College Basketball 2011: Projecting the Big East
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Despite some heavy losses like Kemba Walker, Austin Freeman, Brad Wanamaker, Marshon Brooks, and Jimmy Butler the Big East is still easily the best conference in America. New stars will take over for those that have gone on and a very strong class of freshmen is ready to show what they can do. However due to conference realignment, what happens off the court will be making bigger news now that Pitt and Syracuse have announced a move to the ACC.
Last year's national champion UConn is set to take a bit of a dip following the loss of All-American Walker, but they will be competing for the top spot in the league with Final Four contenders Pittsburgh and Syracuse - each in possibly their final season in the league depending on the outcome of the Big East allowing the schools to leave for the ACC.
This article will preview at every team and projecting where they will finish based on both the overall talent of the roster and their schedules.
16. South Florida
Gus Gilchrist is quietly one of the best big men in the Big East.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
As expected, South Florida took a giant step backwards last year after losing All Big East guard Dominique Jones to the NBA. The Bulls lose their center and point guard, but adding an Arizona State transfer and two junior college transfers should help to make up for that.
Up front, the loss of Jarrid Famous is tough, but 6'10" senior Augustus Gilchrist is an even better player. Gilchrist had some transfer issues early on in his career keeping him off the court, but ever since he's been producing (13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds).
Former Kansas State transfer Ron Anderson is basically a returning starter after averaging 7.0 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, but he disappeared at times during Big East play. Coming off the bench will be the Arizona State transfer, Victor Rudd. Rudd was a former top-100 recruit out of high school, and he should get plenty of opportunity to score.
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick averaged 4.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in just over 14 minutes per game, very strong numbers for a freshman in the Big East. Adding depth will be a pair of wide-bodied newcomers in 6'10", 285 pound junior college transfer Andre Jackson, and giant 7'3", 291 pound freshman Jordan Omogbehin.
Despite the loss of point guard Anthony Crater, the Bulls backcourt should be fine. That's because 6'6" junior Hugh Robertson (8.3 points) and 6'4" sophomore Jawanza Poland (9.1 points) have both shown the ability to score, as can top wing reserve and top shooter Shaun Noriega (6.4 points).
Junior-college transfer Blake Nash had a very strong season on that level, but is expected to be thrown right into the fire for the Bulls. Freshman Anthony Collins will be the backup at the point, while sophomore LaVonte Dority adds depth.
The Bulls have some nice players, but with major question marks at point guard and in terms of overall depth make them a hard team to pick much higher than they finished last year. If Nash can surprise, the Bulls have the ability to finish three to four spots better in the league.
Melvin could challenge for an All Big East selection if he added a little more strength.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
DePaul improved last year, but is looking like they are destined for yet another bottom of the standings season. Despite the fact that they are at the bottom of the league, they should be improved with arguably their two best players no longer freshmen.
Up front the Blue Demons bring back both post players, including last year's Big East Newcomer of the Year in Cleveland Melvin. With a summer to add some needed bulk, the 6'8" sophomore should be ready to improve upon last year's 14.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game.
Next to Melvin is big- bodied senior Krys Faber, At 6'10", 260 lbs., he's a player that hasn't done much with his size after averaging 7.0 points and 5.3 points last year. Although not technically a returning starter, wing Tony Freeland averaged 9.6 points and 5.0 boards in nearly 25 minutes per game off the bench.
As for reserves, 6'9" Miami transfer Donnavan Kirk will be eligible after the fall semester. Kirk was a fairly highly recruited prospect out of high school that never grew into a role in Miami. 6'9" freshman Derrell Robertson and 6'8" Montray Clemons add some depth.
The Blue Demons return their starting backcourt, and like the front court are led by a promising sophomore. That sophomore is 6'3" Brandon Young, another player who coach Oliver Purnell has to build the program around for the next three seasons after scoring 12.6 points per game in his debut.
The other starter is one that seems like he's been in the program for the last decade, even though Jeremiah Kelly is just a senior. Kelly's a steady player that scored 7.6 points per game last year, but he's already reached his full potential.
Another sophomore, 6'6" Morgan Moses, adds a shooter off the bench capable of adding some offense after averaging 5.1 points per game in only 14 minutes per game. Purnell adds in a trio of very athletic freshmen in Jamee Crockett, Macari Brooks, and Charles McKinney.
DePaul should be improved from last year's 7-24 record because it's the second season under Purnell along with the fact that talented sophomores Melvin and Young should be ready to take their games up a level.
With the new crop of freshmen adding athleticism, which should allow Purnell to be able to play the type of press defense he likes, and you can see this team being a little more dangerous this year. The Demons are a year or two away from challenging for a tournament spot, but appear to be headed in the right direction.
