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

When Mike Rosario committed to Rutgers and its then head coach Fred Hill in 2008, it was supposed to be the rebirth (or I suppose, more accurately, birth) of the Scarlet Knight basketball program. Rosario, a McDonald’s All-American and standout at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City for legendary head coach Bob Hurley, chose Rutgers over several other Division I suitors because he wanted to put Rutgers basketball on the map, and because he wanted to be the “prince of New Jersey.” With that four-man recruiting class joining freshman Corey Chandler in Piscataway, the future looked bright for Rutgers. Two years later, all four of those players from the 2008 class have transferred elsewhere, including Rosario who announced in April his decision to transfer to Florida, and Chandler is gone as well. Of course, not surprisingly, the coach who did such a great job putting together that recruiting class, but then failed to get any of them to live up to their potential, is gone. Hill resigned after the season (albeit after a long drawn out affair during which athletic director Tim Pernetti seemingly could not pull the trigger). In his stead, Pernetti hired Mike Rice, a hot name after Rice’s Robert Morris squad gave Villanova everything it could handle in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the good news for Rice. The bad news? Just six scholarship players remain. However, Rice was able to keep Hill-committed recruits Gilvydas Biruta and Austin Carroll, and has garnered commitments from Mike Poole and JuCo transfer Tyree Graham. The talent on the roster is still underwhelming, but at least they’ll be able to scrimmage once practice rolls around, provided there are no injuries or further defections, of course.

So, what does remain for the Scarlet Knights? Not a lot, but they do have one returning full-time starter and three other guys that got their share of starts over the season as well. Jonathan Mitchell, who once transferred from Florida to Rutgers, is the guy who started all 32 games last season. He is a big wing with three-point range and can be deadly when he gets an open look. Beyond that, he is a good fundamental player, doesn’t turn the ball over, doesn’t commit dumb fouls, rebounds pretty well for his position, but is not a game-changer by any means. The three others that got some starts in last season are senior point guard James Beatty, senior combo guard Mike Coburn and sophomore forward Dane Miller. Miller, a great athlete and a major finisher, has quite a bit of potential. He averaged almost ten points a game last season, even more impressive considering very little offense was ever run for him, and he rebounds particularly well for his size, especially on the offensive glass. He is not a good shooter, whether from the field or from the line, but has the mechanics to improve with work. Coburn and Beatty are both decent at the point, nothing special, but between them they can hold down the one spot. Beatty is the better shooter and better defender, but Coburn is capable of the drive-and-dish for open shooters. Then there’s sophomore Austin Johnson, a power forward with the skills to score inside or step out and knock down an 18-foot jumper. While he has yet to make much out of those skills, he’s still got plenty of upside and he will get playing time this season. Frankly, he’ll have to.

As for the recruiting class, Biruta is the prize. He is an athletic aggressive finisher who can shoot from the perimeter and also bowl people over down low. He has a good chance to step in and start immediately for the Knights, and he has plenty of upside. The rest of the class is a mixed bag, but given Rice’s need for bodies, they’ll do fine. Carroll is a good secondary player, not a creator by any means, but a good passer and capable of stretching defenses with his range. Poole, a 6-6 small forward and Graham, a 6-1 shooting guard and junior college transfer, round out the recruiting class; both were added late in the recruiting process after Rice had already taken the reigns. Poole is an athletic defender with the capability of knocking down some shots, but like Carroll, he is more of a role player than a primary guy. Graham started his career at Texas Tech before heading the JuCo route, and he is an undersized scoring guard with the ability to run some point. All of these guys will have plenty of chances to earn playing time, if only by default.

Things are not good in the Rutgers basketball program right now, but Rice has at least gotten off to a good start with keeping the already committed recruits and adding some bodies to round out the roster, but 2010-11 figures to be a particularly tough season, with the Knights likely ready to battle it out for the basement slot. The good news is there’s absolutely no pressure on Rice or this team this season; expectations are low, the situation is bad, and resources are limited. The good news is, there’s nowhere to go but up from here.