Big East ShootAround: League down at top, but plenty of talent remains

Updated: August 24, 2009

AP Photo/Garry Jones

After a very public offseason scandal, facing Big East student sections won't be easy for Rick Pitino.

10 offseason storylines

1. What will happen with UConn? It's been all quiet on the NCAA investigation front recently. Connecticut recently reported 17 minor violations involving the football and men's and women's basketball teams, but they had nothing to do with manager-turned-agent Josh Nochimson. But quiet doesn't mean the NCAA stopped caring. Usually it means the NCAA is knee-deep in its investigation. And with Ater Majok, one of the players reported involved with Nochimson, set to make his debut in December, things could get interesting … if not downright messy.

2. Will Rick Pitino withstand the heat? With the salacious details about his encounter with accused extortionist Karen Sypher now public, the Louisville coach is going to face an uncomfortable season. If he thought walking into Rupp Arena as the Cards' coach for the first time was tough, wait until he goes to Kentucky this season. Pitino's camp remains steadfast that the coach isn't going anywhere, even with best friend and veteran head coach Ralph Willard at his side should he need to bail. But Sypher's trial still looms.

3. Will the tournament format change … again? Last year the bloated league invited everyone to the Garden party for the Big East tournament, resulting in a five-day marathon of games. But at the end of the tourney, several coaches complained that the double bye afforded the top four seeds was more punishment than reward, a claim reinforced after two of those top four squads were eliminated Wednesday. Now the league may bag the byes altogether, inviting the top four teams to play the bottom four Tuesday, seeds 5 through 12 to duke it out Wednesday and the winners to reconvene in Thursday's quarterfinals. The championship game would be held Saturday as usual. Nothing is official yet, but if the coaches want the change -- and they do -- expect it to be implemented by March.

4. Is the Beast still in the East? Ten teams? Nine? All anyone wanted to know this time last year was how many Dance cards the Big East would punch. The answer was eight, including three No. 1 seeds. But the game is nothing if not cyclical, and a year after reaping the rewards of rosters left untouched by the NBA, the Big East finds itself minus many of its stars thanks to the draft's call. Syracuse alone kissed Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris goodbye. Earl Clark took an early flier from Louisville, DeJuan Blair did the same at Pittsburgh and Connecticut lost Hasheem Thabeet. Mix in the seniors whose time expired -- Terrence Williams, A.J. Price and Dante Cunningham, just to name a few -- and the conference will have to prove its worth on the shoulders of a new crop of talent.

Darryl Bryant

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Those inside the WVU program feel confident Darryl Bryant will suit up for the Mountaineers this season. His return is critical.

5. Will they play? Just how long the suspensions of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl "Truck" Bryant last will determine just how good West Virginia will be. The two guards were suspended indefinitely for separate incidents: Mazzulla in April after an altercation outside a Morgantown bar (his second arrest in nine months) and Bryant in July, after being charged for leaving the scene of an accident. Mazzulla missed the bulk of last season after fracturing the growth plate in his shoulder. Bryant was his replacement. Without them, WVU is woefully short in the backcourt. It will take some time before the two know their fate, with both the legal wheels and the university judicial process needing to sort things out.

6. Can the New York area be relevant again? It's been a long time since someone in the city's footprint has been a player in the league. Heck, until everyone was invited to the Big East tournament last season, those area teams often struggled just to make it to MSG. But an influx of transfers and some returning talent is giving the locals reason to hope. Seton Hall brings in three transfers -- Jeff Robinson from Memphis, Keon Lawrence from Missouri and Herb Pope from New Mexico State -- who will contribute immediately; a healthy Anthony Mason Jr. should help right St. John's fortunes and Rutgers, while suffering a setback with the dismissal of Corey Chandler, brings back high-scoring Mike Rosario.

7. Does a new commissioner mean big changes? Not likely. Mike Tranghese's retirement removes a strong voice and steward from the game but replacement John Marinatto is cut from the same cloth: a guy who cut his teeth working under Dave Gavitt at Providence, spent 14 years there and seven more as the Big East associate commissioner. He is different than Tranghese in personality, and perhaps because he is new to the position, not yet quite as strong. But he is no less an avid lover of basketball. Expect him to follow Tranghese's lead.

