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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UConn upset, Cuse wins NIT, Abromaitis out for year – Weekend Review

UConn loses to Central Florida – Huskies blow a 17-point lead and struggles against a 2-3 zone. Need lots of work if they want to top Syracuse. Ryan Boatright played his first game Saturday in a 78-76 overtime win over No. 20 Florida State. The freshman had 14 points and three assists. He adds another ball handler and will help this team in the long run.

Photo Courtesy of Brandon Weight

Syracuse wins NIT – The Orange, in the wake of the Bernie Fine scandal, won the NIT Season Tip-Off in a convincing win against a solid Stanford club. This Cuse team is deeper than usual. Also Fab Melo looks great since dropping over 30 lbs. in the offseason. Right now tops in the Big East.

Louisville sneaks out win over Ohio – Rick Pitino won his 250th game with Louisville in a close one, but I like Louisville right now. They beat Butler without Peyton Siva, who is their key player and would I picked to have a breakout season.

Villanova downed by Saint Louis – This loss isn’t terrible because I believe that Saint Louis is an overlooked team, they’ll compete against Xavier and Temple this year. The Wildcats are young, but Maalik Wayns had a career-high 29 points.

Cincinnati upset by Marshall in OT – I really think the Bearcats could take that next step and be a legitimate Big East contender this year, but after this loss I don’t know. The Thundering Herd could be the second-best team in C-USA, but this is a win Cincy should have had at home.

Pitt takes care of Penn/Robert Morris– Panthers had a little hiccup in that loss to Long Beach State, but I think they’ll make up for it if they can get good wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma State. Also Khem Birch recording 10 boards in his first start against Penn is a positive. The freshman added 11 in a 10-point win against Robert Morris.

Photo Courtesy of Matt Wickham

DePaul moves to 4-1 – The Blue Demons picked up a pair of wins against Texas Tech and Arizona State this weekend. I like this team. Oliver Purnell shows he can rebuild. He’s got two good young pieces in Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin and from this point on a pretty easy non-conference schedule.

South Florida takes care of FAU – A couple of nice wins against Georgia Southern and Florida Atlantic without Augustus Gilchrist. They need the big man back soon with road games against VCU and No. 14 Kansas coming up.

Notre Dame loses Abromaitis – Senior forward Tim Abromaitis is out for the season with a torn ACL. Abromaitis was averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on the year. Mike Brey is a great coach and will see how good he is in the coming months.

St. John’s loses to Northeastern – It’s a young team and a short rotation. Also not favored by a tough schedule. The Red Storm have losses against No. 16 Arizona and No. 18 Texas A&M. Coming up is a game against soon to be No. 1 Kentucky.

Friars lose first two – It’s going to be a process by I feel Ed Cooley has this team on the right track. This year is just going to be a tough one for Providence. However Vincent Council has a had a good year averaging 18 points and 5 dimes.

Tuesday Top 5: Big East games for 2011-2012

1. Syracuse at UConn Feb. 25

The matchup between the projected two top teams in the Big East this season. This could be the last Big East game between the two teams.

2. Pitt at UConn Mar. 2

UConn and Pitt have had memorable games in the past and this game should live up to the billing. It will be the last regular game of the season and both teams should be at the top of the Big East stadings.

3. Marquette at Syracuse Jan. 7

These two teams played a pair of great games, including an awesome third-round game in the NCAA Tournament. With big late-game shooters, Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom and Syracuse’s Scoot Jardine, it would be pure gold if this game is tight in the last few minutes.

4. Cincinnati at West Virginia Jan. 21

This road game for the Bearcats is in between a rough three-game stretch, which begins with a road game at UConn and ends with a home game against Syracuse. If Cincy wants to be considered a top Big East team this season a win at Morgantown could be a big boost.

5. Louisville at Marquette Jan. 16

The Cardinals and Golden Eagles are in the next tier of Big East teams after UConn, Syracuse, and Pitt. This Big East conference game could place one of those teams into the top tier.

Tuesday Top 5: Places to Play/Watch

*Did not include Madison Square Garden because it is not St. John’s official home and every team plays there each year. 

