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Thursday, July 2, 2009
Which team has the toughest Big East slate?


The Big East is in a difficult spot when it comes to scheduling. With 16 teams, the league can't ensure that its top teams will always play each other twice, as teams will play a home-and-home series with only three teams.

Pitt and Connecticut did it a year ago in what turned out to be two of the best games of the conference season. But Connecticut and Pitt went to eventual regular-season and tournament champ Louisville once without a return trip.

Next season's conference favorites are Villanova and West Virginia. They will play a home-and-home among their 18-game league schedules. Georgetown, which arguably could be the third-best team in the league, also drew Villanova twice. Villanova's third repeat game is against Marquette. West Virginia's two other repeat games are against rival Pitt and Seton Hall. Georgetown's two other repeat games are Syracuse and Rutgers.

Upstart Cincinnati, which fancies itself a Big East title contender after landing No. 12 (ESPNU top 100) recruit Lance Stephenson, drew Connecticut, Notre Dame and South Florida twice. Notre Dame, with the return of former Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody, can make a claim to be one of the Big East's best and will play Cincinnati, Connecticut and South Florida twice.

Already you can see Villanova will have the toughest slate in the Big East if the predictions hold up. You could make the argument that Connecticut, a likely Top 25 team, might have the toughest slate behind Villanova with repeat games against Cincinnati, Louisville and Notre Dame. South Florida, projected to be one of the bottom six teams, was given a difficult slate, too, with repeat games against Cincinnati and Notre Dame as well as Providence.

Here's the official list from the Big East (each school's three repeat opponents are in italics):

Cincinnati
Home: Connecticut, DePaul, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Providence, USF, Syracuse, Villanova
Away: Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, USF, West Virginia

Connecticut
Home: Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Seton Hall, West Virginia
Away: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, USF, Syracuse, Villanova

DePaul
Home: Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, USF, Syracuse, West Virginia
Away: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova

Georgetown
Home: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, USF, Syracuse, Villanova
Away: DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rutgers, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Louisville
Home: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Rutgers, St. John's, USF, Syracuse, Villanova
Away: Connecticut, DePaul, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Syracuse, West Virginia

Marquette
Home: DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rutgers, USF, Villanova
Away: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Notre Dame
Home: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. John's, USF, Syracuse, West Virginia
Away: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Rutgers, Seton Hall, USF, Villanova

Pittsburgh
Home: DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, West Virginia
Away: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Marquette, Notre Dame, St. John's, Seton Hall, USF, Syracuse, West Virginia

Providence
Home: Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Rutgers, Seton Hall, USF, Syracuse, West Virginia
Away: Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John's, USF, Syracuse, Villanova

Rutgers
Home: Cincinnati, Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Notre Dame, St. John's, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Villanova
Away: DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall, USF, West Virginia

St. John's
Home: Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, West Virginia
Away: Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, USF, Syracuse

Seton Hall
Home: Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, West Virginia
Away: Connecticut, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, USF, Villanova, West Virginia

USF
Home: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, Seton Hall, West Virginia
Away: Cincinnati, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse, Villanova

Syracuse
Home: Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. John's, USF, Villanova
Away: Cincinnati, DePaul, Georgetown, Louisville, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, Seton Hall, West Virginia

Villanova
Home: Connecticut, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, USF, West Virginia
Away: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, St. John's, Syracuse, West Virginia

West Virginia
Home: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Villanova
Away: Connecticut, DePaul, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, USF, Villanova

• Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said he will promote former player Martin Ingelsby from his position as director of basketball operations to be one of Brey's recruiting assistants, replacing Sean Kearney after Kearney got the Holy Cross job Thursday.

• Mississippi State is desperately looking for a power six conference school to come to Starkville for the start of a home-and-home. The Bulldogs, who could be a top 15 team come the fall if everyone is eligible (i.e., Renardo Sidney), already have a challenging schedule for what should be a highly ranked team. The Bulldogs will play UCLA in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, Calif.; drew upstart Richmond in the South Padre Invitational in Texas (Missouri and Old Dominion are also in the field); play downtrodden DePaul in the SEC-Big East Invitational in Tampa, Fla.; play St. Bonaventure at home; and travel to Houston, San Diego and Western Kentucky. I would question if any top 15 team will play true road games like those three next season.

