This season will be the last of the Big East as we know, but will still be a bit different than the past. No longer will we see Bob Huggins' signature sweat suit; no longer will we see the infamous Jim Calhoun tirade.
For the last time, Syracuse's patented 2-3 zone defends the Orange paint. For the last time will Jamie Dixon's team attempt to physically impose its will. Possibly for the last time will Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish grind the shot clock down to the end.
While this season will end an era, it will, without doubt, still have the thrills of the regular season and the greatest conference tournament in college basketball. Without further ado, the predictions:
1. Louisville - In his time at Louisville, this may be Rick Pitino's best team. With an intimidating defensive force inside, Gorgui Dieng, and fast-as-lightening point guard, Peyton Siva running the show, Louisville will be able to build upon its Final Four appearance from last year and win the Big East title. With a full offseason of practice, Kevin Ware will be a force scoring the basketball. Chane Behanan will only get better from his stellar first year. Wayne Blackshear will be a force if healthy. Without doubt, this is the team to beat.
2. Syracuse - Even losing three starters and super sub, Dion Waiters, Syracuse comes back loaded. Brandon Triche and CJ Fair look to continue after stellar seasons. Newcomer, DaJuan Coleman is a man at his age. With his combination of size and skill plus the progress of Rakim Christmas, Syracuse will have a very big, skilled, and athletic front line and bottom of the zone. The real key to this team will be Michael Carter-Williams. Even much maligned, Scoop Jardine ran this Syracuse squad. Syracuse lost its scorers from last year and MCW will be forced to get everyone involved and create buckets for his teammates.
3. Cincinnati - I may be higher on the Bearcats than others, but I think this team will real surprise. Even losing Dion Dixon and Yancy Gates, they bring back a ton of talent. This team was best last year playing fast and creating matchup problems with their wing scorers. Watching much of their games, Cinci was more lethal with Gates on the bench of suspended (when their season turned around). Cashmere Wright, JaQuon Parker, Justin Jackson, and, my choice for Big East Player of the Year, Sean Kilpatrick, this team will be deep, run, and shoot the rock. Look for Cincinnati to have a big season under Mick Cronin
4. Notre Dame - Is that Luke Harangody? Nope, this guy is tougher inside. Not as skilled as his doppelganger, Jack Cooley is the real deal and fits perfectly into Mike Brey's system. Shooting a high percentage and setting tough screens for Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, Cooley may lead a team that is unbearable to watch, but will never beat itself.
5. Georgetown - Another team I am high on. Otto Porter is an animal. He played 30 minutes as a freshman last year and should really blossom this season. In addition, Greg Whittington and Jabril Trawick should continue to get better throughout the year. This team may struggle to gel at the beginning, but prepare for John Thompson III's offense to kick into high gear late in the season and make a real push to the top third of the league.
6. Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh was bad last season and it was very unexpected. Nasir Robinson was hurt and Ashton Gibbs struggled. This year, Tray Wooddall and Dante Taylor should renew the toughness and strength expected from Pitt teams. Tough defense and great rebounding will define this team. Freshman James Robinson will be in the mold of the great Pitt guards. However, the real star comes in at 7'0", but from down under in New Zealand, Steven Adams. Adams is incredibly skilled and will play tough (as all of Dixon's players do). This team should bounce back nicely.
7. Marquette - Losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom will hurt this team, but they still have a bunch of talent back and coming in. A healthy center, Chris Otule should led the team down low with 7'0", 290 pound Davante Gardner pounding opponents. These two may be the most physically imposing frontcourt outside of Syracuse (yet, with more experience). Vander Blue and Todd Mayo will shoulder the scoring load from guard, but the team's key will be Junior Cadougan. Cadougan is a fantastic passer who really takes care of the ball. If he can lead, this team will harass and fight behind Buzz Williams.
8. South Florida - Outside of the Louisville Final 4 run, the Bulls had the most successful postseason in the Big East. After a surprising run to the round of 32 (with two NCAA tournament wins), South Florida brings back diminutive point guard, Anthony Collins. In addition, Collins will have Shaun Noriega back chucking threes (80% of his shots last season). The key to the season is Victor Rudd. Rudd has a pro body and athleticism. He and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick should lead a tough frontcourt along with two transfer newcomers.