8. How good can Cincinnati be? Mick Cronin took the leap of faith plenty of other coaches passed on, signing mercurial star Lance Stephenson to a letter of intent. On the court, there's no question he can get it done. He is New York City's all-time leading scorer, with 2,946 career points. If Cronin can keep Stephenson under control off the court and curb any potential ego clashes, the Bearcats -- a much-improved 8-10 in the league a year ago -- could be a sleeper team this season.

9. Will Luke Harangody be rewarded for staying put? The Irish were an unpredictable mess last season, enduring a seven-game midseason slide that nearly sent them completely out of the postseason. No one would have blamed Harangody, the league's leading scorer, for bolting for the draft. Instead, he decided to stick around for his senior season. Will the decision pay off with an NCAA tourney berth?

10. Orange you going to say goodbye? After that epic performance in the six-overtime win over UConn, Jonny Flynn was a goner for the NBA. But then Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris decided to join him. Suddenly the Orange went from a team poised for a huge season to a team full of uncertainty.

10 key players

Jerome Dyson, Connecticut: The Huskies' hopes for a national title took a dive last season when Dyson tore his lateral meniscus in February. Dyson gives Connecticut a proven offensive talent and a solid defender, not to mention much-needed experience for a team in something of a transitional year.

Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova: How far the Wildcats go may depend heavily on how quickly the rookie big man succeeds. Jay Wright always has been a guard's coach, and Villanova has no shortage of backcourt talent again this year. But it is not a coincidence that when the Wildcats finally found a talented inside man -- Dante Cunningham -- they went to the Final Four. If Yarou, with the help of fellow freshman Isaiah Armwood, can make up for Cunningham's loss, Nova might be busy on the final weekend of the season again.

Greg Monroe, Georgetown: The Big East Rookie of the Year put up great numbers during a puzzling season for the Hoyas. He wisely decided to stay put for his sophomore year, and presuming whatever chemistry issues ailed Georgetown last year are gone, he should become a dominant post player in the league.

Lazar Hayward

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

With Marquette's star-studded backcourt all gone, big man Lazar Hayward has the spotlight to himself for now.

Lazar Hayward, Marquette: The triumvirate is gone: Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews have left the building. This is Hayward's team now. A willing second fiddle to the trio of guards, the undersized big man quietly put up great numbers last season -- 16.3 points, 8.6 rebounds -- but now this is his team.

Cashmere Wright, Cincinnati: Losing their point guard in the preseason was a serious blow to the Bearcats and their chances of making a serious run. With Wright back on the court, Mick Cronin can roll out a talented three-guard lineup in Cincy.

Herb Pope and Keon Lawrence: The two bring equal parts talent and baggage to South Orange. Pope, the third-leading scorer at New Mexico State before transferring, was shot at a party in Pittsburgh before petitioning the NCAA for a transfer closer to home -- which of course landed him six hours from home. Lawrence averaged 11 points for Missouri before bolting. He had his share of disagreements with Mizzou coach Mike Anderson.

Devin Ebanks, West Virginia: Ridiculously talented, Ebanks is a good sleeper pick for league player of the year for a Bob Huggins team that could be very good, assuming it hammers out those pesky suspension issues.

Anthony Mason Jr., St. John's: He missed all but three games last season with a foot injury, tabling the Red Storm's hopes of dramatic improvement when he went down. Now the Johnnies are hoping the return of Mason, who was granted a fifth year by the NCAA, is the first of many good things to come.

Jermaine Dixon, Pittsburgh: The lone returning starter for Pitt will have a lot to shoulder if the Panthers are going to keep their successful run going. This is his team, and more, his backcourt, now that Levance Fields is gone. How he handles his new role will go a long way in determining Pittsburgh's success.

10 freshmen we can't wait to see

Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati: As far as a college player, believe the hype with Stephenson. He's strong and talented and will be an impact player immediately. He should be among the Bearcats' top scorers as a freshman.

Alex Oriakhi, C, UConn: Oriakhi is a big-bodied post. He should be an excellent role player in time at UConn. As his skills improve he should become more of a focal point for the Huskies offensively. He's an excellent rebounder, shot-blocker and defender.

Hollis Thompson, SF, Georgetown: Thompson actually skipped his senior year of high school and redshirted last year at Georgetown. He's skilled offensively and a solid shooter. He should be able to take on a scoring role immediately.

Dante Taylor

Chris Williams/Icon SMI

Pittsburgh lost plenty of star power, but gained some back with the arrival of McDonald's All-American Dante Taylor.

Dante Taylor, PF, Pitt: Taylor's 6-8, athletic and skilled. He's a ready-made power forward for the Big East. He could pick up where DeJuan Blair left off.

Peyton Siva, PG, Louisville: Siva is a super-athletic, quick and skilled point guard. He's not a great shooter, but he can do everything else they need. He should get major playing time, if not start.

Junior Cadougan, PG, Marquette: With the loss of Dominic James, there's an opening at point guard for Buzz Williams' squad. Cadougan is more of a distributor, but he can also score from the point guard spot. He has a good basketball idea and should fit right in in Milwaukee.

Johnnie Lacy, PG, Providence: This undersized point guard can score with the best of them. He can get the ball and run with it, which makes him a perfect fit for Providence's system.

Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova: He's big, strong and has solid skills. "Mouph" should definitely have an immediate impact. He's physically ready to play and skilled enough to have his presence felt right away in the Big East.

Dominic Cheek, SG, Villanova: He's talented enough to be an all-conference player. He has to improve his motor, but once that happens he'll be heading to the next level. Look for Villanova's two other recruits -- Maalik Wayns and Isaiah Armwood -- to make an immediate impact as well.

Deniz Kilicli, PF, West Virginia: Kilicli is big, strong and tough. He's physically ready to compete. He has solid skills and should be a four-year contributor.

10 nonconference games we can't wait to see

Louisville at Kentucky, Jan. 2: Seriously, you have to ask why? The bitterness now involved in this rivalry makes the Civil War look like a little dust-up. Are you going to honestly say you'll be watching anything else the moment Rick Pitino walks onto the court at Rupp?

Connecticut vs. Kentucky, Dec. 9 (SEC-Big East Invitational): There is no love lost between the two head coaches, and as the one-time bitter New England rivals now go head-to-head nationally for recruits and wins, things only get testier. This SEC-Big East Invitational game in New York should feature some of the best talent in the nation.

Greg Monroe

James Lang/US PRESSWIRE

It'll be fascinating to see how Butler goes after Georgetown's Greg Monroe in a Jimmy V Classic showdown at MSG.

Georgetown vs. Butler (Jimmy V Classic), Dec. 8: Last season, the Hoyas were a chemical imbalance; the Bulldogs, the picture of harmony. With a solid core group returning for Butler, this game at Madison Square Garden will be a great way for Georgetown to gauge whether it has found enough inner peace to survive the Big East season.

Cincinnati at Xavier, Dec. 13: This heated intra-city rivalry gets more interesting with the Bearcats' improved fortunes and the Musketeers' new coaching staff. Cashmere Wright and Terrell Holloway handling the point guard duties liven up the action.

West Virginia at Purdue, Jan. 1: Two teams cut of the same blue-collar cloth go head-to-head. A healthy Robbie Hummel puts the Boilermakers among the elite in the country; Devin Ebanks does the same for the Mountaineers.

Texas at Connecticut, Jan. 23: Good grief, is this any way to break up the rigors of the Big East schedule? A visit by a potential top-five team, less than a week after a trip to Ann Arbor to play John Beilein's ever-improving Michigan squad? Yikes.

Villanova vs Maryland, Dec. 6 (BB&T Classic): Two of the most exciting guards in the nation, Greivis Vasquez an Scottie Reynolds, square off in the nation's capital. The Terps, who return just about everybody, are good enough to give Big East favorite Villanova a run for its money.

Syracuse vs. Florida, Dec. 10 (SEC-Big East Invitational): Both teams have questions to answer and holes to fill. The Cuse was surprised to lose Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris; the Gators were equally shocked when Nick Calathes bolted. Can these two programs stay in the hunt? An early answer could be given with this matchup in Tampa.

St. John's vs. Siena, Nov. 27 (Philly Hoop Group Classic): Ordinarily a MAAC team pitted against a Big East team wouldn't turn many heads. But Siena isn't your typical MAAC team, and the Johnnies haven't been your traditional Big East power. While the rest of New York languished, the Saints moved alongside Syracuse as the best teams in the state. Loaded again this year, Siena will offer a stern test for a Red Storm team hoping this is the season it is relevant again.

