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Early look at the Big East: Pitino thinks St. John's will top the Big East

The Big East's coaches pre-ranked the men's basketball teams in May. And Rick Pitino's pick is off the reservation.

According to Katz' article (linked below), the Big East coaches voted on the rankings of the men's basketball teams is to place said teams into tiers. Once in tiers, the team's repeat opponents (the 3 teams they play twice in the 18-game conference season) are selected. Teams on the bottom get two lower-tier teams and one upper-tier team; teams on top get one lower-tier team and 2 upper teams.

So the placement matters a bit. It's easier to reel off some wins with a surprise team near the bottom playing other lowly-regarded squads. It's not the hugest deal; a good team can find wins. But the eyebrow raiser was who Pitino thought would be on top. See what Rick Pitino said about St. John's and Cincinnati, below the fold.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino admitted he gave the Red Storm and new coach Steve Lavin a first-place vote May 14. "I was debating between St. John's, Pittsburgh, Villanova and Cincinnati, but I didn't want to put that on Mick [Cronin, Pitino's former assistant] so I went with St. John's."

Pitino told Wednesday that he was sticking with St. John's, saying in a text: "Nine seniors. Everyone but Pitt and Villanova lost key players."

St. John's was picked in the ballot to finish anywhere from first to 13th while Cincinnati's range spread from fourth to 13th. Coaches couldn't vote for their own teams.

- "Big East announces repeat opponents," ESPN/ Andy Katz Article

Thanks, Rick Pitino. He thinks the Red Storm are first place! Best in show! That's charitable of you to both Mick Cronin and Steve Lavin, I suppose. Or not; he knows well that there is a marked difference between Pittsburgh/ Villanova and Cincinnati/ St. John's. I think the Big East's coaches are smart enough to know that seniority may breed success... and success is much more of an indicator of further success.

A conspiracy theorist might think that he's trying to move teams up to give Louisville a slightly easier schedule (even though he can't vote on his own team). I don't go that far, but I do smell some gamesmanship.

More interesting to note is the Pitino/ Lavin kerfuffle in 2001. It was a rough time; the UCLA fans seemed to be turning on Steve Lavin and his inconsistent Bruin team. Then-UCLA Athletic Director Pete Dalis had conversations with Rick Pitino - just resigned from his post as the president and coach of the Boston Celtics. Dalis denied the conversation, then said the conversations happened, but didn't concern Lavin's job. Lavin responded by calling Pitino an "opportunist," "trying to capitalize on a tremendous opportunity."

Pitino, for his part, called Lavin to let him know he wasn't looking at the UCLA job, and responded to the opportunist claim with "sometimes, if you don't know the facts, you react.... If I was in his shoes, and I was his age, I would have reacted the same way. I wasn't upset about what Steve said."

Of course, that drama was 9 years ago, water under the bridge. Pitino, perhaps, believes that the St. John's team has potential. Remember that they suddenly figured out how to score at the end of the season, efficiently dispatching U Conn and dismantling Louisville midseason, among other wins. Overall, the Johnnies struggled to win and score, but once they got rolling, they weren't terrible. There is breakout potential in this team.

Check back for more Big East preview notes all week.