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As is usually the tradition around these parts, we like to preview things. And so, with the regular season beginning tomorrow for the Syracuse men's basketball team, we are proud to present to you a snapshot of all 16 Big East basketball squads.

Cincinnati Bearcats

Last Year: 19-16 (7-11, t 11th); Posteason: NIT 2nd Round

Key Gains: Kelvin Gaines (no pun intended), Justin Jackson, Sean Kilpatrick

Key Departures: Lance Stephenson, Steve Toyloy, Deonta Vaughn

Snapshot: The Bearcats figure to be a middle-of-the-conference team this season. While Stephenson and Vaughn were the sparks to last year’s team, the 10-11 squad will look to Cashmere “Sweater” Wright and Yancy “Fancy” Gates to get them hot. Coach Mick Cronin knows he has a rather young club, but he has shown in the past that he can do a lot with a little. Still, there’s a lot to be said for experience, and this team will find itself struggling against morte veteran, more talented teams. Coming off a disappointing NIT departure next year, the Bearcats will try to win a couple games they shouldn’t otherwise win to try to find themselves back in the NCAAs. If these young players can grow up fast and stay healthy, there’s a shot Cincy can be on the bubble heading into the Conference Tournament, where a couple high quality wins could impress the Selection Committee.

Plays twice: DePaul, Georgetown, St. John’s

Projected Conference Finish: 9-12th

Connecticut Huskies

Last Year: 18-16 (7-11, t 11th); Postseason: NIT 2nd Round

Key Gains: Michael Bradley, Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander, Roscoe Smith

Key Departures: Jerome Dyson, Gavin Edwards, Stanley Robinson, Ater Majok, Darius Smith, Jamaal Trice

Snapshot: When news recently broke about a UConn athlete being accused of stealing a laptop, I just automatically assumed it was a basketball player. You can bet head coach Jim Calhoun (and his atmosphere of compliance) was thanking his lucky stars when that athlete turned out to be football player Marcus Campbell. Still, it’s an example of the all-too-fresh scars on this basketball program. The Huskies are ready to put an off-season of NCAA investigations and sanctions behind them and play some basketball. Honestly, though, this program is nothing like it was five years ago. The apparent leader of these young men is Kemba Walker, who put together a great season last year showing off both his inside and his outside game. With a player being such a constant threat on the floor no matter where he is, defenses will be forced to pay him special attention, possibly even a double-team here and there. Caution, though, because double-teams leave someone open, and this squad has a group of talented young players that can hurt you if given the chance. Calhoun will most certainly pull out all the stops (within compliance, of course) to improve his team’s final standings to exorcise last year’s NIT ghosts. Was it the low point of the program? Let’s let history answer that question.

Plays twice: Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame

Projected Conference Finish: 5-8th

DePaul Blue Demons

Last Year: 8-23 (1-17, 16th); Postseason: Pizzeria Uno

Key Gains: Cleveland Melvin, Moses Morgan, Brandon Young

Key Departures: Mac Koshwal, Will Walker

Snapshot: Let’s face it; DePaul is not a good basketball program. Save for a few huge upsets against cream of the crop teams in the conference, the Blue Demons have hardly caused a ripple in the Big East. This year will be no different. A change at the top (Jerry Wainwright fired in favor of Oliver Purnell) will probably have no effect. Koshwal and Walker moving on is not what Purnell needed to make a good first impression; instead he will have to rely on players such as Mike Stovall and newbie Cleveland Melvin. Is it possible that this team could improve from last year? Absolutely. But will it matter? Let’s just say that winters in Chicago can be as brutal as Syracuse in a lake-effect blizzard.

Plays twice: Cincinnati, South Florida, West Virginia

Projected Conference Finish: Bottom 4

Georgetown Hoyas

Last Year: 23-11 (10-8, t 7th); Postseason: NCAA 1st Round

Notable Additions: Moses Abraham, Aaron Bowen, Nate Lubick, Markel Starks

Notable Losses: Greg Monroe

Snapshot: John Thompson III and his Hoyas had high hopes last year. Then along came Ohio. Not The Ohio State University Buckeyes. Just regular Ohio. Luckily for JTIII, he’s still got a good change this year, with a solid core of players returning. The key to the season will be filling the void left by Greg Monroe. He brought so much to the Hoyas statistically and intangibly that his absence will surely be felt. Look for Chris Wright to really step up his game and be a playmaker this season, but Georgetown will be led by Austin Freeman. My big question about these Hoyas (aside from the obvious), is whether they will be able to play physically with the big dogs (again, no pun intended). Smart opponents will pound the ball inside and take it to the hoop. Zone teams like Syracuse should be poised for a good matchup against a fine shooting squad. The Hoyas will likely make it back to the NCAAs, but they may need to find a unique way to win if they want to advance passed the likes of Ohio.

