Posted on: November 14, 2008 1:27 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2008 9:46 pm

Final thoughts on the upcoming Big East season

Now that every team has been previewed, it's time for me to collect my thoughts. This league is probably one of the toughest in history to predict, but I'm going to take a shot at it. First I'll arrange the teams by tiers, then I'll project the finish, and finally I'll have some thoughts on how the conference teams will do in the preseason tournaments. I had about 80% of this finished when my browser crashed before, so this is more hurried and probably has dropped in quality; apologies for that.

I believe that the nine-team-in projection is not at all far-fetched, and that as many as 12 might see some postseason play or other. It will all depend on nonconference performance and the new conference tourney format. I'm excited for the first Big East games tonight, starting at 7 PM, and can't wait for the season in general. Now, on to business...

Tiers of Teams

Stratifying the league even this way is difficult. There are four preseason title contenders, and I agree that they're the most likely winners, but I doubt they finish 1-4. The next groups of teams are hard to separate, with a lot of teams bearing hugely talented rosters and similar weak spots. Regardless, I think I have come up with a reasonable, though admittedly subjective, set of crieteria for differentiating what we've got. (Each tier is listed alphabetically)

Tier One:

Connecticut, Louisville

These teams have the best combination of talent, balance, and depth to be the clear-cut favorites. They aren't the only two who could win the league, but I'd be surprised if either finished outside the top 4.

Tier Two:

Notre Dame, Pittsburgh

These teams have a ton of returning talent, but lack either the balance (Pitt) or the depth (ND) to be favored over the above teams. The next group of teams could easily displace either of these, but I'd be surprised if either finished lower than sixth.

Tier Three:

Marquette, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia

Between tiers three and four is in my opinion the toughest place to draw a line. The distinction I drew is that these four teams I believe have the biggest chance to sneak into the top four, and would surprise me the most to finish out of the top half of the league.

Tier Four:

Georgetown, Providence

I believe one of these two teams will be left out of the Big Dance, and neither looks to me to have the talent to sneak into the top 4. Either one could surpass some of the teams in tier three, though, if things break the right way.

Tier Five:

Cincinnati, Rutgers, Seton Hall

These are the teams between NCAA rosters and terrible. I don't believe any is capable of squeezing into the top half of the league, but the one who puts together the best resume will probably land in the NIT. I think any of these could be competitive in some other conferences out there.

Tier Six:

DePaul, South Florida, St. John's

This is the dead weight. A 13th place finish would be a major victory for any of these three teams. I hate to be that harsh, but there's just no comparison between these rosters and most others in the Big East.

Projected Final Standings:

I'm not kidding when I say how hard this is. So before you flame me, homers, for having your team too low, remember that I've probably considered every legitimate argument your team has and decided that the others' have slightly more weight. Finishing tenth in this conference is not an insult...that team will be a very good one whether it's my pick or not. So before you say there's "no way" it could be your team, really consider the competition. I believe anyone but my top five could actually end up in the ten spot. OK, no more hedging, here's my order.

  1. Louisville (NCAA) They're my pick thanks to an easier schedule than the Huskies
  2. Connecticut (NCAA) They have the most talent, but a very rough road.
  3. Pittsburgh (NCAA) I pick them here largely because they get my next two teams at the Peterson Events Center, where they don't lose many games.
  4. Syracuse (NCAA) Someone will oust one of the "top four" and my pick is the Orange. I choose them because I believe they have the best combination of returning scorers and new talent from my "tier three" teams.
  5. Notre Dame (NCAA) I choose them to be bumped from the top four because I believe they are the least set up for the long haul. Their talent makes them capable of beating any team, but its concentration in two or three players makes them vulnerable.
  6. Villanova (NCAA) Experience wins my vote among some hard to separate squads.
  7. West Virginia (NCAA) The Mountaineers return more talent than most realize, and have an excellent recruiting class. They will have the best defense of several BE teams relying on forwards and no center up front.
  8. Marquette (NCAA) I hate to pick a team with this much talent this low, but teams 1-7 are that good.
  9. Providence (NCAA) They have the schedule to make something of a run, and more talent than you think.
  10. Georgetown (NIT) There. I did it. The Hoyas are reloading and I think it costs them. If they prove me wrong (higher than 8th place) I'll eat my crow.
  11. Seton Hall (NIT) I throw them up here largely because of Cincinnati's injuries, but also recognizing that here are some good pieces in place here.
  12. Cincinnati (CBI) They were going to be my surprise NCAA pick until they lost three players. Watch out for this team in 2009-2010
  13. Rutgers (none) They have enough players I like to keep them out of the bottom three.
  14. St. John's (none) Down at this level, experience is king, and they have grown together as a team and are well-coached.
  15. DePaul (none) I give them a slight edge over the Bulls.
  16. South Florida (none) I could really see a 1-17 conference record here, with a home win over DePaul.
So there it is. Teams 8 and 9, whether they are my picks or not, had better 1) excel in the ooc and 2) not flame out in the BE tournament. If that happens it will get the top 12 a chance to play in a postseason tournament. Of course, teams 9-12 had better win those opening round games, too...

