Big East basketball: Team-by-team breakdown

A season before it bloats to what seems on paper to be a cumbersome, yet unbelievably strong 16-team mega conference for basketball, the Big East is down from 14 to 12 teams this season with Miami and Virginia Tech's departure.

The conference is in the same sort of transition year as football with it being Boston College's last season, and next year's Midwestern and Southern expansion to points as far as Chicago and Milwaukee, to Louisville, Cincinnati, and Tampa.

The 12 teams, all headed to the conference tournament this season, feature national title contenders in the last two national champions SU and Connecticut at the top, a strong group packed in at the next level with several teams looking to make deep NCAA Tournament runs, down to two new coaches in the league at the two programs, Georgetown and St. John's, that competed against each other in the national semi-finals twenty years ago, but sit at the bottom of this dozen in the pre-season polls.

St. John's coach Norm Roberts is taking over the extensive New York City rebuilding project of a program that has hit rock bottom. "No coach is totally patient, but you have to be able to gear yourself back to understand that it's going to take time to get things going right away. That's my biggest challenge because I have been spoiled to have been at places such as Kansas, Illinois and Tulsa, been spoiled a little bit. However, it's also helped prepare me to be more relaxed and understanding as we realize what we're doing (at St. John's) is totally new."

Seton Hall's Louis Orr on giving so much more to his players than the opportunity to win basketball games. "To me, the beauty and the blessing of coaching is that you have the opportunity to effect young people for not just the next four years but for the next forty years. I heard someone say that athletes always remember their coaches. They may not remember all their teachers, other different people in their lives, but they will remember their coaches."

Notre Dame's Mike Brey on the strength of this year's league. "This is my fifth season, and I guess you probably can say it is the strongest it's been when you look at the teams, it may be our best group. I was talking to a couple of NBA scouts who were through our practices the last couple of weeks and they said you guys (the Big East) have the best crop of prospects. That says a lot about the league's talent."

Providence's Tim Welsh on the pre-season Big East player of the year, power forward Ryan Gomes. "He's strong. He's quicker. He's worked on his perimeter game. I think he's really going to have a breakout year. I mean last year was kind of stepping onto the big stage for him. A lot of guys can't fulfill that second year, or get better. They get a big head, or they're disappointed that they didn't go the NBA. None of that you'll see with Ryan Gomes."

Georgetown's John Thompson III on how his father's reputation and being his son will help in recruiting the kind of talent the program is looking for to get back in the NCAA Tournament. "My father is part of Georgetown tradition. If you look at it in terms of a product, we have a pretty good product to offer, one of the top academic schools in the country. We have tradition. So we can get an audience (home visits with desired recruits)."

West Virginia's John Beilein believes his three-year strategy, five returning starters and several key reserves, can pay off with a berth in the Big Dance. "If our backcourt can add a few points a game, we'll win games we lost last season. Enough wins to put us in the top six of this league, this season with so many tough teams, that's 8-8, and you're in the NCAA Tournament. Our non-conference schedule is brutal (at NC State and LSU), but I made it that way on purpose so we would not be on the bubble come Selection Sunday."

Rutgers coach Gary Waters knows that to take the next step up the league standings, the Scarlet Knights have to win away from the home court advantage they have at the RAC (41-10 in three seasons under Waters). "It's an important factor for us this year, we need to increase road wins. But I think you win on the road if you've got good guards. They control the tempo, they control the game. (And) we've got good guards."

Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon, coming off a 31-win season, third best all-time for victories by a rookie head coach, on what he's looking to improve upon in year two running the now high-profile Panther program. "I'm always seeking to learn something each season, any coach looks to do that. This year in particular I have a goal that I want our players to be in better position overall when taking shots. I'd like to see our field goal and free throw shooting percentages go up. And with recruiting, we have analyzed several ways in which we will handle that moving forward."

Connecticut's Jim Calhoun sounded incredulous that sophomore power forward Charlie Villanueva was not named to the pre-season all-conference teams (teammates Rashad Anderson and Josh Boone were selected to the second team). "Going into the season, our best player is Charlie Villanueva. I have been saying that all along. He's really matured, he's in shape. I appreciate the ammunition (of not being an all-conference pick), because I will be reminding him of it every day."

Villanova's Jay Wright knows it's just a matter of time before his assembled talent plays as a team, that the Wildcats will make some noise. "We were 2-9 in games decided by five points or less last year. We felt like we were in every game, we just made some young (inexperienced) mistakes. Our guys feel more confident so I think that's going to turn around this year."

Boston College's Al Skinner wants to go out on another winning note as the Eagles leave the Big East. "We have the talent to compete in the league and and the chance to hopefully get back to the NCAA Tournament. We can't be satisfied with last year (24 wins and second round NCAA exit), it's critical we move forward this season."

(Coach Skinner was absent from media day due to suffering a leg injury in a pickup basketball game a day earlier. His comments are courtesy of the school's athletic department and other sources.)

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