It should be a fun year for Big East hoops fans, with some speculating the conference could send as many as 10 teams to the Dance. While that may be unlikely, the conference will undoubtedly be as competitive, top to bottom, as it's been since it expanded to 16 teams, and perhaps since the first major expansion in 1994.
Let's take a look at how it stacks up against the rest of the nation.
Preseason Sweet 16
Connecticut Huskies: A superstar point guard, rugged power forward, monster center, and loads of depth put Jim Calhoun back in the title picture. Plus they will be amongst the most battle-tested of all teams playing in the nation’s toughest conference.
Duke Blue Devils: Expect the Dukies to be as good, if not better, than their 13-3 ACC team of a year ago.
Louisville Cardinals: The nation’s best frosh, Samardo Samuels, joins an already impressive frontcourt, featuring Earl Clark and Terrence Williams, to give Ricky Pitino another legitimate Final Four team.
Michigan State Spartans: Coach Tom Izzo loses go-to guy Drew Neitzel but has more than enough talent to make a serious run.
Gonzaga Bulldogs: Will this finally be the year that the Bulldogs make it to the Final Four? With All-American candidate point guard Jeremy Pargo leading one of the nation’s best starting fives, it’s a decent bet.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: All-World power forward Luke Harangody and super-shooter Kyle McAlarney give the Irish as good of an inside-outside tandem as any team in the country.
Texas Longhorns: A.J. Abrams takes the reins for another quality Rick Barnes team. Longhorn fans can expect another serious Final Four run.
Purdue Boilermakers: Expectations will be bigger than they have been in over a decade. They should be the class of the Big Ten.
North Carolina Tar Heels: They lose virtually no one from a Final Four squad and claim last year’s Wooden Award winner. If Tyler Hansbrough is healthy, consider them a virtual lock for the title game.
Baylor Bears: One of last year’s best stories returns its five top scorers and expects to improve upon its “one and done” NCAA appearance last season.
Pittsburgh Panthers: Powered by arguably the nation’s best frontcourt tandem in bangers Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, the Panthers are well-equipped to emerge from the rigors of the Big East.
Arizona State Sun Devils: James Harden is arguably the nation’s most explosive player and might carry the Sun Devils to the top of the Pac-10 in what is perhaps a down year for the conference.
Miami Hurricanes: With Jack McClinton at the helm and four of the nation’s best free-throw shooters in its starting lineup, Miami will not lose close games.
Syracuse Orange: After missing the tourney for two straight seasons, the drought will be over for Coach Jimmy Boeheim. The Orange, despite losing super-frosh Donte Greene to the NBA, will have one of their deepest teams in recent history, as they see the return of guards Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins and will feature All-American guards Jonny Flynn and Paul Harris.
Marquette Golden Eagles: Led by seemingly 13th-year point guard Dominic James the Golden Eagles return their four best players to what should have been a Sweet 16 team last year.
Villanova Wildcats: This team ebbs and flows with do-all guard Scottie Reynolds. He will assuredly be up to the task after leading the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 last season. Expect another solid run as they return all of their key players.
South North Carolina
National Player of the Year
Tyler Hansbrough, UNC: Barring injury, I don’t see any reason for him to stop doing what he’s been doing.
First Team All-Americans
F/C Tyler Hansbrough, UNC: The odd-on favorite to repeat as the Wooden Award winner.
F Luke Harangody, Notre Dame: Workhorse interior presence that will dictate how far the Irish advance.
F Patrick Patterson, Kentucky: Hopefully the surefire lottery pick is 100 percent healthy.
G Stephen Curry, Davidson: The nation’s preeminent shooter.
G James Harden, Arizona St.: The nation’s most explosive player.
C A.J. Ogilvy, Vanderbilt: With the loss of Shan Foster, the Aussie will be forced to carry the entire burden this season; at 6-11, 250+ he has the size to do it.
F Jon Brockman, Washington: If he could shoot free throws, we would be talking First Team here.
F Blake Griffin, Oklahoma: Considered by many to be next year’s number one draft choice.
G/F Paul Harris, Syracuse: There may not be a more complete guard/swingman in college, or a more physical one.
G Greivis Vasquez, Maryland: Despite playing for an established team in a power conference, Vasquez might be the best player no one’s heard of.
C Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut: He considers himself the best center in college. NBA scouts might agree.
F Jordan Hill, Arizona: One of the quickest 6'10", 230-pound athletes in college, and is only getting better.
F Damion James, Texas: There aren’t many players that average 10+ rebounds and shoot better than 41 percent from beyond the arc. In fact, James might be the only one.
G Tyrese Rice, Boston College: Has the ability to take over a game perhaps more so than any other player in the country; just ask the Tar Heels.
G Jonny Flynn, Syracuse: The most athletically gifted point guard in the nation.
C Kenny George, UNC Asheville: Although he will most likely miss the season because a portion of his foot was amputated due to complications with MRSA.
F/C DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh
F James Johnson, Wake Forest
F Sam Young, Pittsburgh
F Jonathan Cox, Drake
F Marqus Blakely, Vermont
F Diamon Simpson, St. Mary’s
G/F Lee Cummard, BYU
G/F Stefon Jackson, UTEP
G Dionte Christmas, Temple
G Lester Hudson, Tennessee-Martin
PG Nick Calathes, Florida
PG Devan Downey, South Carolina
PG Eric Maynor, VCU
C B.J. Mullens, Ohio St.
F Samardo Samuels, Louisville
F DeMar DeRozan, USC
G Tyreke Evans, Memphis
G Jrue Holiday, UCLA
Top Five Backcourts
1 Syracuse: Devendorf, Flynn, Rautins, Harris
2 UNC: Lawson, Ellington, Green
3 Marquette: James, Matthews, McNeal
4 UCLA: Collison, Holiday, Shipp
5 UConn: Price, Dyson, Walker
HM Duke: Paulus, Henderson, Scheyer
Top Five Frontcourts
1 Louisville: Clark, Williams, Samuels
2 Pittsburgh: Blair, Young, Biggs, Brown
3 Arizona: Budinger, Hill, Withey
4 UConn: Thabeet, Adrien, Majok
5 UNC: Hansbrough, Green, Davis
HM Missouri: Carroll, Lyons, Ramsey
Top Five Conferences
1 Big East
2 Atlantic Coast
3 Big 12
4 Big Ten