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St. John's and Seton Hall appear to be the class of the Big East, with Connecticut the best of the rest. The Huskies bring in a fine group of recruits who should allow UConn to return to the all-out pressing defense that coach Jim Calhoun favors. That's the same kind of defense for which Georgetown is known, and the Hoyas will have to excel at it to compensate for their lack of offensive firepower. Alonzo Mourning returns to center after the departure of Dikembe Mutombo, and he should have plenty of chances for offensive rebounds because the Hoyas' shooting is still suspect.
Syracuse produced the last two conference Players of the Year—Billy Owens in 1990—91 and Derrick Coleman the year before. The Orangemen won't make it three in a row.
All five starters for Villanova are back, including junior swingman Lance Miller, the Wildcats' leading scorer last season. That should give Villanova just enough talent to reach the NCAA tournament bubble again. Providence must find a consistent scorer to compensate for the loss of guard Eric Murdock, the No. 1 pick of the Utah Jazz. No clear candidate has emerged. Pittsburgh , once a talented but underachieving team, isn't so talented anymore. Boston College has at least two things to be happy about: One is the presence of sophomore center Bill Curley; the other is the addition of Miami to the conference, which should keep the Eagles out of last place.
While most everyone focuses on the Big Ten battle shaping up between Indiana and Ohio State, Iowa hopes to sneak up on both of them. On paper, Iowa is a cut below the Hoosiers and Buckeyes. "The big difference among the three teams is that Indiana has a Calbert Cheaney, Ohio State has a Jimmy Jackson, and we don't have anything like that," says Iowa coach Tom Davis.
But the Hawkeyes do have depth and an underrated center in 6'10" junior Acie Earl, the league's top shot blocker. It was Earl's rapid development that helped Iowa finish a surprising 21-11 last season. Most of the other key players from that team are also back.
If the well-publicized freshman class at Michigan is even close to being as good as advertised (page 74), the Wolverines should rebound nicely from last year's 14-15 record. Michigan State , disappointing in its own way last season, may not be able to recover this year. After winning the conference two years ago, the Spartans struggled most of last season and lost to Utah in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Now that they've lost star guard Steve Smith, the Spartans will be lucky to get into the tournament.
Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota appear to be a year away from making any ripples in the conference race. The Boilermakers will have to go without top recruit Glenn Robinson, a blue-chip forward who is academically ineligible this season. "Robinson is the truth," says Minnesota coach Clem Haskins. "I hope he goes hardship before we ever have to play against him." Spoken like a true educator.
Northwestern , which went 0-18 in the Big Ten last year, could move out of last, not so much because the Wildcats have improved, but because Wisconsin has lost four starters from a 15-15 team.