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Big East Basketball Notebook: Rutgers, St. John's And Syracuse Begin Seasons

Big East basketball kicks off.

Sick of the mediocre Big East football season?

Well, worry no more, my fellow Big East supporters. Friday night, 10 of the 16 Big East teams start their men's basketball seasons. And once again, the Big East is projected to be one of the toughest conferences -- if not the toughest -- in the nation.

On Wednesday, ESPN.com Bracketologist Joe Lunardi forecasted that eight Big East teams would be in the NCAA Tournament come March (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Marquette, Syracuse, West Virginia, Georgetown, Villanova and Louisville). The Atlantic Coast Conference -- the Big East's biggest rival -- was projected to earn just seven tournament bids.

In the preseason AP and USA Today-ESPN Coaches Polls, four Big East squads made the Top 25 -- No. 5 Pittsburgh, No. 6 Villanova and No. 10 Syracuse made the Top 10 in the AP poll. The ACC has only three, including top-ranked Duke, which is a heavy favorite to repeat as national champion.



Pittsburgh begins the season as the conference's top-ranked squad. In the Big East preseason coaches' poll, the Panthers (2-0), who began their season Monday with a 83-75 win over the University of Rhode Island, were voted the conference's favorite. CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish says Pittsburgh will make the Final Four in Houston, TX.

ESPN's Dick Vitale is predicting that Villanova will be the best team in the conference and will make the Final Four.

SI.com's Seth Davis says the Syracuse Orange are a darkhorse to make a run at the Final Four.

The players expected to make a impact in the conference are: Georgetown guard Austin Freeman, who was voted Preseason Player of the Year by the league's head coaches. SI.com writer Luke Winn thinks Villanova guard Corey Fisher will take the honors. Look out for Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs and West Virginia's Kevin Jones to break out. Personally, I believe Syracuse forward Kris Joseph will have a Wesley Johnson-like season.


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
2010 - Ashton Gibbs 2 33.5 8.0 14.5 55.2 3.5 8.5 41.2 3.5 4.5 77.8 0.0 2.0 2.0 5.0 1.0 0.5 0.0 1.0 23.0

However, it's way too soon to think about which player will help his team grind through the rough and tumble Big East schedule, and then the newly-adopted 68-team NCAA Tournament field.

What we do know is it's going to be fun watching the Big East teams try and get there -- according to the BigEast.org schedule, conference play begins Dec. 31, when UConn visits USF and Seton Hall hosts Cincinnati.

Here at SB Nation New York, three teams (Rutgers, St. Johns and Syracuse) will be our specific focus throughout the season. Here's a quick preview of the three squads SB Nation New York will focus on this season:

 

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers hopes it is starting a brand new era with fiery first-year head coach MIke Rice.

Rice, who last year almost coached Robert Morris to a first-round upset over Villanova in the NCAA Tournament, isn't expected to do a whole lot in his first season with the Knights, who were ranked No. 15 out of 16 teams in the Big East preseason coaches' poll.

With just nine scholarship players it's going to be tough for Rutgers to have its first winning season since 2004 and end its 20-year NCAA Tournament drought.

But Rice and the rest of the Knights are ready to fight the low expectations -- literally.

"Throughout the first few weeks of his tenure and throughout the summer, he cut out and collected every bit of negativity about his team. Some coaches would shred it and burn it in the trash," wrote Brendan Prunty of the Star-Ledger on Thursday. "Rice typed them up, laminated them and slapped them on a large Everlast punching bag that was installed in the lounge area of the locker room near the door."

After last year's leading scorer Mike Rosario transferred to Florida, the Knights are hoping swing man Dane Miller will become the team's go-to guy.


Scarlet Knights Basketball Schedule

Next 5 Games

@ Princeton Fri 11/12 7:00 PM EST
Fairfield Mon 11/15 7:30 PM EST
Miami Sun 11/21 4:00 PM EST
Norfolk St. Tue 11/23 7:30 PM EST
@ St. Joseph's Fri 11/26 7:30 PM EST

St. John's Red Storm 

In a city where Big East basketball is king, its "hometown" team hasn't been productive since 2002 -- the last time St. John's earned a NCAA Tournament bid.

