The Big East was considered the best college basketball conference in the country last year, and while the conference did disappoint during March Madness, it did produce the National Champs.
The 2011-12 NCAA Basketball season kicks off on Monday, November 7, and after previously previewing the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, we now continue our preseason conference previews with the conference that some considered the best conference ever last season, the Big East.
The Big East was certainly deeper than any other conference in history last year, as the conference set an all time record by sending an incredible 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament. The news during the post-season was much more mixed however.
The bad news was that almost against all odds, only two of the 11 Big East participants made it as far as the Sweet 16, and one of those (Marquette) made it by beating a fellow Big East team (Syracuse) in the Round of 32, so it could have just as easily been just one team advancing past the first two rounds. The good news was that the one team we are referring to went on to win the National Championship, the Connecticut Huskies.
The Huskies are again considered to be national title contenders by some this season, but they are not our NCAA Basketball pick to win the Big East regular season title. Then again, that would not necessarily preclude them from winning it all again, as they did just that last year after finishing ninth in the conference during the regular year.
So without further ado, here is our Big East Basketball Preview, including the current odds for the regular season title from The Greek Sports Book.
1 – Syracuse (+250): Some may consider the year that the Orange had last season as disappointing, as they were once 18-0 but finished up at 27-8 after getting bounced by Marquette in their second NCAA Tournament game. On the other hand, not much was really expected from Syracuse before last season, so they actually exceeded expectations and should benefit from that experience this year, especially with six of the team’s top seven scorers returning. Add into that mix three talented freshmen including highly sought after guards Trevor Cooney and Michael Carter-Williams and the Orange should be improved this year, which is a scary thought for the rest of the Big East.
2 – Connecticut (+250): The Huskies are the defending national champions despite finishing ninth in the conference during the regular season, although it does appear that they and Syracuse are the two biggest threats to win the Big East this year. Yes, the Huskies return four starters from that championship team, but the one starter not returning, superstar team leader Kemba Walker, may be what gives Syracuse the edge. Jeremy Lamb blossomed during UConn’s title run and he may now pick up the points that Walker took with him to the NBA, and the Huskies also add three quality freshmen. One of those youngsters, Ryan Boatright, could see a lot of action immediately in the backcourt as the two-guard alongside point guard Shabazz Napier. The Huskies look thin on the back side though, so if Boatright is not up for the challenge as a freshman, they could fall back a bit.
3 – Louisville (+500): Louisville was plagued by inconsistency last season, as on any given night, the Cardinals were able to beat some of the best teams in the country or lose to teams from the bottom of the conference. They now lose their top scorer and their top inside player, so why are we so high on them? Well for starters, they may have the best backcourt in the Big East. Point guard Peyton Siva is a great distributor and also a surprisingly good rebounder for his sixe, he is complemented nicely by a pure shooting guard in Kyle Kuric and they have excellent guard depth behind them. Also, the frontcourt should get a nice boost with Jared Swopshire retuning from injury, and the Cards have nice depth at the center position, allowing them to be aggressive with so many fouls to give.
4 – Cincinnati (+1200): Our top three choices in the conference have been rather chalky but the Bearcats may provide the best value. Cincinnati won 26 games last year including a win over the Missouri Tigers in the Big Dance before losing to the eventual champions Connecticut, and the Cats now return their top four scorers. They are absolutely loaded in the backcourt, so much so that they will most likely go with a three-guard offense. They can afford to do so with Yancy Gates up front, as he has the potential to put up a double-double every night. The only question mark is the second starting forward. They are not lacking in candidates to fill the position though, with junior college transfer Cheikh Mbodj, returnee Justin Jackson and a pair of freshman recruits all having a chance. That quartet may not have a world-beater among it, but at least the depth is decent.