14. St. John's
Stith is the lone returning scholarship player from last year's squad.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Last year's team that coach Steve Lavin took over and had a surprising season has basically all departed with only Malik Stith, who played 12.2 minutes per game, coming back. Lavin knew what he was getting into when he took over an extremely senior-heavy team prior to last season, but that allowed him to bring in one of the nation's best recruiting classes.
That recruiting class has taken a hit in the last week with the loss three very highly recruited players for the first semester due to academics. Of those three, big man Norvel Pelle -possibly the top recruit- has already enrolled in a prep school, so he will not be eligible this year.
Wing Jakarr Sampson is the second of the three, and he has reportedly already began looking into prep schools. The third player, Amir Garrett, hasn't had many rumors surface, however he has already been given a one million dollar bonus by the Cincinnati Reds following this year's Major League Baseball draft.
The backcourt will be led by Stith, a point guard who averaged 3.3 points per game a year ago. Playing off the ball will likely be Nurideen Lindsey, one of the top junior college recruits in the country.
The first guard off the bench is likely going to be freshmen D'Angelo Harrison, a top-100 recruit, with Phillip Greene being in the mix as well. Both have the ability to play either guard spot, although neither are true point guards. Harrison is a guy that could bring some instant offense off the bench.
Up front, junior college transfer God's Gift Achiuwa should be the starting center. Achiuwa brings the size at 6'9", 240 lbs., and physicality needed for Big East play. The power forward was scheduled to be Pelle, but is now likely freshman Michael Harkless, a top-100 recruit that is really a small forward.
That leaves freshman Sir'Dominic Pointer, yet another top-100 recruit, to play the small forward position. Behind them there are no more scholarship players, which makes the return of Garrett that much more important.
St. John's actually has a boat load of talent, but zero depth and only one natural center or power forward on the roster, and he was playing at a lower level junior college last year. The talented freshmen will have their moments, and the Johnnies could win a few games they shouldn't, but they will have to deal with freshmen mistakes and will also lose some games that they shouldn't.
All Freshman Team - Sir'Dominic Pointer
13. Seton Hall
Herb Pope averaged a double-double two years ago before battling injury last year.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Last year, in his first year as Pirates coach, Kevin Willard put together a disappointing 13-18 record and a 12th place finish in the Big East. This year Willard faces even more challenges, because even though he does return three starters, his two leading scores are among the six players leaving the program. Willard brought in a six man recruiting class, but there are some questions there as well.
The Pirates best player will be senior big man Herb Pope, a player talented to average a double-double as a sophomore (11.5 points, 10.7 rebounds) before seeing his output decrease last year due to playing through injuries (9.8 points, 7.9 boards).
A healthy Pope can easily challenge for the Big East Player of the Year, as his sophomore numbers were held down by playing with some high-volume shooters. The other starting big man will likely be sophomore Patrick Auda, a big man whose game is based on the perimeter. Auda averaged 3.2 points and 2.5 boards per game a year ago while hitting 41-percent of his three-point attempts.
If freshman Kevin Johnson gets cleared academically (his status is still up in the air), he could challenge Auda for a starting spot as he's more of a true post player. Otherwise the depth will be Aaron Geramipoor, a 6'11" sophomore that showed very little last year, and Brandon Mobley, a lightly recruited freshman that needs to add bulk but may be able to contribute some rebounds. Southern Illinois transfer Gene Teague will be eligible next season.
The backcourt will be lead by senior point guard Jordan Theodore, the leader of the team. Theodore averaged 11.0 points, 4.4 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game last year and will be asked to improve upon those numbers this year.
Freshman Aaron Cosby, the team's highest ranked recruit, is the early favorite to start at the shooting guard position and provide some of the offense that the Pirates lost from last season. On the wing will be Fuquan Edwin, who showed some promise as a freshman when he averaged 7.9 points and 3.3 rebounds. The top reserve will likely be freshman Haralds Karlis, a 6'5" European import capable of playing all three positions in the backcourt.
The rest of the depth will be made up of freshmen in Freddie Wilson, the team's second-best option at point guard, and Sean Grennan, a point guard brought in for his ability to shoot it from deep. Next year the Pirates will be getting a big boost when former Georgia Tech starter, Brian Oliver, is eligible after transferring.
The Pirates could improve upon their 2010 season if Pope returns to his sophomore form and a couple of other players can emerge around him and Theodore. Playing fellow bottom half of the league teams DePaul and Rutgers twice apiece won't hurt either. The lack of depth and experience is going to keep the Pirates in the bottom fourth of the league no matter how good Pope plays.
