GOLDEN EAGLE: Cardinals expected to be the class of Big East

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Big East Preview

Three players to watch

Peyton Siva, senior guard, Louisville

The Big East preseason player of the year is probably the fastest guard in the conference and will most likely play an even bigger role this year than he did last year. Siva averaged 9.1 points per game and was fourth in the conference with 5.6 assists per game in 2011-12.

Vincent Council, senior guard, Providence

Council is a star on an otherwise mediocre roster. The guard averaged a team-leading 15.9 points per game and was first in the Big Easts with 7.5 assists per game. Council also led the Big East in minutes played with 38.7 per game.

Steven Adams, freshman forward, Pittsburgh

The 7-foot center was named the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year after ranking in the top 10 of many recruiting lists over the offseason. A native of Wellington, New Zealand, Adams brings a unique blend of size and finesse to the Panthers’ frontcourt.

Incumbents:

1.  Louisville

The Cards are ranked No. 2 in the nation, according to the USA Today/ESPN poll. That comes from the return of some key pieces of a 2012 squad that reached the Final Four. While Louisville lost its leading scorer in Kyle Kuric, junior guard Russ Smith and Big East preseason player of the year Peyton Siva make up a deadly backcourt that will complement one of the best centers in the country in junior Gorgui Dieng.

2. Syracuse

Under legendary coach Jim Boeheim, the Orange start their final season in the Big East ranked No. 9 in the nation. Unlike Louisville, Syracuse has lost a lot of its core players from last season, with three of its top five scorers departing. However, senior guard Brandon Triche and junior forward C.J. Fair, who combined for 17.9 points per game last season, are set to lead a younger and still talented group.

3. Notre Dame

The No. 23 Fighting Irish return all five starters from last season’s team, including preseason all Big East first team player Jack Cooley. The senior forward will likely lead the Irish in scoring after averaging 12.5 points per game in 2011-12.

4. Cincinnati

The Bearcats are coming off a Sweet 16 run and return two key pieces of their backcourt. Point guard Cashmere Wright and sharp shooter Sean Kilpatrick will run a fast-paced offense, while the defense will continue to be a huge advantage for a team that held 29 teams it played last season to 70 points or fewer.

5. Georgetown

The Hoyas lost two of their top scorers in Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark. But despite its youthful look, John Thompson III’s roster has plenty of experience. Sophomore Otto Porter and junior Nate Lubic make up a solid frontcourt, while junior Markel Starks made 25 starts, mostly at point guard, last season.

Dark Horses

1. Pittsburgh

The Panthers failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years last season, but five of their top scorers return this season. Point guard Tray Woodall is back and healthy after missing much of last season with injury. Woodall averaged 11.7 points and 6.1 assists per game last year.

2. Marquette

Three starters return for the Golden Eagles, but the lingering question is who will replace Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Senior Junior Cadougan has a lot of experience at the point, while junior Vander Blue continues to improve as a lockdown defender. There’s plenty of athleticism in the front court as well with Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule back again, and newcomer Trent Lockett was lights-out from the perimeter in his three seasons at Arizona State.

3. South Florida

Sophomore guard Anthony Collins made a name for himself last year, piloting the Bulls to a surprising NCAA tournament run. Stan Heath, the Big East Coach of the Year last season, has a tough act to follow this year with lead scorer Augustus Gilchrist and dependable forward Ron Anderson Jr. gone.

4. Connecticut

The Huskies still look competitive with a backcourt including junior Shabazz Napier and sophomore Ryan Boatright, but Connecticut may be in for a down year in the aftermath of legendary coach Jim Calhoun’s retirement. New head coach Kevin Ollie will have a solid group of young players to work with, however, as his term begins.

5. St. John’s

The Big East’s top-scoring freshman last year, guard D’Angelo Harrison, will lead the Red Storm in Steve Lavin’s third season as coach. Harrison scored 16.8 points per game last season. Junior forwards Sir’Dominic Pointer and God’sgift Achiuwa make up a frontcourt of distinguished names.

Third Party Candidates

1. Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights made some noise last season with some shocking upsets thanks the efforts of a dynamic backcourt sophomore trio of Eli Carter, Myles Mack and Jerome Seagers. Too many questions in the frontcourt, however, will keep Rutgers from winning on a week-to-week basis.

2. Villanova

It looks like another rough season for a Villanova team that fell very far last year. The talented guard duo of Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek is gone, making 6-foot-10 senior forward Mouphtaou Yarou the team’s focal point. Poor defense killed the Wildcats as a team last season, as they allowed 70.6 points per game.

3. DePaul

The Blue Demons have been bottom-dwellers for quite some time, but they may be on the upswing under coach Oliver Purnell. The team returns six of its top seven scorers from last season, including junior forward Cleveland Melvin, who averaged 17.5 points last season.

4. Seton Hall

The Pirates reached the second round of the NIT last year, but even being invited this year would be a serious accomplishment. Seton Hall lost its top scorers in Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore, but do-it-all junior winger Fuquan Edwin can continue to make a case as one of the Big East’s most versatile players this season.

5. Providence

Second year coach Ed Cooley’s squad has nowhere to go but up after finishing second-to-last in the Big East last season with a 4-14 conference record. Senior guard Vincent Council will give Friars fans something to cheer about with his scoring finesse, but it’s doubtful the rest of the roster will be good enough to score some more wins this year.

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