As Jamie Dixon’s Pitt Panthers prepare to open Big East Conference play on Monday, it’s a good time to take a look at the conference as a whole.
Syracuse and Louisville entered the season as prohibited favorites, but as usual there is no shortage of contenders- including the Panthers in their final season in the conference.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the 2012-13 Big East Conference.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Louisville (11-1): The Cardinals played all of December without one of their most important players in center Gorgui Dieng. He will be back for the Kentucky game and along with Player of the Year candidate Peyton Siva, the Cardinals remain the favorite. They are dangerous and found another weapon with the emergence of shooting guard Russ Smith. His extraordinary quickness has made him productive since the start of the season, but against the team’s three major opponents he has been among the most prominent Cardinals. They have flaws, most notably consistent perimeter shooting, but Rick Pitino’s team always finishes strong and they are a threat to reach another Final Four.
2. Syracuse (10-1): The Orange lost Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo off last year’s Big East regular-season championship team, but they have plenty of young talent to make another title push. Michael Carter-Williams is a potential breakout star at guard, while James Southerland and C.J. Fair should make an impact at the forward spots. However off the court drama follows this team around. Last year it was Melo, this year it has been Carter-Williams who has already had an incident at a department store. But Syracuse has depth inside, versatility, a sturdy senior in Brandon Triche and, in Carter-Williams, the most creative point guard in college ball. Once again they are a threat to a National Championship.
3. Notre Dame (12-1): The Irish have one of their best rosters in Mike Brey’s tenure. Jack Cooley is a double-double threat on a nightly basis and they have a capable perimeter duo in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Brey has all five starters back from a season ago and now we will see if that experience can actually do something in the tournament for a change.
4. Pittsburgh (12-1): The Panthers will be back in contention after last year’s disappointing season. They have outstanding depth in both the backcourt and frontcourt. Some have complained about a lack of dominance from freshman center Steven Adams, but his presence alone has made a major difference. Adams ability to hold down the middle has empowered power forward Talib Zanna to have a breakout season to this point. However the Panthers’ best freshman has been point guard James Robinson, who gives the team a two-point guard attack that allows Tray Woodall to function as more of a scorer. The team also has been successful going small with 6-6 J.J. Moore at power forward. Add to that the versatile Lamar Patterson and this Pitt team has talent and will be a factor in the conference. The biggest difference is they have a true leader in Woodall, something they didn’t have last season with Ashton Gibbs.
5. Cincinnati (12-0): Yancy Gates is gone, so the Bearcats will play at a faster pace and rely heavily on the veteran backcourt of Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. They are one of only six undefeated teams and have a handful of big wins so far. They have no inside presence, which is something that could hurt them inside the conference, but this could be the best defensive team in the Big East, which will win them a ton of games.
6. Georgetown (10-1): Georgetown is ranked like they always are at this point in the season, but prior to this season they haven’t done anything to earn anyone’s confidence after the non-conference season. That could change this year. Power forward Otto Porter is a star and can lead the Hoyas places. He is a versatile offensive player who can shoot, pass, score and, in tight spaces, create his own shot and as usual, the Hoyas are a terrific passing team. If freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera can earn an increased role, he can give the team another creative player who can create his own shot. As usual, Georgetown has talent. Could this be the year that they put it all together? That could be difficult considering that Georgetown has no seniors and only four juniors and lost their top three scorers from a season go.
7. Marquette (8-3): Who knows what to make of this Marquette team? One thing I do know is that every time you count the Golden Eagles out, they turn out a couple stars and have a big year. They played almost all preseason without sophomore Todd Mayo, who has since been reinstated. If Marquette is going to make noise, Mayo has to be very good and some other pieces have to fall into place. The biggest question is who will replace the scoring of Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, who combined for 35.8 points per game a season ago. That leaves Davante Gardner (9.5 ppg) as the team’s leading returning scorer, so Buzz Williams is going to have to find offense somewhere.
