In preparation for the start of the 2011-2012 regular season on November 7, we’re running a preview series here on Busting Brackets. You check out all of our pieces in the series by clicking here. Our conference previews continue with a look at the Big East, which is loaded yet again at the top.
The Big East may be imploding – thanks in large part to its lack of football prowess – but, in the now, there is no better basketball conference in the country, outside of the professional ranks. This is a league with four legitimate top 10 and Final Four contenders. Moreover, last year’s record 11 NCAA Tournament teams that received much criticism, could very well happen again this year. So, critics can start preparing their arguments now.
Back to the top four. Connecticut, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville all return deep, talented squads to go along with Hall of Fame or future Hall of Fame coaches. All should hover around and within the top 10 throughout the year and provide the Big East with fatiguing publicity during the regular season. Ultimate postseason success, on the other hand, will be tougher to attain with the likes of North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio State in the national picture.
After the prohibitive top four, there will be between 6-8 solid to very good teams that will dip in and out of top 25 consideration and contend for NCAA tournament bids. Consider the coaches in this league: Calhoun, Boeheim, Pitino, Dixon, Huggins, Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, John Thompson III, Mike Brey, Steve Lavin, etc. You get the picture. Welcome to another season (possibly the last?) in the Big East.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Any of the top four teams mentioned above could win this league. When these teams play each other, they will be titanic, must-see matchups. UConn, the defending National Champions, lost the great Kemba Walker, but return almost every other key contributor and add a wonderful recruiting class that includes Andre Drummond, a 6’10, 275 pound top prospect, who Calhoun said reminded him of a young Amare’ Stoudemire. Scary.
Syracuse returns everyone but “Mr. Double-Double,” Rick Jackson. But that leaves a plethora of experienced talent for Boeheim to work with and oh, by the way, the Cuse has an outstanding recruiting class coming in as well.
Pittsburgh and Louisville are both deep again and have big-time freshmen joining their programs, notably, Khem Birch and Wayne Blackshear respectively.
Though there are a few squads in this deep conference that could take this label, the pick here is Villanova. Many are down on Nova, after two straight disappointing finishes to their season. The Wildcats also lose an abundance of fire power with the graduations of the Coreys, Fisher and Stokes. But, this could and should be a classic case of addition by subtraction, as it will allow junior guard Maalik Wayns to take control of the offense, which he seems to be quite comfortable with.
Also, look for freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston to provide Jay Wright with versatility in the front and backcourt. Wright should be determined to put himself and Villanova back at the forefront of people’s minds when it comes to top coaches and programs.
FIRST TEAM ALL-CONFERENCE
- Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh) – The Big East’s returning scoring leader was 1st team all league last season.
- Kris Joseph (Syracuse) – The senior led the Orange with 14.3 points a game last season, despite injury issues. Expect a big season from him this year.
- Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut) – Last year, the freshman was super and played as big a role as anyone in bringing UConn a National Championship. This year he’s a sophomore with more skills and more experience. Watch out.
- Peyton Siva (Louisville) – Siva showed glimpses of what he could do last year, averaging 10 points and 5 assists, but dominating at times late in the season. This year, expect him to dominate from the start.
- Maalik Wayns (Villanova) – If Villanova is to have a bounce-back season, it will be Wayns who leads them there. The junior guard averaged 14 points and 4.5 assists in a supporting role last season.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
- 1. Connecticut – No Kemba, but maybe a better team. Lamb, Napier, Oriakhi and the freshman Drummond lead the way.
- 2. Pittsburgh – Gibbs is back with a few other major contributors. Expect freshman Khem Birch to contribute to the Big East’s most consistent program over the last ten years.
- 3. Syracuse – The Orange have the talent to win this league outright, but Boeheim’s teams have been known to have a few regular season hiccups, no matter how talented.
- 4. Louisville – Pitino could put together a top four team in the league with players he picked up at the local YMCA. This year he has talent. They will contend for the league title.
- 5. Villanova – Nova seeks to surprise their detractors with a bounce-back season. Maalik Wayns will lead the way.
- 6. Marquette – By now, you know what to expect from a Buzz Williams team: relentless play and wins. Williams is equipped with more talent this year.
- 7. Cincinnati – Mick Cronin’s team will be solid again. The big, big key is whether Yancy Gates finally fulfills his potential.
- 8. Georgetown – John Thompson III will be tested this year, as many see this as a rebuilding year for the Hoyas. The cupboard is not bare, however.
- 9. West Virginia – This will be a challenging year for Coach Huggins. But, the bet here is that he will find a way to get this team into the big dance, on the strength of Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli.
- 10. St. John’s – One of the youngest teams in the country will stay competitive under Steve Lavin and assistant coach Mike Dunlap.
- 11. Notre Dame – The Irish will take a step back from last year, but Mike Brey will have them in contention for an NCAA bid.
- 12. Rutgers – Coach Mike Rice has turned the Scarlet Knights into a scrappy, tough-minded defensive team that nobody wants to play. Rice has accumulated some offensive talent, too.
- 13. Providence – It may not look like it, but a 13th place finish in this league from Providence would signal a resurgence after a great hire in hometown head coach Ed Cooley.
- 14. Seton Hall – It’s never a good sign when the head coach starts a sentence with: “Not that I’m giving up on this year…” This season will likely be a long one for Coach Willard, Herb Pope and co.
- 15. DePaul – This team will be better in Oliver Purnell’s second year. But they will still be very close to the bottom in this league.
- 16. South Florida – Lucky for Coach Stan Heath, he signed a multi-year contract extension after the 2009-10 season. He’ll need the security.
What are your thoughts on the Big East this season?