9. Connecticut - In a year of change, UConn leads the second half of the Big East in these rankings. The reason I have the Huskies here is due to their need to fight to keep Kevin Ollie's job and the Big East is lacking some of the frontcourt power there has been in the past. UConn has Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright leading a strong backcourt plus super "Diaper Dandy" in Omar Calhoun. The frontcourt has Tyler Olander, but he is not the physical presence of Huskies past. The Huskies will struggle this year, but do well enough to keep Kevin Ollie for future seasons.
10. Rutgers - I, begrudgingly, have Rutgers 10th in my rankings, but could easily slot them in as high as seventh. Mike Rice brings in JUCO star, Vince Garrett, and Kansas State transfer, Wally Judge into a team returning lots of potential, but not great numbers. Kadeem Jack, Dane Miller, and Mike Poole all have the opportunity to push Rutgers to the next level, but will it happen? If a team is going to make a big leap, look for it to be Rutgers.
11. Villanova - Another team to really struggle last year, Villanova had a poor season and its worst under Jay Wright. Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek surprisingly left, but could it be addition by subtraction? The two played horribly last year. Tony Chennault comes in from Wake Forest and Ryan Arcidiacono comes in after recovering from back surgery. James Bell is a great three-point shooter and be the dagger from the outside the Cats have relied on in the past. Unlike those Nova teams of old, the frontcourt should be their strength. JayVaughn Pinkston, Maurice Sutton, and Mouphtaou Yarou will be the keys to the team. None are true scorers, but will be relied upon for more than put backs if Villanova wants to return to the NCAA tournament.
12. DePaul - DePaul returns the league's top returning scorer in Cleveland Melvin and has more talent around him than it has had in years. The big question will be if this team can get and stay healthy. Moses Morgan, Donnavan Kirk, and Montray Clemmons were all injured during the entire or parts of the season last year, but all have the talent to make this team more competitive than it has in years past. In addition to Melvin, DePaul returns its starting combo guard and second leading scorer, Brandon Young, who will need to shoot a higher percentage for this team to win games. Oliver Purnell's team has a lot of swing players, combo forwards, and athleticism. Could this be the year they leave the Big East cellar?
13. Providence - Between Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton, Providence has explosive guards on the way back. In addition, they bring in two big time freshmen: Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. The problem is, when will these two play? Dunn is coming back from injury (December is the guess) and Ledo looks to be ineligible. If these two are in the lineup, Providence has incredible talent at guard, but without them, the depth just is not there. LaDontae Henton should be solid up front, but there may not be anyone else. This team is a year away from making real noise in the league.
14. St. John's - God'sgift Achiuwa. It is impossible to start a Red Storm bio without just saying that name. Has to be the best name in sports…but, I digress. The Johnnies bring back very little from last year. Their star, Mo Harkless, is in the NBA and they had some transfers. They do bring back their key though; Steve Lavin is healthy and will be on the sideline this season. In addition to Lavin, D'Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene are back for their second seasons. The top recruit for St. John's is big man, Chris Obekpa, who should be the key down low with God'sgift. This team is young and lacking in talent, but Lavin is a great recruiter and will have this team on the up moving forward.
15. Seton Hall - Someone has to be at the bottom and, here, it is Seton Hall. Losing their top two players, Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore, is just too much. Fuquan Edwin, Aaron Cosby and Patrik Auda are all capable, but do not pack the punch that Pope and Theodore provided. In addition, they do not have the talent coming in as St. John's or Providence. It could be a long year for the Pirates.
Player of the Year - Sean Kilpatrick. I think Kilpatrick will be the breakout star this year. He can shoot, defend, pass, and handle the ball in a fast-paced system on a team that will win games. Peyton Siva is the big pick here, but I do not think he will have the gaudy stats Kilpatrick will produce. Look for him to lead a tough Bearcat team.
Big East 1st Team:
Big East 2nd Team:
Big East Honorable Mention: