Big East 2012-13 College Basketball Preview

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Jim Boeheim prepares for farewell tour through conference

<p> Big East 2012-13 College Basketball Preview</p>

The next two years will mark the end of an era for the Big East.

No more Jim Calhoun this season. No more Syracuse and no more Pittsburgh next season. No more Notre Dame in the years to come.

The Big East will expand again next season with basketball powers Memphis and Temple joining, but it’s fair to say the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden may never be the same.

On the farewell tour through the Big East, Syracuse is poised to be among the league’s elite again and Pittsburgh is poised for a rebound.

But the favorite remains Louisville, which reached its first Final Four as a Big East member last season and is poised for another bid this year.

BIG EAST FACTS AND FIGURES BIG EAST SUPERLATIVES
2011-12 regular season champion: Syracuse Player of the Year: Peyton Siva, Louisville
2012 NCAA Tournament teams: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Best Defensive Player: Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall
Georgetown, Louisville*, Marquette, Notre Dame, Syracuse, USF Most Underrated Player: Brandon Triche, Syracuse
New coaches: Kevin Ollie (Connecticut) Newcomer of the Year: Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
Realignment: Lost West Virginia (Big 12)  
*won conference tournament  
ATHLON PRESEASON ALL-BIG EAST TEAM ALL-BIG EAST SECOND TEAM ALL-BIG EAST THIRD TEAM
G Peyton Siva, Louisville G Anthony Collins, USF G Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
G Vincent Council, Providence G D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's G Eli Carter, Rutgers
G Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati G Brandon Triche, Syracuse F C.J. Fair, Syracuse
F Jack Cooley, Notre Dame F Chane Behanan, Louisville F LaDontae Henton, Providence
F Otto Porter, Georgetown F Cleveland Melvin, DePaul C Gorgui Dieng, Louisville

2012-13 BIG EAST CONFERENCE PREVIEW
1. Louisville (30-10, 10-8)
The Cardinals are ranked No. 2 in our preseason rankings: Full Preview


The Cardinals faithful grumbled louder than they had in years after Louisville lost three of its final four games to finish the regular season 22–9. Eight straight postseason victories silenced the complaints and positioned Rick Pitino to win another Big East championship and plan for another big March. Peyton Siva finally figured out how to play winning point guard. Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan understand the requirements of blue-collar Big East basketball as well as any pair of frontcourt players in the league. Here are three factors that will decide if Louisville will reach its considerable potential — health (especially of Wayne Blackshear), 3-point shooting and the maturation of Russ Smith.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Runner-Up

Related: Siva among All-America picks

2. Syracuse (34-3, 17-1)
The Orange is ranked No. 5 in our preseason rankings: Full Preview

Despite losing four players, including three NBA Draft picks, Syracuse will compete for the Big East title in what will be its last year in the conference before leaving for the ACC. The Orange have enough experience in Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, James Southerland and Rakeem Christmas, but the big keys will be two of the team’s younger players. If Michael Carter-Williams can handle the point and DaJuan Coleman can step in and contribute in the middle, the Orange could emerge as a Final Four contender.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Elite Eight

3. Notre Dame (22-12, 13-5)
The Irish are ranked No. 19 in our preseason rankings: Full Preview

Most teams will have difficulty matching up against Notre Dame’s size and depth in the frontcourt. Few will find relief against the backcourt. Mike Brey sees a great opportunity in 2012-13, believing his team can play for a Big East title. He has plenty of options at his disposal, including on the defensive end. Add it all up and Brey can’t help but talk about the possibilities in 2012-13. “We’re talking about a Big East championship and getting back to the Final Four,” Brey says. “Those are really things this program can legitimately talk about.”
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

4. Marquette (27-8, 14-4)
Fifth-year coach Buzz Williams has never shied away from expectations, but he’ll have his work cut out for him this season without reigning Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder and All-Big East guard Darius Johnson-Odom, both of whom are now in the NBA. While Marquette won’t be able to replace the perimeter shooting of Johnson-Odom (77 3-pointers), senior Trent Lockett should nonetheless be a terrific replacement for him in the backcourt. Lockett transferred in from Arizona State, where he averaged 13.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game last year. At 6-5 and 210 pounds, Lockett brings an athletic, physical presence to a talented group of Golden Eagles guards that includes point man Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue. illiams has sent his share of undersized but talented “switchables” — as he likes to call them — to the NBA in Wesley Matthews, Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler and now Crowder. The next in line could be Jamil Wilson, a 6-7, 225-pounder who is arguably the most athletically gifted of the group. After sitting out the 2010-11 season as a transfer from Oregon, the Wisconsin native did a little bit of everything as a sophomore, averaging 7.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and a team-best 1.4 blocks per game. Wilson has definite star potential, and Lockett will have the opportunity to take the reins in his first year with the Golden Eagles.There’s plenty of size, athleticism and versatility on the roster.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