The Big East in preseason tournaments

Connecticut - Paradise Jam
They get an opening round matchup with La Salle that should be an easy win. Anything short of winning this tournament would be something of a failure, but Miami, San Diego, and Wisconsin are all very dangerous. I'd most like to see the SD - UCONN matchup in the final. I'll say UCONN wins it, but it won't be easy.

Georgetown - Old Spice Classic
There' a very winnable opening round game against Wichita State, followed by a matchup with Siena or Tennessee. That second round game could be tough for the Hoyas to win. I think they face Tennessee (though Siena could surprise some folks) and lose. That would put them in the 3rd/5th place game with either Gonzaga or Michigan State, both games I think they would lose. With its 5th place finish, I think we will learn that Georgetown isn't a top 25 team just yet.

Notre Dame - Maui Invitational
OK, I have said that I think Indiana could stun Notre Dame in this opening round game for a number of reasons. Understand that that only means I give them about a 10% chance. Notre Dame should win that game. If they avoid that crazy upset, I believe they will defeat Texas and face UNC in the title game. Anything could happen there with Hansbrough out, or even with him playing 80%. This is an opportunity for the Big East to really flex a muscle early.

Pittsburgh - Legends Classic
This almost doesn't deserve mention, but it is a preseason tournament...Pittsburgh first hosts Akron and Indiana (PA) (Fairleigh Dickinson, though in the tournament, doesn't count as part of the tournament in tonight's game @ Pitt). If Pitt loses either of those...OK, let's not think about that, but even if they do they meet Texas Tech in the semifinal and then either Mississippi State or Washinton State in the final. If Pittsburgh doesn't win the thing it will be a major failure.

Providence - Anaheim Classic
This is to me one of the more intriguing preseason tournaments, as it is loaded with teams trying to sneak into the national discussion but no clear powerhouses. There will be no easy games for the Friars, but I'm going to say they knock off Baylor, Arizona State, and Wake Forest consecutively to take home the title and secure one heck of an ooc resume. I realize I'm out on a limb, but Providence is better than the attention they're getting, and I look for them to prove it in a big way.

Seton Hall - Puerto Rico Season Tip Off
The Pirates will be without transfer Robert Mitchell for this tournament, and because of that I think they lose to USC with little contest. I do think they can win the loser's bracket and capture fourth place, though, with Chattanooga and Missouri as the likely opponents.

St. John's - NIT Season Tip Off
Cornell is a better team than St. John's, so I will say the Red storm likely go home early. However, if they pull that upset, the next round against Boston College or Loyola (MD) is easier. Again, I expect one-and-done, but if they win the first they might just win two. I see very little chance of further advance than that.

Syracuse - CBE Classic
This is the same format as the Legends Classic but less of a joke. Syracuse has all but assured wins in LeMoyne and Richmond to get things going, followed by a tough smeifinal against Florida. I say that Syracuse gets it done, beating Florida and then the defending champs. I think Florida will be the tougher of the two games, but this is the Orange's Chance to say "we're here."

Roundup: So, I see four preseason tournament champions (Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Providence, and Syracuse), one runner-up (Notre Dame) and two top half finishes (Georgetown, Seton Hall) for the Big East. The lone one-and-done I suspect will be St. John's. 

Note tournaments that I couldn't find brackets for include: West Virginia and DePaul in the Las Vegas Invitational, Cincinnati in the Global Sports Classic, Villanova in the Philly Classic, Marquette in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, and South Florida in the San Juan Shootout.  Of those, the most important game I'm aware of is a WV-Kentucky matchup, which I'll go ahead and pick the Mountaineers to win.

So, there you have it, my complete opinion on Big East basketball '08-'09. Thanks to everyone who took the time to bother reading all this the last few weeks; I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together. Let me know what you think, even if you think I'm an idiot, because I want to hear it! Also, check out the Second Annual year-long Big East thread for constant discussion of all relevant Big East topics. Go Big East!
Posted on: November 13, 2008 5:20 pm

Big East Preview 16, West Virginia Mountaineers

Like the state itself, the Mountaineers usually get no love until after the fact.  Every year it seems the coaches pick them to finish several spots below where they finish.  Every year they are better than the prognosticators say they are.  They are well-coached and there is some new talent there to replace the old.  This year, the coaches picked them ninth.  Can they best the mark set for them yet again?  See what I have to say below.

24-10 Overall, 11-7 Big East (6th)
Lost in Big East tournament semifinal round (Georgetown)
Eliminated in Sweet Sixteen by Xavier


Joe Alexander              F
Jarret Brown                G
DeSean Butler             F
John Flowers               F
Jacob Green                F
Darris Nichols             G
Joe Mazzula                 G
Alex Ruoff                     G
Jamie Smalligan        C
Wellington Smith        F
Josh Sowards             F
Ted Talkington            G
Will Thomas                G
Cam Thoroughman   F
Jonnie West                G


Alexander, Nichols, Smalligan, Talkington, Brown, Green

Joe Alexander got hot at the right time for himself and his team, turning himself into a lottery pick.  Everyone is talking about his departure.  What has gone somewhat under the radar is the loss of Nichols, meaning the Mountaineers lose double-figures scorers both in the paint and outside the arc.  The others are negligible.


