Big East Primer: Louisville ready to dominate, but could 'Cuse contend?
With Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear, Louisville should rise to the top of Big East
UConn interim coach Kevin Ollie has a tough road to earn an extended contract
This season could be the last of the Big East we've come to know in recent years
In preparation for the 2012-13 college hoops season, SI.com breaks down the best of the best in each of the six major conferences. Andy Glockner serves up his picks for Player of the Year, breakout candidate and more for the Big East.
The top two contenders for this award are both Louisville players, Siva and teammate Gorgui Dieng, which probably gives away who's favored to win the conference title. But the preseason favorite has to be Siva, a 6-foot senior point guard who spearheads Louisville's success on both ends. He will need to cut down on turnovers -- his rate of 29.3 percent last year was fourth highest among the league's 99 qualifiers -- but if he can perform like he did during his run through the Big East tournament, he can win the award. If you're looking for a non-Louisville candidate, watch out for Georgetown's Otto Porter, a high-motor, 6-8 forward poised for big things after averaging 9.7 points and 6.8 rebounds as a freshman.
With Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters gone, Carter-Williams is ready to show why he was a McDonald's All-American and consensus top-25 recruit. Not that the 6-6, 185-pound Rhode Island native's talents remain completely unseen -- they were on display most noticeably in a 13-point game against St. John's at Madison Square Garden that included this dunk -- but his minutes fluctuated and downright disappeared at times last season thanks to the Orange's crowded backcourt. Now that he is running the point alongside senior Brandon Triche, expect a steadier dose of big plays.
The 7-foot Kiwi import should be the difference-making, first-year big man Pitt fans hoped they were getting with Khem Birch last season. Adams, a sturdy 248-pounder, committed to the Panthers two years ago as an unheralded prospect before making sure everyone learned his name with a breakout performance at adidas Nations last summer. A strong rebounder and passer who admits he is still somewhat raw, Adams has the size and skills to make the transition to the Big East. Another big man -- Syracuse's 6-9, 288-pound DaJuan Coleman -- will also make an immediate impact.
The Cardinals and Orange meet before this -- on Jan. 19 in Louisville -- but the return date, falling as it does on the penultimate weekend of the regular season, will offer a great appetizer to the impending conference tournament and postseason. But be warned: the scores of their two games last year (both won by Syracuse) were 52-51 and 58-49, so don't expect a shootout.
The number of times prior to last season that Pittsburgh's defense had ranked lower than 54th nationally in defensive efficiency under Jamie Dixon. Last year's underachieving Panthers ranked 151st in the category, thanks in large part to slipping from 19th to 229th in two-point defense.
A seven-month contract will heat up any seat pretty quickly. Add the surrounding circumstances -- succeeding a program-building legend, a new and noncommittal athletic director, the current NCAA sanctions and a lack of head coaching experience -- and Ollie will be under a unique kind of pressure as he tries to earn an extended contract. Just about everybody likes Ollie, which at the very least bodes well for his continued strong recruiting, and it's not completely unprecedented for a player with a long NBA career and previous no head coaching experience to have success. (See: Hoiberg, Fred.) But given the Huskies' thin roster and the Big East's typically unforgiving gantlet, this will be a tall task for a first-time head coach who needs to impress right away.
Selection Sunday might be the last time this looks like the Big East we've come to know in recent years, as it will likely compete with the Big Ten for the most tournament berths. Three teams look like very safe picks -- Louisville, Syracuse and Notre Dame -- while Pittsburgh, Marquette, Georgetown and Cincinnati are, to varying degrees, likely invitees as well. Anything beyond that seems like a longshot though, meaning the conference will almost surely come short of last season's nine bids.
1. Louisville: There's a reason this Cardinals team has nearly monopolized preseason Big East title talk: It's really, really good. The nation's most efficient defense in 2011-12, keyed up top by Siva and by Dieng down low, will again be smothering. And while scorers Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric have graduated from an offense that stalled out at times last season, an emerging Blackshear and former George Mason guard-forward Luke Hancock (49.4 percent from the field, 4.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game) will help to that end. Add Chane Behanan (9.5 points and 7.5 boards as a freshman), Russ Smith (11.5 points per game) as a likely sparkplug off the bench, and the reported improvement of a healthy Kevin Ware and you get a team with realistic expectations of a second straight Final Four -- or more.
2. Syracuse: Never mind what isn't there, namely the four best players on a team that lost just one regular-season game last year. As one has long come to expect of a Jim Boeheim team, plenty remains in his arsenal, including senior guard Brandon Triche and forwards C.J. Fair and James Southerland, all of whom averaged 16 or more minutes for last season's regular-season champs. But it's the talent he kept mostly in reserve -- namely long, athletic guard Michael Carter-Williams, explosive forward Rakeem Christmas -- along with the freshman Coleman that will give this year's Orange the depth and balance to be among the league's best one last time.
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