College Basketball Preview - Big East Conference

11:41 AM, Oct 31, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

OUTLOOK: Long considered to be one of, if not the top conference in college basketball, the Big East's dominance may be coming to an end very soon. With West Virginia already playing in the Big-12 this season and Syracuse and Pittsburgh gone next year, the Big East will look entirely different in the years to come, especially with a host of new teams joining the mix. For now though, a conference that had nine NCAA Tournament team's last season, will remain one of the toughest and most competitive out there.

A run to the Final Four by Louisville last season mirrored the Kemba Walker- led Connecticut Huskies of two years ago, as the Cardinals came together at the right time and surged their way to the Big East Tournament crown and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Rick Pitino will have his team at that high level from the get-go this season, and with Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng has two of the best players in the conference to do so with.

Syracuse's roster was left depleted with three players gone to the NBA and starting point guard Scoop Jardine lost to graduation. Still, Jim Boeheim never seems to be at a loss for how to get the Orange playing at a high level and he has a reliable point guard to build around in Brandon Triche.

Cincinnati turned in a somewhat similar season to Louisville, erupting after a slow start and making it to the Sweet 16. The trio of guards that led the Bearcats there (Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker) are back, but losing Yancy Gates makes the frontcourt a concern.

Notre Dame returns five starters from a team that won 22 games and got a bid to the NCAA Tournament. There aren't a lot of attention-grabbing names on the squad, but there is enough talent to make the Irish stay in contention all the way into March.

Pittsburgh didn't have the type of season it has grown accustomed to, though the squad did win 22 games. Getting back a healthy Tray Woodall should have the Panthers right back where they belong.

Marquette had the Big East Player of the Year last season in Jae Crowder but will need to rebuild. It helps that Buzz Williams was able to add the potent scoring of Arizona State-transfer Trent Lockett into the mix with a team that won 27 games last season.

Georgetown only has one more season as conference foes with rival Syracuse and will be one of the younger teams in the conference. That doesn't mean the Hoyas won't compete, especially in Otto Porter and Markel Starks take the next step.

St. John's gets its head coach back on the bench after Steve Lavin was absent last season recovering from prostate cancer. Lavin and the Red Storm will miss Moe Harkless, but having lead scorer D'Angelo Harrison back is about as good a consolation prize as you could ask for.

From there the conference has a few teams with a a number of question marks.

Seton Hall couldn't finish what it started when it won 15 of its first 17 games, as its bubble was burst with the Pirates not in the field of 68 of the NCAA Tournament. Making up for that is going to be very difficult with the departure of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope. Hopes are that a player like Fuquan Edwin will step up.

South Florida can flat out crush team's on defense but adding in some more scoring will be necessary for the Bulls to repeat last season's surprising NCAA Tournament success.

Rutgers beat Cincinnati and Notre Dame last season proving it can compete with the best in the conference, but the Scarlet Knights also lost 18 games. Kansas State-transfer Wally Judge will give the Scarlet Knights an inside presence, while leading scorer Eli Carter handles things on the wings.

A losing season is not something that Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats are used to, but that's what they'll have to put in their rearview mirror this season. Mouphtaou Yarou could be a Big East Player of the Year candidate for the Wildcats, who are desperate to get back into the upper echelon of the conference.

The conference will already look different in Storrs, Connecticut as Jim Calhoun stepped down from his post as head coach in September. He didn't leave much for his replacement Kevin Ollie to work with, as Shabazz Napier is the only real recognizable name on the roster.

DePaul was awful yet again last season but mainly because of its issues on defense. The Blue Demons actually have a ton of offensive firepower with players like Cleveland Melvin (17.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Brandon Young (14.5 ppg). Getting better on defense while bucking a losing culture will be the major obstacles to a surprise run.

Providence has the type of backcourt any college coach would want, led by last season's assists leader Vincent Council. The frontcourt is another story, where the Friars are decidedly weaker.


PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Louisville, 2. Syracuse, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Pittsburgh, 6. Marquette, 7. Georgetown, 8. St. John's, 9. Seton Hall, 10. South Florida, 11. Rutgers, 12. Villanova, 13. Connecticut, 14. DePaul, 15. Providence


LOUISVILLE: It's not how you start, it's how you finish and no one knows that better than Louisville, as the Cardinals road a wave of momentum in the postseason to secure a Big East Tournament title and make a trip to the Final Four. The Cardinals' ascent came after the squad went just 10-8 in conference play and went 2-4 in its last six conference games. This time around Louisville won't be sneaking up on anybody. In fact, there will be a bigger target on their backs than any other team in the conference. A team that won 30 games for the third time under Rick Pitino last season, Louisville was one of the best defensive teams in the country. It held opponents to just 61.0 points per game and limited opposing squads to the sixth lowest field goal percentage (38.4) in the country. Powering that defense from the inside was Gorgui Dieng. The 6-foot-11 center ripped down 9.1 boards per game last season and swatted shots at an incredible 3.2 blocks-per-game rate. His scoring is unlikely to increase (9.1 ppg) so expected flashy offensive numbers is unlikely. Still, Dieng might just be the most important player on the team. He will be joined by Chane Behanan (9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg), who is another solid rebounder as well as a player that will threaten to put in double digit points every night. The backcourt is just as established as the frontcourt. Peyton Siva (9.1 ppg, 5.6 apg) was slowed by an ankle injury last season, but still played well down the stretch. If Siva remains healthy and can be more consistent, Pitino will have a guard that can keep implementing the offense successfully. Russ Smith (11.5 ppg) is the lead returning scorer and one of just two players who scored more than 10 points per game last season. George Mason-transfer Luke Hancock (10.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.3 apg) can do it all and will fill the hole left by Chris Smith (9.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg) nicely.

SYRACUSE: This is the last season for what has arguably been the marquee program in the Big East conference for the last couple decades. This season will be the last time the Orange will be able to call the Big East home with a move to the ACC set up for next season. Jim Boeheim has won 890 games in his 36-year tenure at Syracuse, 33 of those seasons coming in the Big East. Last year's 34-3 squad that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made a run to the Elite Eight might have been one of his best squads. Four key players from that team are gone with Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and Fab Melo lost to the NBA Draft and Scoop Jardine to graduation. That is not exactly encouraging, but Boeheim knows how to keep his teams competitive through disciplined play. The Orange were second in the nation in turnover margin (plus 5.5) last season and ranked first in the conference in field goal percentage (,467). That type of play should continue with senior Brandon Triche taking over the point. This is now Triche's team as he is one of only two seniors on the roster. Triche (9.4 ppg, 2.6 apg) played a little more than 22 minutes per game last season but should see that number jump along with his production. Pairing with Triche in the backcourt is the exciting Michael Carter-Williams. Although he averaged only 2.8 points per game, Carter- Williams has the skill to take on much of the scoring Waiters and Joseph took with them to the NBA. Trevor Cooney is a 6-foot-4 guard that red-shirted last season and he will see plenty of minutes as well. Rakeem Christmas (2.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg) already has a ton of experience in replacing Melo, as he became the starter at center when Melo was out for academic reasons last season. He needs to improve on the boards though to be a real factor. James Southerland (6.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) is the only other senior on the squad, while C.J. Fair (8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is a solid option, Much is also expected from freshman Dajuan Coleman.

CINCINNATI: After the first eight games last season it would have been tough to imagine that the Bearcats would wind up in the Sweet 16 come March. Cincinnati opened the season with a sluggish 5-3 mark, including a loss to Xavier which was more known for a now infamous brawl. However, Mick Cronin was able to right the ship and earn his second straight 26-win season and NCAA Tournament bid. The inside presence of Yancy Gates (12.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg) is gone, which turns the entire focus of the team to the backcourt. That should be just fine for the Bearcats, which have a ton of depth and talent at guard. Sean Kilpatrick (14.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg) was the team's leading scorer last season and should have no trouble repeating that type of effort even with Dion Dixon (13.0 ppg) departing. At 6-4, he has the height to get inside and his durability is unmatched, as he played 34.5 minutes per game last season. Cashmere Wright (10.0 ppg, 4.6 apg) runs the point for the Bearcats and is also a disruptive force on defense, ranking fourth in the Big East in steals per game (2.0) last season. Then there is JaQuon Parker, who started 24 games and averaged 9.4 points and 5.6 points per game. He was especially effective in the crucial points at the end of the season, scoring in double figures in three of the final four games, while pulling down 30 rebounds over that span. Jeremiah Davis III (2.5 ppg) and Ge'Lawn Guyn (2.2 ppg) each played less than 11 minutes per game last season but should be in the rotation this year. Replacing Gates will be tough and Cronin will likely need to adjust his gameplan in order to do so. Prized recruit Shaquille Thomas missed last season but will be available this year and should be able to make up for much of the scoring Gates took with him. Justin Jackson (5.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) is perhaps the better fit to replace Gates in terms of size (6-8, 213).

