BtB 2009-10 Big East Preview


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The Big East had a BIG season last year, but not quite the monster year many predicted. At the end of the year, the conference only qualified eight teams for the NCAAs, instead the nine or ten many had predicted.  Louisville earned the tournament's overall number one seed, while UConn and Pitt joined them on the top line. The Huskies were the only one of this group to make it to Detroit, but the 3 seed in the East region, Villanova, knocked off the Panthers to join Connecticut at Ford Field.

Graduation and the NBA Draft sapped some of the star power from the conference during the offseason, and teams like Pitt and Marquette, look to be in rebuilding mode because of it. Louisville, whose summer included personnel losses and revelations about Rick Pitino's personal life, will be a contender but not quite the power of last year. UConn and Syracuse also lost significant personnel, but have some exciting recruits coming in to fill the voids. Two teams who fell flat last year, Georgetown and Notre Dame could be back, while Cincinnati, St. John's, and Seton Hall may be waking from a long slumber.

But the two teams who appear to be head and shoulders above the rest are the two who lost the least, Villanova and West Virginia. They'll start with the biggest targets on their backs, and they'll take plenty of shots in the early season, particularly in tournament play. Both play in loaded fields this November, the Wildcats in Puerto Rico; the Mountaineers in Anaheim.

More on all 16 teams in the largest league in the land after the jump.

Here's a recap of last year's Big East standings.


Big East Conference Standings

(updated 4.5.2009 at 12:15 AM EDT)


Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order.  If a team name appears in red, click it to go to that schools SBNation site, your source for more in depth analysis.

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DePaul (last NCAA: 2004) The Blue Demons defeated a league opponent once only  last season, bursting Cincinnati's bubble in the first round of the Big East tournament. The pressure is definitely on Jerry Wainwright at the moment, but this team doesn't look like it will improve much. The foundation is good, even with swingman Dar Tucker's departure for the professional game, as 6-10 Mac Koshwal is a beast inside for Wainwright, as he averaged over 12 points and nearly 10 boards a game last year, and Will Walker averaged nearly 15 points a game in the backcourt. But the rest of the squad lacks scoring punch and experience. Ohio State transfer Eric Wallace, Oregon State transfer Eric Wallace, and returnees Devin Hill (3.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and Mario Stula (1.7 ppg) will have to produce more to make up for the loss of Tucker, while Jabari Currie (5.3 ppg, 1.8 apg) and Jeremiah Kelly (4.3 ppg, 2.4 apg) will need to help Walker out more in the backcourt.  DePaul will play Northern Iowa in the Paradise Jam, then East Carolina or Tennessee in their second game. They'll also head to Tampa to take on Mississippi State in the Big East/SEC Invitational.

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Providence (last NCAA: 2004) The Friars won 10 Big East games in Keno Davis' first season at the helm, but ended up in the NIT. Providence's schedule is a big reason for their failure, as they defeated Cincinnati and Rutgers twice, and were swept by Villanova, making their victory total a bit suspect. Providence should drop significantly this season, as they lost four starters off an already disappointing team. Senior point guard Sharaud Curry (11.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) is the lone returning starter, so at least the offense will be in good hands. Production will have to come from 6-5 wing Marshon Brooks (10.6 ppg) and 6-4 Brian McKenzie (4.6 ppg), along with JC transfer Kyle Wright and freshman Duke Mondy, both of whom lit it up at their previous level of competition. 6-9 JC transfer Russ Permenter and 6-8 freshmen Kadeem Bates and James Still will join two redshirt freshmen, 6-6 Jamine Peterson and 6-8 Bilal Dixon, on an all new frontline. How quickly that group can adjust to the rigors of the Big East will determine how well PC can do this season. The Friars don't participate in a tournament this year, but they travel to Alabama and host former Big East member Boston College.

