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Burning Question: Top five in the Big East?

For the next five weeks, Paint Touches will ask five burning questions leading up to Marquette Madness. This week asks which teams will finish in the top five in the Big East in 2012-13.

Week 1: Marquette’s leading scorer?
Week 2: Todd Mayo or Vander Blue?

Mark Strotman: West Virginia is gone, but 2012-2013 will mark the final season Syracuse and Pittsburgh compete in the Big East before moving to the ACC. Notre Dame’s status is up in the air, but for now the Big East conference will again have plenty of talent from top to bottom. At the top of that list is Louisville. Gone are Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, but everyone else is back from a team that went to the Final Four a year ago. Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng make up arguably the best starting five in the country, and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock, Mike Marra, Stephan Van Treese, Kevin Price and incoming freshman Montrezl Harrell are an excellent supporting role. This is a top-5 team talent-wise, and will begin the season there in the rankings. Having perhaps the Preseason Player of the Year in Siva and the Defensive Player of the Year (Dieng) make them the team to beat in the Big East.

Davante Gardner won’t have as easy a time with Gorgui Dieng and Louisville as he did last year. (Marquette Tribune)

I’ll throw out the rest of my top five and we can go from there. Notre Dame returns a solid core and Scott Martin was granted a sixth year, Syracuse lost the most of any Big East contender but has plenty of young, returning talent. Then there’s Cincinnati, who returns Sean Kilpatrick and Jaquon Parker, who could be the Big East’s most improved player by season’s end. Rounding out the top five is a split between Marquette and Georgetown. Both teams lost significant senior leadership, and while Marquette has more experience returning, Georgetown’s raw talent is superior. Georgetown could go either way, depending on who steps up. Otto Porter and Nate Lubick will be deciding factors.

Andrei Greska: There’s no doubt about who should be number one on the list. Louisville is head and shoulders above the Big East at the moment, coming off a Final Four and maintaining their core. Gorgui Dieng may be the best defensive player in the country, an assessment backed up by his top defensive Value Add ranking. After the Cards things get a bit murkier. I’m not sold on Notre Dame quite yet, although Jack Cooley will definitely be in contention for Big East Player of the Year honors. The Irish lost four of their last six games to end the year, and although they have plenty of experience, I’m putting them in the third slot until further notice.

Cincinnati is the team I see sliding in to the No. 2 spot. I know they lose Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon to graduation, but they have more than enough firepower coming back with Cashmere Wright to go along with Parker and Kilpatrick. Fresh off a Sweet 16, they are going to shock a few people this year. With the addition of Trent Lockett and the return of Chris Otule, I have Marquette finishing fourth in the Big East this season. This may be high for a team with no proven go-to player, but the mix of experience and maturation will keep the Golden Eagles at the upper echelon of the standings. For the final spot, I believe Syracuse will barely edge out South Florida. Anthony Collins heads a gritty Bulls team that will have plenty of momentum from their NCAA run, but it won’t be enough to finish ahead of a Syracuse team with plenty of talent left.

MS: I like your optimism with Cincinnati. I feel like their Sweet 16 run went a bit under the radar for some reason, but their Big East Tournament run was impressive as well. And of the players we have mentioned on that team thus far, it’s impressive we haven’t gotten to Justin Jackson. If you (Marquette fans) have forgotten who that is, go back and check out any of his seven blocks against the Golden Eagles in a late February home win. He’s going to take on a much larger role without Yates, and he’s certainly a breakout candidate for the Bearcats. I may give you Cincinnati in the two spot (I still love ND led by sixth-year Scott Martin), but Syracuse is a double-bye team this year.

We’ve talked about how much they’ve lost, but the beauty of these Syracuse teams is Jim Boeheim does his “rebuilding” the year before everyone leaves, finding a group of ultra-talented freshmen to learn from the bench before taking on bigger roles. Players fitting that bill are sophomores Rakeem Christmas (No. 20 overall, 2011) and Michael Carter-Williams (No. 21 overall). Both are going to shine in extended roles after averaging just 11.5 and 10.3 minutes per game, respectively. Junior C.J. Fair would have started at forward on most teams in the Big East and will finally get that chance in 2012. They also have their senior leaders in Brandon Triche and James Southerland. Back court play may be an issue, but the addition of freshman center DaJuan Coleman (No. 14 overall) and power forward Jerami Grant (No. 37) gives Boeheim the perfect front court for his 2-3 zone that struggled to rebound a year ago.

