Big East Previews and Predictions for Each Team Before Conference Season Starts
Every year it seems the Big East conference is the deepest. So many top teams, eight possible tournament spots, the competition is outstanding. Every game is a battle for every team, and nothing is ever decided until the final day. This year, is no exception. With teams like Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and many more pushing for the conference title, there should be some great basketball. Here is a team-by-team preview of all 16 teams in the Big East.
Cincinnati Bearcats (12-0)
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The 12-0 record might be a little deceiving, having played just one major conference team, Oklahoma, who is by far the worst team in the Big-12. However, winning is winning, and to do it consistently against every team you play is definitely an accomplishment. The Bearcats should be confident that they can win games in league play. However, come March, when the selection committee looks at the teams, the Bearcats will likely be punished for their scheduling by not getting a tournament bid. That is why it is crucial that they pick up a lot of good wins in Big East play.
On the plus side, they rank in the top 100 Division 1 teams in most offensive categories, and have won 10 out of their 12 games by at least 10 points. They have four guys averaging in double figures, with junior Dion Dixon leading the way at 12.8 ppg. The downside is that they probably are not as good as they were last year when they failed to make the NCAA tournament. They lost their stars Lance Stephenson and Deonte Vaughn. However, they have had a lot of guys step up. Maybe this squad works better together and is a better team. That will need to be the case for Cincy, as they will need everything to fall into place in order for them to compete in the Big East.
My prediction is that they have a decent Big East season. They will probably finish around 7-11 in conference. They are fortunate to play DePaul twice, and their three/four first conference games are against the weaker opponents, so look for them to keep the confidence up and maybe that will lead to some wins against better opponents. If they finish at 7-11, and make a very strong run in the Big East tournament, then they may have a shot at the tournament, otherwise the NIT is the likely finish for these guys.
Connecticut Huskies (10-0)
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Another undefeated team in the Big East is the Connecticut Huskies. They have been the surprise of the NCAA so far, going from unranked, to 4th in the country. And unlike Cincinnati, they have played some quality opponents. They have great wins against Michigan State and Kentucky in the Maui Invitational, which they won back in November, and also have good wins against Vermont and Harvard, (which were both blowouts).
They are currently ranked third in the country in rebounding, and 27th in scoring. Their only close games on the season was the MSU game and a win over Wichita State. What's even more crazy is that they aren't even the best team at their own school, being outmatched by the women's team coached by Geno Auriemma.
They are led by junior Kemba Walker, who is averaging nearly 27 points a game, which is currently best in the country. Alex Oriakhi is averaging nearly a double-double a game for the Huskies, and they are getting contributions up and down the roster.
There is no reason why this won't be championship year for the Huskies. Although it is unlikely for them to continue a perfect season all the way through to the NCAA tournament, a 14-4 Big East record would be my guess. That would likely keep them in the hunt for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, which is a place they will likely find themselves in, unless they have an epic collapse. They did have an epic collapse last year, finishing 7-11 in conference play and making the NIT.
DePaul Blue Demons (6-6)
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We would all love to kid ourselves into believing that DePaul is going to shock all of us this season and make the NCAA tournament. They are the lovable losers. Coached by former Clemson leader, Oliver Purnell, the Blue Demons are in rebuilding mode. They have currently won three straight games, but have no significant wins to speak of, and four pretty bad losses.
Freshman, Brandon Young leads the scoring for the Blue Demons, who have four players averaging in double figures. However, it is rebounding which has killed them. They are 332 in D-1, out of 347. Their defense has been subpar, and it really has been an ugly start to the season.
We can probably say with some confidence that this won't be another season where the Blue Demons win one or two conference games, they might get at least four or five, but unless they win five in a row at Madison Square Garden during the Big East tournament, a CBI bid is the best that they can hope for. Luckily, they play South Florida twice, and they may be the one Big East team worse than DePaul.
Georgetown Hoyas (11-1)
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The Georgetown Hoyas are good as expected, as usual in fact. No one is shocked, that JT3 is once again leading his team to the NCAA tournament. Georgetown has played great all season with solid wins over Coastal Carolina, Wofford, Utah State, NC State, Memphis, and Missouri. The one loss of the season came to A-10 powerhouse, Temple.
Senior Austin Freeman continues to step up this year, as he has every year averaging about 19 points per game. Fellow senior Chris Wright and junior Jason Clark are averaging just five points less for the team with the 18th best scoring team in the country. The main struggle for the Hoyas is with rebounding, but that's probably because they are making their shots so efficiently, placing second in the NCAA in field goal percentage.
A lot is possible for this experienced Hoyas team. It will take a lot for them to win a national championship, but don't count them out. A 13-5 Big East schedule is likely, and maybe even a good run to the elite eight is where I see this team from DC headed.