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South Florida (last NCAA: 1992) The Bulls should be better this year, but the question is whether that will show up in the standings. Stan Heath returns three starters from a team that won only four Big East contests a season ago, including guard Dominique Jones (18.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.9 apg) and 6-10 forward Augustus Gilchrist (10.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Both of those players will receive significant help in their particular units, as Ohio State transfer Anthony Crater will take some of the playmaking pressure off Jones (as will a bigger role for senior Chris Howard, who averaged over 4 assists a game last year) and 6-11 JC transfer Jarrid Famous will combine with Gilchrist to form one of the more intimidating frontlines in the conference. 6-4 guard Mike Mercer (8.5 ppg, 33.3% from 3) returns to the team for his final season after head coach Stan Heath booted him in January for disciplinary issues. USF's freshmen, heavy on guards and wings, includes Joe Dumars' son, Jordan. The Bulls will play in the Charleston Classic before Thanksgiving, where they'll play Davidson on Day 1. A matchup with either La Salle or South Carolina awaits on Day 2. USF will also face San Diego and San Francisco in Las Vegas before Christmas.

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Rutgers (last NCAA: 1991) The Scarlet Knights once again struggled in the Big East, winning only two games in the conference in '08-09. Fred Hill's team should face another tough year despite the return of 6-3 sophomore guard Mike Rosario (16.2 ppg) and an improving frontline featuring imposing shotblocker 6-9 Gregory Echenique (8.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg) and 6-11 center Hamady Ndiaye (5.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg). 6-7 Jonathan Mitchell, a transfer from Florida, and 6-6 sophomore Patrick Jackson, a rarely used freshman, are expected to contribute as well. While Rutgers is set at shooting guard thanks to Rosario, JC transfer James Beatty will likely replace Anthony Farmer at the point, though junior Mike Coburn (4 ppg, 2.1 apg), last year's backup, will see plenty of time there as well. The Scarlet Knights will make the short trip to Atlantic City, where they'll face UMass in the semifinals of the Legends Classic. They'll play either Florida or Michigan State on the following evening. A December 28 trip to North Carolina also looms large.

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Marquette (last NCAA: 2009) The Golden Eagles appear due for a fall in Buzz Williams' second year at the helm. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Dominic James, Marquette's starting backcourt of a season ago, have all graduated. And while 6-6 F Lazar Hayward (16.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg) is back, that's a lot of production Williams will have to replace. Jimmy Butler (5.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg), another 6-6 forward, should move from the sixth man role to the starting lineup, but he needs to show more offensive consistency. Two-time Wisconsin HS Player of the Year Jeronne Maymon, yet another 6-6 forward, will be expected to contribute immediately, as will 6-7 shot blocking machine Erik Williams. Marquette's all-new backcourt features two JC All-Americans, 6-3 Dwight Buycks and 6-1 Darius Johnson-Odom, and 6-1 Canadian freshman Junior Cadougan, the heir apparent to James. Maurice Acker (2.8 ppg, 1.8 apg), who replaced James when he went out with a broken foot, is also back for the Golden Eagles. Marquette plays in the Old Spice Classic this year, where they open with Xavier. They'll then play either Michigan or Creighton in what has to be called that tournament's Midwestern half of the bracket.

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Pittsburgh (last NCAA: 2009) The Panthers will be in full rebuilding mode this season, as Jamie Dixon lost four starters from a season ago.  However, the one starter who is back, senior guard Jermaine Dixon (8.4 ppg, 2 apg), is out until November thanks to a broken foot. Reserves Gilbert Brown (5.4 ppg), Brad Wanamaker (5.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg), and Ashton Gibbs (4.3 ppg, 43.9% from 3) will have to take on a greater role, but replacing Levance Fields at the point is the biggest issue for Pitt. Ultimately, Gibbs and Centenary transfer Chase Adams (14.6 ppg, 4.5 apg) will have to shoulder the load. The frontcourt was decimated thanks to the departure of DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, and Tyrell Biggs. 6-10 center Gary McGhee (1.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg in roughly 6 minutes per game) will see a lot more time this season, as will 6-6 swingman Gilbert Brown (5.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg), but 6-9 freshman Dante Taylor, a McDonald's All-American, could become the most exciting frontcourt player for the Panthers this season. Pitt will travel to Kansas City for the CBE Classic, where they'll open against Wichita State. Big 12 power Texas or now-perennially-rebuilding Iowa awaits on the second night.