Related: Louisville, Marquette and Rutgers have key transfers

5. Cincinnati (26-11, 12-6)
Cincinnati enters its seventh season under Mick Cronin looking to build on its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2001. The Bearcats no longer have the low-post presence and rebounding ability of four-year mainstay Yancy Gates, but they have one of the top shooting guards in the Big East in Sean Kilpatrick. And senior Cashmere Wright could be poised to emerge as one of the league’s best point guards. With Gates and his big body no longer around, Cronin hopes to use a deep bench and an athletic roster to press and score in transition at every opportunity. There’s a good blend of talent and experience in the backcourt, beginning with Kilpatrick, one of the top 3-point shooters in the Big East last year when he made 37.6 percent from long range. Wright blossomed last year as a junior who learned to blend his playmaking skills with his scoring ability. The frontcourt is the biggest question mark for the Bearcats, who have plenty of options but only a modicum of experience along the front line. Cincinnati has a shot-blocking presence with 6-8 junior Justin Jackson and 6-10 sophomore Kelvin Gaines. Jackson has been an effective player for two years and plays with great energy but must become more polished offensively. Gaines has plenty of athleticism but also needs to refine his offensive skills and learn to stay out of foul trouble.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

6. Pittsburgh (22-17, 5-13)
The uncharacteristic shortcomings of Pittsburgh should be viewed as an aberration, not as a free-fall for coach Jamie Dixon’s program. Precedent tells us Dixon will find a way to reverse the misfortunes of a 2011-12 season that marked the first time in his nine years that Pittsburgh failed to make the NCAA Tournament or to win at least 10 games in the Big East. The rebound should start thanks to newcomers. The Pittsburgh coach landed the highest-rated prospect in program history in 7-footer Steve Adams, viewed by draftniks as a future lottery pick. Newcomers James Robinson, ranked among the top-10 point guards in the Class of 2012, and Trey Zeigler, a talented transfer from Central Michigan, are also expected to enhance a lineup that features three returning starters and seven of the top nine players from a group that jelled en route to the College Basketball Invitational title. Dixon typically eases freshmen into the lineup, but Adams is far from typical. The native of New Zealand is a consensus top-10 recruit who blocks shots, rebounds, is supremely athletic and can score. It is no coincidence that the Panthers went 5–7 after Woodall suffered a groin/abdominal injury early in the season. With leading scorer and former backcourt mate Ashton Gibbs gone, he will be required to facilitate scoring in other areas, notably in the interior, which lacked last season.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done

Related: Pitt’s Adams a freshman to watch

7. USF (22-14, 12-6)
The Bulls have a solid corps of returning veterans, along with the most decorated recruiting class of coach Stan Heath’s six-season tenure. After a vagabond year of playing off-campus, the Bulls will return to a renovated Sun Dome, which is attached to a sparkling practice facility in its first full season of operation. USF’s fortunes should again center around sophomore point guard Anthony Collins, a member of last season’s Big East All-Rookie Team. Collins’ smallish frame scared no one upon first inspection, but his heady instincts and unflappable leadership ultimately became South Florida’s intimidating edge. The Bulls also must replace two key seniors on the inside, but Heath says center Waverly Austin, a 6’11’’ 275-pound junior college transfer, has the makings of an impact newcomer.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done

8. Georgetown (24-9, 12-6)
For the second consecutive year, Georgetown coach John Thompson III is facing the task of replacing three starters. Georgetown will be looking to a host of younger players to fill larger roles this season, as the Hoyas’ roster doesn’t include a senior. Expect sophomores Otto Porter, Greg Whittington, Mikael Hopkins and Jabril Trawick to form the team’s nucleus. Despite the loss of Henry Sims (11.6 ppg, 6.0 rpg) at center, Georgetown’s frontcourt is overflowing with talent and potential. In particular, Porter could be on the verge of a breakout season. The versatile forward started the last seven games of the 2011-12 season. His 9.7 points per game make him the Hoyas’ top returning scorer. His 6.8 rebounds led Georgetown a year ago. The onus is on Markel Starks to take over at the point in his second opportunity at the position. Starks had just 49 assists to go along with 42 turnovers last season. If he stumbles, Thompson will look to incoming freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a 6-3 combo guard who helped Oak Hill (Va.) Academy to a 44–0 record last year. Don’t be fooled by or get too preoccupied with the Hoyas’ losses. There is a lot of talent at Thompson’s disposal. Georgetown is known for producing centers, but Porter could be the next in a long line of versatile forwards that includes Reggie Williams, Dajuan Summers and Jeff Green. The rest of the frontcourt looks more than ready to handle Big East competition. The big issue is the young, unproven backcourt.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done

9. Connecticut (20-14, 8-10)
Two seasons ago, UConn won the program’s third national championship. The retirement of Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun late in the offseason, however, means UConn is surrounded with questions. Assistant coach Kevin Ollie was promoted to head coach on a one-year contract on a team reeling from defections and lacking a chance to play in the Big East and NCAA tournaments due to a substandard Academic Progress Report score. Four key contributors left the team — two transferred and two departed school early for the NBA — leaving gaping holes to fill. That said, UConn’s backcourt should be one of the best in the Big East despite the loss of All-Big East standout Jeremy Lamb. Perimeter play will clearly be the team’s strength and focal point. Creative point guard Shabazz Napier is the team’s most experienced player and the top returning scorer at 13.0 points per game. He’ll continue to drive the Huskies’ offense but also will get an opportunity to play off the ball. Sophomore Ryan Boatright, who lost nine games to NCAA eligibility issues last season, forms the other half of what should be an electrifying backcourt. He gives the Huskies another quick ball-handler, dangerous penetrator and potent offensive weapon. Junior forward Tyler Olander, who averaged just 4.2 points and 3.9 rebounds last season, will be counted on to have a breakout year.

10. St. John’s (13-19, 6-12)
From his unique outsider’s perspective last year, St. John’s coach Steve Lavin saw shortcomings in a ballyhooed eight-player recruiting class that weren’t initially obvious: Not enough of a post presence, not enough perimeter shooters and not enough point guard depth. So he remedied those roster flaws even as he was recovering from prostate cancer surgery, which forced him to miss all but a handful of November games. Lavin, who will back on the bench this season brought in three post players who can help immediately, adding shot-blocking specialist Chris Obekpa in June. He also has Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch, a point guard who will be eligible in the second semester. And he brought in two perimeter threats to a team that was last in the Big East in 3-point field goal percentage (.282). This six-player class should be more than enough to offset the decision by Big East Rookie of the Year Moe Harkless to declare for the NBA after just one season. Obekpa appeared headed to Cincinnati but had a change of heart early in the summer. A top-70 recruit, he averaged 12 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks his final year in high school. His presence enables God’sgift Achiuwa, the lone senior, to slide over to power forward, a better fit for his skill set. The guard rotation looks solid now, led by sophomore D’Angelo Harrison, who averaged 17.0 points and set a school freshman record with 544 points. He was the Johnnies’ only real 3-point threat (36.7 percent) as well. The perimeter woes were addressed with the arrival of 6-6 junior college swingman Marco Bourgault, who shot 42.1 percent on threes last season.
Postseason prediction: NIT

11. Rutgers (14-18, 6-12)

Despite last year’s growing pains, there were two noteworthy accomplishments that hinted at better things to come for Rutgers. One was a pair of upsets of top-10 teams for the only the second time in school history. The other: six Big East victories, the most in six years. With a trio of experienced sophomore guards and plenty of frontcourt depth to compete in the Big East, it’s time for coach Mike Rice to take a big step forward in Year 3. At worst, that means a winning record and an NIT bid. Anything less will have the faithful restless yet again. Because of the decisions by starting forward Gilvydas Biruta and guard Austin Carroll to transfer out, Rice won’t return his entire roster from last year’s all-underclassman squad. But he has experienced guards now. Eli Carter, Myles Mack and Jerome Seagears took Rutgers on the expected roller-coaster ride as freshman guards, with Carter leading the team in scoring at 13.8 (and 3-point attempts at 156) while scoring in double figures 25 times. Seagears emerged as a promising point guard, earning 25 starts and averaging 7.7 points, with the lightning-quick Mack serving as an ideal complement off the bench. As big a blow as it was to lose the rugged Biruta, the only player to start every game last year, Rice’s hope is that 6-9, 245-pound Kansas State transfer Wally Judge will offset the surprising departure of the team’s only reliable post player.
Postseason prediction: NIT

12. Providence (15-17, 4-14)
To Ed Cooley’s credit, he’s working every day to turn Providence’s fortunes around as quickly as possible. Patience, however, is likely needed in Rhode Island. Nowhere is that more evident than with the signing of five-star freshmen Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo. Dunn tore the labrum in his right shoulder and had surgery in July. He’ll be out until late-November, at the earliest. Meanwhile, Ledo was ruled a partial qualifier. He won’t be permitted to play this season, though he will be able to practice. Sidiki Johnson, a 6-8 forward and former top-100 national recruit, spent only a few months at Arizona last fall before transferring at Providence. His active rebounding and live body are two traits the Friars badly need, but Cooley won’t have him until he’s eligible in December. But to the players who will be active from Day One: The most important piece is Vincent Council, a senior from Brooklyn who led the Big East in assists (7.5 apg) last season and is one of the underrated floor leaders in the country. Council is an excellent playmaker on the run and keeps improving his 3-point shooting. He played virtually every minute of every important game for the Friars for the last two seasons and should do so again. The frontcourt leader is LaDontae Henton, a versatile forward who earned Big East All-Rookie honors after averaging 14.3 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds. Providence returns a solid core, but the Friars may not hit their potential until next season.
Postseason prediction: NIT