Plays twice: Cincinnati, St. John’s, Syracuse

Projected Conference Finish: Top 4

Louisville Cardinals

Last Year: 20-13 (11-7, t 5th); Postseason: NCAA 1st Round

Key Gains: Gorgui Dieng, Elisha Justice, Richie Phares, Roburt Sallie, Russell Smith

Key Departures: Reginald Delk, Samardo Samuels, Jerry Smith, Edgar Sosa

Snapshot: With Rick Pitino in charge, the Cardinals are one of those teams that have the potential to impress you up front, get you where they want you, and then before you know it the season is over. If that joke is lost on you, you should probably stop getting your news from Jim Lehrer. At any rate, Louisville might be the toughest team in the Conference to preview. They’re losing the likes of Sosa and Samuels, but they still have a good group of returning players, a transfer in from Memphis, and a few freshman that could contribute. These kids will have something to prove, playing in their new Yummy digs, and will certainly look to deflect attention away from their personally-embattled coach and onto their basketball accomplishments. If not, then coach can just throw a bunch of money at the problem and abort the season… right?

Plays twice: Connecticut, Providence, West Virginia

Projected Conference Finish: 5-8th

Marquette Golden Eagles

Last Year: 22-12 (11-7, t 5th); Postseason: NCAA 1st Round

Key Gains: Vander Blue, Jae Crowder, Davonte Gardner, Jamail Jones, Reggie Smith

Key Departures: Maurice Acker, David Cubillan, Lazar Hayward

Snapshot: The Golden Eagles I think met or exceeded their expectations last year. Or at least my expectations. It was a shame they left in the NCAA 1st round and couldn’t try to help represent the Big East, but, such is life. Will they be back there again this year? They control that destiny. Marquette is a team I see sitting on the bubble from February 1 until Selection Sunday. They’ll impress at times, and disgust at others. It’s up to them how that all shakes out. It’ll be tough losing a player like Hayward, which means that someone like Darius Johnson-Odom will need to step it up on offense. Luckily for the Golden Eagles, he is very capable of that.

Plays twice: Connecticut, Notre Dame, Seton Hall

Projected Conference Finish: 9-12th

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Last Year: 23-12 (10-8, t 7th); Postseason: NCAA 1st Round

Key Gains: Eric Atkins, Alex Dragicevic, Jerian Grant, Scott Martin

Key Departures: Luke Harangody, Tory Jackson, Jonathan Peoples

Snapshot: South Bend needs its basketball team to do well this year. The new regime worshipping Touchdown Jesus seems to be falling short of expectations, and we Irish Catholics are very demanding people. Enter, Mike Brey and his Fighting Irish basketball team. One of the biggest (and goofiest) good white guys to play in the league in recent memory, Harangody, is now but a memory, along with such people as Peoples. Without that massive inside scoring threat, look for Notre Dame to return to its shooting roots. Though, let’s be honest, Ben Hansbrough is no Tyler. Look for the Irish to be a better than middle-of-the-road Conference team, but falter in the final weeks and fall short of anything spectacular.

Plays twice: Connecticut, Marquette, St. John’s

Projected Conference Finish: 5-8th

Pittsburgh Panthers

Last Year: 25-9 (13-5, t 2nd); Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round

Key Departure: Jermaine Dixon

Key Gains: Isaiah Epps, Lamar Patterson, J.J. Moore, Aron Nwankwo, Cameron Wright, Talib Zanna

Snapshot: Everyone thinks the best of the best in the Big East rests in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With the year-in and year-out consistency from head coach Jamie Dixon, it’s no surprise that the Panthers are again in that conversation. Make no mistake: Pitt is experienced, fast, big, and can beat anybody on any given night. Or they can struggle against an inferior opponent. The latter, of course, will be rare. Some returning players, most notably Brad Wanamaker “Moan” will have to step up their game and lead this team. They can, and they will. The key for the Panthers will be staying at the top of their game all season long. Losing one here or there will happen, but if they find themselves losing two in a row, sound the alarms; this team could get stuck in a rut it can’t get out of.