3rd Team All Big East - Herb Pope
Gilvydas Biruta is a breakout candidate after a strong freshman season.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Coach Mike Rice appears to have the Scarlet Knights program heading in the right direction after just one season. Despite losing three starters, including leading scorer Jonathan Mitchell, the Knights could actually improve upon last year's thirteenth place finish in the Big East. The reason for that is because Rice may have signed the best recruiting class in school history.
The strength of this team is the frontcourt, which is where both of the returning starters play. Sophomore Gilvydas Biruta's impressive freshman season(9.6 points, 5.6 rebounds) gave fans a glimpse into the future. Biruta is a true Big East big man, and fits in with the physical play the conference is known for.
Junior small forward Dane Miller is the other returning starter, and the athletic wing was actually the team's leading rebounder a year ago averaging 6.1 per game to go with 9.2 points. The favorite to take the other starting role is Kadeem Jack, a top-50 recruit in the class of 2010 that turned down North Carolina to stay closer to home. Jack spent the first part of last season in prep school before enrolling in January and redshirting, an experience that should have him ready to contribute right away.
The Knights also return junior Austin Johnson, a player that played 16.3 minutes per game last year and averaged 4.5 points and 2.4 rebounds. A pair of freshmen should also find their way in the rotation as well. Greg Lewis could make an impact on each end of the court, while skinny Derrick Randall is more of a defensive presence at this point. Next season former McDonald's All-American, and Kansas State transfer, Wally Judge, will be eligible to join the team.
The Knights backcourt will be their weakness as they could be forced to start a pair of freshmen-however both of those freshmen were four star recruits. Myles Mack may be only 5'9", but he's a play-making point guard who led powerhouse prep program St. Anthony's to a national number one ranking last year.
Jerome Seagers is a combo guard that most consider to be more of a point guard, but he's a capable scorer that can also defend well. If any returnee can challenge for a starting job, it would be 6'5" sophomore wing Mike Poole. Poole played 19.0 minutes per game as a freshman and averaged 5.6 points and 3.3 boards, so it wouldn't surprise anyone if he stole a starting spot.
Another sophomore that averaged over ten minutes per game as a freshman last year is Austin Carroll, a deep shooter that could play a bigger role this year after averaging 2.7 points per game a year ago. Providing more depth will be a pair of freshmen, 6'6" wing Malick Kone being a potential shut-down defender and point guard Elijah Carter capable of adding a scoring punch.
The Knights have two starters and a third player that earned significant time as a freshman back, as well as adding a deep and talented freshman class. That freshman class is going to get thrown right into the fire, something that will mean plenty of freshman mistakes as they grow. The Knights are a year away from making a real impact in the Big East, as not only does everyone return, but they add in a former McDonald's All American.
All-Freshman Team - Myles Mack
Vincent Council is one of a pair of Friars that are candidates to have breakout seasons.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Despite the loss of their best player, NBA first round pick Marshon Brooks, as well as coach Keno Davis, the Friars could possibly improve this season. The reason for that is because new coach Ed Cooley inherits a talented backcourt that doesn't get the attention it should.
The leader is junior point guard Vincent Council, who while playing in the shadow of Brooks last year averaged 13.7 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. Council will get the opportunity to become the man for the Friars and have an All Big East season. That is unless sophomore Gerard Coleman takes over for Brooks. Coleman was a five star recruit that could have played anywhere, but picked Providence. Coleman averaged 10.3 points and 3.1 rebounds last year, and could be on pace for a monster year. The dismissal of Duke Mondy in the spring means that sophomore Bryce Cotton could earn the other starting spot in the backcourt. Cotton averaged only 4.0 points in 15.3 minutes last season, but he has the potential to be a much better scorer. The only options off the bench is 5'8 point guard Kiwi Gardner, who gives Cooley the option of picking up the pace.
The frontcourt returns both starters in with bangers (6'9, 245 pound) junior Bilal Dixon and (6'8, 250 pound) sophomore Kadeem Batts coming back. Batts had a strong freshman season where he averaged 7.1 points and 5.8 rebounds, and is capable of seeing his production take a major jump up this year. Dixon averaged just 5.7 points, but contributed 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per night. Cooley has some options off the bench, but all of them are somewhat limited. Sophomores Ron Giplaye and Lee Goldsbrough averaged a combined 2.2 points and 2.7 minutes in 10 minutes per game, while redshirt freshman Brice Kofane wasn't talented enough to see playing time a year ago. At least freshman small forward LaDontae Henton could bring some offense off the bench.
Preseason Awards: None
Georgetown will be asking Markel Starks to play a much bigger role.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Georgetown is losing it's top two scorers from a year ago in backcourt mates Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, as well as center Julian Vaughn. In order to make a run at a birth in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoyas will be asking for their very young roster to grow up quickly. Although two starters are back, only two other players that played more than ten minutes per game return.
