1) Pittsburgh PanthersÑLast year: 25-8 (10-6 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Sr. C Aaron Gray, Soph. PG Levance Fields ÑKey departures: Carl Krauser ÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Gilbert Brown: 6-foot-6 SFÑPanther quick hits: With the seven-footer Gray returning for his senior year, it puts the Panthers right in the mix for the Big East crown. The wildcard for head coach Jaime Dixon will be transfer Mike Cook who is an excellent scorer from the wing.
2) Georgetown HoyasÑLast year: 23-10 (10-6 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Jr. SF Jeff Green, Jr. C Roy HibbertÑKey departures: Brandon Bowman, Ashanti CookÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Vernon Macklin: 6-foot-9 PF, DaJuan Summers: 6-foot-8 PFÑHoya quick hits: Hibbert, Green and transfer Patrick Ewing Jr. give John Thompson III a great front line. The Hoyas’ success will hinge on whether or not the transfers and incoming freshman can make up for the loss of Bowman, Cook and Darrel Owens.
3) Syracuse OrangeÑLast year: 23-12 (7-9 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Eric Devendorf, Terrance Roberts, Demetris NicholsÑKey departures: Gerry McNamara ÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Paul Harris: 6-foot-4 G, Mike Jones: 6-foot-7 SFÑOrange quick hits: Harris, Devendorf and point guard Josh Wright will be a formidable backcourt for head coach Jim Boheim. With that kind of talent handling the ball and the athleticism on the front line, the Orange will no doubt improve on last year’s effort.
4) Marquette Golden EaglesÑLast year: 20-11 (10-6 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Soph. PG Dominic JamesÑKey departures: Steve NovakÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Lazar Hayward: 6-foot-6 PFÑGolden Eagle quick hits: Head coach Tom Crean looks to build off of last year’s solid season in the Big East. His trio of sophomore guards led by Dominic James will be responsible for much of the team’s success.
5) Connecticut HuskiesÑLast year: 30-4 (14-2 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Soph. PG A.J. Price, Soph. PF Jeff AdrienÑKey departures: Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, Josh BooneÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Hasheem Thabeet: 7-foot-2 C, Stanley Robinson: 6-foot-9 PFÑHuskie quick hits: UConn lost their top six scorers from last year’s squad. Head coach Jim Calhoun will rely heavily on his stellar freshman class. Look for A.J. Price to finally make the most of his playing time after sitting out the past two years.
6) Louisville CardinalsÑLast year: 21-13 (6-10 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Jr. F Tello Palacios, Soph. G Terrance WilliamsÑKey departures: Taquan DeanÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Derrick Caracter: 6-foot-9 PF, Edgar Sosa: 6-foot-2 PGÑCardinal quick hits: A mix of youth and experience in the ‘Ville for head coach Rick Pitino has the Cards looking up from last year’s 11th place finish in the Big East. The big question is still how long center David Padgett will be out with knee problems.
7) Villanova WildcatsÑLast year: 28-5 (14-2 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Sr. PF Curtis Sumpter, Sr. PG Mike NardiÑKey departures: Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle LoweryÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Scottie Reynolds: 6-foot-1 SGÑWildcat quick hits: The team will go from relying on guard play to leaning on its big men. Sumpter will team with senior Will Sheridan and sophomores Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark to have one of the best front lines in the Big East.
8) DePaul Blue DemonsÑLast year: 12-15 (5-11 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Sr. G Sammy Meija, Soph. PF Wilson Chandler ÑKey departures: NoneÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Will Walker: 6-foot PGÑBlue Demon quick hits: With a variety of injuries and suspensions putting a damper on last year’s team, folks in Chicago now feel this team has enough talent to compete in the Big East. Second year man Jerry Wainwright will rely on Meija and Chandler to lead this team that welcomes back virtually everyone from last season.
9) St. Johns Red StormÑLast year: 12-15 (5-11 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Sr. PG Daryll Hill, Sr. C Lamont HamiltonÑKey departures: NoneÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Derwin Kitchen: 6-foot-4 SG, ÑQa’rraan Calhoun: 6-foot-8 PFÑRed Storm quick hits: With five starters returning and a solid group of incoming freshman and transfers, St. Johns looks poised to improve on last year’s 12-15 team. Depth was a key issue as the team got off to a good start early in the year but tailed off late from having to play virtually the same five and six players all game.
10) Providence FriarsÑLast year: 12-15 (5-11 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Soph. PG Sharaud Curry, Soph. SG Weyinmi EfejukuÑKey departures: Donnie McGrathÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Dwain Williams: 6-foot-1 GÑFriar quick hits: After an under 500 campaign last year, things should be a little better for head coach Tim Welsh. Having to play four freshman for long stretches last year made things difficult, and with more experience the Friars should improve.
11) Notre Dame Fighting IrishÑLast year: 16-14 (6-10 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Sr. G Colin Falls, Sr. G Russell CarterÑKey departures: Chris QuinnÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Luke Harangody: 6-foot-8 PFÑIrish quick hits: After losing a majority of their conference games last year in the final moments, head coach Mike Brey will rely on his pair of senior guards to get this team over the hump.
12) West Virginia MountaineersÑLast year: 22-11 (11-5 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Sr. F Frank YoungÑKey departures: Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike GanseyÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Da’Sean Butler: 6-foot-7 SGÑMountaineer quick hits: With only one returning starter, head coach John Beilin will rely on a variety of fresh faces to run his complex four out-one in offense. The athleticism is there in Morgantown but the basketball understanding may not be.
13)Cincinnati BearcatsÑLast year: 21-13 (8-8 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Sr. PF Cedric McGowanÑKey departures: Devan Downey, James WhiteÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Deonta Vaughn: 6-foot PG, John Williamson: 6-foot-6 SFÑBearcat quick hits: Cincinnati will have an influx of transfers and freshmen this year as they work through the changing of the guard at head coach. With Huggins at Kansas State and Andy Kennedy leaving for Ole Miss, former UC assistant Mick Cronin takes over a program in need of vast rebuilding.
14) Rutgers Scarlet KnightsÑLast year: 19-14 (7-9 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Sr. G Marquis Webb, Soph. PG Anthony FarmerÑKey departures: Quincy DoubyÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Hamady N’Diaye: 6-foot-10 CÑScarlet Knight quick hits: Recruiting guru Fred Hill takes over as head coach for Rutgers with hopes of vaulting the program to the next level. Despite a solid first class and some talent returning, it is going to be difficult for Hill and his staff to replace last year’s scoring leader Quincy Douby (25 ppg).
15) Seton Hall PiratesÑLast year: 18-12 (9-7 Big East)ÑKey returning players: Jr. SG Jamar NutterÑKey departures: Daniel CopelandÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Eugene Harvey: 5-foot-11 PG, Larry Davis: 6-foot-3 SGÑPirate quick hits: First year head coach Bobby Gonzalez will have his hands full rebuilding the Pirates. However, he got things off to the right start nabbing two top 100 recruits in Harvey and Davis who will be critical for the team’s success this year.
16) South Florida BullsÑLast year: 7-22 (1-15 Big East) ÑKey returning players: Srs. F Melvin Buckley & F McHugh MattisÑKey departures: James Holmes, Solomon JonesÑNewcomer(s) to watch: Solomon Bozeman: 6-foot PGÑBull quick hits: Head coach Robert McCullum probably thought things could only get better after last year’s one win in conference play. However, with a handful of freshmen on the roster and two transfers who won’t play until mid-December, it looks like another long year in Tampa.