Plays twice: South Florida, Villanova, West Virginia

Projected Conference Finish: Top 4

Providence Friars

Last Year: 12-19 (4-14, 15th); Postseason: Mopping the home offices

Key Gains: Kadeem Batts, Gerard Coleman, Xavier Davis, Dre Evans, Ron Giplaye, Lee Goldsbrough, Brice Kofane, Michael Murray

Key Departures: Sharaud Curry, Johnny Lacy, Brian McKenzie, Jamine Peterson

Snapshot: What do you say about a team like the Friars? I remember growing up I used to play Super Nintendo with my brother and we had an NCAA basketball game. He always insisted on being the Friars. I, of course, picked Syracuse, mainly because they were one of the closest schools to us. It was a pretty heated rivalry back then, between my brother and I as Friars vs. Orangemen. Well, not today. We’ve outgrown the Super Nintendo, and Providence has outgrown being relevant. The Friars lose Curry, and somehow that opened up about 20 scholarships. So in about three or four years, look for Providence to be … still bad.

Plays twice: Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida

Projected Conference Finish: Bottom 4

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Last Year: 15-17 (5-13, 14th); Postseason: Crashin’ with Snooki

Key Gains: Gilvydas Biruta, Austin Carroll, Tyree Graham, Robert Lumpkins, Mike Poole, Frank Mitchell

Key Departures: Fred Hill, Patrick Jackson, Hamady N'Diaye, Brian Okam, Mike Rosario

Snapshot: How does that saying go, about adding by subtracting? Well, whatever it is, Fred Hill is gone. Unfortunately for Rutgers, so is offensive threat Mike Rosario. This young squad has a lot of work ahead of itself this season. Playing in the friendly confines of the RAC won’t tip the scales that much, so raw talent and playmaking will have to get it done for the Scarlet Knights to not be a laughingstock. Look for last year’s all-rookie Dane Miller to put up some big numbers. If he doesn’t, Rutgers might as well pack it in for next year.

Plays twice: Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova

Projected Conference Finish: 9-12th

Seton Hall Pirates

Last Year: 19-13 (9-9, t 9th); Postseason: NIT 1st Round

Key Gains: Patrik Auda, Fuquan Edwin, Aaron Geramipoor, Anali Okoloji, Eniel Polynice

Key Departures: John Garcia, Eugene Harvey

Snapshot: Another Big East team with a new head coach. The Pirates bring on Kevin Willard to try to bring respectability to the program. And he could do it, with an emphasis on defense. The team isn’t losing much in the way of productivity from last year’s squad, and with players like Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope returning, Willard has a nice core of players able to get the job done. This is a lot to place on the shoulders of a new head coach, so I don’t want to set the expectations too high. But I think a series of close games that go the Pirates’ way could land them in the middle of the conference standings come March.

Plays twice: Marquette, Rutgers, Syracuse

Projected Conference Finish: 9-12th

South Florida Bulls

Last Year: 20-13 (9-9, t 9th); Postseason: NIT 1st Round

Key Gains: Ron Anderson, LaVonte Dority, Shedrick Haynes, Jordan Heath, Jawanza Poland, Hugh Robertson

Key Departures: Chris Howard, Dominique Jones, Mike Mercer

Snapshot: Several years into their tenure in the Big East, and it’s still hard to know what to expect from the Bulls. Last year they made a push to threaten the big boys and landed in the middle of the league. However, that was on the shoulders of Dominique Jones, whom the Bulls relied on almost exclusively to be their playmaker. With him and Chris Howard gone, South Florida doesn’t have much to turn to. That’s OK; Tampa must be really nice in March.

Plays twice: DePaul, Pittsburgh, Providence

Projected Conference Finish: Bottom 4

St. John’s Red Storm

Last Year: 17-16 (6-12, 13th); Postseason: NIT 1st Round

Key Gains: Steve Lavin, Dwayne Polee

Key Departures: Anthony Mason Jr.

