2007-2008 Big East Conference Preview
The Big East is our next stop on reviews as we head north to review one of the best in the country. The Big East has been a staple in college basketball when it comes to churning out championships. This year the preseason polls show respect to the Big East by gracing them with four teams in the top 25 and two in the top ten. The Big East is so big and popular that will televise every game this year. Now we will break it down team by team with expectations on the upcoming season.
Last year this team ran the gambit by taking the competitive Big east but this year it could be a very different basketball team. Youth is the key word as the Wildcats do not have one senior on the squad. Gone is Curtis Sumpter who was the team’s leader in scoring and rebounds and he will be tough to replace. Villanova had an influx of talented freshman to include the entire backcourt that will be anchored by Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. This team is full of talent but lack of experience could haunt them. They are a quick team and that could hurt them too since it is a physical big east they reside in. They should make the NCAA tournament but how far they advance remains a question mark.
It was a tough go of things for the Huskies last year. They lost the six top scorers from a year ago and were out of the postseason for the first time since ‘86-’87. This year is going to be completely different for the Huskies. They return 11 players from last years team getting continuity and experience. The defense is still there because the led the Big East in blocked shots and return Hasheem Thabeet down low to anchor the middle. Finishing strong or at least better than the 2-8 finish and making the post season are goals the huskies can obtain this season.
A huge hardy welcome to bob Huggins who signs on to coach West Virginia and he should not have much work to do. This squad is chock full of talent and over the last three years has posted a record of 73-31 going to the sweet sixteen twice. The biggest loss for Huggins will be Frank Young the All Tem first pick who owns the school record for three pointers. The Mountaineers finish strong going 7-1 last March and Bob Huggins will be the difference in taking this team to the next level.
Pittsburgh is starting a very interesting trend that is nothing but good news for fans of the Panthers. They won 29 games last year and went to the sweet sixteen for the fourth time in the last six years. This is not only a big deal but historical. This makes them the only Big east team to have played in the last six NCAA tournaments and win more than 20 games overall and 10 in the league in the last six years. It won’t be easy because they lost three quality starters in Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall, and Antonio Graves. The Panthers will reload as they have a recruiting core that will make an impact right away and they play solid defense. Defense wins ballgames and the Panthers will make the post season.
Don’t sleep on this Golden Eagle team. They have made it to two straight NCAA appearances and return seven quality players to this club and with depth and experience they should not only go to a third straight post season but go far. Dominic Jones turned down the NBA to stay in school and that is because he knows that his team can make a big run this year. From top to bottom they have solid contributors to the offense side of the ball especially in the back court. The Eagles should improve on a great year last year and make a run with the big boys for the crown in the big east.
Georgetown starts the season ranked very high in the preseason polls and in the top ten in most of those polls. They should be highly touted as they went to the final four last year and they return four starters from last year’s team. They did lose Jeff Green arguably the best player on the squad and it will take some time to replace what he added to the club. Roy Hibbert is still around and he will anchor this team and no doubt will they go to the post season. The team is seriously ready to reload as they have three freshmen that are ready to make an impact right now. This Georgetown team is the elite in the crowded Big east.
Bobby Gonzalez took over the Pirates and expectations were abound and he did put the ship in the right direction but they still did not record a winning season. He did not get too much help as he had to deal with injuries and an ever changing lineup and rotation of players. There is good news on the horizon. They are moving to the new Prudential Center in New Jersey and they return the top five scorers from last year and experience comes with them. The back court should be solid but there are still question marks in the front court. The Pirates will be much improved and will surprise a few teams, but look for the Pirates to try and cracking the NIT this year.
Mike Cronin proved he could make miracles last season. He had only four returning players and seven new players and he fared decently with 11 wins overall. This year he has to do it again but he has his three top scorers coming back. The group of new players will return and give this team some depth but they are still a bit off when it comes to making any post season runs. This team is till going throw some growing pains and they will wait to next year to make some noise.
Jim Boeheim could face his toughest challenge this year ever. He loses three huge impact players on the front line. They will change gears and look to build the offense around junior guard Eric Devendorf who averaged over 14 points a game. While last year the Orange led the Big east in several defensive categories last year it may be the offense that will make the difference this year. They have depth and great recruiting and center Sean Williams will contend for playing time in the middle and some players returning from injury will allow the Orange to do well. Don’t look for them to match last years record but a trip to the post season and 20 wins could be in the cards.
Rutgers is a team in rebuilding mode but look for them to make some noise this year. They have always had a great home court advantage playing in the RAC but have lacked in talent. This year they have six returning lettermen and three starters that will help the team improve off last years three win performance in conference. JR Inman the leading scorer and rebounder will be back. The youth will be at point guard as three freshmen will compete to control the tempo of the game. The Knights are not ready to hit the post season yet but at home look for a few upsets that may get them in the NIT.
The Cardinal finished with 24 wins and 12 wins in the conference and the scary thing is they could have done much better. They started the year off devastated by injuries leaving Pitino to juggle his starting lineup. They could really show what they are made of this year. They return four starters and the seven top scorers from a year ago. Center David Padgett and leading scorer Terrence Williams will be back to team up in the front court. With serious depth and a great recruiting class the Cardinals are a championship caliber team. With as talented as the Big East is it is the Cardinals conference to win. Piino has his best team to date in Louisville and they are already getting noticed with a top 5 ranking in the preseason polls.
You can’t help but look at the losses the Irish went through. They lost Russell Carter and Colin Falls and they brought size to the Irish and were the team’s two leading scorers. The situation is at such a change that the Irish are going to a two guard system led by Tory Jackson a point guard that led them to the big dance as a freshman. They have six returning decent players but none of them are between 6-2 and 6-7. The Irish should be a bubble team only because of the defensive problems they have.
DePaul will start off its third year in the Conference but its going to be a tough year. The Blue Demons were hardest hit with off season losses. Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia went to the NBA taking from the Blue Demons the two top scorers and the two top rebounders. They two return eight players with four of them being seniors. The back court is the most experienced section on the floor but it may not be enough for DePaul to make any serious ground in the Big East. In order to make strides the Depaul will run a quick offense and abandon the half court offense. This is good in theory but when they play a team with a similar game plan like Louisville they will be in for a long night.
If you are looking for the most improved time this year it will be the Providence Friars. They return four starting juniors and add two more juniors to the mix making this team deep and game ready. They were one of the highest scoring teams in the Big East and return the starting backcourt that ran the offense. They do have to replace Herbet Hill at center but will be okay on the defensive side of the house. The recruiting class of freshman are ready to play now and although they won’t they provide serious depth. The Friars will crack the post season bubble and jump into the NCAA tournament.
Coach Norm Roberts has the St. Johns team on the right track. They posted a winning season last year and went to the championship for the first time in the last four years. They then followed up with one of the largest recruiting class in the country with seven newcomers. Anthony Mason leads the way and will bring all the scoring the Johnnies need since he averaged the highest scoring output on the team last year. They must replace some big men up front and that will keep them from making very big strides but they will do better than last year and make some strides.
Stan heath takes over at South Florida and he will bring his up style tempo with him so look for the running of the Bulls this season. That will have to be centered on, well the center Kentrell Gransberry. He was the only player in the entire Big East to average a double-double which is pretty amazing when you consider the players around him. This is not the only strength for the Bulls, with a deep backcourt and an explosive recruiting class teams will take notice of the Bulls. They are not ready for prime time wins and the NCAA berth but an NIT berth is a reality and they have the talent to take them there.
Big East Champ: Louisville
Dark Horse: Providence
Cellar Dweller: Cincinnati