Big East Preview - Prologue

Although the first BIG EAST basketball game won't tip-off until December 27th, but in wake of the 2010 Media Day there is no better time for a preliminary BIG EASTpreview. Since I'm sure to under or overestimate at least some teams this season, I'm planning to give myself a "mulligan" (via the "Epilogue") in December, once we have seen these teams in action out-of-conference.

Last season, Syracuse and Pittsburgh came out of nowhere to finish at or near the top of the BIG EAST standings. West Virginia was one of the favorites to win the conference last season, and while they fell short of Syracuse for the regular season title, they finished strong winning the BIG EAST tournament and riding the streak all the way to the Final Four.

This season, though Villanova was again rated near the top of the BIG EAST polls, almost anything can happen from here. Should the team improve over last season's defensive deficiencies, the sky is the limit for a changed line-up. As Rick Pitino said at media day, this season, "nobody is coming into the season with lottery picks on their roster, the lottery picks are going to be made during the season."

Even the BIG EAST preseason Player of the Year, Austin Freeman, falls well short of the NBA lottery at this point.

Based Villanova By The Number's review of the polls, the consensus is that Pittsburgh will win the conference title, with Villanova coming in second, Syracuse third and Georgetown fourth. DePaul is universally expected to finish dead last.

What follows is a team-by-team preview of the conference members in reverse-order of predicted finish (as voted on by the Big East coaches). The projected starters are taken from those suggested in the latest East Coast Bias Roundtable:

16 DePaul Blue Demons

Dearly Departed: Mac Koshwal (F/C - Grad), Will Walker (SG - Grad), Kene Obi (C - transfer), Jerry Wainwright (Coach)

Reinforcements: Oliver Purnell (Coach), Cleveland Melvin (F), Moses Morgan (G/F), Brandon Young (PG)

Projected Starters: 1. Michael Bizoukas/ Brandon Young 2. Jeremiah Kelly 3. Mike Stovall/ Moses Morgan 4. Devin Hill 5. Krys Faber

Comments: The biggest upgrade for the Blue Demons this offseason was probably at the Coach position. Oliver Purnell has a history filled with success in a big-time college basketball conference (the ACC), so the program may have turned a corner after having recorded only ONE win in Big East play over the last two seasons. The problem is, that in one offseason, they couldn't possibly do enough to bounce back from their bottom-feeder status.

Expect Coach Purnell to work some magic to get a little more out of his team this season. Mike Stovall will be the senior-leader and is the team's top returning scorer -- at SEVEN points per game last season (Will Walker and Mac Koshwal lead in scoring last season). The freshman class is better than some of the Wainwright era classes, but while all three figure to play significant minutes, none is expected to start.

Key media quote: "To be blunt, there is just nothing about this team that will excite you. Unless of course your team happens to be playing DePaul, and then you will be thrilled because you are about to witness a 30-point blowout." - ChicagoNow.com

15 Rutgers-Knight-NJ.jpg Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Dearly Departed: Mike Rosario (G - transfer), Patrick Jackson (F - transfer), Hamady N'diaye (C - Grad), Fred Hill (coach - fired).

Reinforcements: Mike Rice (coach), Gilvydas Biruta (PF), Mike Pool (SF), Robert Lumpkin (SF - transfer), Austin Carroll (G), Tyree Graham (G - transfer)

Projected Starters: 1. James Beatty 2. Mike Coburn 3. Dane Miller 4. Jonathan Mitchell 5. Austin Johnson

Comments: Another bottom-feeder that underwent a coaching change. Fred Hill looked like he had the Scarlet Knights on track to compete in this conference -- recruiting McDonalds All Americans to the program -- until he lost the team's confidence last season and stars like Rosario and Greg Echenique transferred out.

The reinforcements this season could have a positive effect on the team, but the returning players will have to improve as well. Rutgers finished last season 15th out of 16 teams in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio, and it will fall on senior guards Mike Coburn and James Beatty to turn that around.