South Floria intrigues me, but Collins will really have to shoulder a load after losing Gus Gilchrist and Ron Anderson Jr. to graduation. How about an under the radar team who could give Georgetown or South Florida (our sixth place picks) a run for a top 5 or 6 finish?

AG: How could I forget Justin Jackson? He was probably responsible for blocking my thoughts as well. But the fact remains that Cincinnati will be quick, long and athletic. They turned their season around last year without Gates—suspended after the Xavier brawl—so his absence won’t come as a complete shock. As for the Orange, there’s no denying they will be loaded yet again. It’s almost unfair the way they churn out talent. And although they didn’t rely solely on one player last year, they lose lots of experience with Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo now gone. The replacement parts are there, no doubt about it, but that vaunted zone takes some time to fully adjust to.

Rutgers has plenty of young talent that could vault them into a bye in the Big East Tournament. (Marquette Tribune)

As for an unexpected team to challenge for a top finish, it’s strange to have waited this long to mention them, but I expect Pittsburgh will be a much-improved team this year. Tray Woodall carried the team at times last year, finishing with 11.7 points and 6.1 assists per game after coming back from injury. And with no Ashton Gibbs to take possessions, those numbers will definitely rise. More importantly, Pitt should be back to playing the physical brand of basketball it is known for with its addition of the 7-foot Steven Adams of New Zealand. The wheels came off completely last year, but with a core of Woodall and Lamar Patterson, I can see the Panthers sneaking into the top 5.

MS: Crazy to think Pittsburgh hasn’t been mentioned yet, but that’s what happens when a team goes 5-13 in conference after being ranked by the coaches to finish 4th. They actually garnered a first-place vote! Incredible, but injuries took their toll and it’s too bad Gibbs couldn’t enjoy a more successful senior season. It’s a shame Khem Birch didn’t stick around to see what could be, but you’re right, the Panthers should certainly be back in the mix this season. Sidenote: I saw Adams play in the Jordan Brand Classic, and he’s the real deal.

A team that has me intrigued this year is Rutgers. Mike Rice is quietly building a talented roster in New Jersey that included a top-20 recruiting class a year ago. The Scarlet Knights bring back everyone on their roster but forward Gilvydas Biruta, who transferred to Rhode Island. Led by sophomores Myles Mack and Eli Carter, who played under Bob Hurley at the esteemed St. Anthony’s, Rutgers has a talented back court that also includes sophomore Jerome Seagears and junior Mike Poole. They’re undersized and will need someone to step up, but bringing back almost everyone to a team on the rise (that beat No. 10 Florida and No. 8 Connecticut) should have them vying for a double by come March.

AG: I think Rutgers will really miss Biruta, who was their third leading scorer and second leading rebounder last year. Yes, they will be a bit better than last season (6-12), but at best I see them with eight wins. They are way too inconsistent and have yet to show that they have what it takes to string together a few good wins, rather than an upset here or there. Staying in the Garden State, I think Seton Hall will take a big step back without Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore. Those two averaged 31.2 of the Hall’s 68.4 points, leaving a tall task for Fuquan Edwin.

As for the rest of the conference, Providence has too many players ineligible to be a serious threat, and St. John’s will rely too heavily on D’Angelo Harrison. I have a feeling Cleveland Melvin will pull the Blue Demons out of the cellar, but it won’t be enough to crack the top 10.

That leaves us with Villanova, almost by default. Mouphtaou Yarou hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, but he should still be very good this year and is slotted to go in the late second round of the NBA Draft, according to DraftExpress. The Wildcats desperately need consistency out of JayVaughn Pinkston, though, who would follow a career high 28-point game with a 1-13 shooting performance. Jay Wright is too good of a coach to not have this team compete for at least an 8th place spot.

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  1. Daybreak Doppler: Readjusting UW Expectations | PocketDoppler.com - September 19, 2012

    […] Paint Touches’ Burning Question: Top five in the Big East? […]

  2. Burning question: Marquette’s leading rebounder? | Paint Touches - October 3, 2012

    […] Burning question: Marquette’s leading rebounder? Posted on October 3, 2012 by Mark Strotman | Leave a comment Week 1: Marquette’s leading scorer? Week 2: Todd Mayo or Vander Blue? Week 3: Top five in the Big East? […]

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