Beasts in the east

A tour the Big East men's basketball conference, home to 11 NCAA Tournament teams and the reigning National Champion.

The Big East sent a record-setting 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last March, giving more ammunition to supporters of the conference. Though only two of the 11 teams ventured past the round of 32, the conference did take home the National Championship when Connecticut defeated the Butler Bulldogs in the tournament final. As the regular season draws near, the basketball conference attempts to steady itself after a tumultuous summer, which saw three programs--Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia--announce their intent to leave the conference and a myriad of rumors of other schools considering leaving the league. Despite the conference turmoil, seven Big East teams find themselves on preseason Top-25 rankings, assuring the conference will once again be part of the National Championship picture. 

Photo: Alex Pines
Eight of the 16 teams, including Villanova, in the conference kick off their 2011-12 regular seasons Friday.

But how do the 16 conference squads stack up against one another? 

Cincinnati Bearcats

2010-11 record: 26-9 (11-7), lost in round of 32

Head coach: Mick Cronin

Cincy returns its bruising big man Yancy Gates (Sr., F) and a collection of tough guards. The Bearcats play a cupcake out-of-conference schedule and will not truly be tested until Big East play.

Connecticut Huskies

2010-11 record: 32-9 (9-9), won the National Championship

Head coach: Jim Calhoun

The Huskies return enough talent to potentially defend its title and finish atop the Big East despitelsoing NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player Kemba Walker to the NBA. Shabazz Napier (So., G) and Jeremy Lamb (So., G/F) will shoulder a bigger load and stud freshman Andre Drummond (C) possesses the skill and athleticism to be a dominant post player right off the bat.

Depaul Blue Demons

2010-11 record: 7-24, 1-17

Head coach: Oliver Purnell

The Blue Demons will be better than last year because they can't be any worse. Sophomores Cleveland Melvin (F) and Brandon Young (G) will lead the team, but yet again, Oliver Purnell doesn’t have the personnel to compete day-in and day-out in the rugged Big East.

Georgetown Hoyas 

2010-11 record: 21-11 (10-8), round of 64

Head coach: John Thompson III

The Hoyas graduated Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, so its backcourt will have a new feel and look to it. Jason Clark (Sr., G) returns and will be expected to take a larger scoring role. The four-man freshman class will get minutes immediately. The Hoyas could be a big-time sleeper team this season.

Louisville Cardinals

2010-11 record: 25-10 (12-6), round of 64

Head coach: Rick Pitino

Rick Pitino returns a crop of talented players that will be complimented by an impressive group of freshman. Together they will combine to make the Cards a contender in the Big East. Peyton Siva (Jr., G) will look to build off his impressive sophomore campaign.

Marquette Golden Eagles

2010-11 record: 22-15 (9-9), Sweet 16

Head coach: Buzz Williams

Potential first-team All-Big East player Darius Johnson-Odom (Sr., G) is the heart and soul of the Golden Eagles. Buzz Williams’ gritty style of play will keep Marquette on the top half of the Big East. Jae Crowder (Sr., F) and Junior Cadougan (Jr., G) are also difference makers on this gritty squad. 

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2010-11 record: 27-7 (14-4), round of 32

Head coach: Mike Brey

The Fighting Irish are always a contender in the Big East, but they lack a solid number one option with Ben Hansborough gone. Tim Abromaitis (Sr., G) will pick up where Hansborough left off last year. Lone freshman Pat Connaughton (G/F) will look to make an instant impact in an inexperienced frontcourt. 

Pittsburgh Panthers

2010-11 record: 28-6 (15-3), round of 32

Head coach: Jamie Dixon

The Panthers will once again be a force in the Big East with the return of guards Ashton Gibbs (Sr.) and Tray Woodall (Jr.). Freshman forward Khem Birch is considered the best in his class in his position, and will instantly help Pittsburgh’s frontcourt. Look for Pittsburgh to be a major player at the top of the Big East this season.

Providence Friars 

2010-11 record: 15-17 (4-14)

Head coach: Ed Cooley 

With the loss of Marshon Brooks, the Friars are left with a void that juniors Vincent Council (G) and Bilal Dixon (F/C) need to fill. Providence, lacks experience and will be looking toward next season with the signing of guards Ricardo Ledo and Kris Dunn in 2012. 

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 

2010-11 record: 15-17 (5-13)

Head coach: Mike Rice 

Rutgers is an extremely young team this year with eight freshmen on the roster. Myles Mack (Fr., G) and Kadeem Jack (Fr., F) lead the freshman class for the Scarlet Knights, while the high-flying junior Dane Miller (Jr., G/F) brings some experience to the table. 

Seton Hall Pirates

2010-11 record: 13-18 (7-11)

Head coach: Kevin Willard 

The Pirates look to rebound after three disappointing seasons from former coach Bobby Gonzalez. Second-year coach Kevin Willard will lead a much younger Pirates team, with only two upper classmen in their rotation. Seniors Jordan Theodore (G) and Herb Pope (F) will lead the inexperienced Pirates to a more promising season. The future still remains the focus.

St. John’s Red Storm

2010-11 record: 21-12 (12-6), round of 64

Head coach: Steve Lavin

The Red Storm improved its record dramatically last year with a 21-12 record (12-6 Big East). St. John’s lost 10 seniors, making Steve Lavin’s second year at the helm much harder.

Syracuse Orange

2010-11 record: 27-8 (12-6), round of 32

Head coach: Jim Boeheim

The Orange looks poised for a Big East title run. Syracuse returns four of five starters from last year and has also added more size to its already big front line with freshman Rakeem Christmas (F).

South Florida Bulls

2010-11 record: 10-23 (3-15)

Head coach: Stan Heath

Stan Heath looks to improve on last year’s dismal record (10-23, 3-15 Big East). They’ll be depending on the health of Augustus Gilchrist (Sr., F) to do so. USF returns eight players from last year’s roster, but the Bulls will also have to travel to Syracuse, Villanova, Georgetown, Pittsburgh and Louisville, making their conference schedule much more difficult. 

Villanova Wildcats

2010-11 record: 21-12 (9-9), round of 64

Head coach: Jay Wright

The Wildcats look to redeem themselves after closing last season on a six-game losing streak. Villanova lost its two most prolific scores from last year in Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. Coach Jay Wright will depend on a group of four juniors to provide leadership for this relatively young team.

West Virginia Mountaineers 

2010-11 record: 21-12 (11-7), round of 32

Head coach: Bob Huggins

The Mountaineers will build around returning starters Kevin Jones (Sr., F) and Darryl Bryant (Sr., G), both 1,000-point careers scorers. West Virginia still lost 10 players from last year, including last year’s leading scorer Casey Mitchell.

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