Senior Jonathan Mitchell is the leading scorer and rebounder with 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season. Sophomore Forward Dane Miller is returning from a promising freshman campaign and it will be a big help to Mike Rice's team if he can improve in his sophomore season. Freshman Biruta, a versatile 6'8" forward, may start immediately, while Austin Carroll brings shot-making ability and will likely be a key player as well.

Rutgers hasn't improved enough to make a big jump this year, but don't be surprised if the coaches were wrong and the Knights finish better than 15th. They do get to play home-and-home against the likes of DePaul and USF.

Key media quote: "Rice knows he’s short on talent and depth, so he’s focusing on ramping up the intensity and the teamwork, both of which were sorely lacking the past couple of years." - Jerry Carino, MyCentralJersey.com

14 Providence Friars

Dearly Departed: Sharaud Curry (G - Grad), Brian McKenzie (G - Grad), Jamine Peterson (F - Grad), Kyle Wright (G - transfer), Johnnie Lacy, Russ Permenter, James Still

Reinforcements: Kadeem Batts (F - redshirt), Dre Evans (G), Brice Kofane (PF), Ron Giplaye (PF), Gerard Coleman (SG), Lee Goldsbrough (F), Michael Murray (G)

Comments: Gerard Coleman is clearly the cream of the crop of new recruits and shooting guard was one of the Friars' biggest needs. Coleman and Joseph Young figure to be the most-likely freshmen to see significant minutes in their first season. Brice Kofane may also fight his way up the rotation int he front-court.

Marshon Brooks is the best returning scorer for the Friars after averaging 14.2 points and 4.2 rebounds last season playing on the wing. Vincent Council had a strong freshman campaign with 10.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game as a sixth man last year, and he figures to take over the offense at point guard this season.

Last season the Friars were a team that had no problem scoring. Despite losing three starters, they will still be a potent offense this season. Without a significant defensive improvement, however, the Friars are destined to be on the outside looking in. In all likelihood they will hope to earn a bid to the NIT this year and notch some marquee wins to build on into the future.

Key media quote: "We still want to run, to have a lot of possessions. But, defense will be a priority. Last year, we were able to score points and that allowed our recruiting to take off." - Keno Davis, The Sun Chronicle

13 South Florida Bulls

Dearly Departed: Dominique Jones (SG), Chris Howard (PG), Mike Mercer (G)

Reinforcements: Stan Heath (coach), Ron Anderson, LaVonte Dorrity

Projected Starters: 1. Anthony Crater 2. Jawanza Poland 3. Hugh Robertson 4. Augustus Gilchrist 5. Jarrid Famous

Comments: Coach Heath can look to his big-man presence for the upcoming year and be very excited. Anchored by Jarrid Famous and Gus Gilchrist, the Bulls add Ron Anderson, a transfer from Kansas State to the low blocks. However, getting the ball to them may be an issue as USF has lost a majority of it's ball handlers and outside scoring threats, namely in Jones- a 1st team All Big East selection in 2010.

If a proven shooter doesn't replace Jones, opponents will be able to cheat and lock down the inside scoring threats without fear of extending the defense.

USF's future of returning to the post-season rely heavily on their guards and their outside shooting. If the Bulls above average front court isn't able to get the ball, it could be a long season in South Florida.

Key media quote: "Last year we won 20 games. This year, we want to win 25. This year, we want to make sure we make the (NCAA) Tournament, instead of being right there on the edge of making it and not making it." -- Anthony Crater (PG), tampabay.com

12 Cincinnati Bearcats

Dearly Departed: Lance Stephenson (G - early), Steve Toyloy (C - Grad), Deonta Vaughn (G - Grad).

Reinforcements: Sean Kilpatrick (G - redshirt), Kelvin Gaines (C), Justin Jackson (F)

Projected Starters: 1. Cashmere Wright 2. Dion Dixon 3. Rashard Bishop 4. Ibrahima Thomas 5. Yancy Gates

Comments: Lance Stephenson and Deonta Vaughn represented about 34% of the scoring on a team that didn't score all that much last season. Losing "Born Ready" to the draft after his freshman campaign was not entirely unanticipated when Mick Cronin recruited him, but Cronin likely expected a little more production from Stephenson before he left.