Louisville Cardinals (10-1)
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Another great team in the Big East is the Louisville Cardinals. It seems that Rick Pitino has the ability to work with every team he is handed, and these guys are no exception. With solid wins over Butler and UNLV, this season is starting out strong again for the Cardinals. Their one bad loss came to a solid Drexel team.
They have really spread out the responsibilities of the team having 10 players average at least 10 minutes a game. They have a prolific offense, which is led by senior Preston Knowles. They are also a good rebounding team, and are a solid defensive team. Overall, they are a really strong club that can go a long way if they play their game on any given night.
I predict them to be better than people think. A 12-6 record may be in the cards, if not something better. They don't start conference play until January 5th, so they still have a while to get ready. They play Providence twice, and those could be two big wins for them. A decent run in the NCAA tournament would not surprise me at all, with a very deep team like this.
Marquette Golden Eagles (9-3)
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The 9-3 record that Marquette has really doesn't do justice to the strong start that this team has had. With their losses coming to Duke, Gonzaga, and Wisconsin, they really shouldn't pout too much, although they really haven't had too much competition elsewhere. However, if they can prove that they are a good enough team through winning conference games, the non-conference woes won't hurt them too much.
Senior Jimmy Butler has really stepped it up this year averaging over 15 ppg and almost 7 rebounds on a given night. They are a very strong offensive team, one of the best in the Big East, but do have some struggles on the defensive side. If coach Buzz Williams can lead them to a 12-6 conference season, the tournament is a lock. Anything else, they will need at least one win at Madison Square Garden.
I do believe that this team will be just fine and make the NCAA tournament. It might hurt their seeding a bit that they didn't do well in the non-conference season, but they can erase that with some quality wins against the Big East schools. A strong Sweet 16 run is where I see the Golden Eagles headed this season.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-1)
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Notre Dame has quietly had a really solid non-conference season up to this point. With good wins over Cal, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Gonzaga, the Irish are putting up a good resume before Big East tipoff. Their one loss came at the hands of Kentucky, a 14-point defeat.
Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis are one of the best scoring duo's in the Big East, both are averaging over 15 a game. They also have five players averaging at least four rebounds a game, they are ninth in the country at that category. They are also a solid defensive squad, and have a lot of experience.
I predict big things for this Irish team. The tournament is a lock with an 11-7 record, and a 9-9 or 10-8 record would be great, but they would need a win at MSG. Likely though, I see a 12-6 Big East record in their future, and a good run in the NCAA tournament.
Pittsburgh Panthers (12-1)
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Jamie Dixon is hands down one of the best coaches in the game of college basketball. His Pitt team defied expectations last year, and this year he returns almost all of those players, and you can bet they are improved.
With only one loss to a pretty decent Tennessee team, the Panthers should have nothing to worry about heading into league play. They have some wins against a bunch of solid mid-majors, but only one good win against a ranked team which was Texas as MSG. It's important to note that Pitt owns MSG, which helps because that is where they play the conference tournament.
Pitt is led in scoring by Ashton Gibbs, who is also an 85% free-throw shooter. Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown have also been huge pieces to the Pitt puzzle. Their defense has really stepped up and so has big man Gary McGhee, who has turned from a lanky big man, to a solid defender and scorer. Another surprise has been freshman Talib Zhana, who had a career game against Maryland earlier this year.
I predict a 15-3 conference season for Pitt, who I believe to be the best team in the conference. They are just such a overall great team, and have winning experience, and a great home court to play on every night. A Final Four run is a possibility as well in the NCAA Tournament.
Providence Friars (11-2)
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This Providence team is without a doubt, better than what they had last year, but the question is if they are athletic enough, and tough enough to make a run at an NCAA tournament spot. They have no solid wins to speak of, but have played well. Their defense has been terrible so far, and that will really hurt them in the Big East, where offense is good by so many teams. Their offense has been there this season, as they are ranked 16th in the NCAA. They have two decent wins against URI and Alabama.
Marshon Brooks has really been the catalyst for this team averaging more than 23 ppg, and nine boards a game. Vincent Council is averaging 16 for them as well. Their offense has been good, but their efficiency isn't that great, they are 90th in the NCAA in field goal percentage despite the amount of scoring that they do.
I don't see an NCAA tournament berth for the Friars unless they go 10-8 in the Big East, and win two games at MSG. That will be very difficult for this team. However, don't be surprised if they win more than expected. I predict a 7-11 conference season and a NIT berth.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-2)
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Just like the 9-3 Marquette record didn't do justice to how good of a team they had, this 9-2 record doesn't do justice to how bad of a team the Scarlet Knights are. Despite new leadership under Mike Rice, who is a great coach, the Knights shouldn't expect too much this year. They have two decent wins over Miami-FL, and over Auburn. However, they lost to Princeton and Saint Joseph's.