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Seton Hall (last NCAA: 2006) Bobby Gonzalez not only brings back four starters from a season ago, led by offensive force Jeremy Hazell (22.7 ppg), he has several transfers coming in to provide much needed depth. The Pirates' solid backcourt, featuring Hazell, starting point guard Eugene Harvey (12.5 ppg, 4.5 apg), and backup PG Jordan Theodore (5.9 ppg, 2 apg) receives a major reinforcement in the form of Missouri transfer Keon Lawrence (11 ppg, 2.3 apg in '07-08). An emerging frontline, featuring 6-6 Robert Mitchell (14.7 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-9 John Garcia (8 ppg, 7 rpg), will be even better thanks to the presence of 6-8 New Mexico State transfer Herb Pope, who averaged more than 11 points and almost 7 boards a game in his single season in Las Cruces. Melvyn Oliver, a 6-11 sophomore who weighs in at an immovable 340 pounds and 6-6 Memphis transfer Jeff Robinson will also see some minutes. Seton Hall won't participate in a tournament this year, but they'll still get some time in the sun. They'll travel to Cancun to take on Virginia Tech on the second day of 2010.

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St. John's (last NCAA: 2002) Last season, Norm Roberts' Red Storm won 16 games, 6 in the Big East, during a campaign that was plagued by injuries. St. John's hasn't quite been able to shake the injury bug yet, as their best player, 6-7 senior F Anthony Mason, Jr. (14 ppg, 4.3 rpg) will be out until at least late November with a hamstring injury. He only played three games last season thanks to a torn tendon in his right foot. When he returns, he'll join 6-6 junior D.J. Kennedy (13 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and 6-8 junior Sean Evans (10.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) to form a quality frontcourt. 6-3 junior Paris Horne, who led the Red Storm in scoring a season ago (14.6 ppg), and 5-9 PG Malik Boothe (6.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) will anchor the backcourt, with sophomore Quincy Roberts (5 ppg) and freshman PG Malik Stith, as the supporting cast. St. John's will participate in the Philly Hoop Group Classic over Thanksgiving weekend at the Palestra, where they'll face Siena and Temple.

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Notre Dame (last NCAA: 2008) The Fighting Irish have a chance of improving on last year's disappointing 21-win NIT campaign thanks to the return of 6-8 Luke Harangody (23.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg), a player who has numerous school and conference records within reach. In the backcourt, point guard Tory Jackson (10.6 ppg, 4.9 apg) returns, but perimeter sharpshooters Kyle McAlarney (15 ppg) and Ryan Ayers (11.1 ppg) will be sorely missed. Mississippi State transfer Ben Hansbrough, brother of Tyler, will be called on to make up some of that production, though he's just as likely to score inside, as he can really drive to the basket. Unfortunately, another player who would've fit in immediately, 6-8 Purdue transfer Scott Martin, will miss the year with a knee injury. That means 6-8 junior Tyrone Nash (3 ppg, 3.6 rpg) will have to take on a greater role. Ultimately, a lack of depth will keep the Irish from rising too high in the standings, but they should be competitive for an NCAA bid. Notre Dame will participate in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, where they open with Northwestern. The second day the Irish will face either Iowa State or Saint Louis.

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Cincinnati (last NCAA: 2005) Thanks to four returning starters and a couple of key newcomers, Mick Cronin's team should be able to improve on last year's 18 wins (8 in the conference), and with the losses other Big East teams suffered, they should get back to the Dance. The Bearcats' strength will be their backcourt, led by all-Big East pick Deonta Vaughn (15.3 ppg, 4.7 apg). He'll receive more help than he had last year, as PG Cashmere Wright is back after missing all of last year with a knee injury and Larry Davis (6.8 ppg) also returns from an ankle injury. 6-9 Yancy Gates (10.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg), who was one of the league's top freshmen last season anchors the frontcourt, which will also feature 6-11 Oklahoma State transfer Ibrahima Thomas (8.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) when the fall semester ends. However, the arrival of 6-6 New Yorker Lance Stephenson gives the Bearcats a second legit star. New York State's all-time leading scorer averaged nearly 29 points a contest last year, so he should provide an instant boost to a team that was weak on the offensive end last season. Cincy will play in Maui this November, where they open with Vanderbilt. If they win that, a semifinal with Maryland would likely await.  