The Hoyas will be asking senior shooting guard Jason Clark, their leading returning scorer, to take his game up a level. After averaging 12.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game a year ago, Clark will finally get a chance to be more than just the third option. Sophomore Markel Starks is expected to take over the point guard job, despite playing only 9.7 minutes and averaging 1.5 points per game a year ago. Starks is a former top 100 recruit that brings speed and shooting to the position, so it is not like he doesn't possess the talent to run the team. The top reserve is expected to be 6'5 freshman Jabril Trawick, a top 100 recruit who adds some toughness and physicality to the team. Besides Trawick, freshman Aaron Bowen returns after receiving a medical redshirt last season. Bowen was averaging 1.0 points in 3.4 minutes per game.
The frontcourt gets a boost after junior Hollis Thompson turned down the NBA Draft. Thompson still needs to add some bulk and improve his rebounding, but after averaging 8.6 points per game and showing the ability to score both inside and out, he will be asked to help bring some of the scoring punch the Hoyas lost to graduation. Small forward is looking to be top 50 recruit Otto Porter, a very skilled player who fits in with John Thompson III's offense. Center doesn't have a clear-cut starter at the moment, but it has the most depth considering it returns a pair of players that averaged ten or more minutes per game a year ago. Sophomore Nate Lubick may be the early favorite after playing 19.7 minutes and scoring 4.0 points with 3.5 rebounds per game as a freshman. That doesn't mean that 6'10 senior Henry Sims is just going to give in. Sims, who played 14.0 minutes and averaged 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game, isn't only competing for the starting job-he's also going to be fighting off some talented younger players to keep his minutes. The rest of the bench is very young, with only 6'9 sophomore Moses Ayegba having played at this level(4.3 minutes per game). The good news is the Hoyas bring in a pair of four star recruits at center (Mikael Hopkins and Tyler Adams) and a three star recruit at power forward(Greg Whittington). Adams brings the size needed for the Big East at 6'9, 260 pounds and gives the Hoyas a traditional post player with very soft hands. Hopkins(6'8, 210 pounds) is more athletic and is a strong passer-very important for a big man in the Georgetown offense-but isn't the most physical player. Whittington(6'8, 195 pounds) is a strong candidate to take a redshirt season because of his lack of any bulk and the Hoyas depth of options in the frontcourt.
Georgetown is a tough team to rank any higher because their lack of experience will cause issues in Big East play. They do have the potential to finish higher than tenth because they have a pair of talented starters back as well as some promising young talent, and benefit from a schedule which sees them play two conference games against Saint John's and Providence.
Preseason Awards: None
Tim Abromaitis could lead the Big East in scoring.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
If Notre Dame can make it to the NCAA Tournament this season, expect Mike Brey to win the Big East Coach of the Year Award. After losing three starters, including leading scorer Ben Hansbrough, the Irish don't bring back many proven players. They do however return one of the Big East's best players in forward Tim Abromaitis.
Abromaitis averaged 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year, numbers sure to climb now that he will be asked to make up for some of the scoring that has departed. If you think Abromaitis has been around forever, it's because he has-he's a fifth year senior. Due to the losses of big men Carleton Scott and Tyrone Nash, Abromaitis will need to play more of a power forward role than the small forward role he played a year ago. Center is likely to be 6'9 junior Jack Cooley, a Luke Harangody look-a-like, who averaged 3.7 points and 3.1 boards in just 10.3 minutes per game last year. Depth will be an issue up front though, as a pair of 6'9 juniors are question marks for health reasons-Tom Knight for his ankle and Mike Broghammer for his knees. Freshman Eric Katenda was a very promising recruit, but he suffered an eye injury during a pick-up game and is suffering from blindness in that eye. Katenda could still end up playing, but is a bigger question mark than Knight or Broghammer. Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman isn't eligible until next season.
The backcourt returns starting wing Scott Martin, another fifth year senior. The former Purdue transfer averaged 9.7 points with 4.8 rebounds per game last year, and is expected to pick up some of the scoring slack. Point guard is in pretty good shape with sophomore Eric Atkins playing 25.8 minutes and averaging 5.8 points and 3.2 assists per game as a freshman. The shooting guard is wide open with a trio of players competing for the job in Joey Brooks, Jerian Grant, and Patrick Connaughton. Brooks is a 6'6 junior who averaged 1.6 points in 7.6 minutes per game last year, making him the most experienced of the trio. Grant, son of former NBA player Harvey Grant, redshirted last year because of depth but will add some athleticism to the backcourt. Connaughton, a top 100 recruit, is the typical Notre Dame player-not great athleticism but very fundamentally sound and always giving max effort . The backup at point guard will be 6'6 sophomore Alex Dragicevich, who played 4.4 minutes per game as a freshman last year and will provide some deep shooting ability off the bench.