KFC Yum! Center, Louisville

Sports Addiction/Flickr

Awesome new building that opened last year for Louisville. Of course nothing could fully replace Freedom Hall, but this is a nice substitute.

Bradley Center, Marquette

Willy P/Flickr

Been a great home for the Golden Eagles. Fans are more excited there than the Bucks fans are.

Harry A. Gampel Paviilion, Connecticut

Sftrajan/Flickr

Not a bad seat in the house. Also never a bad game either, both UConn men and women play there.

Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh

Arthur Wessel/Flickr

The Zoo makes this arena, one of the most underrated fans sections in college sports. I love watching games when Pitt plays at home.

Carrier Dome, Syracuse

Paul Katcher/Flickr

Playing in front of a maximum crowd of 34,616 people is enough for anyone to want to play there.

Honorable mention: Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence; WVU Coliseum, West Virginai; Edmond P. Joyce Center, Notre Dame; Verizon Center, Georgetown; Carnesecca Arena, St. John’s

Cincinnati Season Preview

2011-2012 Projected Starting Lineup

G Cashmere Wright, junior
G Dion Dixon, senior
G Sean Kilpatrick, sophomore
F Yancy Gates, senior
C Kelvin Gaines, freshman (redshirt)

Key reserves: Justin Jackson, sophomore; Shaquille Thomas, freshman; Jermaine Sanders, freshman; Octavius Ellis, freshman; Cheikh Mbodj, junior

It has been a steady climb for the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats returned to the NCAA Tournament last season, before losing to eventual champion UConn in the second round.

Yancy Gates returns after averaging 12 points and 7 rebounds a game from a

Pat Strang/Flickr

season ago. Dion Dixon (11.6 PPG) and Cashmere Wright (3.9 APG) are among the Bearcats top returners.

However, outside of those three Cinci is inexperienced. Outside of Gates, the rest of the frontcourt includes sophomore Justin Jackson, who only averaged 2.5 PPG, junior college transfer Cheikh Mbodj, and reshirt freshman Kelvin Gaines.

Cincinnati had a strong recruiting class of big men (Shaquille Thomas, Jermaine Sanders, and Octavius Ellis), but they will all need to contribute early.

The Bearcats is usually one of the best defensive teams, but outside of Gates and Dixon, do they have another option?

awbentley/Flickr

If Cinci does, maybe it will be up there with UConn, Syracuse, Pitt, and Louisville as top contenders. If not, that defense will need to be better than it was last season.

Look for Cincinnati to float towards the top this season, but don’t be surprised if they fall towards the middle of the conference.

Pittsburgh Season Preview

2011-2012 Projected Starting Lineup

PG Tray Woodall, junior
SG Ashton Gibbs, senior
SF J.J. Moore, sophomore
PF Nasir Robinson, senior
C Dante Taylor, junior

Key reserves: Lamar Patterson, sophomore; Khem Birch, freshman; Talib Zanna, sophomore

Last year’s Big East Conference regular season champion is plagued with postseason failure. A third-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Butler didn’t help the Panthers case after a couple of hiccups in the postseason.

It’s another tough season in the Big East and to me the Panthers can’t keep up with the top tier, UConn and Syracuse.

Arthur Wessel/Flickr

Yes, they have Ashton Gibbs, one of the nation’s sharpest shooters, but I feel this isn’t nearly as good as last season’s. The only other returner is Nasir Robinson. Robinson is undersized, but is a hard-nosed player at 6-foot-5. Robinson will be teamed with Dante Taylor in the frontcourt, who is replacing the graudated Gary McGhee (I’m pretty sure McGhee’s ankles are still floating around the court of Madison Square Garden).

The Panthers will be a tough interior defensive team is freshman Khem Birch, a McDonald’s All-American can contribute early. But the frontcourt provides little on the offensive end.
Gibbs is going be more aggressive this season scoring. Pitt’s second option is small forward J.J. Moore.

This season postseason failure may not be a disappointed as I don’t feel this team shouldn’t have high expectations from the previous seasons.