When the Big East expanded to 16 teams two years ago, many expected it to become a basketball super-conference with upwards of half the conference in the Big Dance every year. The results have been less than spectacular. While the Big East did get a record 8 teams into March Madness in 2006, their two Number 1 seeds (Connecticut and Villanova) failed to reach the Final Four. In 2007, the Big East only got 6 teams into the tournament, and while Georgetown made a solid run to the Final Four, only one other Big East team made it to the Sweet Sixteen.
The prognosis for this year is not much better. The top of the league is only three teams deep, and the bottom is simply putrid. In fact, the bottom four teams in the Big East might be the worst four teams in any major conference. And in the middle, six to seven teams are fighting for the NCAA Tournament. Follow me after the jump for the details.
Georgetown returns 3 starters from its Final Four run of last year, including probably the best pure center in College Basketball, Roy Hibbert. However, they still have to make up for the loss of star forward Jeff Green to the draft. Green was the engine behind the Georgetown offense, drawing double-teams away from Hibbert and executing perfect passes and cuts in their Princeton style attack. This year, teams will be freer to double Hibbert, meaning that guards such as Johnathon Wallace will have to step up. Georgetown will have to be proficient from deep in order to create the space Hibbert needs to dominate inside. With that said, Georgetown is the clear favorite in the Big East.
Louisville returns almost everyone from last year’s, which started extremely slowly and then ramped up into almost beating Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament. The scary thing is, they will actually be deeper this year. The team’s chances at a Big East title largely hinge on the conduct of troubled star Derrick Caracter, who was disciplined multiple times by Rick Pitino last year. If he plays to his ability, the frontline of Caracter, Padgett, and Juan Palacios will be the deepest in the Big East. Point Guard Edgar Sosa does a great job running the show, but has a tendency to get into foul trouble, which would be Louisville’s major weakness. As deep as they are everywhere else, they do not have a true backup point guard.
Sitting just behind Georgetown and Louisville are the Marquette Golden Eagles. Marquette returns its three stellar guards, Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, and its top seven players overall. Everyone knows this experienced squad has the guardplay to be a Top 10 team, but the enormous question mark is the frontcourt. Marquette needs big years out of Ousmane Barro and Lazar Hamilton. Without big years from those two players, Marquette will struggle in the physical Big East. This team looks like a Sweet 16 team that could get hot at tourney time and end up in the Final Four, our have one terrible game from the frontcourt and be upset. Right now I’m leaning towards the average.
Behind these three teams, the next tier of the Big East will be a struggle for the remaining tournament berths.
Teams That Will Surprise
Providence is another experienced team that could surprise many in the Big East. While they lost star big man Herbert Hill, they return guards Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku. Like Marquette, guard play will not be a problem. Unlike Marquette, however, Providence has a proven big man in Geoff McDermott, one of the leading rebounders in the Big East. The concern will be depth; Providence will have trouble if they get into foul trouble in the frontcourt. Don’t be surprised to see Providence make the NCAA Tournament, and possibly make some noise once they get there.
While Villanova had a relatively disappointing campaign last year, one of the bright spots was the discovery of the lightning quick guard Scottie Reynolds. Now, Reynolds is joined by two of the top recruits in the nation, point guard Corey Fisher and wing player Corey Stokes. While it may take a while for this team to gel and the freshmen to mature, when they due, Villanova will be one of the toughest teams in the Big East. Jay Wright’s offense can shoot an opponent of the game in 5 minutes, while Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark should provide enough inside to survive bouts of cold shooting. If, and its a big if, the freshmen can live up to expectations, Villanova will be a tough out come tourney time.
Teams That Will Disappoint
Pittsburgh looks like the ultimate case of a hyped preseason team that takes a major fall. Jamie Dixon’s teams always play extremely tight defense, but tend sputter on the offensive end, leaving margins of victory slim. This means that the loss of Aaron Gray will be especially hard to overcome. If there were a player to do it, however, it would have been veteran point guard Levance Fields. Unfortunately, he decided to get drunk and into a fight outside a strip club, swear at a police officer, and then steal the officer’s gun. Field’s status for the season is questionable at best. The rest of the projected starting five scored 30 points per game combined last year. Without Fields, Pittsburgh looks like a bubble team instead of a Sweet Sixteen team like the past two years.
St John’s might be more dysfunctional than the team it shares The Garden with, and that’s saying something. They haven’t been to the Big Dance since 2002, and don’t figure to go any time soon. Quick, name the last time St. John’s had a player stay for all four years, and contribute in each one.
I’ll give you a minute. If you are having trouble, you should be. In fact, the only player that could possibly fit that criteria (and its a stretch) in the 4-year tenure of coach Norm Roberts is current senior Eugene Lawrence. The Johnnies did make the Big East tournament last year for the first time since expansion, but don’t expect them to do it again. With the revolving door of transfers, acedemic issues, and personal problems, every year has been a rebuilding year for St. John’s, and this one will be no exception.
When your basketball program is largely known for its women’s team getting Don Imus fired, then you know your men’s team is not good. In fact, the majority of the success on the basketball court comes from the women’s team, which routinely outdraws Rutgers’ mens team. The mens team doesn’t figure to improve much on last year’s league win total of 3, especially with a team that will rely almost exclusively on freshmen. However, expect Rutgers to improve in the coming years.
I’m too disgusted with this team to even preview them. As made obvious by this year, South Florida is in the Big East solely for football. While the hire of Stan Heath was a good one, I would be shocked if South Florida beat a Big East team not named Rutgers or St John’s.
Irrational UCONN Hate
As a Boston College fan, I am obligated to include this section. The next breath Jim Calhoun takes as a college basketball coach is one to many. Calhoun has kept convicted felons on his team (Bobby Bowden much), and it was a dream to watch his team fall apart last year. That being said, Uconn should be a lot better this year, especially if Hasheem Thabeet learns which ones are his feet, and which ones are his hands. End Uconn hate.
Georgetown will win the regular season, Louisville will win the Big East tournament, and Marquette will go as far if not farther in the NCAA Tournament. Pittsburgh will be snubbed like Syracuse last year, and the Big East will get seven teams in the tournament (Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Villanova, Connecticut, and Providence).