NOTRE DAME: Turning the ball over can kill teams but for the Irish that wasn't much of a problem last season. Notre Dame averaged just 10.1 turnovers per game last year, which was a huge boost in posting a fifth straight 20-win season and third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. What Mike Brey's squad is going to want now is a move from beyond the first couple rounds and into the rarified air it has seen other squads in the conference achieve in the last few seasons. Brey has the entire starting five back from last season's 22-12 squad. Chief among those returnees is Jack Cooley. The second-team All Big East forward is the top returning scorer (12.5 ppg) and rebounder (8.9 ppg) and provided consistency all last season after Tim Abromaitis (14.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg) was lost for the year two games in. The top recruit in this year's class is Cameron Biedscheid, a 6-foot-7 forward from Missouri. Although Notre Dame has a number of players that will compete for time in the frontcourt, Biedscheid has too much talent not to get plenty of early opportunities. In the backcourt there is a variety of skill sets. Eric Atkins (12.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) can run the point and shoot from beyond the arc with equal efficiency. Jerian Grant (12.3 ppg, 5.0 apg) is almost a carbon copy of Atkins except at 6-5, he has the size to play with bigger wing players. Scott Martin (9.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is another big guard (6-8) that will be a nightmare to gameplan for. Much of those contributors really need to step up on offense as the Irish were 14th in the conference in points per game last season (66.4) and at times struggled to put together enough consistent offensive efforts.

PITTSBURGH: The Panthers won a postseason tournament last season taking down Washington State in a best of three series in the championship of the College Basketball Invitational. However, in Pittsburgh the only thing that matters is wins in the NCAA Tournament which the Panthers failed to get a bid to for the first time in 10 years. Pittsburgh finished with 22 wins but five of those came during the postseason, which matched the total the Panthers had against Big East competition last season. Pittsburgh has only one chance to reverse that effort as it heads to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. Getting a healthy Trey Woodall should do wonders for the Panthers after he missed 11 games last season. Woodall (11.7 ppg, 6.1 apg) is the leader of this team and will be so in more ways than one with his ability to score and move the ball. Woodall gets a real weapon to utilize in the scoring game with Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler. The 6-5 swingman averaged 15.6 points per game last season and also was a force on the boards (6.7 rpg). It remains to be seen what the increased competition of the Big East will do to his production. A number of freshmen will compete for time along with returning sophomore John Johnson (4.2 ppg), who is an offense-first guard that will have a boost in production this season. Pittsburgh was a strong team up front last season with the second best rebounding margin (plus 6.4) in the conference. That was also the 18th best mark in the nation. No one rebounder stands out, especially since Nasir Robinson (6.5 rpg) is gone. Lamar Patterson (9.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is a small forward that contributes on both ends, while Talib Zanna (6.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and J.J. Moore (7.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg) are the more prototypical big men. Freshman seven-footer Steven Adams gives the Panthers even more size.

MARQUETTE: Buzz Williams has established Marquette as one of the premier programs in the conference if not the country. For the second straight season the Golden Eagles made it to the Sweet 16, as Williams had his team hovering around the top 10 for most of the season. Repeating that type of success is going to be a tall order with the loss of two key contributors in Darius Johnson-Odom and Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder. The pair combined to score 35.8 points per game last season which was nearly half of the Golden Eagle's Big East leading scoring average (74.5 pg). With Crowder and Johnson- Odom gone the lead returning scorer is Davante Gardner (9.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Gardner is also the top returning rebounder and will need to increase those numbers to make up for the loss of Crowder, who averaged 8.4 boards per game last season. Gardner may not have a ton of help in the frontcourt where the Golden Eagles are considerably weak. Chris Otule is coming off an ACL injury but played well enough (5.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) in the eight games he did see action in. Jamil Wilson (7.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg) could also stand to improve. The backcourt has less question marks but will still be searching for production to replace the 18.3 points Johnson-Odom was putting in every night. Vander Blue (8.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) will likely be the top scorer on the wing and an important piece in keeping Marquette competitive on the boards. Arizona State-transfer Trent Lockett is a huge addition. Lockett (13.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is another strong wing player that can score at will and rebound with aggression. Todd Mayo (7.9 ppg) is another nice piece in the backcourt, but he needs to improve his shooting from the outside (.333).

