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Big East Basketball Primer: A Challenge Even Bigger Than the League

Jan 11, 2011 – 7:45 PM
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At any point this season, a third of the top 25 may be Big East teams. While that creates a competitive league playing at the highest level, there will always be casualties in end. It's tough to get that many teams in the NCAA tournament from one conference because the season is a never-ending cycle of losing. No one stays on top for long.

Still, pollsters and the NCAA tournament committee alike will favor an eight-loss Big East team over, say, a six-loss SEC team. It's a give and take, and if you don't let yourself get swallowed up in conference, you set yourself up for a run in the tournament.

Best Team: Pittsburgh. Good gracious, this is not easy. Between Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, and, to a lesser extent, UConn, there is really no easy way to choose who is superior. They are all so similar, and I only say Pitt because Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Gilbert Brown have been there forever. That counts for something, right?

Most Disappointing Team: Georgetown. They have the experience and talent necessary to be a top 10 team, but they just haven't been winning. It's as simple as that. Losses in winnable games have put the Hoyas in a hole.

Most Surprising Team: St. John's. We knew Steve Lavin (below) could coach, but we didn't know how fast he'd turn the Red Storm around. St. John's had a similar non-conference start a year ago but fell apart once conference play began. This year they've started out 3-1 in the Big East, including wins over Georgetown and West Virginia.

What We Know Now

1. This league is deep. We knew that before the season, but now it's apparent that any one of Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame, Villanova, and UConn can win the league. Outsiders like Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, and St. John's have a shot too, but it looks likely to fall into the top tier.

2. Experience rules. Of the top 10 scorers in the league, seven are seniors and three juniors. Most teams are junior and senior heavy, with very few impact freshman to speak of in the league.

3. Bottom feeders. DePaul, Seton Hall, St. Louis, and South Florida will struggle mightily in conference. Seton Hall has a win already; are the others in danger of going winless?

Top Five Storylines to Watch

1. What will come of Louisville? Down two big men, the Cards looked awful against Kentucky but have made strides in conference. It remains to be seen how they will fare in the meat of their Big East schedule.

2. How will Cincinnati fare in conference play? The Bearcats breezed through their doughy early season, but now they are forced to face a host of powerful squads. Will they sink or swim?

3. When will Syracuse lose? They've had their share of close calls but have found ways to come away with the win. Chances are their luck will run out, and soon.

4. How long can Kemba Walker carry the Huskies? This gravy train won't last forever. UConn has already lost twice in conference; if they're to stay in the top 25, Walker will need some help.

5. Can Steve Lavin continue his winning ways at St. John's? Our bet is on "No."

Predicted Player of the Year -- Kemba Walker, Connecticut. The current front runner for national player of the year, Walker hasn't really slowed down much from his early season explosion. UConn may struggle, but expect Walker to keep putting up huge offensive numbers.

Predicted Freshman of the Year -- Cleveland Melvin, DePaul. After an inconsistent start to the season, Melvin has turned it on for the Blue Demons. In three Big East games so far, he is averaging over 23 points a game. DePaul looks like a team that may have significant struggles in conference, so Melvin's scoring is all the more important.

NCAA Tourney Teams

Syracuse: Great rebounding team, but they are still waiting on preseason conference rookie of the year Fab Melo to make some noise.

Pittsburgh: What sets the Panthers apart is their ability to score from the perimeter. Ashton Gibbs is a big time player that hits big time shots -- something that has hindered Pitt in the past.

Kemba Walker (right) couldn't best Ashton Gibbs's Panthers in a Dec. 27 loss at Pitt.
Villanova: As has been their signature, 'Nova is again a guard heavy team that likes to score in transition. If there's anything that can hurt the Wildcats it's front court depth.

Notre Dame: Of all the teams that are ranked in the top 25, the Irish may be the most precarious. If Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough aren't hitting, Notre Dame has a lot of trouble winning.

Connecticut: Again, this team will go as far as Kemba Walker can carry them. The development freshmen Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith will be key in the second half of the season for the Huskies.

Louisville: If the Cards don't have worthy replacements for Jared Swopshire and Rakeem Buckles, they will struggle mightily in the conference. Stephen Van Treese and George Goode have looked OK early, but they haven't faced the big boys yet.

Georgetown: Built like all the successful teams in the conference, the Hoyas have struggled in the early season. Still, there's no reason why Austin Freeman and company can't make a deep run in March.

Marquette: As capable defensively as anyone in the league, the Golden Eagles will win just enough to sneak into the tourney.

NIT Teams: Cincinnati, St. John's, West Virginia, Rutgers
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