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Big East Basketball Preseason Predictions 2008-2009

Tomorrow is Big East's media day, which will include coaches picks for the final standings in conference, I am posting my own prediction of finish, as other media writers have done (Louisville Courier Journal, SNY).

The all-league team is a task I'll leave alone for now. Big East basketball logo on courtIt would be a list of the usual suspects, and I am more focused on contemplating how the season will play out.

I tried to consider:

  • teams whose younger players (freshmen or injured/ sick players) have some improvement that seems within reach;
  • the fact that some teams will "hold serve" and others will find themselves losing to a bottom-feeder;
  • that the league no longer has entirely-decimated teams (Cincinnati, St. John's, South Florida, even Seton Hall after Louis Orr);
  • that there will be parity in the middle of the league;
  • that freshmen, even if impressive, have some trouble adjusting to the league;
  • that a team is not suddenly going from a losing record to the NCAAs without significant positive change;
  • that "10 teams in the NCAA Tournament" talk is ridiculous.

I am sure if I quantitatively defined all of those variables, I'd have a slightly different outcome. So if you have comments or think your team is wildly underrated, leave a comment in the box below.

It's basketball season! 

Big East Projections (regular season)
I suppose this is a slight limb - a freshman (Samardo Samuels) will be playing major minutes for the team. But they have some incoming perimeter talent in the young Delk and Swopshire… and if Earl Clark improves, this could be a Final Four team.
This does depend a bit on how they replace Stanley Robinson (and the unrestrained Nate Miles, if he doesn't come back to school). Thabeet is tall and dominant, and if Jerome Dyson is allowed the chance to break a sweat (and hangs on to the ball), he'll make a difference.
Notre Dame
The Fightin' Irish have a tough schedule. And efficiency-wise, they're a better offensive than defensive team, which explains why they couldn't get over the hump and beat Marquette more than 1 of 3 times, or how they couldn't beat U Conn or Louisville. That said, I think this team will be exciting but won't go all the way to the national championship.
The Orange will have to improve on the sieve-like defense, but if Rautins, Devendorf, and the rookies play tough, there's a lot of versatility on this team… and better outside shooting talent. I think Donte Greene, in some ways, was simply awful for this team; and the depth was no help last year. I think this team surprises folks.
Anyone else notice last year's team was not as defensively great than previous Panther models? Team lost some outside shooting (but that can be made up in-house and with rookies); Levance Fields' foot injury is cause for concern, since we've been hearing about it for almost a year. That's what we call "recurring" on this blog.
West Virginia
When they weren't laying the offensive version of a turd in their pants (see: Cincy game), the Mountaineers were pretty consistent. Joe Alexander's great ability was getting his shot off and driving without turnovers - his numbers were not Greatest of All Time. He is replaceable. And I bet Devin Ebanks and John Flowers would love a lot of shots. Ruoff should shoot more. The defense should be better after a year under Huggins' system. But this team could be as low as 9th.
I'm giving the Wildcats credit for having a lot of talent, one year older and more experienced. Corey Fisher should consider shooting a wee bit less, but they had some good games at the end of the year. Really, this is the pick that's going to bite me in the rear - they could be lower, they could be higher. If the shots fall and the forwards play well, this team will be closer to the top than some think.
The Golden Eagles will be smaller this year, but senior laden. But there is a lot of effective size in the conference… I think this is a year where Marquette's lack of size catches up to them. Relatively. They will still cause chaos on defense, get their deflections, and disrupt teams.
I place Georgetown here knowing full well that there will be a logjam in the middle of the conference's records. The Hoyas could finish 6th as well; but I place three more veteran squads in front of them, especially since no one quite knows how different they will look from the Hibbert teams. Not sure that they will make the Big Dance, unless they make some noise against Duke and a few conference foes.
Put a hand up, Frairs! Play some defense! Body up! They have shooters and they have Geoff McDermott. They weren't as bad as they played last year… I think they will be a borderline NCAA team, much more likely NIT.
The Bearcats could be in for quite a rise. However, they were 13-18 last year, played a number of seniors, and the offense and the defense were not particularly good. Though they were better than St. John's and Rutgers on offense. Deonta Vaughn took a lot of shots last year, will he defer to the freshmen and sophomores? But if any team could rise into the higher reaches of the conference, it could be the Bearcats, through a combination of Larry Davis, Yancy Gates, and Alvin Mitchell becoming competent.
St. John's
The team will miss Larry Wright but he was not a huge factor in many of the conference games - he was picking bench splinters out of his backside. I think Boothe's speed and non-shooting is better for this team's offensive continuity, and if the defense can reach the effectiveness of previous Norm Roberts teams, and if the team stops turning the ball over... they could have their usual "upset a good team" year that keeps the coaching staff in Queens. As I always say when talking about the Red Storm, there are a lot of "if's."
Good defense. Terrible offense with upperclassmen who never learned to JUST SAY NO to some shots. Chandler may get better… but Jaron Griffin should just stop shooting. I smell a management problem in integrating talented freshmen with decent sophomores, a defense-only junior and seniors who aren't world-beaters.
Dar Tucker is awesome. Mac Koshwal might need work, but he plays like a man. What about everyone else? I don't know, and DePaul doesn't know either. Will Jabari Currie play point? Mike Bizoukas? Will Walker? Like any other team in this league, they could rise up, but they also have so many wild cards it's not worth betting on.
Seton Hall
Last year they got steals, but couldn't rebound, didn't keep their opponents shooting percentages low, and they're kind of short, unless they play Davis and Garcia, who can't keep up (Garcia has recurring knee problems). They're down to 8-9 players (depending on Melvyn Oliver)! There's a feud between coach and AD. Recipe for disaster.
South Florida
People are excited about Dominique Jones and the incoming talent. But Kentrell Gransberry took 27% of the shots. Ajayi and the junior college transfers aren't good enough to match that efficiency, so who's going to take those shots? The point is simply that the team will have to play a different way, which may take the ball out of Dominique Jones' hands. And even when Mike Mercer's available second semster... this team is low on talent right now. They may be closer to not being the cellar but this year, they're keeping an eye on the wines. They might pass that off to Seton Hall, St. John's, or Providence. Or DePaul. Heck, a bad chemistry year and Rutgers could be looking for the cellar lights.
Preseason Player of the Year
DeJuan Blair Yeah. I said it. Not Harangody. Is he good enough to win repeat years? Are the defenses of the Big East not going to find a way to slow him down? DeJuan Blair has a second year and he is an incredible talent, he would get my vote.
Freshman of the Year
Samardo Samuels He's good enough and he'll get the needed playing time. Kemba Walker will log many minutes, but AJ Price is running the show, if his ACL allows.