GEORGETOWN: Youth will be served by the Hoyas this season. John Thompson III's squad features no seniors and just four juniors after losing his top three scorers from last season. However just because they are young does not mean the Hoyas are destined to finish at the bottom of the conference or end their streak of three straight seasons with at least 21 wins. That will be especially true if much of the young blood can keep up the defensive pressure that was the key to Georgetown's success a year ago. The Hoyas ranked 16th in the country in scoring defense (59.4 ppg) and 13th in opponent field goal percentage (.387). While they stopped other teams from scoring efficiently the Hoyas had no problem doing so themselves, knocking in 46.5 percent of their shots. Being thin on experience is nothing compared to how thin Georgetown is in the backcourt. There are just four guards on the roster. Markel Starks (7.1 ppg), a junior, is the most experienced and the one with the most production last season. He will need to keep running the point, while taking on an expanded role in terms of scoring with the departure of Jason Clark (14.0 ppg), Hollis Thompson (12.8 ppg) and Henry Sims (11.6 ppg). Jabril Trawick is just a sophomore but that makes him an elder statesmen in comparison to the rest of the squad's guards. Trawick (3.4 ppg) played only 11.5 minutes per game last season, but will be called on for much more this time around. There's plenty on the roster in terms of frontcourt help. Otto Porter (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is the leading returning scorer and rebounder, a category in which he led the Hoyas in last season. The stable of big men doesn't stop there with six other players on the roster standing at least 6-8, including Nate Lubick (3.5 ppg) and Greg Whittington (4.3 ppg). Lubick is the only other junior on the roster.

ST. JOHN'S: The best news for St. John's this season has nothing to do with a player returning but instead a coach. Steve Lavin was not able to patrol the bench last season as he recovered from prostate cancer surgery but in 2012-2013, he will be back where he belongs. Whether the Red Storm can get back to the same type of result it had in Lavin's first season when the Red Storm went 21-12 and got an NCAA Tournament invite, will rely on the young squad turning experience into production. St. John's didn't score well last season (66.5 ppg, 13th in Big East) and had just as much trouble stopping opposing squads from scoring, ranking second to last in points allowed (70.9) in the Big East. Getting back leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison (17.0 ppg) will help in that area. Harrison scored 544 points as a freshman which is a school record. Not helping the cause was the departure of Moe Harkless (15.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg) who bolted for the NBA after just one season. Phil Greene (7.6 ppg, 3.0 apg) won't be able to replace Harkless' production while also running the point but needs to step up in scoring. Texas A&M-transfer Jamal Branch (4.4 ppg) can't play until December but will be called on to contribute. Addressing the squad's three point woes (.282) is the addition of junior college transfer Marco Bourgault, who is an effective deep shooter. God'sgift Achiuwa (9.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg) had modest results in his first season after transferring from junior college. He has the skills to be a top player in the conference but needs to play with more consistency to realize that potential. He will be pushed for touches by highly-touted recruits JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa.

SETON HALL: For much of last season the Pirates were trending upward and on Selection Sunday they were a team that was squarely on the bubble for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. However the Pirates' 21-13 season didn't end up warranting an invite, which was especially crushing to a team that won 15 of its first 17 games. Now Kevin Willard needs to get his team to finish out the season with the same rate of consistency, all while trying to replace the two biggest parts of last year's squad. Jordan Theodore (16.1 ppg, 6.6 apg) leaves a gaping hole at point guard and since Texas-transfer Sterling Gibbs won't be eligible this season, the point guard position is a huge question. Sophomore Freddie Wilson (1.8 ppg) played a little more than eight minutes per game last season, meaning he is no more a favorite to earn the starting gig than freshman Tom Maayan. Whoever is playing the point will have players on the wing to rely on. Fuquan Edwin (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a fantastic athlete that can both defend and contribute on offense. He ascends to the go-to scorer role with Theodore and Herb Pope (15.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg) gone. Iona-transfer Kyle Smyth has a great outside shot and is a dangerous threat from the perimeter. Aaron Crosby (7.9 ppg) returns to the roster and will add an offensive spark whether he plays off the bench or in the starting lineup. Replacing Pope might be even harder than Theodore, as having a consistent double-double threat is a rare occurrence in college basketball. Southern Illinois transfer Gene Teague (8.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) wasn't near Pope's production, but will take his spot. Patrik Auda (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) started 24 games, while Brandon Mobley (5.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg) also needs to be a reliable player in the post.

