With just days before the official start of practice and just about a month before the start of the regular season, here are my Big East Preseason Power Rankings. I'll be doing these power rankings every week during the season, updating each edition of the rankings based on the team's performance. This may or may not reflect the current standings.
I've already previewed each team in-depth, but seeing as I did those previews a month and a half ago, these new rankings reflect new opinions that have formed since I made the previews.
Here you go! Comments are greatly appreciated.
Jamie Dixon is one of the best coaches in the country, and he returns 5 starters from last year's team that surprised many. They won't surprise anyone this year, with 2009 breakout star Ashton Gibbs anchoring a roster that is deep and talented at every position. The one question for this team is how far they can make it into the NCAA Tournament.
The Orange lost a lot from last year's team, but the addition of Fab Melo should offset the loss of Arinze Onuaku, while Kris Joseph, Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine are all in line for more minutes and more production. The Orange have size for days, and that incredible 2-3 zone, but the one issue they may have is perimeter shooting. Regardless, I will be shocked if they finish any lower than 3rd. They get this spot for now.
"Guard- U" is a model of consistency in a conference where only the consistently successful survive, and that's thanks to Jay Wright. Corey Fisher is the leader of this team now, and with almost no weaknesses in his offensive game (he shot nearly 40 percent from deep last season), he should prove to be a capable one. Add the electric Maalik Wayns and two solid frontcourt starters in Mouphtaou Yarou and veteran Antonio Pena, and the Wildcats should contend at the top of the conference.
Greg Monroe is gone, but Austin Freeman and Chris Wright are still Hoyas, and as such Georgetown has one of the best backcourts in the conference. They don't have much size outside of Julian Vaughn, Henry Sims, and newcomer Nate Lubick, but with Freeman, Wright, the vastly underrated Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson, and freshmen Markel Starks and Aaron Bowen, there's enough talent for John Thompson III to make the top 5.
5. West Virginia
Year after year, game after game, Bob Huggins' Mountaineers get the job done. Even after losing Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler, the collective length of West Virginia is again very good. Versatile forward Kevin Jones leads this year's squad, with Joe Mazzulla (who has to be 30 by now) and Darryl Bryant running the point along with newcomer Noah Cottrill to push both of them in practice. Dalton Pepper and Casey Mitchell can shoot it, and there have been rumblings of a great season coming up from John Flowers. If Deniz Kilicli and/or Dan Jennings can step up and provide a presence up front, watch out.
6. Seton Hall
The Pirates have been nothing if not competitive for the past two years, but an inability to finish games and defend consistently have been their downfall. Enter Kevin Willard, who preaches defense with every breath and who inherited perhaps the conference's deepest roster in his first season in South Orange. He'll have at his disposal scorer extraordinaire Jeremy Hazell, rebounding machine Herb Pope, the uber-athletic Jeff Robinson, and a whole lot more. With the versatile Eniel Polynice bringing even more experience and a stronger bench, if the Pirates stop people like their coach intends, they can (and will) beat anyone.
Oh, boy does Buzz Williams have a recruiting class coming in. It's led by Vander Blue, a phenomenal slasher who can get to his spots, and National JUCO Player of the Year Jae Crowder, who can do anything on the offensive side of the ball. Those two, plus shooter Jamail Jones join a solid core of Darius Johnson-Odom, Jimmy Butler (one of the most underrated players in the conference) and Junior Cadougan to form one talented Golden Eagles team. They are young, but their biggest concern is size. Williams needs his big men (Chris Otule, Joe Fulce) to step up, and with the lack of size, he needs everyone to hit the boards hard. But they sure are talented.
8. Notre Dame
Luke Harangody may be gone, but don't forget- the Irish played their best basketball of the season without him, including a domination tempo-wise of Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament. The Irish return many players from last season's squad, including Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott. Ben Hansbrough will lead the team, along with Tim Abromaitis, one of the best shooters in the Big East who can fill it up quickly. If freshman point guard Eric Atkins can acclimate himself, and if Purdue transfer Scott Martin can finally stay healthy, Notre Dame won't drop as far as everyone thinks.
Jerome Dyson? Gone. Stanley Robinson? Gone. Gavin Edwards? Gone. Jim Calhoun? Still there. Calhoun showed a tremendous reluctance to play his freshmen not named Alex Oriakhi last season. This season he'll have no choice- the team is more than half underclassmen. Kemba Walker is one of the vets now, and he will lead this talented, but extremely young Huskies team. The new Huskies are led by Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith, who should contribute immediately. Will Calhoun have the patience that he hasn't had in the past with the freshmen mistakes that these pups are sure to make? We'll soon find out.
