RTC Conference Primer: #2 – Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2010

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ is a Habit is the Big East correspondent for Rush The Court.

Predicted Order of Finish

  • 1. Villanova (15-3)
  • T2. Pittsburgh (14-4)
  • T2. Syracuse (14-4)
  • 4. Georgetown (12-6)
  • T5. West Virginia (11-7)
  • T5. Marquette (11-7)
  • 7. Seton Hall (10-8)
  • T8. Notre Dame (9-9)
  • T8. St. John’s (9-9)
  • T10. Connecticut (8-10)
  • T10. Louisville (8-10)
  • T12. South Florida (7-11)
  • T12. Cincinnati (7-11)
  • T14. Providence (3-15)
  • T14. Rutgers (3-15)
  • T14. DePaul (3-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Corey Fisher, Villanova (13.3 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.8 rpg)
  • G: Kemba Walker, UConn (14.6 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 spg)
  • F: Austin Freeman, Georgetown (16.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 44.4% 3pt)
  • F: Kris Joseph, Syracuse (10.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 spg)
  • F: Kevin Jones, West Virginia (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg)

6th Man

Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame (16.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 42.9% 3pt)

Impact Newcomers

  • Fab Melo, Syracuse: Melo should have an immediate impact as the starting center for the Orange. Regarded as one of, if not the, best center in the class, Melo has more polish offensively than most bigs do as freshman, but his size in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone may be more important.
  • Vander Blue, Marquette: Blue should step in and start immediately for the Golden Eagles. He’s everything you imagine when you think of a Marquette wing player. He’s tough, athletic, and can slash to the basket. He’ll remind some of Jerel McNeal.
  • Nate Lubick, Georgetown: With the Hoyas losing Greg Monroe to the NBA, they will have a gaping hole in the middle. Lubick has the skill set to be the high post forward of the future for John Thompson III, and he could immediately slide into the starting lineup.

Jay Wright has Villanova in the driver’s seat, with Pittsburgh nipping at the Wildcats’ heels. (AP/Michael Perez)

What You Need To Know

As much as it pains me to say it, the Big East is going to be down this season, especially near the bottom of the league. The two best players in the conference are probably Austin Freeman and Corey Fisher, and while I don’t want to take anything away from those two — I love the way that both play — they are a long way from being lottery picks. Providence, Rutgers and DePaul are as bad as any three teams at the bottom of the power conferences, which is saying a lot considering what the cellar of the Pac-10 and SEC have to offer. Now think about this: If the Big East wants to get more than six teams into the Big Dance, the teams that will likely be fighting for the last couple of at-large bids this season are Seton Hall, St. John’s, Notre Dame and UConn. And that assumes that Marquette and West Virginia are dancing. Yuck.

Predicted Champion

Villanova (NCAA #2 Seed): I like Villanova a lot more than other people do. I think Corey Fisher has a chance to become a star this season as he steps out of the shadow of Scottie Reynolds. I think Maalik Wayns has a chance to come into his own as well. Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek should provide some size, athleticism, and versatility on the perimeter, while Jayvaughn Pinkston and Isaiah Armwood provide the same along the front line. The trio of Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton is one of the better front lines in the conference. More than anything, however, I think that Jay Wright has answered the biggest questions his team had last season. Without a doubt, Villanova will be better inside with Yarou healthy, Pinkston on the roster, and Armwood and Sutton a year stronger. They should also be better defensively without Reynolds and Fisher sharing the floor. This team has a great mixture of size, athleticism, youth, experience, and versatility. They remind me quite a bit of the Villanova team that made the 2009 Final Four.

  • Pitt (NCAA #3 Seed): Pitt was the runaway pick by the media to be the Big East champion, and I’ll be honest, it is a difficult pick to argue with. The Panthers return everyone from a team that was a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament and tied for second in the conference. They will be a stingy defensive team, which should be a given for this program. Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown should all be better next season. Those three really fit well together. Gibbs is a knock-down shooter, Wanamaker is a big playmaker, and Brown is a slasher and one of the best athletes in the conference. I expect a breakout year from Brown, in particular, as he was inconsistent last season, but brilliant in flashes. Gary McGhee is an underrated big man that eats up space in the paint. Nasir Robinson, who started at power forward last season, is out until December, but it could be a blessing in disguise as guys like Dante Taylor and Talib Zanna get a chance to get some experience and confidence.
  • Syracuse (NCAA #5 Seed): While it’s a coin flip for the top spot in this league, the Orange are probably the third best team in this conference by a good distance on either side. The Cuse lost a lot last season with Arinze Onuaku, Andy Rautins and Wes Johnson all leaving town. But the cupboard, as you can imagine, is far from bare. Kris Joseph should go from super-sub to star this season. Rick Jackson and Fab Melo will provide a big front line. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine have both proven to be above average backcourt players in the Big East. Throw in freshmen like CJ Fair and Dion Waiters, and the Orange shouldn’t be too far off the pace they set last year.