Last season's Bearcats may have had trouble putting points on the board, but their defense was really their strength. Cincy was second in the conference in rebounding margin at +6.2, and they figure to keep up the defensive intensity and rebounding this season. This remains an experienced club with five scholarship seniors and two juniors providing leadership on the court.

Sophomore Cashmere Wright will be the primary ballhandler for the Bearcats, and hopes to improve on his 5.4 points and 2 assists per game from last season.

If the Bearcats want to make a splash this year they will need their freshmen, Gaines and Jackson to provide Yancy Gates, who is the top returning scorer, some help on the offensive side of the ball.

Key media quote: "Last year we had freshmen who had a big role, so we were kind of lost. But right now, we know what’s going on. We’ve been there. We’ve tasted winning. We’ve tasted being ranked. We’ve tasted losing. Now we know the type of effort we’ve got to give to win." -- Cashmere Wright, Cincinnati.com

11 SetonHall-old.jpg Seton Hall Pirates

Dearly Departed: Eugene Harvey (PG - Grad), Robert Mitchell (F - cut), John Garcia (C - Grad), Oliver Melvyn, Matt Cajuste, Bobby Gonzalez (coach - fired)

Reinforcements: Kevin Willard (coach), Eniel Polynice (G - transfer), Fuquan Edwin (G/F - transfer), Patrik Auda (F), Aaron Geramipoor (F/C), Anali Okoliji (F)

Projected Starters: 1. Jordan Theodore 2. Jeremy Hazell 3. Eniel Polynice 4. Jeff Robertson 5. Herb Pope

Comments: The Pirates return a lot of veterans -- five players who started at some point last season -- to a squad that won 9 games in the BIG EAST last season. That showing was good for a 9th place tie. While their NIT run flamed out, their former coach, Bobby Gonzalez went "Gonzo" and caused the school to terminate him for his erratic behavior.

That firing allowed SHU to hire Kevin Willard from Iona College, a good team from the same MAAC conference that produced Gonzo. Rick Pitino believes that Willard is "cut from the same cloth" as another of his former assistants, Billy Donovan of Florida.

Willard plans to improve the Pirates' defense this season, while giving his players freedom on offense. Expect them to take advantage of that freedom with Jeremy Hazell returning to the backcourt with his 20.4 points per game from last season along with Jeff Robinson (12.2 ppg), Herb Pope (11.5 ppg) and Jordan Theodore (9.3 ppg). Transfer grad-student Eniel Polynice, a player Villanova fans will be familiar with from last season's trip to Puerto Rico, comes in from Ole Miss after averaging 8.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists last season.

With improved defense, this could be a formidable program. There is enough talent returning to build on last year's dead-middle finish and push for an NCAA tournament bid. Last season's team ranked 39th in offensive efficiency, but only 122nd in defense. In contrast, Willard's Iona squad produced the 209th ranked offense while playing the 43rd-best defense.

The coaches may have this one wrong, the top half of the conference is certainly within reach if the Pirates can continue to score in droves while playing a more efficient defense.

Key media quote: "Kevin Willard takes over as a first-year coach in the Big East, and that's not an easy job for anyone, even a guy like Willard, who is familiar with the territory." -- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN

10 UConn Huskies

Dearly Departed: Jerome Dyson (G - Grad), Stanley Robinson (F - Grad), Gavin Edwards (F - Grad), Alex Hornat (F - Grad), Ater Majok (F - transfer), Darius Smith (G - transfer), Jamaal Trice (G - transfer)

Reinforcements: Michael Bradley (C/F), Jeremy Lamb (G/F), Shabazz Napier (G), Tyler Olander (F), Roscoe Smith (G/W)

Projected Starters: 1. Kemba Walker 2. Jeremy Lamb 3. Roscoe Smith 4. Alex Oriakhi 5. Charles Okwandu

Comments: The Huskies lost seven players from a team that finished 11th in the BIG EAST last year. Losses include their leading scorer, Jerome Dyson (17.2 ppg) and third-leading scorer Stanley "Sticks" Robinson (14.5 ppg). It also smarts to lose three players to transfer in the offseason, though only the loss of Ater Majok really stings. Majok was expected to eventually play a significant role in the UConn frontcourt -- a frontcourt that is looking very young and inexperienced.