8. Connecticut (9-2): Jim Calhoun retired and there was a mass exodus of players after the Huskies were hit with NCAA sanctions. They did beat Michigan State, but haven’t really played that tough of a schedule since. You have to feel bad for Kevin Ollie because he really doesn’t have much to work with and with U Conn ineligible for postseason play, where will the motivation come from? Shabazz Napier is back and is the top returning scorer after putting in 13.0 points per game last season. He also led the team in assists (5.8 apg) and will be relied on heavily to take on a leadership role and keep a largely inexperienced team competitive. Ryan Boatright will also have to do some big things in the backcourt for the Huskies to compete. One thing is for sure and that is they are an awful rebounding team, ranking 323rd in the nation so far.
9. South Florida (7-3): Can the Bulls build off their tournament success from a season ago? If they do, Stan Heath will have to find some more offense to go along with a very good defense. Anthony Collins is a consistent distributor that Heath will again lean on. Collins may have a few more scorers on the wings to set up this season. Freshman Javontae Hawkins is heralded as a real scoring threat and junior-college transfer Musa Abdul-Aleem will also be in the mix with his ability to score. The Bulls lost a lot up front with the departure of Augustus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr. The pair dominated inside on defense and those coming in to replace them will need to do the same.
10. St. Johns (8-4): The Red Storm are very young….again. But they have Steve Lavin back on the sidelines and that is huge for the program. The Red Storm had their problems scoring a season ago, but also had issues stopping the opposition. Leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison will help with the scoring after setting the school’s freshman scoring record a season ago. However the departure of Moe Harkless (15.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg) who bolted for the NBA after just one season hurts big time. Phil Greene won’t be able to replace Harkless’ production while also running the point but needs to step up in scoring. Other than that, the Red Storm have talent but should experience some growing pains.
11. Rutgers (8-2): Mike Rice’s squad was extremely young last season and remains so this season with seven sophomores on the roster. Those young players will have to grow up quickly if Rice wants to get Rutgers out of the wave of mediocrity the Scarlet Knights have been riding the last few seasons. Scoring more effectively could help in that regard after the Scarlet Knights ranked second to last in points per game (65.5) last season. Eli Carter was the only player on the squad that scored in double figures consistently and luckily for Rice he is back this season. But similar to St. John’s, the Scarlet Knights will experience some growing pains with such a young roster.
12. Villanova (8-3): It is not normal to see a Jay Wright coached team at the bottom of the standings, but it could be another long season after losing a school record 19 games last year. Always a backcourt dominated team, when you can’t shoot well, you have trouble winning and that is the case with the Wildcats. Gone are leading scorers Maalik Wayns (17.6 ppg) and Dominic Cheek (12.5 ppg) and someone has to replace that production. Unfortunately there are question marks all around. Wright brought Wake Forest-transfer Tony Chennault in to take over the point guard role and Ty Johnson could also warrant a look. James Bell will need to be a better scorer this season, while the addition of talented recruit Ryan Arcidiacono will also keep the backcourt stocked but it may not be as talented as some ‘Nova backcourts of the past. Up front, Mouphtaou Yarou is a force but there is very little around him.
13. Providence (8-3): Providence has played most of their early schedule without star guard Vincent Council, who led the league in assists a year ago. He is a sleeper for Big East Player of the Year if the Friars are somehow competitive. Council needs players to pass the ball to though and he has some help in the backcourt, especially from Bryce Cotton, who is a good spot-up shooter but can create for himself as well. Kris Dunn won’t be ready to go until December after shoulder surgery, but is a solid option when he is back. For all its potential in the backcourt, there is nothing much up front. But Friars’ coach Ed Cooley is starting to get some talent.