Dee Proby        C  (JUCO transfer)   Well, the Mountaineers lack a true center, so he will help in that regard, but I doubt he's an improvement over Smalligan to any great degree.  It's just that I don't see a JUCO transfer going head to head with the Harangody, Thabeet, Blair, Samuels, etc. type players in this conference.

Darryl Bryant     G
Devin Ebanks   F
Kevin Jones      F
Cam Payne       G

That's a class the vast majority of teams in the country would and should envy.  It starts with Ebanks, ranked third nationally among SF prospects, and he has the talent to be better than Alexander.  The question is how fast he reaches his potential.  As with the departures, there's another guy among the newcomers being overlooked (I believe to most folks' error).  Kevin Jones is the 11th ranked PF, and will make a solid 1-2 punch up front in the years to come (assuming Ebanks sticks around).  I'm less high on the two new guards, especially alk-on Payne.  Proby may be a contributor, but I doubt he's ready to step up just yet.  One final note:  these are Huggins's recruits, and considering what he did with mostly someone else's players last year...

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games
:     Elon, Longwood, Delaware State, Iowa, Mississippi, Cleveland State, Davidson, Duquesne, Miami (OH), Radford, Ohio State, Marshall

Davidson, OSU, and Cleveland State make this a very tough ooc lineup.  There are plenty of cake games, but if WVU wins two of those three they will have made a very strong case for themselves.

Two Time Opponents:     Pittsburgh, Louisville, South Florida

I don't think that's as bad as it looks.  They get possibly the easiest team in the Big East, and the other two are rivalries.  They should sweep South Florida, and a split with Pittsburgh, Louisville, or both is very possible.

Remaining Roadies:     Seton Hall, Marquette, Georgetown, Syracuse, Rutgers, Cincinnati

Home Games:     Connecticut, St. John's, Providence, Villanova, Notre Dame, DePaul

To make up for home and homes with two of the heavyweights, the Mountaineers play the other two at home.  That road slate is consequently more manageable than most teams get in this league.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Ebanks starts strong and only gets better, helped by DeSean Butler and Kevin Jones to make a formidable frontcourt, even without a natural center.  Ruoff stays hot all year, and gets help from increased production from Joe Mazzula due to some extra minutes for him.  The rest of the roster comes in and plays with energy, making WVU deeper than they look on paper.  They continue the trend of knocking off at least one heavily favored team in the noncon slate (they missed last year until Duke in the Sweet 16, but previously: UCLA, Texas, LSU, Maryland, Florida dating back to '01-'02) in Davidson, and they manage to take down Cleveland State and Ohio State as well.  They go 4-2 in the Big East home and homes, losing only one home game in conference.  They add 3 or 4 road wins in the remaining slate, taking them to 12-6 or 13-5 in the league.  That's probably good for fourth or fifth place and a good seed in the BE tourney, where they show well.  Suddenly, WV is a 5 seed in the NCAAs and does not disappoint, representing the conference in another Sweet Sixteen if not more.

Worst Case Scenario:
    Though talented, the freshman class takes some time to warm up to NCAA competition.  It turns out that Ruoff and Mazzula were already giving about the best they could, and so little improvement comes from there.  The role players are not good enough, so when the starters have to take a seat they lose ground to their opponents.  This results in losses in two out of the three competitive nonconference games, and possibly even another ooc loss that shouldn't happen.  They get swept by both Louisville and Pittsburgh, losing as well to both Connecticut and Notre Dame at home.  They lose one more home game, and a couple on the road they shouldn't, dropping them to the neighborhood of 11-7 in conference.  With that resume, they are left out of the dance.  Theys ee what they can do in the NIT and CBI, and prepare for a resurgence in 2009-2010.

My Take:
     Be it known that I expect few teams to match the best or worst case scenarios I have provided.  West Virginia is no exception.  I like Ruoff, Butler, and Mazula as returning players, and think that Devin Ebanks will have an immediate positive impact.  I doubt he matches Joe Alexander's production right away, but he will be a better player at some point in his career.  It is worth noting that even Alexander wasn't as productive until late in the season, so if Ebanks progresses all year he could be right there in February/March.  The rest of the recruiting class I think is better than it's getting credit for.  Jones should add depth at least up front, and Proby will at least be a body in the middle.  The things I doubt about this team are 1) real depth at guard and 2) the ability to maintain the tenacious defense they had last year with the list of departing players.  Still, they look poised to me to finish better than the coaches predict once again.  I can't put them much higher than 7th or 8th until I see for sure the product on the court, but I wouldn't be surprised if they made a move higher than that when the dust clears.  Know that I don't consider an 8th place finish in the Big East unworthy...the 8th best team is going to be a very good one.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com