We’ll start with the Big East...
We already touched on Louisville, UConn, Villanova and West Virginia. That leaves out several programs with a history suggesting they can challenge…
*Pitt loses DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields. I respect Jamie Dixon a lot, but that’s too much talent to lose and just not miss a beat. Dixon will contend for an NCAA bid, but he’ll have to rebuild for another shot at the brass ring.
*Syracuse loses three double-digit scorers, including Jonny Flynn, whose gutty play in the six-overtime classic against UConn was the stuff of legend. Arinze Onaku will be tough inside though. The Orange are in a little better shape than the Panthers when it comes to re-tooling.
*Georgetown collapsed last year and there’s no reason to see light at the end of the tunnel this year. Someone unexpected is going to have to emerge if they are to get back to the level of the 2007 Final Four team any time soon.
*Marquette continues the conference theme of unsustainable losses. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Mathews and Dominic James is an enormous hit, matched only by Pitt. And Buzz Williams doesn’t have Jamie Dixon’s track record for rebuilding. A rough year ahead in Milwaukee and Williams now has to prove he can continue with what Tom Crean built before him.
*Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody is still the most prolific player in this league and if his team can find a way to play defense (a failing that he can’t be entirely excused on either), Harangody could finally shine on the Madison Square Garden stage come conference tourney time and the sport’s biggest stage in March. Tory Jackson will have to be the leader at the point on both sides of the court.
*The perpetual rebuilding at St. John might finally be over. The Red Storm were close to .500 last year and have four starters back this time around. And that doesn’t include Anthony Mason, who returns from a redshirt year. This league’s talent losses make it ripe for a surprise team in the lead candidate is in Queens.
*Providence made a push at an NCAA bid last year, but—stop me if you’ve heard this before—they lose way too much to even think about it this year. A lonely year for Sharaud Curry.
*Cincinnati joins St. John as a potential dark horse. Sophomore power forward Yancy Gates is one to keep an eye on.
Some notable early tournaments to watch in this conference will be Syracuse in the Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 19-20), UConn at the preseason NIT (presuming they win two easy home games, they’d be in New York the day before and the day after Thanksgiving), Cincy in the Maui Invitational (the three days prior to Thanksgiving), West Virginia in the 76 Classic (Thanksgiving weekend in Anaheim), and Marquette in the Old Spice Classic (same days in Orlando).