13. Seton Hall (21-13, 8-10)
Whatever hopes Seton Hall had of being a factor once again in March may have been dashed by a ruling in mid-July. That was when the NCAA denied the appeal of Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs, a Jersey-bred point guard who would have filled the Pirates’ biggest need — and solidified the one position separating this team from being a strong NCAA Tournament candidate. The denial means coach Kevin Willard — despite bolstering his roster with three other key transfers — will have to roll the dice at point guard with either sophomore Freddie Wilson or freshman Tom Maayan. Wilson averaged just 8.1 minutes per game last year; Maayan is coming off ACL knee surgery and wasn’t even able to get back into the gym until mid-summer during his recovery. Beyond the uncertainty at the point — will it be Wilson or Maayan? — Seton Hall’s roster is brimming with the type of perimeter players Willard covets. Foremost among them is 6-6 swingman Fuquan Edwin, who flashed All-Big East ability while averaging 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds a year ago. Edwin has also carved out a reputation as a top-notch defender as well. In the frontcourt, Willard will rely on transfers. Southern Illinois transfer Gene Teague and Georgia Tech transfer Brian Oliver are both in position to start right away.
Postseason prediction: NIT

14. Villanova (15-17, 4-14)
Jay Wright and Villanova didn’t exactly have a year to remember. After seven consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, Villanova plummeted to a a 13th-place finish in the Big East. This on the heels of a ninth-place finish the year before. The team’s two leading scorers, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, both opted to leave school early — which may not have been such a bad thing for fans on the Main Line. While both were talented, their presence never translated into success for the program. Now Wright is hopeful that chemistry and mental fortitude can make up for the loss of Wayns, Cheek and big man Markus Kennedy, who opted to transfer. Wright’s teams have often been guard heavy, with the Wildcats commonly employing four perimeter players on the court at the same time. But this season will be different. Mouphtaou Yarou is back for his senior season and will anchor the middle for the Wildcats. He isn’t a big-time scorer, but he’s an effective rebounder and a capable shot-blocker. Power forward JayVaughn Pinkston started 22 games last season as a redshirt freshman and nearly averaged double-figures. Freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono and Wake Forest transfer Tony Cheannault are the obvious candidates to fill the void at the point. Arcidiacono is a four-star recruit who can run a team and score. Chennault is a Philadelphia native who received a waiver to play immediately. He started 31 games a year ago for the Demon Deacons and averaged 9.0 points and 2.8 assists per game. This team could be improved from a year ago, but it’s tough to see the Cats winning enough in the Big East to warrant an NCAA Tournament invite.

Related: DePaul’s Purnell on the hot seat

15. DePaul (12-19, 3-15)

Oliver Purnell’s third team in Lincoln Park is by far his most experienced. DePaul returns its top four scorers — including junior forward Cleveland Melvin, the Big East’s top returning scorer (17.5 ppg) — and six of its top seven. The Demons feature a solid core of junior leaders — Melvin, guard Brandon Young and forward Moses Morgan — and good depth at the wing spot. Defense and rebounding are chief concerns, but DePaul shouldn’t struggle to put the ball in the basket. Melvin is a proven superstar and the centerpiece of DePaul’s offense, having averaged 16.0 points and 6.3 rebounds during his first two seasons. But he can’t do it all by himself. Morgan joins Melvin up front and should see his minutes increase this season after an efficient sophomore year (9.0 ppg, 19.6 mpg). Although Jeremiah Kelly departs, Purnell feels good about the point guard spot with Young, Worrel Clahar and incoming freshman Durrell McDonald. DePaul could use Young more at the off-guard spot, to take advantage of his scoring (14.5 ppg last season), while rotating the experienced Clahar and McDonald at the point. McDonald also can play shooting guard if needed.

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More previews for the 2012-13 season can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store

Athlon Conference Previews and Power Rankings
3. ACC
4. Big 12
5. SEC
6.
Pac-12

7. Mountain West
8. Atlantic 10

9. West Coast

10. Missouri Valley
11. Conference USA
12. Colonial
13. Sun Belt
14. MAC
15. Horizon

Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
1. Indiana
2. Louisville

3. Kentucky
4. Kansas
5. Syracuse
6. Michigan
7. Arizona
8. Ohio State
9. Duke
10. Michigan State
11. NC State
12. UCLA
13. UNLV
14. North Carolina
15. San Diego State
16. Missouri
17. Baylor
18. Memphis
19. Notre Dame

20. Florida

CBK Conferences: 

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