UCONN Leads The Wave’s Big East Preview
Last year, the Big East did something unthinkable: Three of its teams swept the Men and Women’s NCAA tournament and the National Invitational Tournament.
With four teams in last year’s NCAA Sweet Sixteen, the Big East is one of the nation’s best basketball conferences. (Thankfully, the conference has abandoned has abandoned the East-West format used for the 2002-03 season.)
After a turbulent summer that saw Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College accept invitations to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, the 14-team Big East was in turmoil. Despite hemorrhaging schools, the conference managed to attract basketball heavyweights Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, DePaul and South Florida. The five schools will join in the next two to three years and make the Big East the premier basketball conference in the country.
This week, we preview the teams we think will be guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament:
1. The University of Connecticut suffered a humbling loss to Georgia Tech at Madison Square Garden in the Preseason NIT. Previously ranked #1 by Associated Press and USA Today, the Huskies have since rebounded by crushing out-of-conference opponents Utah and Lehigh.
UCONN junior Emeka Okafor is almost certainly going to be a first team All American. Ben Gordon also looks to have a stellar year. With a deep bench and an accomplished coach in Jim Calhoun, Connecticut will win the Big East regular season and tournament titles. UCONN will be in contention for a #1 seed when the NCAA tournament arrives.
2. Defending national champions Syracuse look to have a good year despite the loss of underclassmen Carmelo Anthony to the NBA. Despite losing their first game to Charlotte, Syracuse continues to be ranked #18 in the national polls.
Syracuse will return to the Big Dance with the outstanding play of junior Hakim Warrick and sophomore point-guard Gerry McNamara. The backcourt looks to be the strength of this year’s Syracuse team with McNamara and Billy Edelin.
3. The University of Pittsburgh may have lost coach Ben Howland to UCLA, but still look to be in contention for a NCAA bid. With Brandin Knight graduating last season, the #22 ranked Panthers will be looking to senior guards Julius Page and Jaron Brown. The year old Petersen Center gives Pitt a competitive advantage.
4. Having just lost a heartbreaker to #23 Marquette, Notre Dame is looking to sophomore forward Torin Francis for inspiration on offense. Making the Sweet Sixteen last year, the Irish will likely return again this year.
5. Winning their first three games and receiving several votes in the AP poll, Providence looks to be in contention for an NCAA bid. With out of conference opponents #9 Texas and #11 Illinois, Providence has one of the toughest schedules in the Big East.
Next week we’ll cover our Big East bubble teams.