Record last year: 28-6 (15-3, Big East), NCAA 2nd round
Overview: The Hoyas have won back-to-back regular season Big East titles. But the anchors of those two squads are no longer there. Head coach John Thompson III has to replace sure-handed point guard Jonathan Wallace and center Roy Hibbert who moved on to the NBA (first round, 17th overall). He also lost Patrick Ewing Jr. to graduation and two players who decided to transfer, Jeremiah Rivers (Indiana) and Vernon Macklin (Florida). That doesn't leave the Hoyas with much depth and JT3 only has two seniors. But one of those seniors is guard Jessie Sapp. Living up to his last name, Sapp is the glue of this Georgetown team. His stats aren't going to blow you away, but he seems to be in the right place at the right time.
3 Questions for Georgetown
· How can Georgetown fill in the gap left by Hibbert and Wallace?
It's not an easy task to replace two experienced seniors, but Thompson's got some guys who can fill in the gap. The one to look out for is DaJuan Summers. The junior is primed to have a breakout season. He's been solid in his first two years, averaging 9 points as a frosh and 11 points last year. The Princeton style offense can sometimes take away shots, but Summers will have plenty without Hibbert as the main option. Many may think the loss of Wallace is huge, but sophomore point guard Chris Wright is ready to take the reins. While he missed most of the season due to an injured left foot, Wright showed he could play when given the opportunity. In 17 minutes of action against the third ranked Memphis Tigers, Wright scored nine points (4-of-7 FG) and dished out three assists. And don't forget about the other McDonald's All-American JT3 brought in last year: guard Austin Freeman.
· How good will freshman Greg Monroe be?
One of the most prized recruits in the country was snagged by head coach John Thompson III. Of course, once the freshman has a good game or two, the comparisons to Hibbert will probably start. But remember that it took Hibbert a few years to fully develop his offensive game. Monroe could make a tremendous impact on defense this season though, which Thompson would certainly love.
· Can Georgetown win the Big East for a third consecutive year?
Anyone in their right mind would say the odds are stacked against the Hoyas for the mere fact that the Big East is so deep. But don't count out the Hoyas, who come in ranked 18th in the country. DaJuan Summers (think Jeff Green 2.0) can be a big time scorer and JT3's team always plays good defense and runs an efficient offense. The most important key for the Hoyas is their depth. The younger guys have to make an impact for this team to keep the crown.
December 13 (vs. Memphis) – First opportunity to show the country if the Hoyas are deep enough to play with the big boys.
December 29 (at Connecticut) – It's not even the New Year, and G-Town embarks on the rough and tumble Big East. What a way to start with games at UConn and Notre Dame and a home contest against Pittsburgh sandwiched in between!
January 17 (at Duke) - At this point, everyone will know where the Hoyas stand.
Best Case Scenario
The Hoyas' young players step up to help DaJuan Summers and senior Jessie Sapp make a strong showing in the Big East and return to the NCAAs. Their shooters get hot and Georgetown's deliberate style of play continues to fluster and frustrate opponents, as they make an Elite 8 run.
Worst Case Scenario
If Chris Wright can't run JT3's Princeton offense smoothly, the Hoyas could find themselves in a dog fight during Big East play. At worst, they'll find themselves as a middling Big East team that is squarely on the bubble when Selection Sunday rolls around.
Record last year: 27-9 (14-4 Big East), Elite Eight
Overview: Last season the Cardinals were almost Big East regular season champions. But they fell short in a 55-52 loss to eventual champion Georgetown on the final day of the regular season. The difference though was Louisville made a deep run in the tournament, while the Hoyas were knocked out early. Rick Pitino's squad advanced all the way to the Elite 8 before being bounced by the North Carolina Tar Heels. Pitino has to replace big men David Padgett, Juan Palacios, and Derrick Caracter. The good news though is that Earl Clark pulled his name out of the NBA Draft to return for his junior season. And the Cardinals enter the 2008-09 season as the third ranked team in the country. That's because Pitino was able to corral the fourth ranked recruiting class in the nation, including Samardo Samuels.
3 Questions for Louisville
· Is Earl Clark as good as advertised?
To be honest, Clark is a little overrated. He only averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds a game last season. It was a smart move to return for another season of college basketball. He can continue to improve on the talent he showed at the end of the year. In the NCAA Tournament, Clark averaged 14.5 points on 62 percent shooting. Now he's got to do that for an entire season.