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Georgetown (last NCAA: 2008) The Hoyas were touted as a Final Four team by some last year, but struggled with consistency throughout the season. DaJuan Summers left early for the NBA, which is a major blow, and Jesse Sapp, the senior point guard and defensive specialist who saw a lot more action than anticipated last year, graduated, but John Thompson III has plenty of talent returning to improve on last season's 16-15 mark. Chris Wright (12.5 ppg, 3.8 apg) is back to run the point after showing well in his first league campaign.  He missed all of the previous conference season with an ankle injury. At the 2 spot, Austin Freeman (11.4 ppg, 2 apg) will be expected to improve his production in Summers' absence. The frontcourt is anchored by conference Newcomer of the Year Greg Monroe (12.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg), but those expected to start alongside him, sophomore PF Henry Sims and freshman SF Hollis Thompson are relatively inexperienced. That means reserve Julian Vaughn (1.8 ppg, 1.7 rpg), who was expected to contribute more in his first year after transferring from Florida State, and occasional starter Nikita Mescheriakov (2.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg) may see quite a bit more time than anticipated. The Hoyas won't participate in a tournament this season, but they will head west to take on Washington in the Wooden Classic (not UCLA, which would make sense) and up to New York to face Butler in the Jimmy V Classic.

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Louisville (last NCAA: 2009) Rick Pitino was the center of a lot of unwanted attention this offseason thanks to some well-publicized off the court issues. On the court, the Cards the news was also negative, as the team's two leading scorers and rebounders from last season, Earl Clark and Terrence Williams, are now in the NBA. The cupboard is far from bare for Pitino, however. He has a backcourt led by seniors Edgar Sosa (7.3 ppg, 2.3 apg) and Jerry Smith, a gifted shooter who averaged almost 8 points a game while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. Junior Preston Knowles shot even better from outside, 43 percent, as the sixth man last year. The Cards will need their production, along with that of 6-4 freshman sharpshooter Mike Marra and McDonald's All-American PG Peyton Siva, to replace some of the production that left with Clark and Williams. The frontcourt should be a strength, thanks to the return of 6-9 Samardo Samuels (11.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg), though he'll need to be more consistent. Samuels will be challenged by having to do more of the dirty work on the glass, as he was only the third leading rebounder on last year's team. 6-9 sophomore Terrence Jennings should also provide more punch this season, as he averaged 4.2 ppg and 2.9 rpg in only about 12 minutes worth of action as a freshman. Tony Delk, a 6-4 swingman, who averaged less than a bucket a game last year, should also see more time.  Besides the traditional game with Kentucky, Louisville will play Arkansas in the Hall of Fame Showcase in St. Louis before they play home games against three mid-major opponents in the same event.

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Syracuse (last NCAA: 2009) The Orange lost their three leading scorers--NBA first rounder Jonny Flynn, his Niagara Falls High School teammate Paul Harris, and Eric Devendorf--off a squad that reached the Sweet 16. But don't expect Jim Boeheim's squad to fall too far down the Big East pecking order. Two regular frontcourt starters--6-9 C Arinze Onuaku (10.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and 6-9 F Rick Jackson (8.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg)-return, as does part-time starter Andy Rautins (10.5 ppg, 36.6% from 3). The newcomers are even more intriguing. 6-7 F Wesley Johnson, who averaged over 12 points and almost 8 boards as a freshman and 12+ points and 4 boards as a sophomore at Iowa State, will fill Harris' spot in the frontcourt. 6-4 freshman Brandon Triche will replace Flynn at the point. The Orange have some talent on the bench, as 6-1 sophomore guard Scoop Jardine returns after sitting out last year injured, 6-7 sophomore Kris Joseph will provide some depth up front, but he'll have to be more consistent than he was as a freshman. 6-8 freshman James Southerland should see some time off the bench because of his ability to shoot. Syracuse makes the short trip to New York City for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, where they'll face California in the semifinals, then either Ohio State or North Carolina. They'll travel to Tampa to take on Florida in the Big East/SEC Invitational and host Memphis in the Dome.

