NCAA: Pittsburgh (1 seed, lost to Butler in the third round); Notre Dame (2 seed, lost to Florida State in the third round); UConn (3 seed, National Champions); Syracuse (3 seed, lost to Marquette in the third round); Louisville (4 seed, lost to Morehead State); West Virginia (5 seed, lost to Kentucky in the third round); Cincinnati (6 seed, lost to UConn in the third round); Georgetown (6 seed, lost to VCU in the second round); St. John's (6 seed, lost to Gonzaga in the second round); Villanova (9 seed, lost to George Mason in the second round); Marquette (11 seed, lost to North Carolina in the Sweet 16)
1. Kemba Walker was last season's college basketball MVP- he simply did it all for UConn, but Jim Calhoun will give a different look as the Huskies go for the repeat in 2011-12. Shabazz Napier will have the job of initiating the offense, creating when things break down, but he will not be asked to handle anywhere near the same size of the load that Walker handled. Instead, he will defer to classmate Jeremy Lamb, a tremendous performer in the clutch last season, and one of the favorites for pre-season player of the year in the conference. During the regular-season (30 games), Lamb averaged 9.6 points on 46 percent shooting from the field, but during the post-season (11 games), Lamb became a much larger force on the offensive end with his killer mid-range jumper, averaging 15.3 points on 54.9 percent from the floor. He'll be even more dangerous with posts Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond.
2. Syracuse beat up on a poor non-conference schedule and carried momentum into the heart of the Big East schedule before forgetting to defend the perimeter and hit the glass; during a four-game stretch, the Orange gave up 33 offensive rebounds and 33 3-point makes. The biggest weakness becomes even more of a hole as All-Big East second teamer Rick Jackson (13.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 2.5 blocks) graduates. Several bodies will be counted on to replace Jackson's impact, but the key to this year's team is their deep and talented backcourt- highlighted by Scoop Jardine (led Big East in assists, first on team in steals) and wing Kris Joseph (team's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder).
3. After failing to lose consecutive games all season long, Louisville lost back-to-back games in the postseason, leading to a opening-round exit in the NCAA Tournament for the second-year in a row. There's only one major loss from one of the nation's top defensive teams and that's leading-scorer Preston Knowles. But Rick Pitino has options with the development of guards Kyle Kuric, Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, and freshman Wayne Blackshear. Without much inside beef, Gorgui Dieng, a part-time starter, will play a huge role if he can stay out of foul trouble.
4. Replacing Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee will not be as difficult as some Pittburgh fans may think; Ashton Gibbs, the Big East's top returning scorer at 16.8 points per game, will handle the ball more and got plenty of practice with Team USA this summer, but Jamie Dixon has the luxury of bringing last season's sixth man, Travon Woodall into the starting lineup to run the offense. The hope is that former high school all-americans, Dante Taylor and Khem Birch, along with Nasir Robinson can replace the interior toughness and rebounding that is missing with the graduation of McGhee. This year's team must prove they are better than a third-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.
5. Marquette's guard-laden lineup got the better of some teams last season with their ability to get out and run and knock down shots from the perimeter. Surprisingly, however, the Golden Eagles were below-average in shooting and defending the 3-point line. Darius Johnson-Odom, the team's leading scorer last season at 15.8 per game, made a team-high 71 3s, while sophomore Vander Blue and senior forward Jae Crowder will have to improve their accuracy. Buzz Williams has depth in the frontcourt bringing in two former Top 100 recruits (Jamail Jones, freshman and Jamil Wilson, sophomore transfer).
6. Behind Yancy Gates, Cincinnati won 26 games, the first time the Bearcats exceeded 20 wins under coach Mick Cronin. Granted a 15-0 mark in the non-conference schedule was not impressive given the teams they faced, Cincinnati kept it real by going 11-7 in Big East play. Along with Gates, four starters return, including a young sophomore to keep your eye on- wing Sean Kilpatrick- the team's third leading scorer last season despite playing in only half the Bearcats' action.
7. West Virginia has a breakout star in the waiting, but then again, we've listed him here the past two seasons as well. If the Mountaineers want to maintain their recent success, Kevin Jones, will need to develop into the versatile inside-outside scorer he can be. Jones saw his numbers drop across the board last season to 13.1 points and 7.5 rebounds a game with percentages in the dumps.
8. Steve Lavin's second year at St. John's comes with as much hype as his rookie season with the Red Storm, but this song will be sung to a much different tune; he was gift-wrapped a senior-laden 2010-11 team with ten players in their last year of eligibility. Lavin not only has to replace those roster spots, but that of Dwayne Polee who transferred out. The result? A top recruiting class featuring six players eligible to play right away and another two up in the air. It's a lot of raw talent, but not a lot of experience. The Johnnies have the potential to be much higher in this conference or much lower.
9. Villanova put forth its second straight stinker down the stretch- losing 7 of their final 12 in 2009-10 and 11 of their last 16 last season. Top scoring guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes have graduated, but there is plenty of talent still on board, especially in the backcourt with potential all-conference point Maalik Wayns and solid young guards Dominic Cheek, James Bell and Tyrone Johnson. Mouphtaou Yarou is a dominating force at center, the Wildcats lone true post-presence, and could go as far as Yarou will take them.
10. Running one of the most efficient offenses last season, Ben Hansbrough handled the point for Notre Dame, burnt time off the clock and on most possessions, the Fighting Irish had a high-percentage shot; and while Hansbrough and two other starters may be gone, wing Tim Abromaitis is a All-Big East possibility and tremendous scoring threat with his size and versatility.
