Published on October 26th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist
2012 NCAA Conferences Previews: Big East
Welcome to October! For the next month leading up to the start of actual NCAA Games, I’ll be breaking down some of the biggest conferences. After a Final Four run last year, many are picking Louisville to win the NCAA Championship this season. They certainly can, but they’ll have competition in their own conference, as the Big East is just about as tough as any other this season.
Top Five Squads:
1. Louisville Cardinals:
There might not be a more “complete” team than Louisville this season. The Cardinals have everything you want in a Championship caliber squad, minus the NBA prospects.
Peyton Silva is one of the best point guards in the country, while Gorgui Dieng is one of the better big men in the game. That alone makes the Cardinals pretty dangerous, but add in defensive stud Russ Smith and a hopefully healthy Mike Marra and this squad should be contending in April.
That’s without even mentioning Wayne Blackshear, who will most certainly lead the squad in points this year. Yeah, the Cardinals are that dangerous.
Hit the jump for the rest of Bryant’s Big East preview…
2. Pittsburgh Panthers:
Freshman Steven Adams very well could be the next Meyers Leonard. He’s a smart, tough kid who scouts rave about for his work ethic. He looks like a NBA center and will hopefully make a huge impact this year.
Tray Woodall returns as the stud guard (11.7 points, 6.1 assists) and around him the Panthers are a very deep (if unsexy) squad. Trey Zelgier should lead the team in scoring, while Lamar Patterson and Dante Taylor are both excellent starters.
If not for Louisville, this would be the most complete team in the Big East. Don’t sleep on the Panthers.
3. Syracuse Orange:
The Orange lose their stars in Dion Waiters and Fab Melo, which leaves Brandon Triche and sophomore Michael Carter-Williams to lead the squad. That combo could certainly do it, but we may be putting too much expectation on Carter-Williams. He needs to prove his small flashes of brilliance last season weren’t a mirage.
Rakeem Christmas is an excellent defender/rebounder, but this squad is even more scarce than last year at post scoring. Freshman Dejuan Coleman comes in with big expectations if he can stay in shape.
4. Georgetown Hoyas:
Going out on a limb here because I’m a bit too fascinated with Otto Porter. For a man who had just 97. Points and 6.6 rebounds last year, he sure did a ton of stuff that doesn’t show in the stats.
His shooting needed extensive work, but hopefully for his sake (and the Hoyas) he worked on that all summer. Add in Markel Starks (7.1 points) and you have a dangerous wing combo.
They have legitimate issues in the paint, where Mikael Hopkins, TylerAdams and Bradley Hayes could all emerge as big time bigs but all come with big question marks.
5. Cincinnati Bearcats:
The Bearcats begin (and almost end) with Sean Kilpatrick, but more on him later. Around their sharpshooter, Cincinnati is solid, but not as deep as some of the other Big East squads.
Yancy Gates is gone and leaves a hole in the middle. Justin Jackson is a solid returner (5.1 points, 4.2 rebounds) and freshman Shaquille Thomas could be a surprise if he adds some weight (he’s listed at 180 for a 6’7” forward). Thomas has the athleticism to be a breakout, and Jackson could well breakout on his own thanks to his stellar blocking skills.
Cincinnati may be a bit underrated here (you could easily argue for them at No. 4) and they sure have the star power to do it. They’re just not as deep as the top four squads.
Four Players to Watch:
He may not be the most dangerous player on his squad (he’s third behind Dieng and Blackshear) but he’s my favorite for Player of the Year. He notched 9.1 points and 5.6 assists last year, both numbers you can bet will go up. He’s got as deep a team to run as any guard in the league, and he’s got the skills to back it up.
He won’t wow you, but at the end of the day, he’ll be the conference’s most important player.
2. Otto Porter, Georgetown:
Porter was quietly one of the best freshmen in the country last year even if he only scored 9.6 a contest. He shot 51.6 percent from the field, but just 22.6 percent from beyond the three—which tells you just how efficient he was midrange.
He’s a fluid athlete with good all-around skills and will hear his name called in the first round next season. He’ll be up there with Silva, Kilpatrick and Blackshear for Player of the Year.
3. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati:
After averaging 14.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last year, I expect Kilpatrick to put up even more numbers than last year. Dion Dixon is gone, which leaves even more offensive work into Kilpatrick’s hands. He shot 42.8 percent last year but sank 2.5 threes a game—both numbers should go up.
4. Steven Adams, Pittsburgh:
I’ll put the freshman here because he’s one of the most NBA quality players in the conference. The 240, 7’0” center can apparently bang in the post and hit from outside the paint, and he’s god the skills on the boards and defensively as well.
He won’t be a 15 point per game scorer, certainly not as a freshman, but as we’ve seen with Gorgui Dieng at Louisville a big man can shape the Big East.
Three Award Predictions:
Player of the Year: Peyton Silva, Louisville
Freshman of the Year: Steven Adams, Pittsburgh
Defensive Player of the Year: Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
Two Storylines to Pay Attention To:
1. How much will the loss of Jim Calhoun hurt UConn?
I wrote a long piece on Jim Calhoun when he retired, but Kevin Ollie is in charge. (And the award for sleaziest plug goes too….) How much will that change UConn’s fortunes?
Not a ton, especially not with this roster. The Huskies squad is basically Shabazz Napier and a handful of unproven talent—I’d rank them out of the top 10 in the conference. Would Calhoun be able to coach these guys to a higher record than Ollie? Perhaps, but Calhoun was very confident in Ollie’s abilities. Keep an eye on the Huskies this year.
2. Is this the year Notre Dame moves from pretender to contender?
Yes, they won 22 games last year and got into the NCAA tournament. So why do I have them out of the top 5 in the conference? Honestly, I like all five teams better than them.
Louisville is obvious, as is Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Georgetown has a star in Otis Porter, while Cincinnati has Sean Kilpatrick. That leaves the Fighting Irish at No. 6, even though they return all five starters.
I’ll give the nod to Jack Cooley (12.5 points, 8.8 rebounds) and the rest of the Irish’s depth. They have the talent to prove me wrong, maybe even to be a top 25 lock. I’ll hedge my bets on them till they prove it.
One Conference Championship Winner: Louisville Cardinals
I can’t get cute, not with this squad. They have the most depth in a conference that is deeper than any other. They have the most star power in a pretty powerful league. They are, without question, a championship caliber squad. Could they pull a Kentucky from last year and lost the Big East (to say, Georgetown?) while winning the NCAA Championship? Sure, but you wouldn’t put money on it.
Projected Final Standings:
1. Louisville Cardinals
2. Pittsburgh Panthers
3. Syracuse Orange
4. Georgetown Hoyas
5. Cincinnati Bearcats
6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
7. Marquette Golden Eagles
8. St. John’s Red Storm
9. South Florida Bulls
10. Providence Friars
11. Connecticut Huskies
12. Seaton Hall Pirates
13. Villanova Wildcats
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
15. DePaul Blue Demons