· Can Terrance Williams be the senior leader?
The answer, yes. After a sub-par sophomore season, Williams showed he could adjust his game. He took fewer three points and made the most of those shots, shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc compared to about 37 percent the year before. And while he scored fewer points, Williams dished out a team and career-high 4.5 assists per game. Rick Pitino will count on the senior to guide the talented newcomers.
· Will point guard play be a problem?
As I just wrote, a small forward led the team in assists last year. Point guards Edgar Sosa and Andre McGee have to play well for Louisville's offense to operate in half court sets. Sosa regressed from a brilliant freshman campaign, shooting under 40 percent from the field. In the Big East Tournament, he was awful, scoring a total of seven points in three games. Andre McGee's now a senior and must provide stability off the bench if Sosa becomes flustered.
January 4 (vs. Kentucky) – A fairly soft non-conference schedule for the ‘Cards ends with a game against their bitter rival.
January 10 (at Villanova) – It seems like every team has a nasty stretch in the Big East. For Louisville, it starts at ‘Nova followed by home games against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
February 2 (vs. Connecticut) – A battle between the pre-season numbers one and two could decide who wins the regular season title and give someone a top seed in the NCAAs.
Best Case Scenario
The Cardinals come into the year with very high expectations. If Rick Pitino can keep his guys focused, they could make another Elite 8 appearance and possibly go farther.
Worst Case Scenario
But if Edgar Sosa does not play better, the offense may not play up to its full capability. The ‘Ville could conceivably finish somewhere around sixth in the conference if the wheels fall off. At the least though, Louisville will be dancing come March.
Record last year: 25-10 (11-7 Big East), NCAA 2nd round
Overview: The Golden Eagles made their third straight appearance in the Big Dance last year. They also made it out of the first round for a change with a win over Kentucky and were one point away from the Sweet Sixteen. Marquette returns all five starters from last year's squad, including senior point guard Dominique James. But gone is head coach Tom Crean, who left the state of Wisconsin to take over a struggling Hoosiers team in the basketball-crazed state of Indiana. First year head coach Buzz Williams inherits a talented squad, which is very rich at the guard position.
Three Pressing Questions
· How will Buzz Williams do as a head coach?
It's a fair question, especially when the opposing sidelines of the Big East include HOFers Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, and Rick Pitino. Williams' only season in the Marquette program was last year as an assistant coach. Prior to coming to Milwaukee, Williams spent one season as a head coach at the University of New Orleans. While the new coach may be inexperienced, he has a veteran group to help take on the bumps and bruises of the Big East.
· Does Marquette have any big men?
From the looks of it, the Golden Eagles will be playing small. The only real tough inside presence comes from 6-6 forward Lazar Hayward. He should be even better as junior after averaging just less than 13 points and 7 rebounds per game last season. But the other big man, Ousmane Barro graduated. There are only two players on the roster listed taller than 6 feet 8 inches.
· Can Marquette make it to the Sweet Sixteen?
The Golden Eagles may not have much size, but its guards pack a mighty punch for their short stature. Senior Dominique James (doesn't it seem like he's been there forever?) leads the talented group of guards. His numbers have steadily declined over the last couple years, but he doesn't need to carry the load. Junior Jerel McNeal is a stud and led the team in scoring with 15 points per game. But even with these two, I don't the Golden Eagles have enough fire power to make a run at the Sweet Sixteen.
· December 6 (vs. Wisconsin) – The intrastate rivalry marks the first test for the Golden Eagles. Marquette won on the road in a close five point contest last year.
· December 16 (at Tennessee) – Ten days later the Golden Eagles travel to Tennessee to take on the ‘Vols who love to run up and down the court. And they have trouble matching up with Marquette's guard oriented lineup.
· February 21 (at Georgetown) – The beginning of a five game stretch that could make or break the Golden Eagles. Three road contests against the Hoyas, Cardinals, and Panthers plus home dates with UConn and Syracuse.
Best Case Scenario: Under a new head coach, the Golden Eagles will probably do like they've done the past few seasons: finish in the top half of the Big East and make the NCAA Tournament. Breaking through to the Sweet 16 would be considered a very successful campaign in Buzz Williams' first year at the helm.
Worst Case Scenario
Like many other Big East teams, Marquette could find itself struggling in the bottom half which makes those last five games extremely important to its tournament hopes. It would be a minor miracle if Marquette's not dancing in March, even if they have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.