Big East preview

By: Michael Robinson | Friday, October 30, 2009

Villanova was 30-8 SU, but just 19-15 ATS last year.

The Big East is one of college basketball’s true power conferences with four teams making the Elite Eight last year and five teams in this year’s AP preseason top-25. Michael Robinson breaks it all down in his conference preview.

Note that odds to win the Big East are listed in parenthesis, courtesy of

Villanova Wildcats (2008-2009 records below)

30-8 SU, 19-15 ATS (7-5 H, 7-4 A, 5-6 N) O/U - 17-17 (5-7 H, 7-4 A, 5-6 N)

Villanova (3/1 odds) made the Final Four last year before being out-gunned by North Carolina. The Wildcats lost frontcourt starters in Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark. Cunningham’s 16.1 PPG and 7 ½ RPG was the biggest blow.

Scottie Reynolds brings back his 15.2 PPG average and the duo of Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will join him in the backcourt. The holes in the frontcourt will be filled by Antonio Pena and likely Duke-transfer Taylor King. Villanova is ranked fifth in the AP, but lack of size and depth up front could cost them the Big East title.

Louisville Cardinals

31-6 SU, 22-15 ATS (10-8 H, 8-1 A, 4-6 N) O/U - 17-18 (9-8 H, 5-4 A, 3-6 N)

Louisville (7/2) is still trying to turn the page from Coach Rick Pitino’s sex scandal. There is certainly enough talent to make fans focus on the court. Sophomore center Samardo Samuels (11.8 PPG) will help make up for the loss of NBA-entries Terrence Williams and Earl Clark. Vast improvement is also expected from sophomore forward Terrence Jennings.

The backcourt is absolutely loaded with Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and sixth-man Preston Knowles. Swingman Reginald Delk has first dibs on the starting small forward position. Pitino knows his squad underachieved last year by losing to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. A Final Four run might solve all his troubles.

West Virginia Mountaineers

23-12 SU, 15-17 ATS (6-7 H, 6-6 A, 3-4 N) O/U - 13-19 (6-7 H, 4-8 A, 3-4 N)

West Virginia (4/1) is ranked eighth in the AP, but its conference odds are below 19th ranked Louisville. The big reason is the national reputation of the Cardinals compared to the lesser known Mountaineers. West Virginia’s first-round exit versus Dayton during March Madness also hurt its credibility.

Coach Bob Huggins returns four starters, with junior college transfer Casey Mitchell replacing Alex Ruoff (15.7 PPG) at shooting guard. WVU is a rare college team that is stronger up front with Da'Sean Butler (17.1 PPG), Devin Ebanks (7.8 RPG) and Wellington Smith. Add in Darryl Bryant at point guard, and this group of no-names may walk away with the Big East crown.

Connecticut Huskies

31-5 SU, 15-15 ATS (2-9 H, 6-3 A, 7-3 N) O/U - 13-17 (3-8 H, 2-7 A, 8-2 N)

Connecticut (4/1) lost its top three players (Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price) from the squad that got upset by Michigan State in the Final Four. Most teams would be decimated right now, but UConn is ranked 12th in the AP.

The Huskies’ backcourt looks set with Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson (13.2 PPG), although the latter is recovering from a knee injury. The frontcourt is considerably weaker with Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards, plus a lot of question marks. Coach Jim Calhoun has talented players on the bench, but it will be hard to compete with last year’s juggernaut.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

21-15 SU, 11-19 ATS (6-7 H, 3-8 A, 2-4 N) O/U - 12-17 (3-9 H, 7-4 A, 2-4 N)

Notre Dame (7/1) started the regular season at 12-3 SU last year, but finished 5-10 SU and in the NIT. The Irish got some good news when big man Luke Harangody (23.3 PPG, 11.8 RPG) decided to return for his senior season. He is a tremendous college player who doesn’t project as well at the next level.

Aiding Harangody will be point guard Tory Jackson and Mississippi State transfer Ben Hansbrough (Tyler’s brother). However, Notre Dame lost three long-range shooters in Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller. Opposing defenses will be collapsing on Harangody even more and other players must step-up or it could be a long season.

Syracuse Orange

28-10 SU, 19-15 ATS (8-7 H, 4-5 A, 7-3 N) O/U - 22-12 (9-6 H, 4-5 A, 9-1 N)

The Syracuse Orange (7/1) were 2-6 SU against ranked Big East opponents last year. They did a great job beating up everyone else in the conference at 9-1 SU. Syracuse will be rebuilding on the fly with top-three scorers Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf having left school early.

Guard Andy Rautins (10 ½ PPG) is the top returning scorer. Arinze Onuaku (7.3 RPG) and Rick Jackson (5.8 RPG) give the Orange two physical big men. Forward Wesley Johnson, an Iowa State transfer, is drawing rave reviews so far. He’ll need to be an impact scorer from the outset if Syracuse hopes to contend in the conference.

Rest of the field

Georgetown (8/1), Pittsburgh (15/1), Cincinnati (30/1), St. Johns (30/1), Seton Hall (40/1), Marquette (45/1), Rutgers (45/1), DePaul (100/1), Providence (45/1) and South Florida (30/1) are the rest of this mega, 16-team conference.

Georgetown’s lower odds are somewhat surprising given its 20th ranking in the AP.

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