Potential matchups …

Villanova vs. Georgia Tech, Nov. 20 (Puerto Rico Tip-Off): This is a big if, because the Yellow Jackets would need to knock off A-10 favorite Dayton in the first round (and Nova has to beat always-pesky George Mason), but this semifinal matchup would feature some of the best freshmen in the country: Mouphtaou Yarou, Isaiah Armwood, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek for Villanova; Derrick Favors and Mfon Udofia for Georgia Tech. Mix in the fact that Tech coach Paul Hewitt, like Jay Wright, is a Rollie Massimino disciple and you have the stuff for a high-level game in November.

Connecticut vs. Duke, Nov. 27 (NIT Season Tip-Off): If the NIT gets its dream final, this will be a great early-season matchup pitting two of the premier programs in America in a rare matchup against each other. Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker will be a nice test for Jon Scheyer and the depth-free Blue Devils backcourt.


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A quick look around the league

Big East
CincinnatiCincinnati
Somewhere in Ohio, Deonta Vaughn is screaming "Finally!" The senior no longer has to carry the Bearcats by himself. With a vaunted rookie class that includes Lance Stephenson and, technically, Cashmere Wright, Cincinnati should make plenty of noise this season.

ConnecticutConnecticut
The Huskies lost a lot, but the cupboard is never empty in Storrs. Kemba Walker, who starred during the NCAA tournament, should slide easily into the starting point guard role, replacing A.J. Price. Mix in Stanley Robinson, who was sensational once he became eligible in December, and it's easy to see why the Huskies will remain among the league contenders.

DePaulDePaul
Nowhere to go but up; that has to be the Blue Demons' motto. After waiting until the Big East tournament to win its first league game of the season, if DePaul wins once between January and March it's a big improvement. That Mac Koshwal is back increases the odds of that happening.

G'townGeorgetown
The Hoyas' tumble last season was stunning and confounding. The problems seemed to have more to do with personalities than talent, so it's hard to predict whether that will improve this season. Losing DaJuan Summers hurts, but not dramatically for a team with a solid nucleus returning.

LouisvilleLouisville
Rookie Samardo Samuels took a backseat to the overall talents of Terrence Williams. Now, with Williams and Earl Clark gone, the Cardinals will need Samuels to get stronger and more consistent in the low post. Louisville's strength should be in its backcourt, where Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith are joined by McDonald's All-American Peyton Siva.

MarquetteMarquette
The Golden Eagles will be as good as their freshman class is. Highly touted and well-regarded, the rookies will have to grow up in a hurry as Marquette loses the core of its team: Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Dominic James.

Notre DameNotre Dame
Luke Harangody's decision to return, coupled with the addition of transfers Ben Hansbrough (Mississippi St.) and Scott Martin (Purdue) should lift the Irish out of the middle-of-the-pack doldrums from a year ago.

PittPittsburgh
Interesting year for Jamie Dixon. The Panthers have built their success on veteran leadership, but there's none of that left. The guts of Pittsburgh, namely Levance Fields, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, are gone. Dixon has plenty of talent coming in, though, and solid role players like Brad Wanamaker.

ProvidenceProvidence
A young lineup gets a boost from the return of Sharaud Curry. The savvy point guard averaged 11 points and 4 assists last season, his first back after a serious knee injury. He gets some backcourt help in the form of Marshon Brooks, a talented sixth man last season. The frontcourt will have growing pains until it gets settled, but redshirts Jamine Peterson and Russ Permenter may help.

RutgersRutgers
Adding Florida transfer Jonathan Mitchell and juco addition James Beatty at the point gives the Scarlet Knights a quick hit in talent. The real key to this team, though, is how improved sophomores Mike Rosario and Gregory Echenique are this year.

St. John'sSt. John's
The Red Storm, who will get some extra practice with a Labor Day trip to Canada, were a much-improved 16-18 last season, despite competing without Anthony Mason Jr. and a bucketful of sophomores. With everyone back, it's easy to understand why there is a great deal of cautious optimism surrounding St. John's.

SHUSeton Hall
The addition of three key transfers will steal the headlines, but the fact is, the Pirates have had one of the league's best secrets for three years. Last season, guard Jeremy Hazell finished second in scoring in the league despite Seton Hall's struggles. With more talent to take some of the pressure off, expect Hazell to soar.

USFSouth Florida
Stan Heath's rebuilding job continues in Tampa. He brings in another solid recruiting class, including highly touted juco transfer Jarrid Famous. The 6-11 Famous and the 6-10 Gus Gilchrist should make for tantalizing twin towers for the Bulls.

