November 2, 2006

Big East Preview: Season of change

Preseason Top 25
All-Big East Team
The College Basketball Wire

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No conference may be undergoing more change than the Big East - at least in terms of personnel.

A season after expanding to 16 teams and having a record eight reach the NCAA Tournament, nearly every squad looks different much different.

Eighteen of the top 20 scorers are gone. Thirteen teams lost their leading scorer. Connecticut and West Virginia lost five starters apiece.

However, all the departed players are being replaced by an overwhelming amount of talent.

Connecticut landed one of the nation's biggest and best recruiting classes, an eight-man group that ranked No. 3 in Rivals.com's 2006 team rankings. UConn's incoming class includes five players that received at least four stars from Rivals.com.

Big East Predictions
1. Pittsburgh (NCAA)
2. Louisville (NCAA)
3. Georgetown (NCAA)
4. Marquette (NCAA)
5. Connecticut (NCAA)
6. DePaul (NCAA)
7. Syracuse (NCAA)
8. St. John's (NIT)
9. Villanova (NIT)
10. Cincinnati (NIT)
11. Providence (NIT)
12. Seton Hall
13. Notre Dame
14. Rutgers
15. West Virginia
16. South Florida
All-Big East Team
Louisville also boasts a top-10 class, complete with four top-100 prospects.

Villanova (six) and West Virginia (seven) combined to sign 13 recruits. Cincinnati put together a seven-man class as well, full of five junior college transfers.

Syracuse is one of the few programs to return a veteran-laden squad, but its best player may be a freshman. Five-star guard Paul Harris was selected the league's preseason rookie of the year by the coaches.

The Big East also welcomes three new coaches, Bobby Gonzalez at Seton Hall, Fred Hill at Rutgers and Mick Cronin at Cincinnati.

Gonzalez and Cronin both have previous head-coaching experience in the mid-major ranks - at Manhattan and Murray State, respectively. Hill has been a lifelong assistant, working on Big East staffs at Rutgers, Seton Hall and Villanova.

Find out what kind of impact all the newcomers will have in our 2006-07 Big East preview.

Rivals.com 2006-07 Big East Preview
Team on the rise: DePaul. The Blue Demons don't have to worry about missing the Big East Tournament again. They could be sweating out an NCAA Tournament bid come March. Four double-digit scores are back, including guard Sammy Mejia (15.1 ppg), one of the nation's most underrated players. Wilson Chandler (10.6 ppg), one of the nation's top young big men, also returns this season. Expect more improvement in 2007-08. Coach Jerry Wainwright and his staff have landed commitments from a pair of top-30 high school standouts, (Darquavis Tucker and Nayal Koshwal).
Team on the decline: West Virginia. Coach John Beilein said that "some teams are reloading and some are rebuilding" at the Big East media day last week. The Mountaineers fall firmly in the later category. All the key players who carried the school to back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 are gone. Unlike most of the league's other premier programs, West Virginia didn't bring in any four- or five-star recruits. Beilein is a master at getting his players to overachieve, and his 1-3-1 defense will continue to cause problems. However, the Mountaineers don't have the personnel to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
Coach on the rise: Norm Roberts, St. John's. This former Bill Self assistant took over a program that won one Big East game in 2004. Two years later, they look poised to finish in the middle of the pack. All the starters are back from a team that won five league games, including a 55-50 triumph over Pittsburgh. Daryll Hill looks ready to return to the form that made him a 20-point per game scorer as a sophomore.
Coach on the hot seat: Mike Brey, Notre Dame: If the Irish can't find a way to win close games soon, Brey will probably be spending next season as an assistant. The program is coming off three consecutive trips to the NIT and an agonizing 2005-06 season that included five losses in overtime. Notre Dame was rarely blown out, losing 14 games by an average of 4.4 points.
Best offensive player: Dominic James, Marquette. This sophomore point guard used his tremendous quickness to average 15.3 points per game as the Golden Eagles' second offensive option last season. What can he do as the No. 1 option? We are about to find out this season. With Steve Novak's 17.5 points per game gone, the Eagles are counting on James and his deep arsenal of offensive skills to carry the scoring load.
Best 3-point shooter: Ronald Ramon, Pittsburgh. Ramon didn't take enough attempts from 3-point land last season to be considered one of the league's top long-distance shooters, but that should change. With the clutch-shooting Carl Krauser gone, Ramon will get the green light a lot more. That is bad news for anyone playing the Panthers. The junior hit 50 percent of his 3-pointers in conference games (32 of 63) and 41 percent overall (49 for 118).
Best defensive player: Roy Hibbert, Georgetown and Aaron Gray, Pittsburgh. These intimidating 7-footers force opponents to change their approach on attacking the basket. Neither are tremendous shot blockers, Hibbert averaged 1.6 blocks per game last season and Gray swatted 1.4 per game. However, these two big men created countless missed shots. They also give opposing players less space to maneuver in the lane. Hibbert lost 15 pounds in the offseason, and is in the best shape of his life.
Best player you don't know yet: Daryll Hill, St. John's. Meet one of the nation's best pure scorers. This 6-foot senior guard led Big East with 20.7 points per game two seasons ago, but was limited to 16 games last season because of a knee injury. Now that Hill is healthy and playing on the best team of his college career, he should finally start getting some of the recognition he deserves.
Deepest bench: Pittsburgh. Panthers coach Jamie Dixon will have several lineups to choose from, even if a key player or two goes down with an injury. Seven Panthers who played at least 15 minutes a game last season are back, and all have starting experience. With the addition of East Carolina transfer Mike Cook, who averaged 15.5 points per game two seasons ago, the Panthers have enough bodies to physically wear down opponents.
Impact newcomer: Jerome Dyson, Connecticut. Syracuse's five-star guard Paul Harris is probably the best freshman in the conference, but he joins a veteran-laden team with four starters. Dyson joins a squad that lost five starters and their top seven scorers. The Huskies will need the powerful combo guard to provide scoring immediately, and he possesses the strength and skills to do just that.
Freshman sleeper: Eugene Harvey, Seton Hall. New Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez got off to a solid start when he won a big recruiting battle to land this four-star point guard from Newark, N.J., in the late signing period. A good playmaker who can ignite an offense, Harvey gives Gonzalez someone he can build his program around for many years to come.
News and notes: This will be the last season that all Big East teams don't play each other at least once. The league is moving to an 18-game league schedule next season Connecticut's 7-foot-2 freshman HaSheem Thabeet was recently ruled eligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse and could start immediately Georgetown freshman guard Jeremiah Rivers is the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers . Indiana transfer Patrick Ewing, Jr., the son of the former Georgetown and NBA star, is eligible for Georgetown after sitting out a full season Louisville freshman center Derrick Caracter has dropped more than 40 pounds and is down to 275 ... Syracuse will not leave the state of New York until Jan. 7 when it makes a road trip to Marquette UConn freshman Stanley Robinson and Georgetown freshman DaJuan Summers each helped the United States win a gold medal in the FIBA U-18 Championships in San Antonio in July . Connecticut is attempting to stretch its remarkable record of leading the nation in blocks to six consecutive seasons This will be the 25th year the Big East holds its postseason tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It is the longest running tournament at one venue.

Rivals.com Preseason All-Big East Team



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