The Irish have some major issues in the frontcourt, especially with depth, but have basically three starters back including Atkins. As long as one of the candidates at shooting guard emerges, the Irish should be able to finish ninth in the Big East assuming Jack Cooley is ready for his major increase in minutes.
1st Team All Big East-Tim Abromaitis
The Mountaineers will lean heavily upon Kevin Jones this year.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Last year's leading scorer, Casey Mitchell, is one of three starters that have finished their eligibility. That shouldn't be much of an issue for coach Bob Huggins, an expert at re-loading his teams with new athletes. A deep recruiting class should help fill the voids left by the departures as the Mountaineers will compete to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Senior point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant is a leader that will be asked to score more than the 11.0 points per game he averaged a year ago. The spot that used to belong to Joe Mazzulla will likely go to top 100 recruit Jabarie Hinds, a talented ball handler who will be able to help Bryant. Freshman combo guard Gary Browne adds some toughness, and some experience from playing against international competition. Huggins gets a real bonus a year from now when former Dayton starter Juwan Staten is eligible following his transfer.
The frontcourt is led by senior Kevin Jones, a player capable of making a run at Big East Player of the Year after averaging 13.1 points and 7.5 rebounds last year. Talented European center Deniz Kilicli showed flashes of his immense potential last year while averaging 6.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. The expected starter at small forward is freshman Keaton Miles, a recruit with the body and skill set to be a nice fit in Huggins' fast paced system. Behind the starters, junior college transfer Dominic Rutledge adds some bulk inside. Freshman small forward Aaron Brown is a solid defender that should earn a spot in the rotation. Freshman Tommie McCune is talented, but at 6'7, 190 pounds could use a year in the weight room before making much of an impact. Another freshman, Pat Forsythe, adds some size at 6'10. Just like at guard, West Virginia gains a big transfer next year when Aaric Murray becomes eligible.
On paper, it appears that West Virginia returns two players with not many other proven pieces. However based on his history, Huggins is used to finding new players to emerge year after year next to the pieces already in place.
1st Team All Big East-Kevin Jones
Maalik Wayns could be one of the league's breakout stars.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Gone are the Corey's(Stokes and Fisher), the Wildcats top two scorers a year ago along with starting big man Antonio Pena. In a normal year that would be a big problem, however it isn't such a major issue with most of the league rebuilding as well. Coach Jay Wright has a very interesting group of newcomers to add into the mix of returning talent.
Wright is fortunate to return starting point guard Maalik Wayns, who averaged 13.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.8 rebounds per game in his sophomore season. With the Corey's both gone, Wayns is the likely beneficiary of a big portion of the shots-meaning he could have a huge year. Sophomore James Bell averaged 2.4 points in 9.0 minutes per game last year, but he is potentially the new starter at shooting guard. Junior Dominic Cheek is likely to move into the starting lineup at small forward, and he should also be a beneficiary of increased shots after averaging 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game. The backcourt has no proven depth, as the bench will be made up of three freshmen. Point guard Tyrone Johnson is a top 100 recruit that should be ready to take over when Wayns departs. New York City import Achraf Yacoubou will add toughness and scoring ability to the bench if he doesn't beat out Bell for the starting job. Darrun Hilliard adds some athleticism to the wing.
Junior center Mouphtaou Yarou has the ability to do much more than what he's shown so far after averaging 8.4 points and 7.1 rebounds a year ago. Pena's spot is likely going to redshirt freshman Jayvaughn Pinkston, a top 50 recruit last year who missed last season due to off-court issues. The bench up front does have some experience back with 6'11 junior Maurice Sutton, who played 10.6 minutes per game last year averaging 2.4 points and 2.3 rebounds. Freshman Markus Kennedy also joins the team a year late after being forced to spend last season in prep school. Kennedy is a former four star recruit that gives the Wildcats a post presence.
Villanova has one of the best one-two combinations in the league with Wayns and Yarou, a pair of players capable of putting up much bigger numbers as their roles increase this year. Depending on just how well some of the newcomers perform, the Wildcats may be projected lower than they should be.
2nd Team All Big East-Maalik Wayns
Yancy Gates should finally start to get some of the recognition he deserves this year.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
The Bearcats finally had a return to the national scene last year under coach Mick Cronin, and appear to be ready to stay there after only losing two starters that were more role-players than stars. The Bearcats have lost the best perimeter defender in the Big East(Rashad Bishop) as well as their 6'11 center(Ibrahima Thomas), but they return their top two scorers, leading rebounder, and point guard from a year ago.