SyracuseSyracuse
The subtractions are big, but the additions are impressive. Scoop Jardine, redshirted with a stress fracture in his leg, returns. Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson is a talented scorer, and Brandon Triche, whose uncle Howard played at the Cuse in the 80s, was the New York Gatorade Player of the Year.

VillanovaVillanova
Jay Wright is at the point where he is reloading, not rebuilding. The Wildcats bring one of the top recruiting classes in the country, headlined by Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, to go with the nucleus from the Final Four team. Senior guard Reggie Redding, arrested for marijuana possession, will be ineligible until mid-December. But with plenty of depth at the guard position, Villanova ought to survive without him.

WVUWest Virginia
Sharp-shooting Casey Mitchell, the juco national player of the year, should make up for the loss of Alex Ruoff. Mix in a boatload of returning players and Bob Huggins with another year to implement his style and it's easy to see why the Mountaineers could be a very dangerous team.

2008-09 Big East standings

Big East record Overall record
Louisville* 16-2 31-6
Pittsburgh* 15-3 31-5
Connecticut* 15-3 31-5
Villanova* 13-5 30-8
Marquette* 12-6 25-10
Syracuse* 11-7 28-10
West Virginia* 10-8 23-12
Providence^ 10-8 19-14
Notre Dame^ 8-10 21-15
Cincinnati 8-10 18-14
Seton Hall 7-11 17-15
Georgetown^ 7-11 16-15
St. John's 6-12 16-18
South Florida 4-14 9-22
Rutgers 2-16 11-21
DePaul 0-18 9-24
*NCAA tournament
^NIT appearance

For all the Big East news and notes, check out the conference page.

2009-10 predictions

By Jay Bilas
ESPN

It's never too early for predictions. Jay Bilas offers up his thoughts on the upcoming season in the Big East:

1. Villanova: The Wildcats are a bit younger, but very talented at every position. Jay Wright has guards that he encourages to make plays, and Villanova is versatile enough to attack mismatches on offense and switch every screen on defense. Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes form one of the nation's strongest backcourts, and all can get into the lane and to the free-throw line. Freshmen Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns can play right away. But making up for Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson will be a challenge.

2. West Virginia: The Mountaineers will play hard, and they will defend and rebound. With another outstanding recruiting class, Bob Huggins has more talent to put around Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks. Butler is an outstanding scorer, and Ebanks is an emerging star. West Virginia is long, athletic and hard to guard. If Truck Bryant plays, West Virginia can be the best team in the Big East.

3. Connecticut: The Huskies will have firepower on the offensive end, but will UConn be the defensive team it has been over the years? Connecticut led the Big East in defensive field goal percentage and blocked shots last year, but without as many long-armed shot-blockers, Jim Calhoun may go with more of a pressing style to create turnovers. Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker should blossom together, but a real key is Stanley Robinson. He showed he could be a star last year. If he jumps into the void, UConn can be Big East champs.

4. Georgetown: The Hoyas were better than their record last year, and finished in the top half of a brutal league in almost every important statistical category. But the Hoyas were deficient on the backboards and in turnover margin, the two areas that provide extra possessions. In short, Georgetown needed to be tougher. This season, the Hoyas will be back in the NCAA tournament. Greg Monroe will be an All-American and Chris Wright and Austin Freeman will take over as better leaders. I like Georgetown's chances.

5. Syracuse: Much of Syracuse's hope seems to hinge upon the play of Wesley Johnson, and he is the real thing. But the key will be getting really good guard play to go along with the interior strength of the Orange. Replacing the 45 points per game of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris won't be easy, but Jim Boeheim likes his team, and he is consistently the best mood ring for Orange predictions.

6. Louisville: The Cards should be very good, but there is no telling how the off-court distractions will affect this team. Losing Terrence Williams and Earl Clark is a blow, but there is talent. Louisville's backcourt is back along with freshman Peyton Siva, but the firepower will be up front in Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings. Louisville will probably not be as effective a pressing team, and needs to play inside-out.

7. Pittsburgh: Is this the year Pitt takes a small step back? It certainly hasn't happened yet, despite previous predictions. The heart and soul of the team graduated to the NBA, but the leadership and toughness of Levance Fields will be the toughest to replace. Pitt is younger and less experienced, but the Panthers will still play hard and tough. I am looking for Gilbert Brown, Ashton Gibbs and Jermaine Dixon to step forward, but the freshmen have to produce. Dante Taylor needs some time, but he has a chance to be special.