Jim Calhoun is putting this team on Kemba Walker's shoulders -- at Media Day, he claimed that, "Kemba is going to be one of the best PGs in the country, I truly believe that." Though he is the leading returning scorer, he will need help from veteran returnees Alex Oriakhi, a sophomore forward, and Charles Okwandu, a senior center, as well as the five freshman. Roscoe Smith and Shabazz Napier are the most likely newcomers to earn starting roles this season.

While last year's team, stocked with veterans, held opponents to a BIG EAST best 40.4 percent shooting, it is too soon to comment on whether this younger team will be able to match the defensive mastery of their predecessors.

This is a team that is in rebuilding mode after last year's promising season fell apart. The program has had far too much turnover recently to expect a vast improvement from last season.

Key media quote: "With six freshman making up more than half the total number of scholarship players on the University of Connecticut basketball team, it’s been obvious that good leadership is going to be crucial to the Huskies this season." -- JournalInquirer.com

8 louisville.gif Louisville Cardinals

Dearly Departed: Reginald Delk (F - Grad), Samardo Samuels (F - early), Jerry Smith (G - Grad), Edgar Sosa (G - Grad).

Reinforcements: Gorgui Dieng (C), Elisha Justice (PG), Russ Smith (PG), Chris Smith (G - transfer), Richie Phares (F - redshirt)

Comments: At media day, Rick Pitino noted that he had been using a 24-second shot-clock during his practices this season. "We want to play fast," he said, " faster than we have ever played." The Cardinals have always played an uptempo game, using their athleticism to run opponents off the floor. They will be trying to work even harder to speed up their track-meet style of play.

When Samardo Samuels put his name in the draft at the end of last season, it was a headscratcher. The sophomore forward was not projected to be picked in ANY round of the 2010 NBA draft, but nonetheless bolted for the pro-circuit, going undrafted and signing with Cleveland. Samuels had been the Cardinals' top scorer and rebounder.

There are no real scary players in the Louisville recruiting class, and none of the returning players averaged double-digit points or rebounds last season. Rick Pitino's plan to push the pace to the limit this season is a big gamble, but it will only work if his players can score as fast as they run.

Although "the Ville" is expected to have a down year, it would be no surprise if they catch a few giants sleeping on their way to an NIT bid.

Key media quote: "Pitino is billing 2010-11 as a "bridge season," and skeptics are supplying their own punch lines." - FoxSports.com

8 Marquette_old.jpg Marquette Warriors Golden Eagles

Dearly Departed: Lazar Hayward (F - Grad), Maurice Acker (G - Grad), David Cubillan (G - Grad), Jeronne Maymon, Yousssoupha Mbao

Reinforcements: Vander Blue (G), Jae Crowder (F - JUCO), Davonte Gardner (F), Jamail Jones (F), Reggie Smith (G)

Projected Starters: 1. Jimmy Butler 2. Darius Johnson-Odom 3. Jae Crowder 4. Vander Blue 5. Junior Cadougan

Comments: Marquette lost it's leading scorer, Lazar Hayward, to graduation, but brings back number two and three in Forward Jimmy Butler (14.7 ppg) and Guard Darius Johnson-Odom (13 ppg). Johnson-Odom was second in the BIG EAST in 3-point shooting percentage at 47.4% from beyond the arc and is a dangerous player to leave open outside.

Marquette lost three key players from a team that finished 5th in the regular season and lead the league in scoring defense (65.6), free throw shooting (.760), 3-point defense (.304) and turnover margin (+4.39). It remains to be seen if the Golden Eagles can maintain those lofty statistical rankings with so many newcomers figuring to play significant roles.

This is one of the most athletic teams to ever wear blue and gold, and Buzz Williams hopes to take advantage of that to play at a faster pace. Freshman Guard Vander Blue will be a key component in this Marquette team -- an explosive athlete who may earn a starting role. James Bell's teammate Jamail Jones will also compete for time at both forward spots as will JUCO-transfer Jae Crowder.

