Ok, conference realignment has officially become out-of-control. The Big East already has 16 teams, but now because they're losing Syracuse (sad) and Pitt (who cares) and have now seen TCU pull out of joining to become a Big 12 team instead they overreact in the opposite direction and add Houston, Southern Methodist, Central Florida, Air Force, and Boise State. Except Air Force and Boise State will only be joining for football. This move does absolutely nothing for basketball except to further weaken a Big East already weakened by the defections, unless you think the recent strong recruiting seen by Houston is sustainable - and I don't.
At first I thought all this conference realignment stuff was kind of cool, but at this point it's just gotten completely out of hand. I don't even know who went where or who didn't or what's merging. Like that Conference USA/Mountain West merger - does that effect hoops in any way? I don't know. It's too confusing. I think it's time to just to to one big conference. Easier that way.
1. UCONN HUSKIES. How are they #1 in a tough conference despite losing Kemba Walker? Because everybody else is back, including Jeremy Lamb (who started to look like a star at the end of last year) and Alex Oriakhi (who is always solid defensively and now his offense is coming along), as well as a group of sophomores (of which Lamb is a part) who were ranked as the #20 recruiting class in the country last season by ESPN. Oh, and they have one of the best classes in the country coming in with PG Ryan Boatright (#42 rivals), SF DeAndre Daniels (#10), and C Andre Drummond (#2). Drummond is ridiculous and he's probably going to make people cry, and will likely be the #1 overall pick in next year's NBA Draft if it happens. Seriously, UCONN is a big-time threat to win back-to-back titles. Doubtful, yes, but a better chance than most.
2. SYRACUSE ORANGE. God Boeheim is just incredible - great class after great class after great class. He's followed up last year's top five class with a top 10 class this year, adding SG Michael Carter-Williams (Rivals #29 overall) and C Rakeem Christmas (#27) to last year's group that included C Fab Melo (#16), SF C.J. Fair (#94), and SG Dion Waiters (#29). Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche will be back on the perimeter to run things and awkwardly heave the ball at the rim, and scoring machine Kris Joseph is back for more. The only real question is if Christmas (freshman) or Melo (super-subpar first year) can fill in for Rick "Automatic Double-Double" Jackson. If they can, this is a national title contender. If not, they'll be lucky to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
3. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS. I have a feeling about this Louisville team, and it's not necessarily a good one. I do think they'll be good and a legit Final Four contender, but I also think they're very ripe for some ugly nights. It will basically all come down to Peyton Siva and how well he can control the offense, because with Preston Knowles gone he's now in charge of a whole bunch of talent, but a whole bunch of talent that's a little bit crazy. The Cards have everything you'd need - excellent point guard, dead-eye shooting, perimeter and interior defense, and three incoming swingmen who all rank on in Rivals Top 70 (and a center as well), so really it's going to come down to how well they mesh - and that is going to depend on Siva.
4. PITT PANTHERS. I think at some point Pitt turned itself into kind of a minor dynasty (conference only). They somehow shed the legacy of crappy overrated point guards like Brandin Knight, Carl Krauer, and LeVance Fields and are now actually acquiring good, quality players like Ashton Gibbs who is probably the best player in the conference. They do lose quite a bit with three starters (including the giant version of kid from Kid N Play which makes me sad), and Gibbs biggest help now is a guy who is already hurt and missing most/all the preseason practice time, a point guard who makes LeVance Fields look like Craig Hodges, and a former big time recruit whose failed to average more than 5 points per game in his two seasons at Pitt. But you watch, Gibbs will find a way, and Pitt will break into the top 10 at some point this year. Big fan of this kid.
5. VILLANOVA WILDCATS. Villanova is turning into Chucker University, and this year is shaping up to be no exception as Maalik Wayns looks to become the next in the recent line of all-time great chuckers following Scottie Reynolds, the two Coreys, Allen Ray, and Randy Foye. The real great news is that Wayns looks like he has a chance to be the greatest of them all. His shooting percentage of 40% last year and 3-point percentage of just 27% were some of the worst numbers any of these chuckers put up at any point in their careers, but that didn't stop Wayns from taking the third most shots (and 3-pointers) on the team behind the two Coreys. Really, the stars could be aligning for a spectacular two final years of his career. I'm so excited.
6. CINCINNATI BEARCATS. Why do I have some trouble believing in Cincy? It could be because there best player is named Yancy, but really there's a lot to like about the Bearcats this year. Besides the aforementioned Yancy Gates, their leading scorer and rebounder last year, they also return essentially every player from last year's team that knocked off a very good Missouri team in the NCAA Tournament last year, and also add Shaquille Thomas and Jermaine Sanders, two athletic wings who will fit well in Mick Cronin's hyper-defensive system. The biggest issue here will be Cashmere Wright, who is back to play the point for a third year. Except he can't shoot, turns the ball over too much, and isn't a great distributor. So I guess they got that goin' for 'em.
7. MARQUETTE EAGLES. Jimmy Butler was a do-everything type player and he's gone, but luckily for Marquette Darius Johnson-Odom is back and he's a do-everything type as well who was pretty much just as good as Butler last year and has a chance to be an absolute super star this year without having to share touches with Butler. Jae Crowder lived up to his billing as one of the better JuCo players last season, looking unstoppable on the block at times despite a shaky shooting percentage and could be a big-time player this year. The biggest key for Marquette will be the backcourt with Vander Blue coming off a disappointing freshman year where he had more turnovers than assists and shot at a worse percentage than Maalik Wayns. Junior Cadougan is serviceable but not a star, so they really need Blue to live up to his pre-college hype.
8. WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS. Joel Mazzulla, captain bricklayer himself, is gone along with their best scorer in Casey Mitchell and their best defender, or at least one of, in John Flowers. Even so, Huggy Bear will have these guys in contention for an NCAA bid because they're always going to play tough defense and Kevin Jones is back and ripe for a Big East player of the year type season. The biggest key will be Truck Bryant, who will have to pretty much main the point alone with Maz gone. Assuming he can avoid running into cars this season, WVU should be ok.
9. NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH. Obviously most of these previews are me combining my limited knowledge on these teams with what I can read, both online and in print, and trying to come up with some decent conclusions. So basically a lot of guessing. One thing I'm not guessing about, however, and I'll make it a guarantee, is that you're going to be sick of hearing about Tim Abromaitis by the end of this season. Seriously, between him and Scott Martin the Irish are going to once again be the great white hope, except now the third wheel in little Hansbrough is gone and I have this crazy feeling Abromaitis is going to have a Harangody like season, only less behemoth-y. Put on your gritty, hustly, heady, smart player shoes because it's going to be a rough year if you watch any of there games. And god help you if they actually end up good. God. Help. You.
10. GEORGETOWN HOYAS. For the last several years the Hoyas have been a big-time March threat - at least on paper - and it's been on the strength of their guard play. Unfortunately for them, they're in the habit of getting bounced to early and two of their three stud guards are now gone. The one remaining, Jason Clark, was more of the third wheel type, and will now have to become the #1 option, and basically the difference for the Hoyas between a good or bad season, because between him and Hollis Thompson - who is the only offensive big man of consequence who is returning, they're going to have to be most of the offense for this team. There are three highly regarded freshmen big men coming in, but other than throwing a right hook at some chinaman who knows if they'll be worth a damn.
11. RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS. Ever since Quincy Douby left Rutgers hasn't been able to build any momentum. Even when they snag a great recruiting class with two Top 50 players like they did in 2008 things fall apart and both players ended up transferring before the end of their careers. That being said, a new coach and another excellent class (ranked #24 nationally and 6th in the conference by Rivals) has hope welling up once again in Jersey. If they ever get good the RAC gives them a nice home court advantage, so remember that when you're gambling.
12. SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS. You remember Anthony Crater? The point guard who came aboard at Ohio State in the same class that netted the Buckeyes B.J. Mullens and William Buford, then quit 2 months into the season after shooting 3-15 from the floor in 10 games because he didn't get to start (keep in mind OSU's guards were Evan Turner, Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Jeremie Simmons)? He's played at USF the last two seasons and averaged less than 4 points per game both years despite playing over 25 minutes per game, and was kicked off the team in May for "violating team rules." I don't know why, but that story makes me laugh. Probably because he seemed like such a douche.
13. SETON HALL PIRATES. I don't know why I'm so drawn to Seton Hall. Maybe it's because I fell in love with Shaheen Holloway, or maybe it's because a dude I played against (and got crushed by) in high school ended up going there (Darius Lane), but I also half-root for the Pirates and actually have a Seton Hall hat somewhere. Unfortunately this year is going to be a rough one for the Pirates with Jeremy Hazell, the Big East's third leading scorer last year, and Jeff Robinson, the team's second leading scorer, both gone along with a whole bunch of supporting bits. Herb Pope is still a freaking stud with bullets in his body and Jordan Theodore can score, but there just isn't much here unless Pope goes insane. More than usual, I mean.
14. ST. JOHNS RED STORM. They would be higher, seeing as how Lavin came in and immediately grabbed a top 3 class to come play in NYC, but then things unraveled and three of the newcomers were ruled ineligible, and they just happened to be the #23, #51, and #68 recruits in the country. There's still good talent coming in, but St. John's is trying to replace essentially everybody from last year and losing those three hurts, especially because the #51 guy - Jakarr Sampson - has already transferred out (maybe the other's have too but I'm not looking it up because I've already spent too much time on this one). Lavin will turn things around in a hurry, maybe just in slightly less of a hurry than it looked. I wonder if he's gone crooked yet or if he's waiting another year.
15. PROVIDENCE FRIARS. Marshon Brooks was really, really good at scoring. He was also the rare player who was kind of a chucker, but was an efficient chucker. I'm not really sure why I'm talking about him because he's now in the NBA if there was an NBA, but it's probably because I don't know anything else about Providence. They do have two other double-digit scorers back from last year. Shrug.
16. DEPAUL BLUE DEMONS. Talk about horrible. I read somewhere that DePaul has gone 2-52 in Big East play over the last three seasons. I knew they were bad, but assumed that was a misprint and looked it up myself. Sure enough, they're 2-52. And it's not fixing to change. Despite being in the heart of Chicago, a nice high school hoops town, they can't get anybody to attend DePaul because of Dumpster Arena. I just don't know how they're going to get out of this mess. I guess they have a little momentum, what with Cleveland Melvin winning Big East Rookie of the Year last year and stealing DeJuan Marrero away from the Gophers recently, but yuck. You'd think one of Illinois, Northwestern, DePaul, or UIC would have to be good, but here we are.