10. St. John's
Everyone insists that St. John's is going to take the league by storm with just one new player and a coach who hasn't been on the bench in seven years. Call me crazy, but I just don't see it. Having 9 senior rotation players is great, but all those players were juniors last year. There isn't as much of a difference in maturity between junior and senior years. When your best player is still D.J. Kennedy, even with all those players there, it's going to take a lot to contend in the toughest conference in the country for college basketball. This is the right spot for the Red Storm based on talent (more than the teams below them, but less than the teams above them).
A lot of people really like Cincy to be one of those teams in the mix in the middle of the conference for a playoff berth. New recruit Justin Jackson is a high-energy player that Mick Cronin really likes, and Yancy Gates has apparently come into the semester in better shape. Cronin has size (Gates, Ibrahima Thomas, Anthony McClain, plus freshmen Jackson and Kelvin Gaines) and a decent backcourt led by Rashad Bishop and Cashmere Wright. The departure of Lance Stephenson, I've heard, will be addition by subtraction. Replacing Deonta Vaughn's steady presence is much more challenging. But if this team does indeed make some noise, it will be because they play together and play hard.
12. South Florida
Yup. You're not seeing things. USF lost Dominique Jones, the heart and soul of the team, to the NBA Draft. Their guards are mostly junior college transfers with a true freshman thrown in (LaVonte Dority). But what they do have is quality size. Jarrid Famous, a healthy Augustus Gilchrist, and an improving Toarlyn Fitzpatrick are all solid players. The key, obviously, is the rest of the team around the size, specifically perimeter shooting, of which USF has practically none. But the Bulls should be a team that's tough to box out, and you know what they say- you can't teach size.
It's looking like it may be a rough year in Louisville for Rick Pitino and the Cardinals. Start with the fact that they lost Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith to graduation, and Samardo Samuels (foolishly) declared for the Draft. Now consider that the top 2 recruits in a lukewarm recruiting class (by Pitino's standards) have been ruled ineligible (Justin Coleman and Gorgui Sy-Dieng). Next, factor in that both Jared Swopshire and Russ Smith (another member of that freshman class) will miss 6 or more weeks with injuries, and you have a team that a) has to play fast to make up for its deficiency of talent, and b) doesn't have enough personnel to make it work. Think Seton Hall from two years ago. They'll play hard, perhaps hard enough to move up a few spots. But I'm ranking the Cards in the same spot that the Pirates were ranked in preseason 2 years ago.
Mike Rice has done a great job at Rutgers. His first recruiting class may be the best Rutgers has EVER had for Men's Basketball. Unfortunately for fans of the Scarlet Knights, that class is still a year away from being on campus. This year, the Knights are as thin as you can be up front, with Austin Johnson and freshman Gil Biruta being their biggest players (they're both 6'8"). Jonathan Mitchell will have to play big again this year, and while athletic wing Dane Miller is a very good young player, those two can't carry a team to any more than a few Big East wins by themselves. They will also play hard for Rice, but the depth just isn't there...yet.
The only reason I don't rank the Friars dead last (where I have a hunch they will finish) is that that spot is reserved for DePaul until they prove otherwise. Keno Davis lost a horse down low in Jamine Peterson, the only player to average a double-double last season in the Big East. He's had numerous players get involved with off-court issues and arrests. His second best player last year, Sharaud Curry, graduated. What's left is a developing core of Marshon Brooks, Bilal Dixon, Vincent Council, and freshman Gerald Coleman, but not much else of consequence. Regardless, the Friars were the conference's worst defensive team last season, and if they don't defend, they won't beat anyone. Period.
Well, at least the Demons are on the upswing. It's the very beginning of an upswing, but still, a culture change for this once-proud program was in desperate need. They fired Jerry Wainwright, and hired Oliver Purnell, a coach with a history of turning around struggling programs slowly, but surely. He'll start his tenure with a disadvantage in terms of talent, but who knows- maybe a new coach could be exactly what this team needs to start winning again. The numbers don't lie: 1-35. That's DePaul's conference record over the last two years. Purnell wants to change that, and I think he will, but it won't be immediate.