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 11, 2008 6:37 pm

Big East Preview 14, Syracuse Orange

Here's one of the more interesting cases in the Big East.  After two consecutive almost-but-not-quite years when many felt they were snubbed by the selection committee, the Orange return two players from injury but lose one star.  Will it be enough to get them into the NCAAs, and maybe the top 25, this time?  They'll have to overcome a pretty tough schedule to do so, including a bizarre CBE Classic tournament that features a championship round that apparently doesn't change even if the top-seeded teams lose.  Anyone have a better idea how that works?  Regardless, here it is.

19-13 Overall, 9-9 Big East (9th)
Lost 1st round Big East tournament (Villanova)
Eliminated 3rd round of NIT (Massachusetts)


Ryan Cahak             G
Eric Devendorf         G
Jonny Flynn              G
Donte Greene          F
Paul Harris               F
Rick Jackson           F
Scoop Jardine         G
Arinze Onuaku         F
Kristof Ongenaet     F
Jake Presutti            G
Andy Rautins           G
Justin Thomas        G
Mike Williams         G/F
Sean Williams         C
Josh Wright              G


Greene, M. Wiliams, Wright

Well, Greene was a real talent, but Devendorf's numbers were about the same when he was healthy.  If Devendorf didn't lose anything for good, they might not feel the loss of Greene all that much.  The other two were only minor pieces of the puzzle, and make room for the new guys below.


Wesley Johnson 
          F  (transfer from Iowa State) I believe he has to sit out the 08-09 season, but he gets a mention just in case.  He averaged 12.4 points and 4.4 rebounds at his old school.

Kevin Drew                    G
Brandon Reese            G
Mookie Jones                F
Kris Joseph                   F
James Sutherland       F

OK, there's a lot to talk about here, so I'll get to it.  First, Drew is a walk-on from the Lacrosse team and Reese is a "preferred walk-on" himself.  With all the other guards on the roster, I doubt they'll make much difference.  Next, I'm not sure that James Sutherland is joining the team this year...I found conflicting reports.  Kris Joseph and Mookie Jones, however, are for sure, and they're the 11th and 12th ranked high school SF, and 4-star recruits.  I know many people like to reserve judgment on freshmen, but when you bring in two guys rated that high for the same position (and maybe a third ranked 25 at SF in Sutherland) you have to think at least one of them will have an immediate positive impact.  Finally, it is fair to include Rautins as an "arrival" because he didn't play all last season.  He and the two scholarship freshman will make Syracuse a very deep team.

The Schedule:

Nonconference Games:     Le Moyne, Richmond (regionals of CBE Classic), Oakland, Florida (semifinal of CBE Classic; Syracuse will then play either Washington or Kansas), Virginia, Colgate, Cornell, Long Beach State, Cleveland State, Canisius, Memphis, Coppin State

That's quite the schedule.  Florida and Memphis will be tough, as will whichever of Washington and Kansas they play.  Cornell and Cleveland State are likely tournament teams, and should not be taken lightly.  This is a slate that's either an opportunity for Syracuse to make a strong early case or a chance to lose credibility fast.

Two Time Opponents
:  Rutgers, Villanova, Georgetown

That's a more forgiving set than most teams got, but is still not a picnic.  One of the Nova games is at a neutral site.

Remaining Roadies
:     South Florida, Pittsburgh, Providence, Connecticut, St. John's, Marquette

Home Games
:      Seton Hall, DePaul, Notre Dame, Louisville, West Virginia, Cincinnati

That's a pretty even home/road split.  It's getting harder to say something unique about everyone's Big East schedule.  The Orange, like everyone else, will have to win some tough games to stay alive in conference.
The Outlook

Best Case Scenario:
     Harris and Onuaku add defense to their list of skills.  Devendorf is more mature after the injury, and that helps make his game very good.  Flynn runs the floor with the best of the nation's PGs.  The rest of the returning players (Jardine, Ongenaet, and company) are lifted by the good play of the starters.  Joseph and Jones make the team very, very deep up front with excellent play, while Rautins and a rotation of four or five other guards spell Flynn and Devendorf effectively.  All of this leads to first undefeated ooc play, including wins over Florida, Memphis, and the defending champs, second to an above .500 Big East mark - perhaps even good enough to sneak into the top 4 - and third, a deep run in the BE tournament.  The resume from there is good enough for a 4 or 5 seed and Sweet Sixteen or better.

Worst Case Scenario:
    The highly anticipated return of Devendorf goes sour when it is noted that his play has been hampered by the injury, and that his maturity never set in.  Rautins is unable to elevate his game from what it was in '06-'07.  The freshmen and returning backups are competive but not stellar.  The defensive concerns from last year return.  This causes them to lose to both Florida and Memphis, as well as either Cornell or Cleveland State.  A win over Washington is little consolation, because already the resume is looking familiar.  they again hover around .500 in the Big East, and lose some games they shouldn't, finishing again in that 8th or 9th place range.  They don't do enough in the BE tournament, and once again are left on the outside and have to get up for some NIT games.  Maybe they win it, or maybe they fold right away.

My Take:
     I believe that this is an NCAA tournament team; I even have them in my preseason top 25.  There are some questions, though.  They have four players we know will be very good in Devendorf, Flynn, Harris, and Onuaku.  The kind of play expected from those four alone SHOULD be enough to get them to the NCAA tournament.  What will determine if they are a top 25 team with a pretty high seed is the play of everyone else.  They don't have a true Center, so the defense inside the paint might still be weak.  They have two freshmen in Jones and Joseph who should help address that issue.  Rautins and Scoop Jardine will need to supplement the guard play of Devendorf and Flynn, as well, if they want to be an elite team.  What we know is that the Orange have a very good starting frontcourt and backcourt, and what I suspect is that the players mentioned above will make them very deep in both cases, as well.  I don't believe Syracuse will be capable of excellent defense, but they are capable of competent defense - an improvement over last year.  While I could see their tough schedule biting them, I think they are more complete than they have been the last few years, so if they miss the tournament they will have underachieved.
Category: NCAAB
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