Snapshot: In one of the most interesting off-season hires, the Johnnies bring ESPN analyst Steve Lavin on board to bring this storied school back into relevance. Or try, as it may. There will be some growing pains, especially this year, but Red Storm fans, don’t give up on your team. Give Lavin a couple years worth of recruiting classes, and an NCAA bid will once again be yours. Without Mason this year, St. John’s will hurt. DJ Kennedy will have to be a playmaker.

Plays twice: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Notre Dame

Projected Conference Finish: Bottom 4

Syracuse Orange

Last Year: 30-5 (15-3, 1st); Postseason: NCAA Sweet 16

Key Gains: Baye Moussa Keita, C.J. Fair, Fabricio Melo, Dion Waiters

Key Departures: Andy Rautins, Wesley Johnson, Arinze Onuaku

Snapshot: Expectations for this Orange squad were huge going into last year’s NCAA Tournament. The 1-seed, Syracuse won its first two games down the road in Buffalo, but then fell to Butler. And so the team’s slogan for 2010-2011 was born: Unfinished Business. To finish said business, the Orange will have to change its game to deal with the departures of shooter and defensive juggernaut Andy Rautins, offensive presence Wes Johnson, and big man Arinze Onuaku. Luckily, Jim Boeheim always has players on the bench or coming in as freshman that can fill voids from year to year. This year’s inception is no different. Look for Kris Joseph to continue his rise to prominence and step into Johnson’s shoes nicely. Scoop Jardine returns, along with his freshman cousin Dion Waiters. Rick Jackson will continue to hone his skills, and Brandon Triche looks to be a more consistent presence this year. But the player everyone’s talking about is highly-touted freshman Fab Melo. This guy is as tall as he is good. Or good as he is tall. Either way, opposing teams better have some size to compete with this “Diaper Dandy.”

Plays twice: Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova

Projected Conference Finish: Top 4

Villanova Wildcats

Last Year: 25-8 (13-5, t 2nd); Postseason: NCAA 2nd Round

Key Gains: James Bell, Dallas Ouano, JayVaughn Pinkston

Key Departures: Taylor King, Reggie Redding, Scottie Reynolds

Snapshot: I’ve been following Big East basketball for quite some time now, and I can barely remember a Wildcat team without Scottie Reynolds. So, forgive me if I see Nova on the court and don’t instantly recognize them. Jay Wright’s squad is picked to compete with in-state rival Pittsburgh for the Big East title, and if his team plays as well as he dresses, it should be an exciting season to watch. This is a fast-paced, high scoring offense, even without Reynolds. You can be sure that this season will be a no-holds-barred campaign, as they have just as much, if not more, unfinished business than Syracuse. Villanova wins the award for drawing the toughest conference schedule, having to play Pitt and Syracuse twice. But that’s OK, because Jay Wright never complains about anything, right? In spite of that, they should have a great season. Anything short of the Sweet Sixteen should be considered a disappointment for the Wildcats.

Plays twice: Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse

Projected Conference Finish: Top 4

West Virginia Mountaineers

Last Year: 31-7 (13-5, t 2nd); Postseason: NCAA Final 4

Key Gains: Noah Cottrill, Darrious Curry, Kevin Noreen, David Nyarsuk

Key Departures: Da'Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith

Snapshot: I, for one, was not at all surprised to see the Mountaineers in the Final Four last year. In fact, my bracket backs me up on that. Bob Huggins should be proud of what his team accomplished, and then look at this year’s squad, and want to hit a bottle of moonshine. Not to say this year’s team isn’t good and won’t do well, but when you lose the likes of Butler, Ebanks, and Smith, you’ve got to be a bit worried. The incoming players ought to see some more minutes than garbage time, which should allow West Virginia to be deep going into the postseason. The Mountaineers look to be better than middle of the conference, but not elite in the Big East. A decent run in the NCAA tournament is, of course, not out of the question.

Plays twice: DePaul, Louisville, Pittsburgh

Projected Conference Finish: 5-8th

Thank you for taking the time to read the Orange::44 Big East Conference basketball preview. It was a weird mix of puns, Chris Berman-esque naming, current events references, and I even managed to throw in a Dick Vitale term. Whether you’re a casual fan, or a die-hard of a conference school, this should give you a good idea of what the brain trust at Orange::44 sees for the 2010-2011 campaign. But please, for the love of God, 16 schools is enough!

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