SOUTH FLORIDA: It was rarely pretty, in fact at time it was downright ugly, but South Florida bullied its way to 22 wins, and an NCAA Tournament bid, where the Bulls took down California and fifth-seed Temple. It was quite a surprise for a team that has long wandered in obscurity in the college basketball world, failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for 19 straight seasons before the last one. The Bulls certainly weren't the most exciting team to watch in a sport driven by offense, as they scored only 59.3 points per game which was dead last in the conference. The Bulls made up for that with the best scoring defense in the conference (56.6 ppg), the seventh best mark in the nation. Stan Heath will need to get more out of his offense to keep South Florida on an upward trend. In the backcourt, Anthony Collins was a workhorse last season, starting 29 games and playing a team-high 32.7 minutes per contest. Collins (9.0 ppg, 5.2 apg) is a consistent distributor that Heath will again lean on. Collins may have a few more scorers on the wings to set up this season. Freshman Javontae Hawkins is heralded as a real scoring threat the Bulls lacked last season. Junior-college transfer Musa Abdul-Aleem will also be in the mix with his ability to score. Shaun Noriega (3.6 ppg) and Jawanza Piland (8.0 ppg) are holdovers from last season. The Bulls lost a lot up front with the departure of Augustus Gilchrist (9.5 ppg) and Ron Anderson Jr. (6.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg). The pair dominated inside on defense and those coming in to replace them will need to do the same. Victor Rudd (9.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is a junior that learned while playing alongside those two, while newcomers like Waverly Austin will need to get acclimated quickly.

RUTGERS: There were times last season when Rutgers looked like it might be able to contend in the Big East. Then there were times where it looked as if the Scarlet Knights wouldn't be able to win for the rest of the season. That's what happens when a squad goes 14-18 overall but secures two wins against elite programs like Cincinnati and Notre Dame. Mike Rice's squad was extremely young last season and remains so this season with seven sophomores on the roster. Those young players will have to grow up quickly if Rice wants to get Rutgers out of the wave of mediocrity the Scarlet Knights have been riding the last few seasons. Scoring more effectively could help in that regard after the Scarlet Knights ranked second to last in points per game (65.5) last season. Eli Carter (13.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) was the only player on the squad that scored in double figures consistently and luckily for Rice he is back this season. Jerome Seagears (7.7 ppg) and Myles Mack (9.8 ppg) shared responsibilities at the point as freshmen, but neither really established himself. Malick Kone (3.2 ppg) can score but was limited to only 16 games due to a knee injury. Junior-college transfer Vince Garrett could also be a nice piece in the backcourt. Losing power forward Filvydas Biruta (9.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) was soothed by the transfer of former McDonald's All-American Wally Judge. The 6-9 former Kansas State product never really lived up to his hype in two seasons with the Wildcats, but Rice is hoping a change of scenery will produce a drastic increase in production. Kadeem Jack is a tall, athletic forward who will get increased minutes after playing a little more than eight per game a year ago.

VILLANOVA: To call last season a disaster for Villanova would be putting it lightly. The Wildcats lost a school record 19 games and didn't come anywhere near the level of play that has come to be expected from a team run by Jay Wright. The team's finish kept it out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven seasons. The Wildcats also failed to get into the top-25 for the first time since 2007. It's difficult to win when you can't score effectively which was a major issue for the Wildcats. Villanova shot just 41.2 percent from the floor, the worst mark in the conference. The Wildcats still scored 70.8 points per game but that required far too many shots and was part of the reason that they led the conference in rebounding (39.1 pg). This year's version will have to get by without its two best scorers from last season with Maalik Wayns (17.6 ppg) and Dominic Cheek (12.5 ppg) gone. The loss of Wayns may not end up being as detrimental as it might seem as he never seemed to be able to elevate the play of those around him. Wright brought Wake Forest-transfer Tony Chennault (9.0 ppg, 2.8 apg) in to take over the point guard role. Ty Johnson (3.3 ppg, 2.0 apg) could also warrant a look. James Bell (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg) will need to be a better scorer this season, while the addition of talented recruit Ryan Arcidiacono will also keep the backcourt well stocked. Villanova has not really been known for its frontcourt play under Wright and that won't change this season. Mouphtaou Yarou (11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is a force inside with the ability to get even better, but he has very little around him. JayVaughn Pinkston (9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is a solid performer and a few newcomers will try to strengthen what seems like a weakness in the paint for Villanova.