• Siena, which should be the favorite in the MAAC once again and a Top 25 team, can't get quality nonconference games. Siena is in the Philadelphia Classic with Temple and St. John's and plays Saint Joseph's, Albany and Northeastern at home, Northern Iowa on the road, at Tennessee State as well as a BracketBuster road game. But none of those games will jump up and grab the attention of the selection committee, unlike a year ago when the Saints were in the loaded Old Spice Classic in Orlando and also played one-way guaranteed games at Pitt and Kansas.

Siena would have had a hard time getting an at-large bid had it not won the MAAC tournament because it lost all five of those games. But at least the Saints played them. If Siena doesn't win the MAAC tournament this season, then the case will be much harder to make. The Saints still have three games left to schedule, and are willing to take a guarantee on the road. They need it to be a marquee team. That is getting harder for them to do after Siena beat Vanderbilt and Ohio State in successive NCAA tournament first-round appearances.

• It's never too early to plan Thanksgiving travel, and it's worth noting that a few of the tournaments look even better now as a result of a few personnel moves as well as some outstanding play of late from the participants.

I was originally down on the Maui Invitational field, but if Stephenson is eligible for Cincinnati the Bearcats will enter the field as one of the favorites. Stephenson would make his national television debut against a solid field. Maryland is certainly a top-20 team after point guard Greivis Vasquez withdrew from the NBA draft and returned to school. Vanderbilt's A.J. Ogilvy didn't declare for the draft, making the Commodores a viable Top 25 team. Arizona's stellar recruiting class (three USC defections) means the Wildcats are suddenly a possible top four Pac-10 team. Gonzaga, even with Austin Daye's departure, and Wisconsin are still possible NCAA teams. That leaves Colorado and Chaminade as the two bottom-dweller teams in the field, not bad for an event that had the look of being one of the weaker groups in Maui when it was originally announced.

The top Thanksgiving event will likely be the 76 Classic in Anaheim. All eight teams in the field could be in the NCAA tournament. There are Top 25 locks in West Virginia, Butler and Minnesota, a borderline Top 25 team in Clemson, a likely Top 25 team at some point in the season in UCLA, and possible NCAA teams in Texas A&M, Portland (second-best in the WCC) and Long Beach State (a Big West contender).

The Puerto Rico Tip-Off is also looking better as the summer progresses with Big East favorite Villanova and possible Top 25 teams Georgia Tech (debuting highly touted incoming freshman Derrick Favors), Kansas State and Dayton, the A-10 favorite. Ole Miss could be a sleeper team after watching Terrico White play in Colorado Springs two weeks ago (although it's still unclear if Chris Warren will be 100 percent after having ACL surgery last year). Indiana will be improved and Boston University and George Mason are hardly slouches.

The Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, has Top 25 teams Purdue, Tennessee and Boston College headlining the field with Saint Joseph's, Northern Iowa, East Carolina and South Dakota State.

The best tournament before Thanksgiving will be the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, with the four hosts advancing to New York in top 20 teams North Carolina, Cal, Ohio State and Syracuse.

The four CBE hosts that will go to Kansas City before Thanksgiving are Texas, Pitt, Wichita State and Iowa.

The four NIT hosts projected to make it to New York are Duke, Connecticut, LSU and Arizona State, while the Legend Classic hosts that are slated to go to New Jersey on Thanksgiving weekend are Michigan State, Florida, Rutgers and UMass.

The Old Spice Classic in Orlando is a solid field, but lacks a title-contending type of team, with Michigan as the one Top 25 lock in the field (Xavier, Marquette, Creighton, Iona, Florida State, Baylor and Alabama are the others). The Charleston Classic in South Carolina has a similar field. The likely Top 25 team is South Carolina, followed by possible NCAA teams in Penn State and Miami (the rest of the field consists of LaSalle, Davidson, UNC Wilmington, USF and Tulane).