Their leading scorer was senior power forward Yancy Gates, a force inside that put up averages of 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds-both numbers that lead the team. Cronin is going to be replacing Thomas with 6'9 junior college import in Cheikh Mbodj. Freshman small forward Shaquille Thomas is a top 100 recruit and nephew of NBA player Tim Thomas, but he's been more athleticism and potential than production in high school. The frontcourt depth has limited experience with sophomore Justin Jackson being the most experienced player after averaging 12.9 minutes per game and producing 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds. Kelvin Gaines is 6'10, and used a redshirt season to bulk up last year while undersized freshman forward Jermaine Sanders brings toughness and fellow freshman Octavious Ellis adds a shot blocking presence.
Junior point guard Cashmere Wright is back after averaging 8.9 points and 3.9 assists per game a year ago. Wright is a strong floor general who hasn't reached his full potential yet. Shooting guard Dion Dixon was the Bearcats second leading scorer last year, averaging 11.6 points per game and also emerging as a team leader. Sophomore wing Sean Kilpatrick had a strong freshman season, averaging 9.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in 20.6 minutes, numbers that should increase after having a summer to work on his game and taking a starting spot at small forward. Sophomore JaQuon Parker could be ready for a bigger role after averaging 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per game last year and showing some flashes of his talent. Freshmen Ge'Lawn Guyn and Jeremiah Davis make up the rest of the roster with Guyn adding length and athleticism and Davis adding some ball handling ability to a team that lacks a point guard outside of Wright.
Cronin may not have much proven depth around his strong lineup, but he has a roster filled with talented options. As long as Kilpatrick's game takes the expected jump and a couple of others emerge as role players, the Bearcats shouldn't have much trouble having as much success as they did last season.
2nd Team All Big East-Yancy Gates
Jeremy Lamb could pick up right where Kemba Walker left off.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
UConn loses just one starter from last year's national championship squad, but that starter just happens to be National Player of the Year Kemba Walker. Coach Jim Calhoun returns a strong roster and with the late addition of an elite newcomer, the Huskies can contend for another title this year.
That late addition is Andre Drummond, one of the top five recruits in the class who re-classified right before school started to be able to play this season in Storrs. The 6'11 Drummond is set to start at center next to star junior power forward Alex Oriakhi. Oriakhi averaged 9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year, but his real presence was felt on the defensive end of the court as a shot blocker. Small forward Roscoe Smith was an elite recruit last year that averaged 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, numbers likely to go up after an offseason to work on his game. The late addition of Drummond means that sophomore Tyler Olander will be coming off the bench, although after playing only 9.6 minutes per game Olander was mostly just a starter in name only. The frontcourt also adds in freshman DeAndre Daniels, a five star recruit that can play inside or out. Sophomore small forward Niels Giffey averaged 9.9 minutes per game as a freshman and scored 2.2 points per game, showing some potential to expand on that role this year. Redshirt freshman Michael Bradley is a former top 100 recruit with potential, but isn't expected to play a significant role this season. Big 7'1 German Enosch Wolf has potential, but is too raw to be able to steal minutes from any of the above players.
Walker's point guard position is going to be filled by sophomore Shabazz Napier, a player groomed for the role last year. Napier played 23.8 minutes per game and averaged 7.8 points and 3.0 assists. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb averaged 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds last year as a freshman, and the former top 50 recruit broke out during the title run. Lamb will get the opportunity to help pick up a good portion of the scoring slack. After the starters, freshman point guard Ryan Boatwright will help Napier with the ball handling duties.
Calhoun's squad scored a major addition when he got Drummond on to campus, and that addition is enough to take the Huskies from a team that could make the tournament to a team with a chance to repeat it's championship. The lack of depth, due to NCAA sanctions for violations, may hurt them in the postseason but the Huskies have too much talent not to have a strong season.
Newcomer of the Year-Andre Drummond
Most Improved-Jeremy Lamb
All Freshman Team-Andre Drummond
1st Team All Big East-Andre Drummond
2nd Team All Big East-Jeremy Lamb
3rd Team All Big East-Alex Oriakhi
Junior Cadougan is possibly the most important piece of the puzzle for the Golden Eagles season.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
The Golden Eagles lose their best player in Jimmy Butler and well rounded Dwight Buycks, although they do return their leading scorer in guard Darius Johnson-Odom. Coach Buzz Williams adds a high profile transfer from Oregon and has a pair of high upside guards ready to take on bigger roles. What this means in a rebuilding Big East is that the Golden Eagles are in good position to improve upon their ninth place finish in the league.
Leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom scored 15.8 points per game while grabbing 3.0 rebounds. Now that the team is his, he could actually improve upon those numbers this year. The rest of the backcourt features a pair of players with a great deal of talent ready to break out. Sophomore Vander Blue was a five star recruit that averaged 5.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in 19.0 minutes per game in his debut in addition to playing top flight defense. Junior point guard Junior Cadougan is ready to lead the team in his second full season after a knee injury. Cadougan played 19.6 minutes per game and averaged 4.0 points and 3.2 assists, and will finally get his chance at running the team. The depth comes in a pair of freshmen led by point guard Derrick Wilson, a thickly built(6'0, 215 pounds) former football player that should add toughness. The other freshman is Todd Mayo, brother of OJ Mayo, who is built to score just like his brother.
In the frontcourt power forward Jae Crowder returns after averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds-a number that led the team. Crowder had little trouble adjusting to the game after transferring in from a junior college and showed the ability to score both inside and out. Center Chris Otule averaged 5.3 points and 3.6 rebounds, but at 6'11, 265 pounds adds a physical, shot blocking presence to the middle. The Oregon transfer, sophomore Jamil Wilson, is a versatile former top 50 recruit. Big sophomore Davante Gardner(6'8, 290 pounds) showed flashes of potential as he averaged 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in just 9.0 minutes per game, but needs to get his weight under control to improve his stamina. Freshman Juan Anderson is a top 75 recruit that is set to add athleticism and versatility. Sophomore small forward Jamail Jones was a top 100 recruit a year ago that played limited minutes last season, but could find his way into the rotation this year.
Buzz Williams has an impressive collection of talent to work with. As long as Cadougan steps up to go alongside Johnson-Odom and Crowder, the Golden Eagles could contend for a Big East title this season as they have every other ingredient-size, depth, leadership, and a go-to scorer.
1st Team All Big East-Darius Johnson-Odom
Peyton Siva is an emerging talent ready for a big season.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Rick Pitino's team has lost it's leader as well as leading scorer when Preston Knowles graduated, then they lost their best post player in Terrence Jennings. However those losses will be softened by a pair of five star recruits coming in at their positions with Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan.
Pitino's backcourt will be led by junior Peyton Siva, a former McDonald's All American that broke out last season when he averaged 9.9 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.1 rebounds. If Siva can continue improving, he could be among the best point guards in the country. Former Manhattan transfer Chris Smith's first season in Louisville was solid, as he scored 9.4 points and grabbed 4.6 rebounds per game. McDonald's All American Blackshear is a big time scorer that should find his way into the Cardinals lineup. The bench has a long list of options led by excellent shooting wing Kyle Kuric, who averaged 10.8 points per game last year. Mike Marra gives Pitino another sharp shooting wing off the bench after he averaged 6.1 points last year. Sophomore point guard Elisha Justice played 10.4 minutes and averaged 2.4 points per game, and is good enough to give Siva some rest. Freshman small forward Angel Nunez is yet another talented shooter. The Cardinals recently lost top 100 recruit Kevin Ware due to academics.
Up front the slightly undersized Behanan is set to take over a starting job and produce immediately. Behanan is a solid scorer, but his real strength is rebounding. Junior Rakeem Buckles, who averaged 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds in only 18.8 minutes per game, is set to take on a bigger role this season. More good news for the Cardinals is that junior Jared Swopshire returns after missing last year due to injury. Swopshire averaged 7.5 points and 6.1 boards two seasons ago, and gives Pitino three very good players at the front of his rotation. Sophomore Gorgui Dieng, a 6'10 African import, averaged 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 15.6 minutes per game, but is most valuable as a shot blocker. After the top four, Stephan Van Treese is a physical veteran that averaged 2.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in only 13.3 minutes per game a year ago, and top 100 recruit Zach Price is a promising talent that appears buried on the depth chart.
Despite losing their most important player, the Cardinals look like a more talented and deeper team than the one that went 12-6 in Big East play last season due to the additions of a pair of prized freshmen and the return of a key contributor. Pitino's team has the ability to win the league, but the fact that the Cardinals will need to heavily rely on a pair of freshmen puts them behind Syracuse and Pitt right now.
All Freshman Team-Wayne Blackshear
3rd Team All Big East-Wayne Blackshear
3rd Team All Big East-Peyton Siva
Sixth Man of the Year-Kyle Kuric
Scoop Jardine is one of the best pure point guards in the country.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Jim Boeheim's Orange only lose one player from last year's 27-8 team and add in a freshman with even more natural talent. So why aren't they picked first? The reason is that player, Rick Jackson, was their best player and averaged more than a double-double.