CONNECTICUT: Kevin Ollie may have one of the toughest jobs in the nation this season. He must replace one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history in Jim Calhoun who announced his retirement in September. As if that wasn't enough, Ollie is also coaching a Huskies squad that lost a number of key players and is ineligible for the postseason due to poor academics last season. Leading scorer Jeremy Lamb (17.7 ppg) and big man Andre Drummond (10.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg) each left for the NBA, where each was selected in the first round, Compounding the problem is that fact that both Alex Oriakhi (6.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Roscoe Smith (4.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg) have transferred. That doesn't leave Ollie much to work with as he tries to extend a streak of 25 consecutive winning seasons for Connecticut. Shabazz Napier will be back and is the top returning scorer after putting in 13.0 points per game last season. He also led the team in assists (5.8 pg) and will be relied on heavily to take on a leadership role and keep a largely inexperienced team competitive. Sophomore Ryan Boatright (10.4 ppg, 4.0 apg) can also play the point and will take some of the pressure off of Napier. There will be a Calhoun on campus for the Huskies though it will be Omar not Jim. Omar Calhoun is a 6-6 freshman guard who will get as much opportunity as anyone to contribute early and often. Calhoun has all the tools to become an elite scorer with a litany of ways to get to the basket. Losing Drummond was probably the biggest loss for the Huskies who now have a ton of question marks in the frontcourt. Tyler Olander (4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is the most productive returning big man but does not have the size or defensive skill that Drummond had. Enosch Wolf played in only eight games last season, but with his size (7-1) he could be the anchor the Huskies want inside.

DEPAUL: Success is a relative term and in comparison to previous seasons, DePaul was relatively successful in 2011-12. The team had more wins in conference play than in the three previous seasons combined and finished with its most overall wins since 2008. However going 3-15 in Big East play and 12-19 overall isn't exactly anything to celebrate, but more of an indictment of how bad the Blue Demons have been the past few seasons. If the Blue Demons are really going to make the next step they will need to improve on defense. DePaul surrendered 76.7 points per game last season which was the worst mark in the Big East and better than only a handful of other teams nationally. That poor defensive showing spoiled what was a very effective offensive team. DePaul ranked second in the conference in both scoring (74.1 ppg) and assists (15.3 pg). Scoring should remain a strength especially out of the backcourt. Brandon Young (14.5 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.6 spg) was an effective scorer and passer with an assist to turnover ratio of 1.96. He will be expected to score more and get his teammates involved with the departure of Jeremiah Kelly (8.6 ppg, 3.9 apg). Also adding depth to the guard position is Worrel Clahar (6.0 ppg) who adds instant offense with his ability to knock down three pointers (.471). Durell McDonald was the cream of the recruiting crop, who looks marked to take over the spot left by Kelly. Jamee Crockett (8.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg) is just 6-5, but can jump out of the gym and has the ability to score from just about anywhere on the floor, including from beyond the arc (.376). The frontcourt houses the squad's leading scorer from last season in Cleveland Melvin. The junior forward scored 17.5 points per game and also ripped down 7.4 boards a contest. Donnanvan Kirk (3.5 ppg) and Derell Robertson will be expected to take on bigger roles.

PROVIDENCE: It might get worse before it gets better for Ed Cooley. After a 15-17 overall mark in his first season at the helm for the Friars, Cooley may be in for an even tougher go of it this year. Although Providence did not turn the ball over a ton last season (12.2 pg, fourth in the Big East) the Friars struggled to stop teams from scoring, ranking 13th in the conference in points allowed (69.2 pg). On the other side, Providence wasn't exactly an elite scoring team (68.8 ppg). Still there are strengths that Cooley can rely on, especially in the backcourt. Vincent Council (15.9 ppg, 7.5 apg) led the league in assists a year ago and if the Friars can be competitive, he is a sure-fire Big East Player of the Year candidate. Council needs players to pass the ball to though and he has some help in the backcourt, especially from Bryce Cotton (14.3 ppg), who is a good spot-up shooter but can create for himself as well. Kris Dunn won't be ready to go until December after shoulder surgery, but is a solid option when he is back. For all its potential in the backcourt, there is nothing much up front. LaDonate Henton (14.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg) is listed as a forward but at 6-6, doesn't have the size to bang inside with the top frontcourt players in the conference. There aren't a lot of other known commodities other than Kadeem Batts (6.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg), with a number of new or inexperienced players set to get a shot.

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