Updated Big East Preview

big-east-logoWith the Big East season officially underway, the talking heads are all talking about what we can expect this season. Here a sampling of what they are saying about the Cats.

Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune asks, "Can Villanova repeat last year's Final Four run? No team in the nation may have a better four-guard attack with Corey Fisher, Reggie Redding, Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes, major-minute guys who have done it over the long haul. Duke transfer Taylor King is a nice fit-in guy, but the No. 8 Wildcats (11-1) still don't have anyone who can provide what Dante Cunningham gave them an the interior last season. Freshman Mouphtaou Yarou was expected to help, but Hepatitis B has sidelined him for the season. There will come a time in league play, and in the NCAA tournament, when the lack of an interior presence may bite the Wildcats."

Will Leitch of New York Magazine  predicts the final conference standings as:  #1 Syracuse, #2 Connecticut, #3 Villanova, #4 West Virginia and #5 Georgetown.  Of Villanova, he says “the speedy trio of Corey Stokes, Scottie Reynolds, and Corey Fisher carried the Wildcats easily through the early part of the season. Watch for Mouphtaou Yarou to take Jay Wright's squad to the top of the Big East as soon as the Benin native is back from a slight issue with hepatitis B.

Tom Kahley of the Syracuse New Times, who is hopelessly biased and only vaguely aware of the specifics of Villanova basketball, predicts Nova to finish 5th behind #1 Syracuse, #2 Georgetown, #3 West Virginia, #4 Connecticut.  Of Villanova, he says “ This is the “Duke” of the Big East, meaning the Wildcats were by far the most overrated team coming into this season—No. 2 in the AP preseason poll. Since then, they were exposed in a 75-65 loss at unranked Temple, with their only win of note coming against then-No. 18 Dayton, now out of the Top 25. What they do have going for them is guard Scottie Reynolds, who could have been a lottery pick in last year’s NBA draftbut decided to return for his senior season to pursue a championship, which will be all for naught. Junior Corey Fisher, who has scored in double digits in all but two games this year and is a serious threat to catch fire at any moment, joins Reynolds in the backcourt.  But their frontcourt is what will ultimately cost them any legitimate shot to win the conference, as they lost starting forwards Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark from last year’s team to the NBA draft and one of the players that was supposed to help fill the void this year, freshman Mouphtaou Yarou, was diagnosed with Hepatitis B in November. He is expected to miss the rest of the season. Now they are stuck with junior forward Antonio Pena as their only low-post threat, as redshirt freshman Maurice Sutton and sophomore Taylor King have displayed less-than-stellar frontcourt play. Although the Wildcats have probably the strongest defensive unit outside of SU’s zone, like Connecticut, this team rolls with a six-man rotation and despite the all-Big East play of Reynolds and head coach Jay Wright’s high basketball IQ, this team lacks depth or any particularly favorable mismatch that’ll get them to the next level."

Sports Xchange’s Conference Preview says, “Jay Wright is hoping that the Christmas long layoff doesn't lead to a repeat of the slow start that plagued the team in conference play a year ago.  One factor Wright feels needs improvement is the defense. The addition of Reggie Redding for the second semester helps, but lapses on that end of the court have proved frustrating over the first few weeks of the season and allow overmatched opponents to stay in games.

But the good thing is that even with the loss of Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark during the offseason, this is still an experienced team that heads into conference play. Nobody has a guard who has been through more wars than Scottie Reynolds, and Redding adds another veteran presence to the backcourt. Between the two, they can augment Wright's warning about Big East play with war stories of their own.

Through the early portion of the season, the Wildcats are one of the best teams in the country at spreading the ball around. Five players are averaging double figures (Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena and Taylor King), with a sixth, Corey Stokes, just shy of the mark at 9.3 points per night.

The big task for Jay Wright in January is integrating Reggie Redding back into the playing rotation. He gets a bit of a break in that Redding is an easy player to work in -- he does all the little things a team needs to succeed and doesn't demand the ball or act like a prima donna. But it will be interesting to see if and when Redding moves back into the starting lineup, what the trickle-down effects are on the two Coreys (Fisher and Stokes) who currently start alongside Scottie Reynolds and the two freshmen (Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns) who back them up."

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