Big East College Basketball: Teams On the Rise and Decline

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer INovember 3, 2009

NEW YORK - MARCH 12: Deonta Vaughn #5 of the Cincinnati Bearcats attempts to take a shot against the Pittsburgh Panthers during the 2008 Big East Men's Basketball Championship at Madison Square Garden on March 12, 2008 in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Big East underwent an incredible amount of plastic surgery during the offseason after the majority of the league's best players graduated or left to play professional basketball.

The familiar faces that headlined the league for so the long—the Georgetown's, Syracuse's, Connecticut's—likely won't factor too deeply into the Big East title race.

They'll fall in line behind Villanova and West Virginia as the far and away two best clubs in a conference that's down, but certainly not out.

Unlike the SEC last year and the Pac-10 this year, the Big East won't suffer a significant drop-off when paired against the rest of the nation.

Yes, the Big East certainly won't have three teams campaigning for No. 1 seeds nor will the conference produce league schedules commonly referred to as "the gauntlet" like last year.

The league will shape up to have a half-dozen top 25 teams and a few more that could and should compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.

In that group of tournament worthy teams, there are squads on the rise that should break into the conference's top tier as well as some on the decline.


Bob Huggins Turning Alma Mater into National Power

It took Bob Huggins almost 30 years to finally return to his hometown and alma mater and coach his beloved Mountaineers. It's taken Huggins a mere two years to take his 'Eers and remake them into an elite Big East club.

With just three recruiting classes in the books, Huggins has pulled in a handful of top 100 talents including potential All-American Devin Ebanks. While one of his recruits for this season, Deniz Kilicli, is facing eligibility issues and will sit out more than half this season, Huggins has impact newcomers to support his current cast of studs.

West Virginia is nearly a consensus top 12 team and basically a toss up with Villanova for the Big East's best team in 2010.

West Virginia is still in the running to haul in a handful of different top 100 recruits in 2010 which means the Mountaineers could extend their success into next season.

Of course that means Devin Ebanks will have to be good enough to lead WVU deep into the tournament this year, but not too good to want to bail for the NBA Draft.


Cincinnati Finally Recovering From the Bob Huggins Fall Out

When Bob Huggins resigned from Cincinnati after the 2005 season, the Bearcats immediately went backwards. They won 25 games in Huggins' last year, but haven't really come close to that total since.

Mick Cronin replaced Huggins and has taken longer than Bearcats' fans would have liked to get this program turned around. Cronin probably suffered his last acceptable hiccup when his team lost to winless DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament.

He should be skating on thin ice this season, but he received a contract extension through 2014. UC may regret that decision if Lance Stephenson never gets cleared or has trouble co-existing with guards Deonta Vaughn and Cashmere Wright.

Despite the issues surrounding Cincinnati, it is undeniable that the Bearcats have close to top 25 talent. Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates make up one of the nation's most underrated and best unknown duos.

If Lance Stephenson fits into Cronin's mold, he'll likely be the Big East's best freshman scorer. The Bearcats have the talent to finish as high as third in the league, but they should be the neighborhood of sixth in Big East.


Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way out Notre Dame

Last year, college basketball pundits were lining up behind Notre Dame touting them as a potential Final Four team because of Luke Harangody. With two-time reigning Big East Coach of the Year Mike Brey at the helm, it was likely that the Irish could only over-achieve.

Clearly, that wasn't the case. Notre Dame tanked last season with a putrid defense and one-dimensional offensive attack.

This year probably won't be much better especially after Purdue transfer Scott Martin tore his ACL. Next year should be even worse as Luke Harangody will be gone and there will not be any star power left to replace him.

Rarely can teams succeed in the conference without big name recruits and Brey doesn't have any coming in this year or next (so far). Notre Dame could quickly be headed toward a perennial finish in the bottom half of the Big East.


Louisville Could Fall Off in 2010

The Cardinals certainly won't be as good as last year after the departures of Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, but Louisville could easily end up back in the top 25. Samardo Samuels is one of the league's best players, but he could be playing professional ball in 2010-2011.

With several seniors on this squad and no top recruits committed for 2010, Louisville could find itself in a precarious position next year. The Cardinals could be forced next year to rely on Terrence Jennings and Peyton Silva, who haven't played a minute of college ball.

It's imperative that Rick Pitino could put his problems behind him and continue to recruit like he had been over the past half-decade. He has to haul in one of his three top targets: Tobias Harris (who if he heads to the Blue Grass State, it will be for Kentucky), J.J. Moore, or JayVaughn Pinkston.