They have a good defense, but struggle to score, with Jonathan Mitchell leading the team with just 12 points a contest. Their rebounding is also quite bad. These two inneficiencies will kill them in the Big East.
Unless they go on a miracle run, a 4-14 Big East season is what I see coming their way. They need to win the five at the Garden, or they will spend March on the couch.
Seton Hall Pirates (6-5)
Jeremy Hazell in Street Clothes
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Seton Hall was dealt a tough blow losing Jeremy Hazell to injury. They will get him back soon, but a lot of damage has already been done, as they have some pretty tough losses to make up from. Losses to Dayton and Arkansas are not going to look good on a resumé, but once they get Hazell back, they are capable of being one of the best in the Big East.
Although they don't have a strong fan base, a lot of winning would change that in a heartbeat. Hazell was averaging 24 ppg before he got injured, and since then, their prolific offense has been turned to dust.
I predict that the Pirates will make an NCAA run and will win a lot of games once their guy is healthy. They could make a strong run at the end of the season, and win a couple at MSG, which is near to a home game for them. If they can pull that off, a tournament bid is theirs, although they might need some help from heaven if they want to make a run in the tournament.
South Florida Bulls (6-7)
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I almost feel it is futile to preview this team. They are by far the worst Big East team, and have some really bad games this year. They have losses to Southern Miss, Central Florida, Florida Atlantic, Kent State, and James Madison. They nearly lost to St. Francis of New York as well.
They rank among the worst in division one in scoring, although their defense has been okay. They only have two players averaging in double figures, both have 10.8 a game. The good news is that they are young, and have just one senior, Jarrid Famous.
I predict a conference season no better than 2-16, and it could be worse. I just hope that I am wrong.
St. John's Red Storm (7-3)
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St. John's has not gotten off to the best start this season going just 7-3 and struggling in many of their wins. However, they do have 10 seniors on their roster, and are not as bad as they have looked. They have good wins over Northwestern, Davidson, and Arizona State. However, they have two terrible losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham.
They are led in scoring by Dwight Hardy, but their clear leader on the court this season has been DJ Kennedy. Justin Brownlee and Justin Burell have also been playing well as of late. This team returns all five of its starters from last season. Once they pick the scoring up, they should be fine.
I predict a good season for the Johnnies. A 10-8 conference record, with a win at MSG should push them into the tournament under new head coach Steve Lavin. Even if they don't make the tournament, they should be able to win the NIT.
Syracuse Orange (13-0)
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The Syracuse team has picked up the slack as of late. Although they struggled early in the season to win easy games easily, they have been doing just that in the last several games. After nearly losing to Detroit, William and Mary, NC State, Michigan, and Georgia Tech, they have been crushing their opponents. They had one win over Colgate in which they led by forty at the half.
Although they are known for their great zone defense, they have been doing pretty well offensively with players like Rick Jackson and Scoop Jardine. However, they have 10 players averaging at least 12 minutes, so they really are a deep team throughout the lineup.
I predict a great season for this team, although that really isn't a bold prediction. 14-4 would be decent, but 15-3 or 16-2 is more realistic. They will of course be competing for a final four again, as always.
West Virginia Mountaineers (8-2)
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West Virginia cannot expect to have the same type of season that it had last year, when they went to the final four, but you can bet Bob Huggins will still wear the track suit on the sidelines. WVU has one tough loss to Miami-FL, and two decent wins against Davidson and Vanderbilt.
Senior Casey Mitchell leads the scoring at 17.5 a game for a team that lost a lot of talent after last year. They have been inconsistent defensively, but have picked up as of late. There has also been inconsistency on the offensive side.
If they can step it up and play CONSISTENTLY well, then they will probably be a good tournament team. The worst I see for them is some sweat come selection sunday. In my opinion, they are a lock for the tournament. However, they need a 10-8 conference record to make it 100 percent.
Villanova Wildcats (10-1)
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The Cats are good as usual, no shock there. The have some decent wins, with their best victory coming over UCLA. They need to win against Temple on the 30th to really solidify their position as elite.
Jay Wright has always done well with a guard oriented team. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes lead their team in scoring. In fact their top three scorers are guards. Overall, they are a strong, not elite, offensive squad.
I predict a good 12-6 record for the Wildcats, which is not as good as expected. They will go to the tournament, but not past the elite eight. If they can surprise and go 14-4, then maybe they are better, and will have title hopes. Just wait and see...
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Final Standings — Predictions
4) Notre Dame
7) St. John's
9) West Virginia
12) Seton Hall
16) South Florida