11. Providence is a program on the way despite the fact that the Friars are losing the Big East's top scorer, Marshon Brooks. But point guard Vincent Council leads three other returning starters in hopes of getting the team out of the cellar; in the up-tempo offense, the junior guard tied for the conference lead in assists last season.
12. JTIII and Georgetown loss over half of his team's scoring with graduating seniors Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Julian Vaughn. Slender guard Jason Clark will have dual-responsibilities in taking over for Chris Wright's distribution and court vision and Austin Freeman's scoring. The key to moving on up in the standings will rely on the development of wing Hollis Thompson, a 45.7 percent shooter from behind the arc last season.
13. Coach Mike Rice exceeded expectations in his first season at Rutgers in making the Scarlett Knights a well-rounded team, but still has ways of improvement to make them a respectable team in the Big East. Forwards Dane Miller and Gilvydas Biruta are one of the more underrated duos in the conference, and will face some stiff competition from freshman power forward Kadeem Jack.
14. With volume-scorer Jeremy Hazell in the lineup for just 18 games, the Pirates of Seton Hall were one of the worst offensive teams in the country last season. What makes matters worse is second-leading scorer, Jeff Robinson, has graduated. Former double-double machine Herb Pope comes back for yet another season to build on the Pirates late season progress (wins over St. John's and Marquette, losing a heart-breaker to Rutgers in OT in the Big East tournament).
15. Oliver Purnell may have the toughest job in the country at the helm of DePaul as the Blue Demons not only haven't been above .500 in five seasons, but they are 35-90 (.280) in that span, losing more games than the year before over the last four. If Purnell can get his young studs to progress, DePaul should win more conference games than the past three years combined (2). Freshman Brandon Young (12.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists), and classmate Cleveland Melvin (14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, .522 field-goal percentage), the only unanimous rookie-team selection, are the two building blocks of the future.
16. You won't win many games with an offense as poor as USF's- turning the ball over nearly ¼ of their possessions and making perimeter jumpers at one of the lowest accuracy marks in the country. Not exactly anyone keys for success. The good news is that NBA prospect Gus Gilchrist, is back for his senior year, despite not much progress from his sophomore to junior seasons. The bad news is that USF's starting guards and shooters all return giving the team a bleak output yet again.
Top Ten NBA Prospects:
Andre Drummund, Connecticut: Top 3 overall
A late-addition to the conference in his decision to reclassify, but Drummond is a force-to-be-reckoned with an immediately becomes one of the best bigs in the country.
Jeremy Lamb, Connecticut: Lottery-to-mid 1st round
Last season's late-season success story takes over as the focal point of UConn's offense from the perimeter, where Lamb is a proven lethal threat.
Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova: Late 1st round - early 2nd round
Yarou is a big, physical competitor with NBA size, but scouts are still waiting for his offensive and defensive games to come along.
Nurideen Lindsey, St. John's: 2nd Round
Lindsey will handle St. John's youth by taking over as floor general, but this explosive athlete is a developing point guard and scary scorer off the dribble.
Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: 2nd Round
His high school production was off the charts as he uses his size, explosive athleticism and toughness to score off the dribble and crash the glass.
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh: 2nd Round
He will adapt more of a hybrid point guard role than the spot-up shooter that he served as last season and if he can succeed, he will find his way on a roster.
Kris Joseph, Syracuse: 2nd Round
Joseph can be as high as a late-first rounder or as late as the end of the 2nd round depending on his ability to improve as a perimeter threat.
Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette: Late 2nd Round
With little development between his freshman and sophomore years, Johnson-Odom should not be underestimated with his ability to score from deep and defend with aggressiveness.
Khem Birch, Pittsburgh: Late 2nd Round
Raw offensively and still developing physically, Birch has the frame and athleticism to make scouts drool.
DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut: Late 2nd Round
Another late-commit to the Huskies, this wing has the length and athleticism to play in the League, but he's a bit of a tweener at this point in time.
New Places (key losses to teams by way of, transfer or early-entry to the NBA):
Kemba Walker, Connecticut: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Terrence Jennings, Louisville: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Dwayne Poole, St. John's: Transferred to USC
New Faces (key additions to teams by way of transfer or incoming freshman):
Chane Behanan, Louisville: Undersized, Behanan has a thick frame and fancy footwork to face-up from mid-range or put the ball on the floor to get to the rim or just a quick spin move to score in the post.
Khem Birch, Pittsburgh: See Above
Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: See Above
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Christmas has the difficult job of replacing Syracuse's Rick Jackson, but he won't do it alone. He has promise with his athleticism and size, but he isn't the short-term answer for Jackson's production and presence.
DeAndre Daniels, Connecticut: See Above
Andre Drummond, Connecticut: See Above
Nurideen Lindsey, St. John's: See Above
Dom Pointer, St. John's: Just another talent body in the Red Storm's loaded recruiting class, Pointer gives the previously-highlighted Lindsey an exceptional athlete to hit streaking on the break.
Otto Porter, Georgetown: The lanky forward is tremendously skilled for a man of his size, but his lack of strength and lack of a consistent threat from the perimeter is concerning.
Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse: The shooting guard joins a talented backcourt, but Carter-Williams will earn a spot in the rotation with his scoring, especially the deep range on his jumper.
Ten Non-Conference Games To Watch
St. John's @ Kentucky (SEC - Big East Challenge) - December 1
Vanderbilt @ Louisville (SEC - Big East Challenge) - December 2
Florida @ Syracuse (SEC - Big East Challenge) - December 2
Villanova @ Missouri - December 6
Marquette vs. Washington (Jimmy V Classic) - December 6