5 – Pittsburgh (+400): As much as the Bearcats may be an overlay, Pittsburgh looks like an underlay at this price, which seems based more on reputation. The Panthers were the regular season Big East champions last season, but they are very young this year with just two returning starters and they have a noticeable lack of depth in the backcourt. Shooting guard Ashton Gibbs has one of the best pure strokes in the country, but point guard Travon Woodall is a poor shooter and that duo is backed up be two redshirt freshmen and one true freshman. As if that were not bad enough, Pitt also looks undersized in the frontcourt. We would recommend avoiding this club in futures at this undeserved low price.
6 – Marquette (+1000): Marquette was a pleasant surprise last year, culminating with a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament after wins over Xavier and Syracuse. The Golden Eagles now return their top four scorers including one of the more underrated players in the country in guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who averaged nearly 16 points per game and really has no discernable weaknesses. That said, beside Johnson-Odom, we feel that the Eagles overachieved a bit last year and while they are indeed more experienced than Pittsburgh, this team could have hit its ceiling in 2010. They may look tempting at +1000, but we will pass.
7 – Villanova (+1500): Unlike last year, there appears to be a big drop-off from the top six teams in the Big East and the rest of the conference this year, so do not look for another record-setting performance as we expect the number of Big East participants in the Big Dance to drop back down to single-digits. The Wildcats were disappointing last year after high preseason hopes, and they did not make it out of the first round of the Big Dance, losing to Georg Mason. They are now in a rebuilding mode, returning just two starters and losing three of their top four scorers. Villanova normally has a guard oriented offense, but their guards this season consist of returnee Darius Johnson-Odom, who needs to work on his shooting, the inexperienced Dominic Cheek and three freshmen.
8 – West Virginia (+1200): Speaking of rebuilding, West Virginia returns only three players that played at least six minutes per game last season! Two of those returnees, forward Kevin Jones and point guard Darryl Bryant are good enough to keep the Mountaineers in the top half of the conference (barely), but this team is simply too young and is too lacking in depth for it not to fall back this season. This team may be starting two freshmen right from the start, as it looks like Keaton Miles will get the nod at small forward and there are three freshmen among those competing for starting shooting guard.
9 – Notre Dame (+1200): Irish Nation may not want to hear it, but after being named the Big East Coach of the Year last year, Mike Brey may need to be even better for the Irish to finish in the top eight in 2011. Notre Dame loses three of its top five scorers, and outside of Tim Abromaitis, this team should be laying a lot of bricks this year, a far cry from the great perimeter shooting teams of recent years.
10 – Georgetown (+1500): The Hoyas also lost three of their top five scorers, and one of them was a humongous loss in Austin Freeman, who was Mr. Everything for this club last year. They do have a solid returning guard in Jason Clark, but they appear to have more quantity than quality up front, where only Hollis Thompson, who averaged just 8.6 points per game last season, seems assured of a starting position with a plethora of mediocre returnees and promising freshman battling for the other two starting spots.
11 – St. John’s (+2000): You will be hard-pressed to find any other team in the country that lost as much as St. John’s did after last season. Coach Steve Lavin deservedly garnered some national Coach of the Year votes last year after this team of overachievers consistently knocked off nationally ranked teams such as Duke, but the team now unbelievably loses its top eight scorers! Lavin did bring in a top five recruiting class by most accounts, but that bodes better for next season than it does for this year.
12 – Rutgers (+3000): Rutgers has the highest odds of winning the conference of any school that is not lumped into the Field, and that is not at all surprising. Now Head Coach Mark Rice deserved enormous credit for getting the most he could from a rather limited roster last year, but the bad news is that three off the top five scorers are gone. Small forward is their best all-around player and very versatile, but the Scarlet Knights will need more than 9.2 points per game from his position this year. The good news is that Rutgers does have some nice recruits, but probably not enough to make a dent in the standings this season.
13 – Field (All other teams) (+1500): The field is comprised of DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall and South Florida. We are in total agreement with the inclusion of these four teams in the Field as we concur that these are the four worst teams in the conference, and thus we actually think that +1500 is a cheap price. Do not waste your money.