Louisville enters its first season of play this year in the Big East, and the league coaches have voted the Cardinals third behind Villanova and Connecticut. Dean, a three-year starter who averaged 14.4 points and made a school-record 122 three's as a junior, will be counted on to provide leadership and big plays for the Cardinals this year.
"Taquan just works the hardest and never had a bad day of practice," Pitino said. "He brings it every drill, plays hurt, and he's made the most improvement. He's much quicker, much stronger and much better.
Pitino said Dean has been un-guardable in practice.
"Brandon Jenkins is our best defensive player next to Taquan, and Brandon can't guard Taquan any longer," said Pitino. "I thought it was just the freshmen that he was abusing each day, but now no one can guard him in practice.
The Cardinals will rely heavily on seven newcomers this season, including a five man freshmen class that Pitino has called the second-best recruiting he's ever had.
"They all can play offense, and none of them can play defense," Pitino said of his freshmen. "Andre McGee is a quick little point guard that gets it done on the offensive end. Bryan Harvey can score and Chad Millard is a well-rounded basketball player that can do it all. Terrence Williams probably has the most talent. He's an explosive athlete, but he can't defend anyone. Jonathan Huffman is a really talented 6-11 offensive basketball player, but he can't guard anyone either."
Louisville will open Big East play against league favorite Villanova Jan. 3 at Freedom Hall.
One of the most controversial aspects of the new 16-team Big East is that only 12 league members will qualify for the Big East Tournament this year. Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said he's won't stop the league's president from reviewing the matter in the future, but noted his strong support for the current 12-team set up.
"I told the coaches that after we do this for two years, if they want to bring it back to our president's and have a conversation, that I would not prevent it," Tranghese said. "I think it's going to be very difficult to change my mind. I think the logistics of trying to run a 16-team tournament raise so many problems. The thing that's bothersome to me about bringing all 16 teams is that your best teams are going to have to play four games in a week, possibly in four days. I don't think that's good preparation for a group of teams that are trying to compete for the national championship."
Tranghese also said he expects the league to find a way that will allow all teams to play one another in the future. This season, teams won't play two other league members. In Louisville's case, Georgetown and Seton Hall aren't on the schedule.
"We have two years left in our existing CBS and ESPN contracts," said Tranghese "When we negotiate our new television contract, we'll adapt a new scheduling format. Our coaches, our presidents, and our AD's are all on the record that they want a scheduling format that will allow everybody to play everybody."
So the big question: How many teams does Tranghese believe the new league can send on to the NCAA tournament?
"Who knows?" Tranghese said. "I'm convinced that the committee will take the best 34 at-large teams. In 1991, we got seven teams in the NCAA tournament in a nine team league. So if you can get seven in with nine, the number can be higher with 16. But I don't know what that number is."
Life After Huggins
The Cincinnati Bearcats are still adjusting to life after Bob Huggins. Huggins was ousted earlier this summer when he lost his personal struggle with UC president Nancy Zimper. Andy Kennedy, Huggins' former assistant now steps in as the Bearcats interim coach. Kennedy said at the Big East Media Slam that he still remains in constant communication with his former boss.
"I still talk to him regularly," Kennedy said. "Professionally, I lean on him a lot. Personally, we're very good friends."
Cincinnati recently hired a new athletic director to replace Bob Goin, and Kennedy said he hasn't had any conversations with about getting the Bearcats job on a permanent basis.
"I haven't talked to him, and I've only briefly met him," Kennedy said.
How have the players handled Huggins ouster? "We've dealt with it well," senior forward Eric Hicks said.
Injuries Abound at Nova
The Big East coaches picked Villanova – who returned all five starters - to win the league this year. But that was before 6-7 senior forward Curtis Sumpter tore his ACL last week. Sumpter will have surgery next week, and Wildcats' coach Jay Wright said there's a chance he'll return this season.
Jason Fraser, a 6-9 center, has also been slowed by injuries throughout his career. He had two knee surgeries last summer, and there has been talk of a possible redshirt this season.
"He's practiced every day which is something he hasn't done since he's been here at Villanova," Wright said. "He's coming (along) slowly. It looks like he's about 70 percent right now, but he's looking good and practicing every day. He had two successful knee surgeries this summer, and it's looking right now like he's going to play."
Big East Coaches' Pick Villanova
The Big East coaches picked Villanova to win the league title. UConn and Louisville were the second and third choices, respectively.
``It is an honor being picked by coaches in a league like this,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ``Now we have to go out and earn it.''
Ten member all-Big East preseason team -- Rudy Gay, Connecticut; Gerry McNamara, Syracuse; Josh Boone, Connecticut; Taquan Dean, Louisville; Carl Krauser, Pittsburgh; Daryll Hill, St. John's; Randy Foye, Villanova; Allan Ray, Villanova; Curtis Sumpter, Villanova; and Kevin Pittsnogle, West Virginia.
Rudy Gay (Connecticut) and Gerry McNamara (Syracuse) were selected as Big East Preseason Co-Players of the Year by league coaches.
Syracuse's Eric Devendorf, a 6-4 guard who was a McDonald's All-America selection last season, was chosen the preseason rookie of the year.