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 Jerry Wainwright era is over in Chicago, and the Oliver Purnell experiment (wait, wasn’t the Oliver Purnell Experiment the name of a 1970’s British prog-rock band?) is underway. As well-liked as Wainwright was, his tenure at DePaul was an outright failure, a 59-80 overall record, one winning season, one NIT appearance, and a backwards slide to a total of 16 wins over the last two years combined. So the program needed some new blood and some excitement, and Purnell brings that with his up-temp pressure-based style, that he most recently had success with at Clemson. However, despite Purnell’s three straight NCAA Tournament bids, six straight post-season tournament bids, and six straight non-losing seasons, there is a little bit of a blemish on that record: three straight NCAA Tournament first-round losses and a reputation for his team to play its best basketball in December and January, rather than in March. All that considered, Blue Demon fans would take a first-round tournament loss over the past five years without hesitation.

But, while the coaching change brings some excitement to the program, the roster is more or less a disaster, with the Blue Demons two leading scorers headed for greener pastures: Will Walker graduating and Mac Koshwal becoming the second talented Demon in two years to make the somewhat questionable decision to declare early for the NBA draft. To make matters worse, 6-10 freshman recruit Walter Pitchford has asked for his release from his signed letter of intent, although as of today, that release has not been granted. What remains is a rag-tag group of returnees, two other Wainwright recruits and the first of Purnell’s recruits.

Incumbent point guard Jeremiah Kelly is the guy with the most tangible claim on a starting spot, and as a result, probably the guy with the most pressure on him, but he is a limited player. He takes care of the ball, but doesn’t create a whole lot either for himself or for his teammates. Best case scenario for the Blue Demons: incoming freshman Brandon Young overtakes Kelly for the starting spot; Young is a tenacious defender with a versatile offensive game. Senior Michael Bizoukas is also in the mix at the point, but despite his hard-work and scrappiness, he doesn’t really have Big East athleticism. He could get spot minutes at either guard spot, however, just on his shooting ability alone.

The Demons are most talented at the wings, with guys like Eric Wallace, Tony Freeland, Mike Stovall, Devin Hill, and incoming freshman Moses Morgan all in the mix there. It is anybody’s guess who will get the starting spots out of these guys at the two or the three (all four of the returnees got at least seven starts last season, but none started more than 20 games), but this is a decent group of athletic guys who could fit in well in Purnell’s system.

Up front, DePaul will certainly miss Koshwal, but a few players remain. 6-11 junior center Krys Faber will likely take over in the post and he is a fairly athletic shot-blocker, but he’ll need to improve his offensive game.  Kene Obi, a 7-2 junior, may get some minutes in relief of Faber, but it is possible that Pitchford will take those minutes if he winds up at DePaul after all. Pitchford is a raw athlete with little game outside of the paint, but some definite upside. At the four spot, Purnell brought in his first recruit, Cleveland Melvin, who once committed to Connecticut but withdrew. Melvin is a very good athlete who is good in the open floor and good on the glass, but with very little approaching an offensive game elsewhere; he may, however, shine in Purnell’s system. If Melvin can’t claim the four spot, it is possible that DePaul goes small and one of the wings takes over the four, perhaps Hill, whose 6-9 frame can fill the slot pretty well.

While it will take Purnell some time to turn things around in Chicago, he can take comfort in the fact that there is at least some talent here, and the incoming recruiting class has plenty of promise. And, while there isn’t a lot of offensive polish up and down the roster, it is possible the Blue Demons can manufacture some offense through the artful application of Purnell’s press. Certainly DePaul is not ready for prime-time quite yet, but they could be there earlier than most rightfully expect.