Top 5 Big East teams through Week 4 — Tuesday Top 5

1. Syracuse (7-0)

Photo Courtesy of SU Basketball/Flickr

The Orange look good to start off the year with a NIT Season Tip-Off Championship and solid wins over Virginia Tech and Stanford, but the real test comes Friday, Dec. 2 vs. Florida. Syracuse has the deepest team I’ve seen in a while with 10 guys that can contribute. I like the slimmer versions of Dion Waiters and Fab Melo to go along with a great core that includes Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine, and Brandon Triche.

2. Louisville (7-0)
Louisville remains unbeaten and got a nice victory over Butler without starting point guard Peyton Siva. With Siva running the show I think the Cardinals could be an explosive team. For that to be true Louisville also needs to stay healthy, especially the strong backcourt of Siva, Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric.

3. UConn (6-1)
Blowing a 17-point lead and losing to Central Florida was a wakeup call to the defending National Champions. It was the first tournament loss in a long time, but showed the gaps they need to fill without Kemba Walker. The next day in an overtime win over No. 20 Florida State, the Huskies may have found it in Ryan Boatright. The freshman guard is another playmaker and can help running the team with Shabazz Napier being an improved scorer this season.

4. Marquette (6-0)
I’ve been saying this all offseason, that Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder will be the one-two punch that carries the Golden Eagles. They are undefeated, but still they haven’t played anyone. Besides the two-point nail biter against Norfolk State, Marquette hasn’t been challenged. They will this Saturday though, when they take on the No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers on the road at the tough-to-win-at Kohl Center. If they win, a slide up in the rankings is likely.

5. Pittsburgh (5-1)
The Panthers took a rough 86-76 home loss to Long Beach State early in the season, but have recovered with three straight. I still like this team. Ashton Gibbs is a great player to have at the center of your team and if Khem Birch can do what he’s done in his first two starts (10 rebounds vs. Penn; 11 vs. Robert Morris –both wins), Pitt might have a shot this year.

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Syracuse Season Preview

2011-2012 Projected Starting Lineup 

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Katchen/Flickr

PG Scoop Jardine, senior
SG Brandon Triche, junior
SF Kris Joseph, senior
PF Rakeem Christmas, freshman
C Baye Moussa Keita, sophomore

Key reserves: C.J. Fair, sophomore; Dion Waiters, sophomore; Fab Melo, sophomore; Michael Carter-Williams, freshman; James Southerland, junior

In 2010 Syracuse had 30 wins. In 2011 the Orange had 27. One thing remains: postseason failure.

Syracuse once again has a quality team to put on the floor, but NCAA Tournament collapses still hangs over its head. In 2010 the Orange lost to darling Butler Bulldogs in the Sweet Sixteen. Last season, Big East rival Marquette pulled off the upset.

The Orange look solid in the backcourt and at the small forward position. Although Jardine can get trigger happy he did average almost six assists per game. Triche will be in his third year in the starting lineup and is a consistent No. 2; he knocked down 33 percent from deep.

Joseph is one of the conference’s best finishers and Fair had a brilliant freshman campaign a season ago.

The frontline could be an issue. Melo, a McDonald’s All-American, had a disappointing freshman season after being picked as the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year. What made things worse was Melo’s off court issues. His girlfriend has accused him of being physically violent.

Moussa Keita has an edge to get the starting job, but he is very limited offensively.

Photo Courtesy of Peter Manzari/Flickr

Syracuse will have to rely Christmas to contribute early. Christmas, another Philadelphia recruit for Jim Boeheim, is a tough defender, while being a difficult matchup for his opposition. Carter-Williams is the other highly-touted freshman, who possesses a smooth stroke.

The Orange is moving to the ACC, so Boeheim will like to make the most of his last Big East season.

Syracuse may not be the best team in the Big East, but it will definitely contend for the title. But for Cuse, its focus should be on success in March.