NCAA Teams

  • Georgetown (NCAA #6 Seed): The Hoyas will have a different makeup from what we are used to seeing. For the first time since their resurgence in the mid-2000’s, this team will not have a high-post player to run the Georgetown offense through. Nate Lubick may one day be that guy, but it is too early to call him the savior. That’s not to say the Hoyas necessarily need saving. Their backcourt isn’t just the best in the conference, it is right up there with Duke’s as the best in the country. Austin Freeman, as we mentioned, is arguably the best player in the league. Chris Wright is as good of a point guard as you are going to find in the Big East. Jason Clark is as underrated as they come. And don’t forget about Hollis Thompson, a 6’7 wing with range. If their bigs develop, this is a team you won’t want to play in March.
  • West Virginia (NCAA #7 Seed): The Mountaineers survived last season on the offensive glass, grabbing 41.8% of their own misses, good for second in the country. The problem is that two of their three best offensive rebounders, Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith, are gone. Kevin Jones is still around, however, and he has a chance to become a star and a first round pick this season. Guys like Deniz Kilicli, John Flowers, Cam Thoroughman and Danny Jennings will counted on to step up. The other question is filling the void left by Da’Sean Butler, both on the court and as a leader. Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant are back in the back court, but will Casey Mitchell or Dalton Pepper develop into a legitimate scoring threat on the wing?
  • Marquette (NCAA #7 Seed): The Golden Eagles aren’t getting the kind of credit I think they deserve this season. Their backcourt of Darius Johnson-Odom, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue could very well end up being the second best back court in the conference. Jimmy Butler should step up into the Lazar Hayward role this year. Jae Crowder is a juco transfer who is going to surprise some people this season. Marquette will, once again, be a tough, scrappy team that will never quit. Expect a lot of entertaining games involving these guys.

Bubble/NIT Teams

  • Seton Hall: The Pirates have enough talent on their roster to be an NCAA team. Jeremy Hazell is one of the best scorers in the country, Herb Pope is a manchild on the block, Jeremy Robinson is a talented and athletic hustler, and Jordan Theodore is a very underrated point guard. That said, this group has tons of question marks, from Hazell’s shot selection to a new head coach to the overwhelming number of attitudes. Kevin Willard will have his work cut out for him, but the pieces are there if he can put them together.
  • Notre Dame: The Irish lost Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody, but all is not lost for this squad. Tim Abromaitis, Scott Martin and Ben Hansbrough are all capable of being big-time scorers. Eric Atkins is an underrated freshman point guard. Their front line of Carleton Scott, Jack Cooley and Ty Nash will sneak up on some people. It will be interesting to see if Mike Brey returns to the defensive style he played at the end of last season, which allowed the Irish to make a run to the tournament, or the run-and-gun system we have come to expect from the Irish.
  • St. John’s: The Johnnies have a new coach in Steve Lavin and are loaded with seniors, nine in total. DJ Kennedy might be the best player in the Big East you’ve never seen play, there are scorers on the wings, and a number of big, strong, and athletic post players. The great recruiting class comes in next season, but don’t count this team out this season.
  • UConn: The Huskies have one of the most dynamic point guards in the country in Kemba Walker and a potentially dominant big man in Alex Oriakhi. Beyond those two, there is talent, but that talent is young and raw. This season will be a test for Calhoun. The last time he had a talent drain like this (2006-07), it took him two years to get the program back to the Final Four (2008-09). With the looming NCAA sanctions, is that still possible for a coach in his 70s?
  • Louisville: The Cardinals barely make this bubble list. They have had a myriad of issues this summer. From Karen Sypher, to Preston Knowles’ suspension, to injuries, to ineligible newcomers, the Cardinals seem like a shell of the 2009 team that made the Final Four. Peyton Siva and Terrence Jennings form the basis of a very good inside-outside combo. Knowles is a tough defender and a knock down shooter, while Kyle Kuric and Jared Swopshire, when he gets healthy, should both have big seasons with expanded roles this year. But is that enough to win this season, even in a watered-down Big East?

Other Teams

  • South Florida: Gus Gilchrist and Jarrid Famous are very good. But without Dominique Jones, there isn’t enough backcourt scoring.
  • Cincinnati: Substitute Yancy Gates for Gilchrist and Famous, and replace Jones with Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson. Go!
  • Providence: The Friars had an ugly, ugly offseason. Arrests, players kicked off the team, a LOI flap with their top recruit. Keno Davis has had quite a bit of roster turnover in his tenure.
  • Rutgers: Mike Rice is doing good things to change the culture of Rutgers basketball. He’s still a year away from adding the talent.
  • DePaul: Name one player on DePaul right now. Try it. Struggling? Yeah, I don’t blame you. Mike Stovall is their leading returning scorer at 7.7 ppg.

Digging Deeper

  • In 2009, the Big East had three number-one seeds: UConn, Louisville and Pitt. A fourth team, Villanova made the Final Four. Pitt and Villanova are once again Final Four contenders, but if you really want to know why this conference is down, it’s because two perennial contenders will be fighting (likely a losing battle) to make the NCAA Tournament.
  • Another big reason this year’s Big East is down? A lack of talent coming into the league. Nothing against guys like Fab Melo and Dion Waiters, or Vander Blue and Nate Lubick, because they all have a chance to be very good down the road, but have you heard any newcomers — check that, any player in general — in the same breath as a Kyrie Irving or Harrison Barnes or Jared Sullinger? There isn’t an immediate NBA-level talent in this conference this season.

Final Thoughts

  • The Big East will be balanced again this season. While Villanova and Pitt are the clear top two, they are not so much better that they won’t be beaten. Would I predict a team like Syracuse or Georgetown to win the conference? No. Would I be surprised if one of those two put it all together and made a run to the top spot? Ehh, mildly.
  • No one is going to be winning on sheer talent in the Big East this season. Even the best teams in the league will be grinding out victories. Expect a lot of close games, a lot of physical battles, and while the talent level may be lower than normal in the Big East this season, expect the entertainment level to be as high as ever.
Brian Goodman (966 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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