8. Notre Dame: The Irish have Luke Harangody back, which can give you a false sense of security. Harangody is a great offensive player and tough as nails on the offensive end. The key for him and for Notre Dame is for Harangody to be tougher to score upon. Notre Dame needs to gang-rebound and be tougher on defense. When the Irish have been really good under Mike Brey, they have kept people out of the lane and off the backboards. Tory Jackson's leadership will be a big factor.

9. Cincinnati: The Bearcats are ready to turn the corner. Mick Cronin has brought in good talent and has coached them up. Having Cashmere Wright back after his knee injury will be a big plus alongside Deonta Vaughn, and allows Vaughn to work off the ball. Lance Stephenson is a super talent, but the key player is Yancy Gates. He can be as good as he wants to be, and if he exerts himself, nobody can stop him. This is an NCAA tournament team.

10. Seton Hall: Bobby Gonzalez has more horses this year, and he will ride them into NCAA contention. Transfers Keon Lawrence, Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson all step into the fray, but the key players will still be Jeremy Hazell and Eugene Harvey. Hazell can be an All-Big East player, but the most important factor will be the collective toughness of the team. Seton Hall was abused on the backboards last year, and although the Pirates forced turnovers, they gave up way too many easy baskets.

11. Marquette: Buzz Williams really likes his recruiting class, and rightfully so. He has some talent and good pieces to go with Lazar Hayward. But replacing Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal will be a very difficult task. Last year's team had a very well-defined identity. This year's team has to build one. That can be tough in a league that punishes youth like the Big East does. In my estimation, 9-9 would be a great record in Big East play for the Golden Eagles.

12. Providence: Last year brought a new system to a team of veterans, and Providence proved it could score. But the Friars never proved they could stop anyone. With a bunch of experienced seniors, Providence finished in the bottom half of the Big East in almost every defensive measure. Most of the experience is gone, but Marshon Brooks and Sharaud Curry are back. I love Keno Davis' style, but the Friars have to guard people and rebound to win in the Big East.

13. St. John's: I really like how hard St. John's plays, but the Johnnies have lacked consistency and could not score last year. The Red Storm put a lot of pressure on its defense, and its defense didn't respond. With Paris Horne, D.J. Kennedy and Anthony Mason, Jr. back, Norm Roberts has some building blocks. The Johnnies need some confidence that they can really compete in the rough Big East, and we should know by Christmas. If St. John's can show well at Duke and beat Siena, Temple and Georgia, the team can take some momentum and carry into Big East play.

14. Rutgers: The key players for Fred Hill will be Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique, and both will be very good. But Rutgers needs to value the ball more. The Scarlet Knights turn it over at too high a rate and do not force enough miscues to get extra possessions. Rosario is a star that carries a really big load and he needs some help. Last year, Rosario was the only player to average double figures. Rutgers took a trip to Spain over the summer, and that is often a great bonding experience that pays dividends.

15. South Florida: Last season, South Florida couldn't shoot, couldn't score and couldn't stop anybody. The Bulls were 9-22 overall, with a 4-14 Big East record. Dominique Jones was the only Bull that could really score, and he led the team in points, rebounds, steals and free-throw percentage. The tough part of that is that Jones led the team in free-throw percentage and shot barely over 70 percent. Mike Mercer has been reinstated to the team, and that will provide more scoring, but South Florida will still struggle for wins in such a tough league.

16. DePaul: The Blue Demons showed some real fight in the Big East tournament after a brutal conference season that saw them go 0-18 with only two games with a margin of less than eight points. DePaul returns two players that averaged double figures in Mac Koshwal and Will Walker. This team will be better, but the Blue Demons still need more firepower.

Overheard by one head coach

On Lance Stephenson, Keon Lawrence and Herb Pope: "There's no question these kids are talented. Are they worth the risk? They might be. I hope they are. We'll see."

Final shots

• Most are anointing Nova as the favorite, but plenty of Big East teams figure to be in contention this season. Here are Andy Katz's Top 25 and Dick Vitale's Top 40.

• The Big East received "only" seven NCAA bids last season. Is the league in store for more this March? Joe Lunardi thinks so. Bracketology.

• Which early-season events are Big East teams taking part in? We have a list of the tournaments that will be scattered around the first two months of the college basketball calendar. Schedule