Nov. 10 - Last season ended with a Big East team as national champion. This season starts with another Big East team at the top of the poll.
Not bad for a league facing more change than any other in college sports.
Syracuse has three starters back from the team that left the Super Dome with the championship trophy in April. But the one who will be missed the most is Carmelo Anthony, who as a freshman was the Final Four MVP.
While Anthony has joined rival LeBron James in the NBA, Syracuse has more than enough returning players from a team that went 30-5 to make a run at a conference championship.
“We’ve got to get this team together and try to become a good basketball team,” said Boeheim, whose team was ranked seventh in the preseason poll. “We’re 0-0 right now. That’s all this team has to worry about. We go forward from here and try to be the best team this team can be. There’s no carry-overs in team sports, and some years that’s a real good thing.”
Connecticut has enough back from last year’s 23-10 team to earn the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press’ preseason poll.
Junior center Emeka Okafor and guard Ben Gordon may be the best inside-outside combination in the country. The Huskies also have a senior point guard in Taliek Brown, a four-man sophomore class who all made contributions last season and Charlie Villanueva, one of the nation’s most heralded recruits.
“We have a chance to be very good and I always like it when people think we have a chance to be very good,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said.
No. 22 Pittsburgh returns as conference champion without Brandin Knight, the winningest point guard in school history, and Ben Howland, the coach and architect of the Panthers’ resurgence to national prominence.
Senior guard Julius Page should become the team’s star on the court and Jamie Dixon moves down the bench to take over for his former boss who went to UCLA.
The outlook for No. 21 Notre Dame brightened considerably when junior guard Chris Thomas took his name out of the NBA draft and Providence has all five starters back from a team that finished strong last season.
Off the court, the 14-team Big East returns to a one-division format this season. Then come the changes starting with the 2004-05 season as Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Louisville, Marquette, DePaul, Cincinnati and South Florida make the move from Conference USA.
The Atlantic 10 is another league with plenty of movement in its future, but again it won’t affect this season.
Saint Joseph’s has one of the nation’s best backcourts in Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, who combined to average 37 points per game last season. The 17th-ranked Hawks have won three straight regular season titles and it’s been 22 years since the program played in the postseason four consecutive years.
“We definitely have an ’X’ on our back,” West said. “Teams are going to be out gunning for us. We just have to strap our shoes up every game and try not to get caught up in the hype.”
Xavier will have a chance to sneak up on opponents this season with the graduation of consensus national player of the year David West. The Musketeers, who lost a total of three conference games the last two seasons, will rely heavily on senior guard Romain Sato, who averaged 18.1 points and 7.1 rebounds last year in West’s shadow.
“David was a big part of our team, but he’s not here now. We understand that,” Sato said. “But we have four freshmen that can help fill the hole he left.”
Temple hasn’t been in the last two NCAA tournaments and five underclassmen left the program after last season. Longtime coach John Chaney is expected to turn the reins over to freshman point guard Mario Taybron.
Manhattan stormed through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last season, and player of the year Luis Flores and his 24.6 scoring average is back for his senior season. The Jaspers lost one starter from a 23-7 team and they add junior transfer Peter Mulligan. Another good season and it’s hard to imagine coach Bobby Gonzalez back for a sixth season at Manhattan.
Pennsylvania enters the season on a 24-game winning streak in the Ivy League and despite the loss of three players who were vital to that run, the Quakers figure to win it again.
The two Yale-Columbia games this season will be interesting with brothers facing each other as head coaches. James Jones has made Yale a first-division program, while Joe Jones starts his first season with the Lions.
Boston University has won three straight America East regular season titles and the Terriers have five of their top seven players back. Vermont, which went to the NCAA tournament for the first time last season, has the league’s last two conference players of the year back.
The Northeast Conference should have a wide open race this season but the hardest thing to get used to around the league will be no Jim Phelan on the Mount St. Mary’s bench. Phelan and his famous bow ties retired last season after 49 years and 830 wins with the Mounties.
Holy Cross lost three 1,000-point scorers from the group that won three straight Patriot League titles but the Crusaders should still have enough for a fourth straight NCAA bid.
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