, for all his unsteadiness, was their sole reliable post last year, and his replacement on the block isn't obvious. Still, Cronin is accustomed to guard-heavy line-ups, so don't be surprised if the Bearcats overachieve and Cronin subsequently whines about not getting respect.
- Prediction: 11-7. v. Georgetown (at Cincy): Hoyas lose. Big East Coaches' Poll: 4th.
- Last season: 22-17, 5-13, lost in Big East Tournament second round, won CBI Tournament.
- Key departures: Ashton Gibbs, Nasir Robinson.
- This year's cast: Tray Woodall, Lamar Patterson, J.J. Moore, Dante Taylor, Talib Zanna, Steven Adams, Trey Zeigler (transfer from Central Michigan).
- Outlook: When Panther point guard Woodall went down last year, Pitt went with him, losing eight straight. A four-game winning streak (including over a sleep-walking Hoya bunch) briefly buoyed hopes, but a porous defense and more injuries were too much. This year's Panthers should bounce back, but will need to replace Gibbs's outside shooting, as well as Woodall's health and development in the front court. Pitt's success before last year makes them the hardest team to peg.
- Prediction: 11-7. v. Georgetown (at GU): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 6th.
Tier 4: Bubble dweller. This team should be in the tournament, but then again, it's definitely South Florida.
8. South Florida.
- Last season: 22-14, 12-6, lost in Big East quarterfinals, NCAA Tournament round of 32.
- Key departures: Augustus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson Jr., Hugh Robertson.
- This year's cast: Anthony Collins, Victor Rudd Jr., Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, Jawanza Poland, newcomers to be named later.
- Outlook: Last season, the Bulls overcame years of futility and a shaky non-conference run to finish with their first winning mark in the Big East and their first two NCAA Tournament wins. This year, Stan Heath will need heavy contributions from at least one of five newcomers, most likely a pair of transfer wings, Musa Abdul-Aleem (junior college) and Martino Brock (South Alabama).
- Prediction: 9-9. v. Georgetown (at USF): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 8th.
Tier 5: Wait ‘Til Next Year. Young talent, better than last year, but still some room to grow.
- Last season: 14-18, 6-12, lost in Big East Tournament first round.
- Key departures: Gil Biruta.
- This year's cast: Eli Carter, Myles Mack, Dane Miller, Wally Judge, Jerome Seagears, Mike Poole, big man to be named later.
- Outlook: The standings didn't reflect much progress in Mike Rice's second season, as a huge crop of youngsters racked up just one more conference win (and one fewer win overall) than the previous year's veteran holdovers. Still, the youth movement should continue apace this season. Expect a high-profile upset or two (home dates against six of the eight teams above). But the front court is unproven, meaning this year's progress is more likely to be by steps than leaps.
- Prediction: 7-11. v. Georgetown (home-and-home): split. Big East Coaches' Poll: 11th.
10. St. John's.
- Last season: 13-19, 6-12, lost in first round of Big East Tournament.
- Key departures: Moe Harkless.
- This year's cast: D'Angelo Harrison, God'sgift Achiuwa, Phil Greene, Amir Garrett, Sir'Dominic Pointer, Jakarr Sampson, Orlando Sanchez.
- Outlook: The Red Storm's surge abated last year as the previous season's senior-heavy squad turned over, several recruits weren't immediately eligible, and coach Steve Lavin dealt with medical issues. This year, Harkless is gone to the NBA as is head assistant Mike Dunlap, but Lavin's return, four returning starters, and some reinforcements to help last year's woefully thin and small rotation should help a bit.
- Prediction: 7-11. v. Georgetown (home-and-home): split. Big East Coaches' Poll: 10th.
- Last season: 13-19, 5-13, lost in Big East Tournament second round.
- Key departures: Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek.
- This year's cast: Mouphtaou Yarou, JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell, Ty Johnson, Tony Chennault, Ryan Arcidiacano, Daniel Ochefu.