This is a team that has a lot of youth and upside, but may falter from inexperience. There is a lot of scoring and rebounding to be replaced after losing last year's seniors, and the team will need to quickly gel defensively in order to make a run at the BIG EAST title.

No matter where you peg Marquette before the season begins, they always seem to out-perform their expectations, however, so don't put it past them to make a run toward the top of the conference again this season.

Key media quote: "Seniors Jimmy Butler and Dwight Buycks, as well as junior Darius Johnson-Odom and sophomore Junior Cadougan, are all veteran Big East players who can hang with anyone in the league." -- Andy Katz blog, ESPN.com

7 NotreDame_guy.jpg Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Dearly Departed: Luke Harangody (F - Grad), Tory Jackson (PG - Grad), Jonathan Peoples (G - Grad), Tim Andree

Reinforcements: Eric Atkins (G), Alex Dragicevich (G), Jerian Grant (G), Scott Martin (G - transfer)

Comments: Luke Harangody was the star of Notre Dame's basketball program for four seasons, but the Fighting Irish showed the most fight last year when 'Gody wasn't on the court. During an absence stemming from injury late in the season, Notre Dame went on a winning streak, which carried them into their 10th-consecutive postseason berth.

Senior Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough are the top returning scorers. Abromaitis was third in the conference last season in free throw shooting (87.3%) and fourth in 3-point percentage (42.9%), while Hansbrough was not too far behind, hitting 41.4% of his shots from beyond the arc.

Only three starters from last season return to the Irish line-up and Mike Brey will be looking to replace his star forward as well as his point guard. Newcomers Scott Martin and Eric Atkins will figure to compete for those starting roles.

This Mike Brey team figures to be like many of his previous teams -- excellent offensively, but lackadaisical on D. Losing Harangody hasn't injured the team's ability to play, nor their ability to believe they can succeed.

Key media quote: "Notre Dame has been good with the ball and has played fast while operating in plenty of five-on-five situations. The Irish often have looked in midseason rhythm offensively, but can improve defensively, especially in zone." -- South Bend Tribune

6 StJohns-old.jpg St. John's Redmen Storm

Dearly Departed: Norm Roberts (coach - fired), Anthony Mason Jr. (G - Grad), Omari Lawrence (G - transfer), John Taubeneck

Reinforcements: Steve Lavin (coach), Dwayne Polee (F)

Projected Starters: 1. Malik Boothe 2. Paris Horne 3. D.J. Kennedy 4. Justin Brownlee 5. Sean Evans

Comments: St. Johns was voted as high as number one and as low as number thirteen in the preseason coaches poll, with the highest honors being bestowed by Louisville Coach Rick Pitino. They were picked a spot lower by the writers, but there seems to be a high-level of confidence around this program.

Coach Lavin takes over a veteran roster with ten seniors. Coming off of a 6-win BIG EAST campaign last season, the Red Storm will look to play a more uptempo game this season and fight for an NCAA tournament bid.

D.J. Kennedy is one of the top players in the conference and is the Johnnies' top returning scorer after averaging 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds last season. The swingman lead his team in assists, steals and blocks as well. Dwight Hardy is the second-leading scorer; he averaged 10.5 points in a sixth-man role last season.

While Marquette got a lot of press attention for it's string of close games last season, St. Johns was also struck by that bug, losing eleven games by 10 points or less. Lavin hopes that a change in offensive style will help change those fortunes. It remains to be seen if this team is capable of playing Lavin's uptempo game.

Lavin wants to play tough man-to-man defense to go with his wide-open offense. He has a team that was capable of knocking off A-10 Champion Temple and losing to an imploding Rutgers team by 12 points. Lavin is going to lean on the knowledge and experience of his staff to get this team ready to play.

If they can handle the faster pace and play solid defense, the Johnnies might be able to live up to their preseason ratings.