The Red Storm's 10 seniors and smooth-dressing head coach Steve Lavin want to change that.

Because of the experience on the court and now on the bench, the Johnnies were voted sixth out of 16 teams in the coaches preseason poll and could be the conference's feel-good story.

"We all need St. John's to return to their form. We all root for St. John's, we all root for each other," Long Island University head coach Jim Ferry said in an SI.com article, which featured New York City college coaches.

Even Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is buying into the St. John's resurgence.

"When a new coach comes in with a new brand of basketball, there's an excitement behind it," Pitino said about voting for St. Johns in the Big East's coaches' preseason poll.

Of course, it all looks good on paper, but to bring it all together in one season is something that Lavin knows isn't easy. However, it's one of the reasons why he's making a comeback.

"I wasn't in any rush to get back," said Lavin, who left his analyst job at ESPN to coach the Johnnies. "But after 5 1/2 years, I could start to feel the itch to get back on college campus. I was missing the teaching, the coaching, the competition. Then it was whether or not the right fit would present itself."

Last season's leading scorer and second-team All-Big East preseason selection, D.J. Kennedy, will be the Johnnies' focal point. However, it's freshman Dwayne Polee who has Lavin thinking this team can meet its expectations.

"Polee brings a dimension that we didn't have last year, because he's such a unique athlete, and his versatility to play four spots on the floor," Lavin said in an ESPNNewYork.com article that spotlighted the Red Storm's upcoming season.

St. John's begins its season on Tuesday, Nov. 16, against St. Mary's.


Red Storm Basketball Schedule

Next 5 Games

@ St. Mary's, Calif. Tue 11/16 2:00 AM EST
Columbia Wed 11/17 8:00 PM EST
Ball St. Thu 11/25 1:45 AM EST
Wagner Wed 12/01 7:00 PM EST
St. Bonaventure Tue 12/07 7:00 PM EST

Syracuse Orange

Syracuse and head coach Jim Boeheim are coming off one of the most productive seasons in the programs history -- a 35-5 overall record, a No. 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and a Sweet 16 appearance which ended after finalist Butler knocked out the Orange.

According to Syracuse Post-Dispatch writer Mike Waters, it's going to be interesting what kind of chemistry the head coach, who is entering his 35th season at SU, can create.

"Syracuse lost its three leaders off last year's team. Wesley Johnson, the Orange's leading scorer and rebounder; Andy Rautins, the vocal shooting guard, and Arinze Onuaku, the silent tower of strength. A trio of starters with a combinded total of 14 years of college experience."

That experience will be replaced by guard Scoop Jardine and forwards Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson.

But the name everyone is talking about is Melo. No, not that Melo. But Fab Melo.

Fabricio de Melo, a seven-foot center from Weston, FL., originally from Rio De Janeiro, is impressing the SU coaches every day.

It seems like every season Boeheim and his staff bring in a new impact freshman to the mix. Melo could be another one-and-done type player, but big men in the Big East get tested much differently than guards or forwards. Melo thinks the 2-3 zone will help speed up his transition.

"It will help me because I'm going to be in the middle. So the plays have to come to me. But I'll make sure they don't come to me very often. I will scare them," Melo told Post-Dispatch writer Donna Ditota in a one-on-one interview.

If Melo can mix with the rest of the 'Cuse veterans this could be another very exciting season for the Orange faithful.


Orange Basketball Schedule

Next 5 Games

Northern Iowa Fri 11/12 7:00 PM EST
Canisius Sun 11/14 3:00 PM EST
Detroit Tue 11/16 7:00 PM EST
William & Mary Sun 11/21 2:00 PM EST
@ Michigan Fri 11/26 8:00 PM EST