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 last time we saw Georgetown, they were getting embarrassed by the 14th-seeded Ohio Bobcats in the middle of an epic first round of the NCAA Tournament. While the Hoyas shot over 50% from the field and hit the glass, they were unable to control Ohio’s backcourt as the Hoyas fell by 14 in a stunning upset. With Greg Monroe headed to the NBA, the 2010-11 Hoya team will have quite a different feel than the previous incarnations of the program under John Thompson III. Without a go-to post-player, senior backcourt mates Austin Freeman and Chris Wright will not only be the team leaders, they will be the go-to guys offensively.

Freeman grew into that role last season, despite a brief interruption in the middle of the season when he was diagnosed with diabetes. But he showed his ability to take over games and carry his team when necessary. Against Connecticut in early January, just a couple days after the Hoyas second loss of the season, Freeman broke out for a 28-point second half to bring Georgetown back from a 15-point first-half deficit and an important win. Later in the season it was a 24-point second half to bring the visiting Hoyas back against Louisville and stop a two-game losing streak in its tracks. By now Hoya fans should expect Freeman to be there for them whenever times get tough, but as a senior he’ll have to do those things, even when the opposition is keying on him.

Wright has shown flashes of brilliance in his college career, but hasn’t been consistent, capable of following up a four-point performance in an early-season upset loss to Old Dominion with a 34-point outburst in the next game against Harvard. Wright will have to develop into a guy who can be relied upon every night for the Hoyas to live up to their potential. If Thompson’s coaching style from last season is to be repeated, Wright will again get plenty of playing time: he played under 34 minutes just eight times in 09-10, and even then just once in the last 16 games.

The only other senior expected to earn playing time for the Hoyas is 6-10 big man Julian Vaughn, a raw offensive player who contributes by clogging the lane defensively, blocking some shots and grabbing some boards. He was an improved player last season, and another small leap forward, possibly including a successful post move here and there, would be a very welcome addition.

Junior guard Jason Clark will likely join the three seniors in the starting lineup as a third guard. Clark is a good athletic defender with long arms and the ability to knock down an open jumper when needed.

The fifth member of the starting lineup is still to be determined, but sophomore forward Hollis Thompson may be the guy. The 6-6 Thompson is not particularly big, but is a good athlete that is more suited to the wing position than playing inside. If JTIII is more interested in a post-player to pair along with Vaughn, perhaps 6-10 junior center Henry Sims will get a look. However, Sims is awfully similar to Vaughn in that neither is a particularly grave offensive threat.  The third possibility is incoming freshman Nate Lubick, who is a versatile and athletic forward. Lubick will fit in well in the Georgetown offense, and even if he doesn’t wind up starting immediately, should get plenty of time in his first year in D.C.

While Thompson didn’t go very deep on his bench last season, both Jerrelle Benimon and Vee Sanford got spot duty as freshmen, and should compete for minutes in their second seasons. Benimon is a hard-working rebounder and defender in the front court, while Sanford is a quick little scorer in the backcourt. Pressing those two for minutes will also be a trio of freshmen in addition to Lubick: point guard Markel Starks (a quick point guard that can light it up – potentially the point guard of the future, but his minutes as a freshman may be limited), wing Aaron Bowen (an athletic, undersized wing who may need to grow into some minutes) and center Moses Abraham (another offensively raw post-player for Thompson to work with – he can contribute the same type of defensive intensity and rebounding that Vaughn and Sims can already provide).

After a wild couple of weeks, it looks like conference realignment is done, for now. I still expect that the Big Ten has some more tricks up its sleeve, but they may wait until next offseason to break them out. My wrap up of the winners and losers of conference realignment is up at RTC.

Previously there was also my post after Texas made it official and pulled back from the conference expansion ledge and remained in the Big 12 (or Little 12, or Big 10-But Not The One That Plays in the Rose Bowl, or Big 12-Lite, or Texas and the nine dwarfs).

Also coming up in the next couple of days at RTC, will be more of my draft profiles (upcoming Elliot Williams, Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi and Damion James), with a whole host of other draft profiles from all the great writers at Rush the Court. Check out all the draft profiles here.

And, with conference expansion no longer taking up the vast majority of my attention, I'm looking forward to picking back up where I left off with conference-by-conference team previews. In fact, look for a Georgetown preview in just a little bit.