Key media quote: "We want to run, but that’s not going to work if you’re not solid defensively. You have to get stops if you’re going to run often and do it effectively." -- Steve Lavin, newjerseynewsroom.com

5 WestVirginia.gif West Virginia Mountaineers

Dearly Departed: Da'Sean Butler (F - Grad), Devin Ebanks (F - early), Wellington Smith (F - Grad), Cam Payne, Bryan Lowther

Reinforcements: Noah Cottrill (G), Kevin Noreen (F)

Projected Starters: 1. Truck Bryant 2. Joe Mazzula 3. Casey Mitchell 4. Kevin Jones 5. John Flowers

Comments: The Mountaineers lost two of their top three scorers in Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks (who left school early), but return two of last year's starters including Kevin Jones, who was second on the team in scoring last season.

Last season West Virginia was a frontcourt-dominated team and that won't change much this season, with the team figuring to rely on it's forwards again for scoring. Truck Bryant will see more playing time this season and was the best scoring guard on the team.

Ranked fifth before the season, the Mountaineers are hardly considered underdogs. Last season they had a deep team with players ready to move into starting roles this season. They may, however, need their freshmen to play bigger roles than they are ready for if they are going to challenge for a BIG EAST title again.

Key media quote: "Kevin [Noreen] and Noah [Cottrill] are out there practicing. They look lost. It's going to take some time. But I like 'em." -- Bob Huggins, Charleston Gazette Mail

4 Georgetown Hoyas

Dearly Departed: Greg Monroe (C - early), Nikita Mescheriakov, Stephen Stepka

Reinforcements: Moses Ayegba (C), Aaron Bowen (F), Nate Lubick (F), Markel Starks (G)

Projected Starters: 1. Chris Wright 2. Austin Freeman 3. Jason Clark 4. Hollis Thompson 5. Julian Vauhn

Comments: The only significant loss for the Hoyas was All-Conference big man, Greg Monroe. In his second season in the nation's capital, Monroe averaged 16.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game and played his way into the NBA draft lottery. Of the other losses, only Stepka appeared in any BIG EAST action, registering two minutes in two games.

Last season the Hoyas led the league in shooting, connecting on 49.9% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. That was largely due to their highly-touted backcourt, which features BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year, Austin Freeman as well as point guard Chris Wright (both seniors). Jason Clark also figures to start in a three-man backcourt for Georgetown after shooting 42.4% from 3-point range last season.

With four starters returning, the Hoyas will have a strong and experienced team this year, but the loss of Greg Monroe means that a key cog in John Thompson's Princeton Offense is missing. Either a change in strategy or the emergence of Hollis Thompson, or a freshman such as Parade All-American Nate Lubick, will be required to man the high post and keep the team rolling along.

Georgetown has the ability to challenge for the top spot in the conference and the potential to fall flat without their talented big. With a veteran backcourt, however, this is a team that ought to be taken seriously.

Key media quote: "We’re not really trying to replace Greg. We’re just going to do what we have to do to win." -- Henry Sims (C), Afro.com

3 Syracuse.jpg Syracuse Orangemen

Dearly Departed: Wes Johnson (SF - early), Andy Rautins (G - grad), Arinze Onuaku (F/C - grad), DaShonte Riley

Reinforcements: Baye Moussa Keita (F), C.J. Fair (F), Fabricio Melo (F/C), Dion Waiters (G)

Comments: Last year Wes Johnson transferred into Syracuse and left with BIG EAST Player of the Year honors. In a season where the Orange were picked to finish 6th in the conference after losing Jonny Flynn early to the NBA draft, they bounced back to finish on top of the regular season standings.

In 2009-2010 the 2-3 zone defense looked about as good as it ever has under Jim Boeheim. Not shockingly, the Orange will again roll out that defense this season.

Replacements for departed starters Wes Johnson, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins will likely come in the form of Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine moving into starting roles and freshman Fabricio "Fab" Melo taking over for Onuaku at Center.

While it is believed by many that the Orange will be a strong team again this season, the loss of their top two scorers as well as their fourth-best scorer will require that the newcomers to the lineup contribute right away.

This is a Syracuse team with plenty of size (there are two seven-footers on the roster), which is the key ingredient to an effective zone defense. Even if the Syracuse offense takes a step back from last season, a strong defense should keep them in games and help them make another run in the conference.

