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March Madness: Can The Big East Live Up To Their Billing?

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If you haven't seen it yet, check out Part 1 of our NCAA Tournament preview where we talk about the different things to look out for when picking your brackets this year. And make sure to head over and join our SB Nation "Wisdom Of The Crowds" pool at Yahoo! and make a bracket today before it is too late!

Each year, us Big East loyalists (or BEAST loyalists) like to puff out our chests and brag about how great our basketball conference is. 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year? No problem, and hell if we didn't deserve every single one of those bids.

Well, we're back this year with 9 more bids (and that's excluding perennial participants Villanova and Pitt, a great sign for the conference) and despite UConn winning the whole shebang last year, it wasn't a particularly impressive performance overall for the conference.

UConn was the only team to make it the Elite 8, and Marquette was the only other school to make it to the Sweet 16. So how does the conference fare this year?

After The Jump we'll take a look at each team and give a prediction of just how far they can go.

Connecticut Huskies - The defending National Champions are definitely hurting without Kemba Walker this season, although Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier have had very strong season in the backcourt together. Andre Drummond and Alex Oriahki form an imposing frontcourt as well. The talent is there, but is the heart post-Kemba?

Prediction: 3rd round loss to Kentucky

Notre Dame Fighting Irish - Mike Brey's squad survived Tim Abromaitis' season-ending injury early on and went on to shock the conference with a great record. As usual, the Irish live and die by the 3-pointer but they have a wealth of options on the perimeter and Jack Cooley has emerged as a formidable post-presence. Their defense is always in question but when they are hot, they're tough to beat.

Prediction: 3rd round loss to Duke

Louisville Cardinals - Always a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament because of their athleticism on the defensive end and their willingness to get out and run. Chane Behanan is one of the top rookies in the conference and Peyton Siva is at the end of the road - it's win or go home time for the likeable point guard.

Prediction: Elite 8 loss to Marquette

Marquette Golden Eagles - With the loss of Fab Melo, is this the Big East's best chance at a Final 4 appearance? Buzz Williams is a phenomenal coach who gets the most out of his team every single night (and the shirts he sweats through, FWIW). Darius Johnson-Odom is perhaps the best player that the rest of the country hasn't heard about and Jae Crowder is the reigning Big Eats POY. These guys are very, very good, and you don't realize it until you play them. They'll get revenge in the Elite 8 for their Big East Tournament loss to Louisville.

Prediction: Final 4

Syracuse Orange - The Fab Melo ineligibility news is shocking. I don't remember anything like it before and it's clearly time to #adjustyourbrackets. When he was missing earlier in the season, Syracuse just didn't look as good. I'm still a believer though, because of how deep this team is, and because pretty much everyone hasn't seen a zone like theirs all season.

Prediction: Elite 8 loss to Ohio State

Cincinnati Bearcats - Another team that you don't realize how good they are until you actually watch them on TV. Yancy Gates has rebounded nicely from an ugly early-season brawl and Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick are very underrated on the wings. I'd have them higher than a 6-seed, personally. Unfortunately, they got a tough draw with Florida State in the 3rd round.

Prediction: 3rd round loss to Florida State

West Virginia Mountaineers - They drew a crazy situation, having to play just 90 minutes from home in Pittsburgh while Gonzaga has to travel across the country. It should be a serious home court advantage for the hill people. Kevin Jones should have a big game. Unfortunately that home court doesn't help them as much in round 2 vs. Ohio State.

Prediction: 3rd round loss to Ohio State

South Florida Bulls - They're in action tonight on TruTV against the California Bears for the right to take the 12-seed and face Temple. Let me be clear, I hate both Temple and USF at this point in my life. So nothing would make me happier than to see Cal beat both of them. But, I'm a realist. USF will win tonight, but Temple is another story.

Prediction: 2nd round loss to Temple.

Georgetown Hoyas - Featured as a team to avoid in part 1 of our preview because of their youth. No Chris Wright, No Austin Freeman, yet a lot of talent. Talent doesn't win at this time of year though, experience does. The Hoyas pulled their typicial Jekyll/Hyde act down the stretch this year. Kansas in the Sweet 16 is the end of the road for them.

Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to Kansas

What does everyone else think about the Big East's chances this year? Better or worse than 2011? And remember, head over and make sure to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket before Thursday's games start!

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