Jackson is not going to be easy to replace, but top ten recruit Rakeem Christmas is a 6'9, 220 pound interior force ready for the big time. Christmas isn't only going to be asked to grab Jackson's starting spot, but carry a young, raw frontcourt. Starting center Fab Melo, a top ten recruit from last year, is back but is a starter in name only after only averaging 2.3 points and 1.9 rebounds per game and generally looking extremely raw. Another raw sophomore center, 6'10 Baye Moussa Keita, is a promising inside presence on the defensive end after averaging 2.2 points and 3.7 rebounds. Sophomore CJ Fair is a very talented player who averaged 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game, and will again be one of the first options off the bench. Junior James Southerland is capable of playing inside or out and contributed 4.9 points in 14.1 minutes per game last year. Junior small forward Mookie Jones will provide depth.
The good news for the Orange is that the entire backcourt returns, led by fifth year senior point guard Scoop Jardine. Jardine is an excellent distributor who averaged 12.5 points and 5.9 assists per game last year. Last year's leading scorer, Kris Joseph, returns after averaging 14.3 points and 5.2 rebounds-a breakout year for him. Junior Brandon Triche, who averaged 11.1 points and 2.9 assists, is back for his third year as the team's starting shooting guard. Sophomore combo guard Dion Waiters, a former top recruit, had a very strong freshman season averaging 6.6 points in 16.3 minutes and could see his role expand. The rest of the bench will be a pair of freshmen, although both were top 100 recruits. Trevor Cooney is the best deep shooter on the team already, while Michael Carter-Williams is an excellent athlete capable of handling the ball.
Syracuse may only be picked for second in the Big East, but Pitt and Syracuse are pretty much interchangeable. The only reason Syracuse isn't picked over Pitt is because their big men haven't shown much on the court at this level. If Christmas is as good as expected, that will go a long way towards answering that question.
All Freshman Team-Rakeem Christmas
2nd Team All Big East-Kris Joseph
2nd Team All Big East-Scoop Jardine
3rd Team All Big East-Rakeem Christmas
Ashton Gibbs is my preseason pick to win Big East Player of the Year.
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Despite the losses of All Big East guard Brad Wanamaker along with Gary McGhee and Gilbert Brown, Pitt looks like they have the best squad in the Big East on paper.
The Panthers back court will be led by All American candidate Ashton Gibbs, a combo guard who puts up a ton of points with most coming from deep. Gibbs may be allowed to play off the ball most of the year as junior Travon Woodall appears ready to earn a starting job after averaging 6.4 points and 3.4 assists per game in 21.6 minutes. The other spot on the wing will go to either junior Lamar Patterson or sophomore JJ Moore. Last year Patterson put up 2.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in 12.5 minutes, while Moore managed 3.7 points and 1.3 points in eight minutes per game. As for depth, a pair redshirt freshmen in point guard Isaiah Epps and wing Cameron Wright were top 100 recruits a year ago while this year's freshman, Philly native combo guard John Johnson, could end up being the next Pitt star. Another freshman, wing Durand Johnson is likely to take a redshirt due to the amount of depth.
Up front undersized power forward Nasir Robinson returns, along with his tough Philly style of play. Robinson's numbers(9.4 points and 4.9 boards) don't tell the whole story, as he provides valuable leadership to the team. Center is expected to be filled by former McDonald's All American Dante Taylor, a player that really improved over his slightly disappointing freshman year by putting up 5.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in only 15.1 minutes per game a year ago. Behind the starters will be some very promising, but extremely raw talent. Sophomore Talib Zanna managed to average 3.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in only 11.8 minutes per game, and he has a legitimate shot at earning the starting job at center over Taylor. Freshman Khem Birch was a top ten national recruit and McDonald's All American, but he desperately needs to add bulk and develop an offensive game before becoming a real impact player, although he can be a force on the defensive end immediately. Fellow freshman center Malcolm Gilbert was also a top 100 recruit that has impressed the coaches so far and could be ahead of the higher touted Birch.
Coach Jamie Dixon has built up such a great program that despite the losses of three starters, including one All Big East selection, the Panthers could be even better this year. It seems like every year someone new steps up to fill the void, so with Big East Player of the Year candidate Ashton Gibbs, gritty front court leader Nasir Robinson, and a very talented list of newcomers(including the pair of redshirts) the Panthers roster is arguably the most talented and deepest in the nation.
Only Syracuse appears to have a roster with the talent, depth, and experience to match up with the Panthers, so my choice to win the league comes down to the easier conference slate. With the schedule forcing Pitt to play Louisville, West Virginia, and South Florida twice apiece while Syracuse has UConn, Louisville, and Providence, the slight schedule advantage goes to Pitt. I'm not only expecting the Panthers to win the Big East, but finally reach their goal of playing in a Final Four.
Big East Player of the Year-Ashton Gibbs
1st Team All Big East-Ashton Gibbs