14. Seton Hall (10-2): It will be tough for the Pirates to replace their two biggest strengths from a season ago in point guard Jordan Theodore (16.1 ppg, 6.6 apg) and Herb Pope (15.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg). They have a glaring hole at the point but do have a couple decent wing players. Fuquan Edwin is a fantastic athlete that can both defend and contribute on offense and will assume the role of go-to-scorer. Iona-transfer Kyle Smyth has a great outside shot and is a dangerous threat from the perimeter. But given what Kevin Willard currently has on the roster, replacing Theodore and Pope will be next to impossible.
15. DePaul (9-3): One of these years DePaul will become a decent conference team. Someone could come out of nowhere like South Florida did a season ago, but if it is going to be the Blue Demons, they must get better defensively after surrendering a league-worst 76.7 points per game last year. However they are pretty deep and have some athletes. Brandon Young was an effective scorer and passer, but he will be expected to score more and get his teammates involved. Worrel Clahar adds depth to the backcourt and instant offense from the perimeter. Durell McDonald was the cream of the recruiting crop and Jamee Crockett can jump out of the gym and has the ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor. The frontcourt houses the squad’s leading scorer from last season in Cleveland Melvin. The junior forward scored 17.5 points per game and also ripped down 7.4 boards a contest. The Blue Demons have the athletes to compete but they have to show that they can win as well.
First Team All-Conference
G- Peyton Siva, SR., Louisville
G- Sean Kilpatrick, JR., Cincinnati
G- Michael Carter-Williams, SO., Syracuse
F- Otto Porter, SO., Georgetown
C- Gorgui Dieng, SO., Louisville
Player of the Year
Peyton Siva, Louisville: The best player on what could be the best team in the conference. Siva has to be the early leading candidate. The final two months of his junior season was outstanding. If he repeats that this season, the Cardinals could make back-to-back Final Four’s.
Newcomer of the Year
Steven Adams, Pittsburgh: He may be under some heat for not instantly producing like a superstar and may not be the best freshman on Pitt’s team right now, but Adams presence and his length will impact the game more than any other freshman.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Kilpatrick can light it up, but he’s not just a shooter, he is a pure scorer. But when he’s connecting from behind the arc he can be lethal.
Best Post Player
Jack Cooley, Notre Dame: Guys that can score consistently with their back to the basket are becoming rare in today’s game, but Cooley is a throwback to traditional post play.
Gorgui Dieng, Louisville: He could be the Cardinals most important player. The 6’11” center averaged 3.17 blocks per game as a sophomore and altered countless more shots. Dieng could be the best interior defender in the country.
Cincinnati: Last year they had a post presence, but this season is different and the Bearcats will live and die by their athletic backcourt of Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. They get the slight nod over Notre Dame, who has an excellent guard combo of their own.
Louisville: In addition to Dieng the Cardinals have some other weapons too. Chane Behanan is a big-bodied, athletic power forward who can score in the post and plays solid defense. Luke Hancock is a playmaker who can play either forward spot and freshman Montrezl Harrell is an athletic rebounder who can run the floor.
Top NBA Prospect
Steven Adams, Pittsburgh: This is long-term thinking. Adams may not be the best prospect right now, but within time he will be. He has length and athleticism and a high basketball IQ. Once the freshman polishes a few things, NBA scouts will be drooling over him.
Best Freshmen Class
Pittsburgh: With Adams and James Robinson both in the starting lineup, the Panthers boast a pair of freshman who could have a positive impact. No other team can boast that.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers will bounce back from a disappointing season last year and while they may not contend for the Big East title, they will be right in the mix and should be in play to earn a double bye in the Big East Tournament.
Coach on the Hot Seat
Kevin Ollie, Connecticut: Ollie is in a very tough situation and it could be a challenge to keep the Huskies motivated with nothing to play for. He has a year to show what he can do, but unfortunately he isn’t in the best of situations.
Teams to Make NCAA Tournament
Eight: Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Marquette, St. Johns
Regular Season Champion
Big East Tournament Champion
Photo Credit: Louisville