Key media quote: "The big Brazilian should take the place of Arinze Onuaku, and he could be a force on both ends of the floor. But it also may take some time." -- Jeff Goodman, FOXsports.com

2 Block_V.JPG Villanova Wildcats

Dearly Departed: Scottie Reynolds (PG - grad), Reggie Redding (G - grad), Taylor King (F - transfer)

Reinforcements: JayVaughn Pinkston (G/F), James Bell (SG)

Projected Starters: 1. Corey Fisher 2. Dom Cheek/Maalik Wayns 3. Corey Stokes 4. Antonio Pena 5. Mouptaou Yarou

Comments: For the first time in a long time, commentators may be using a certain word to talk about Villanova's lineup. Maybe not often, but when you hear it, you may feel confused and disoriented for a second -- you may think they are talking about another school. That word: Big.

The promise of Mouph Yarou may finally be fulfilled this season. Jay Wright has said that he hopes to go with a bigger lineup this season. In particular, he noted that his best lineup has Yarou playing the post, while Antonio Pena would be free to play facing the basket.

Isaiah Armwood who clocks in at 6'7" or more with plenty of wingspan will also play a lot of minutes this year, and the backcourt is just as deep and talented as it has been at any other point in the Jay Wright era.

The loss of Scottie Reynolds takes away the Wildcats' primary scoring option from last season. This team should not have needed Scottie to score, however, after starting the season as one of the top teams for offensive efficiency. That statistic shouldn't take too much of a hit in 2010-2011, because in the absence of the superstar, Coach Wright's team will approach the offense with a more balanced attack.

The 'Cats will need to improve on last season's abysmal defensive effort (for a Jay Wright team). With a larger lineup, Coach Wright should be working some zone sets into his game-plans this season, and with another year under their belts the sophomore class will be better prepared for the intensity of the BIG EAST.

Key media quote: "Dante, Dwayne and Scottie all showed us what it means to be a senior at Villanova. Seniors have to be the leaders. It’s up to us to show the younger guys how it’s done." -- Corey Stokes, Delco Times

1 Pittsburgh Panthers

Dearly Departed: Jermaine Dixon (G - Grad), Chase Adams (G - Grad), Dwight Miller, Tim Frye

Reinforcements: Isaiah Epps (G), Lamar Patterson (G/F - redshirt), J.J. Moore (F), Aron Nwankwo (F), Talib Zanna (F - redshirt)

Projected Starters: 1. Ashton Gibbs 2. Brad Wanamaker 3. Gil Brown 4. Nasir Robinson* 5. Gary McGhee

Comments: Pitt returns it's top-3 scorers (and seven of the top eight) from last season and loses only one starter -- Jermaine Dixon. Dixon averaged 10.6 points per game last year, but was also notable as the Panthers' best lock-down defender.

Returning four starters will help the Panthers continue last season's defensive success; they were first in the BIG EAST in scoring defense, allowing only 61.9 points per game.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers used a balanced attack last season -- a strategy that will likely carry over into 2010-2011. It's unlikely that any of Pitt's newcomers will play a significant role, barring injury, this season and that isn't a bad thing.

Junior Guard Ashton Gibbs will be leading this team after having a breakout season last year. With so few teams returning as many starters, a repeat of last year's output may be all he needs to achieve to live up to Pitt's lofty preseason ranking.

* Nasir Robinson was lost for 6 weeks to an injury after the publication of the projected starters lists.

Key media quote: "The main challenge for a team that won 25 games last season - when a 20-win season was expected to be beyond reach - is to prove it can match or exceed predictions when a Top 10-caliber team is expected." -- Washington Post

------

Once again, thank you to the Naughty Volvo S60 campaign for helping me get to the BIG EAST media day this year. I will also be heading to the Holy War on December 3rd with the Volvo people, so watch out for a couple posts related to that coming up. In the mean time, please check out MyBigEastVolvo.com and vote for me in their fan poll -- the alma mater of the winning blogger will receive a donation from Volvo to it's scholarship fund.

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