Predicted Order of Finish with Tiers by Color

  1. Villanova
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Syracuse
  4. Seton Hall
  5. Georgetown
  6. Marquette
  7. West Virginia
  8. St. John’s
  9. Connecticut
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Louisville
  12. Cincinnati
  13. South Florida
  14. Providence
  15. DePaul
  16. Rutgers

In the last three seasons combined, the Big East has placed 23 teams in the NCAA tournament. Perhaps even more impressively, in the last two seasons, the Big East has had ten teams in the tournament as a three-seed or better. However, with just one of the top ten scorers and just three of the top ten rebounders returning this season, it looks like this season will be slightly down year for the conference. Not that there aren’t very good teams in the league, as the first tier of schools (Villanova, Pittsburgh and Syracuse) are all contenders for preseason national top ten consideration.

In the next tier, there are several teams with big question marks, with Seton Hall’s questions over adjustments to a new head coach and the health of Herb Pope the two most obvious. Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia each lose key contributors to their recent success, but all three teams have intriguing talent, both the proven variety and the kind still labeled as potential, waiting in the wings. For the four teams in this tier, NCAA Tournament bids are expected, but they’ll need positive answers to their questions.

One tier down, however, there are teams who seem more likely to compete for those three new additional entries into the NCAA Tournament with other bubble teams. St. John’s looks to be at the top of this tier, partly due to their heavily senior-laden roster. Also in this tier are three marquee Big East teams (Connecticut, Louisville and Notre Dame) with more questions than answers on their rosters. Major contributors are gone, and what remains are largely inconsistent performers. If some of that inconsistency disappears with experience for players like Kemba Walker, Terrence Jennings and Scott Martin, these teams could move up into the tier of teams that doesn’t have to sweat out selection Sunday.

The fourth tier of teams is a little mini-tier of a couple of teams that I couldn’t rightly consider as bubble contenders, but also teams I didn’t want to put down with the basement of the league. For South Florida and Cincinnati to compete for NCAA Tournament bids, they’ll need not only veteran players like Gus Gilchrist and Yancy Gates to turn into highly efficient players, but also newcomers to provide heavy assistance right out of the gates.

And at the bottom, there are three teams in varying degrees of disarray. Providence and third-year head coach Keno Davis have endured a horrific offseason, while things haven’t been a whole lot better at DePaul and Rutgers. For DePaul and Rutgers, they at least have new coaches to bring hope of a brand new and more successful direction for the program. At Providence, Davis is almost back to square one. The one thing all these programs have in common is that it would take a near miracle for any of these teams to compete for a postseason bid of any kind, let alone an NCAA Tournament bid.

All-Big East First Team
G Austin Freeman, Sr, Georgetown
G Kemba Walker, Jr, Connecticut
F Kevin Jones, Jr, West Virginia
F Herb Pope, Jr, Seton Hall
F Kris Joseph, Jr, Syracuse

All-Big East Second Team
G Corey Fisher, Sr, Villanova
G Jeremy Hazell, Sr, Seton Hall
G Ashton Gibbs, Jr, Pittsburgh
F D.J. Kennedy, Sr, St. John’s
F Tim Abromaitis, Sr, Notre Dame

All-Freshman Team
G Vander Blue, Marquette
G Gerard Coleman, Providence
F Jayvaughn Pinkston, Villanova
F Roscoe Smith, Connecticut
C Fab Melo, Syracuse

The Bearcats will play their sixth season as a member of the Big East conference and Mick Cronin will enter his fifth season as their head coach in 2010-11. In all of those years, the Bearcats have failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Put two and two together and you’ll find Cronin squarely on the hot seat next season. To make matters worse, Cincinnati’s two leading scorers depart (Deonta Vaughn to graduation, Lance Stephenson as an early entrant to the NBA Draft, despite his earlier and wiser claims that he was quite ready for the NBA), leaving the Bearcats at a point where they are not quite starting over, but need to find a new identity.

While Stephenson and Vaughn were the faces of the program last season, the real strength of the team lay in their athletic and hard-working front line, and for the most part that will return. Yancy Gates was the team’s leading rebounder last season and is their leading returning scorer, and he is certainly an enormously gifted young man. However, he has been known to give Cronin migraines from time to time, either due to lack of effort or poor decisions. If Gates can clear up those mental issues in his junior season, he is a very skilled post player who can emerge as a team leader. Alongside Gates in the post will be junior center Ibrahima Thomas, a nice long rebounder and shot blocker. Rashard Bishop will likely start at the three-spot in his senior year, and he may be the Bearcats most consistent returning offensive player, capable of both knocking down the three and slashing to the hoop.  Two seniors will return to provide depth off the bench up front: 6-11 center Anthony McClain, who played sparingly and is mostly distinguished by either his height or his awkwardness, and 6-7 forward Darnell Wilks, an athletic rebounding forward with surprising three-point range.

In the backcourt, Cashmere Wright got a few starts in his redshirt freshman year as a third guard, and will take over the point guard duties full time next year. He is a speedy pass-first point who sometimes let his speed get the best of him. According to Cronin, the player with the best chance to take over at the two-guard will be redshirt freshman Sean Kilpatrick, an excellent scoring guard in high school. Competing with Kilpatrick for that role will be quick sophomore Jaquon Parker, who was a very effective offensive player for the Bearcats in his limited minutes as a freshman. Also figuring into the backcourt mix will be senior Larry Davis and junior Dion Dixon, both of whom have reputations as excellent long-range shooters despite their mediocre percentages last year.

And then there are the reinforcements, in the form of an intriguing two-man recruiting class. Justin Jackson is a 6-8 power forward who is an active, athletic finisher who has shown some pretty impressive skills both running the floor and handling in the open court. Then there’s 6-10 center Kelvin Gaines, another athletic specimen who can get up and down the floor and be a presence in the paint. Both will have plenty of chances to earn minutes throughout the season.

There has been talk that this team has had a chemistry problem in years past, and further talk that the source of that chemistry problem is now gone. And just to be clear, surprisingly enough, that wasn’t Stephenson. The Big East has seen a couple of cases of “addition-by-subtraction” lately, and if the Bearcats suddenly have a united locker room, maybe some of those two and four point losses last year turn into two and four point wins. But regardless of the chemistry side of the equation, the fact is that the Bearcats have to find players to step in and pick up the slack left by their departed backcourt. If Wright can be the efficient point guard he is capable of and if Kilpatrick lives up to the expectations that his coach has for him, that would be a great start, but in the end, Gates putting behind the inconsistencies of an immature ballplayer and turning into a consistent force in the Big East is the only way that Cronin gets his team to the Tournament and gets invited back for another season. That may not be an easy task, but for Cronin to prove his worth as a major-college head coach, he’ll need to make sure he has Gates on board.