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Connecticut (last NCAA: 2009) Jim Calhoun lost three starters off a Final Four team, Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, and Jeff Adrien, but don't expect UConn to fall too far. PG Kemba Walker (8.9 ppg, 2.8 apg) got a lot of experience off the bench in '08-09 and will be ready to fill Price's shoes at the 1 spot. Freshman Darius Smith should also see some time at the point and maybe even at the 2 spot, thanks to his scoring ability. Jerome Dyson (13.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.1 apg) returns from a torn meniscus to provide more toughness to the backcourt. In the frontcourt, SF Stanley Robinson (8.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) needs to show more consistency, while 6-9 senior Gavin Edwards steps into a starting role for the first time. Calhoun has some impact youngsters on his frontline, including 6-10 Ater Majok and high school teammates Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. If the younger frontcourt produces as the season goes on, UConn could go on another long March run. Of course, the ongoing investigation surrounding Josh Nochimson could still lead to some distractions during the season.  Schedule-wise, the Huskies will host the North regional of the NIT Season Tip-Off. That should result in the first of two trips to MSG for them, as they also face Kentucky in the Big East/SEC Invitational.

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West Virginia (last NCAA: 2009) The Mountaineers bring back the bulk of a team that disappointingly lost to Dayton in the first round of last year's NCAAs. Bob Huggins' frontcourt features two players who will challenge for national honors this year, 6-7 senior Da'Sean Butler (17.1 ppg. 5.9 rpg) and 6-9 sophomore Devin Ebanks (10.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg)-a player who really came on in the second half of last season. PF Wellington Smith (5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg), a 6-7 senior, should up his performance now that he's recovered from a stress fracture in his leg, while 6-8 sophomore Kevin Jones (6.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg) is another solid reserve player for the Mountaineers. The backcourt will be new as JC transfer Casey Mitchell will be the starting shooting guard and Alex Ruoff's replacement at point guard is a real question mark. Darryl Bryant (9.8 ppg, 2.7 apg), Ruoff's heir apparent, was suspended by Huggins over the summer. Joe Mazzulla (5.6 ppg, 3.7 apg), another player who had to deal with off the court issues last year, is another option. His minutes depend on how well he's recovered from the severe shoulder injury he suffered early last season. The Mountaineers will play in the 76 Classic in Anaheim, where they'll open with Long Beach State. A matchup with either Clemson or Texas A&M awaits on the day after Thanksgiving.

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Villanova (last NCAA: 2009) Leading scorer Dante Cunningham (16.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and swingman Dwayne Anderson (9 ppg, 6.2 rpg) may be gone from last year's Final Four team, but there's enough quality on the roster to ensure that the Wildcats remain near the top of the league. Sixth man Corey Fisher (10.8 ppg, 2.8 apg) should move over to the point full-time, while senior Scottie Reynolds (15.2 ppg, 3.4 apg) will continue to help with the playmaking, even in a more offensive role. The frontcourt corps of 6-5 Corey Stokes (9.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), 6-5 Reggie Redding (7.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and 6-8 Antonio Pena (5.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) will be joined by several newcomers. 6-11 redshirt Maurice Sutton, 6-6 Duke transfer Taylor King, and 6-7 freshman Isaiah Armwood will see considerable minutes, while 6-10 Mouphtaou Yarou, a high school teammate of Armwood, will give the Wildcats an inside dimension they haven't had in years. Nova will play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off before Thanksgiving. They'll open with George Mason before facing either Dayton or Georgia Tech on the second day.

The Wildcats will hold the Big East's auto bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket, which I will release on November 9.  There will undoubtedly be a few of their conference brethren joining them.

To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-Big East team, featuring the best returning players from last season.  

Preseason All-Big East Team

Player of the YearLuke Harangody, 6-8 F, Sr. (Notre Dame)

Remainder of the Team
Da'Sean Butler, 6-7 F. Sr. (West Virginia)
Devin Ebanks, 6-9 F, So. (West Virginia)
Greg Monroe, 6-11 F, So. (Georgetown)
Scottie Reynolds, 6-2 G, Sr. (Villanova)

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