- Outlook: Since their 2009 Final Four appearance, the Wildcats' trajectory has resembled Georgetown in the years after its 2007 Final Four run: a strong follow-up season resulting in a high seed and a disappointing early tournament exit; inexperienced teams with veterans who didn't quite become leaders; and bottoming out by missing the Tournament altogether. ‘Nova might be better this year than last, but, like St. John's, will have to wait another year to reenter the top half of the standings.
- Prediction: 6-12. v. Georgetown (at Nova): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 12th.
12. Seton Hall.
- Last season: 21-13, 8-10, lost in Big East Tournament second round, NIT second round.
- Key departures: Jordan Theodore, Herb Pope.
- This year's cast: Fuquan Edwin, Aaron Cosby, Brian Oliver (transfer from Georgia Tech), Patrik Auda, Brandon Mobley, Gene Teague.
- Outlook: The Pirates had a nice, albeit mild, uptick in year 2 of the Kevin Willard era. And this year, they'll have bolstered wing depth with another year of seasoning on the returning players and the newly eligible Oliver. But without Theodore's passing, Pope's rebounding, and both players' scoring and defense, it's a bit unclear how the Pirates will compete down low or at the point, where transfer Sterling Gibbs won't be eligible until next year.
- Prediction: 6-12. v. Georgetown (at GU): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 14th.
Tier 6: Rebuilding and Other Euphemisms. Intriguing and maybe even threatening in the right light, but way too many unanswered questions.
- Last season: 20-14, 8-10, lost in Big East Tournament quarterfinals, NCAA Tournament round of 64.
- Key departures: Jim Calhoun, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith.
- This year's cast: Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels, Tyler Olander, available warm bodies.
- Outlook: I mean, that really got out of hand fast! Just 19 months removed from a national championship, Connecticut stumbled through a rudderless season, was subjected to NCAA sanctions for low APR scores, lost two players to the NBA Draft and another two to transfer, and lost their program-building coach to retirement. Left behind are three skilled guards, a talented but awfully Roscoe Smith-ish forward, and just one player resembling a big man. New coach Kevin Ollie is impressing early, but color me skeptical that there's much he can do with this roster.
- Prediction: 5-13. v. Georgetown (at UConn): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 9h.
- Last season: 15-17, 4-14, lost in Big East Tournament first round.
- Key departures: Gerard Coleman, Bilal Dixon.
- This year's cast: Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton, LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn, Kadeem Batts, Brice Kofane, Sidiki Johnson (transfer from Arizona, eligible in December).
- Outlook: Even by modern standards, the Friars' roster is in flux. Two transfers out, three transfers in (Tyler Harris and Cameron Desrosiers aren't eligible until next year). Two high-profile recruits, one eligible but injured (Dunn), the other not eligible thus far (Ricky Ledo). Assuming he can ever get enough players, Ed Cooley seems to be building something in Providence. But the Friars finished last in the conference in defensive efficiency last year, and they still seem to lack enough bigs to expect much improvement this time around.
- Prediction: 5-13. v. Georgetown (at GU): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 15th.
- Last season: 12-19, 3-15, lost in Big East Tournament first round.
- Key departures: Jeremiah Kelly, Krys Faber.
- This year's cast: Cleveland Melvin, Brandon Young, Moses Morgan, Jamee Crockett, Worrel Clahar, Charles McKinney, Donovan Kirk.
- Outlook: The Blue Demons hold this spot until unseated, having finished last in the conference four years running, and winning just five conference games in that time. Three of those wins came last year, along with some scares into highly rated clubs like your Hoyas. Eight of ten rotation players return this year, and the freshmen Oliver Purnell originally threw into the fire are now juniors. There's good reason to believe the Blue Demons will break out of the cellar, but we'll hold them here (tragically losing a three-way tiebreaker to the Huskies and Friars) until proven wrong.
- Prediction: 5-13. v. Georgetown (at GU): Hoyas win. Big East Coaches' Poll: 13th.