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The Big East aims to remain a basketball powerhouse

Is it possible the Big East is falling off the map? Not according to Commissioner Val Ackerman or the coaches.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a 2-4 record in the NCAA Tournament last season and what some considered a "down year," members of the Big East Conference are focused on maintaining what has been one of the best conferences in all of college basketball.

"We were built to be a basketball powerhouse and we intend to stay one," Commissioner Val Ackerman said.

Even though the Big East had an impressive 40 percent of their league in the NCAA Tournament this past season, the conference is making it a goal to have more teams dancing in March.

"If five or six (teams) make it and if two or three of those five make the Sweet 16, that means it's a strong healthy league," St. John's head coach Steve Lavin said.

In order to make these goals a reality, these ten schools must boost and build their resume during the season with non-conference wins.

For the league's coaches, scheduling is an important aspect of the conference's future health. Based on last year's RPI, the Big East has the third highest strength of schedule in the nation this season. The league's teams has high-caliber match-ups that include battles with two national title contenders, Duke at St. John's and Providence at Kentucky.

Not only do Big East schools want to schedule highly-ranked opponents - but they want to beat them. And this year there is a lot of talent and experience across the conference to complete that task in non-conference play.

St. John's has a talented backcourt led by D`Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan.

Georgetown returns Big East preseason player of the year D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera and has a bunch of promising newcomers.

Kris Dunn is a McDonald's All-American returning from injury for the Providence Friars adding to a core led by LaDontae Henton.

And don't forget about Villanova. They are projected to finish first, returning four starters and three key reserves.

Recruiting is another area that this conference needs to continue to excel, and they have shown that they are right among the other major conferences.

The schools are dedicated to competing for the highest level of talent.

Georgetown has the seventh-ranked recruiting class while Seton Hall brought in McDonald's All-American and NBA prospect, Isaiah Whitehead.

New Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski has the fourth-ranked recruiting class next year and just recently landed a stretch-four from Wisconsin, Henry Ellenson. And recruiting success should continue.

"Our schools are fortunate. They are well-resourced and well-equipped and intend to compete at the highest level of basketball," said Ackerman. "Whether it is providing cost of attendance, multi-year scholarships, enhanced academic support or other benefits to our basketball athletes, our schools will do what the football leagues are doing and take whatever steps need to be taken to keep our long tradition of basketball excellence going."

The addition of Butler, Creighton and Xavier has changed this league, but it is still a deep conference. Xavier is in the mix at the top half of the league, while Creighton was a focus of national attention last season. This year, teams that are projected to finish near the bottom of the league are still competitive; and that's why coaches and players believe nothing has changed.

"It's the Big East," Providence big man Carson Desrosiers said. "There's no new or old. There doesn't have to be any of that type of talk."

Overall, the coaches displayed a sense of both optimism and urgency surrounding the Big East Conference. Coaches and players don't just think this conference is going to be strong, they believe it will remain one of the best in the country. And they believe this is the year to prove that strength.

"I have no doubt that our presence will be felt and that everything that our conference has come to stand for in the past 35 years will again rise to the fore and that is respect, leadership, tradition, rivalries, great coaches, committed people and most of all outstanding basketball," Commissioner Ackerman said.