Enjoy a season of (relative) normalcy before 2013's musical chairs.
1. Money matters: To borrow a phrase from Method Man et. al, TV cash rules everything around college sports, and the Big East's choice of Mike Aresco as John Marinatto's successor as commissioner should put the conference in a stronger position to draw from the power source that has vaulted its competitors ahead in the recent college sports reshuffling. The Big Ten has had its own network since 2007 and the other four collectives formerly known as the BCS leagues have all landed lucrative deals recently. The Big East, meanwhile, rejected ESPN's offer last year, which would have reportedly paid each school around $11 million and came before Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia announced their departures.
Aresco will be tasked with landing the league a fat deal when its current contract expires after the upcoming basketball season, no small task given its potentially diminished appeal in a post-realignment world. But Aresco knows the field. Since 1996 he had been CBS Sports' college czar and before that he spent a dozen years at ESPN, where he also oversaw the acquisition and programming of college sports. Among Aresco's stated goals: "I want the schools that left to regret leaving." The job starts at the negotiating table next week, the beginning of the Big East's exclusive negotiating window with ESPN, and the conference's future health will depend on it.
2. Boost in the backcourt: Before landing at Marquette this offseason, Trent Lockett, a 6-foot-5 guard, put together three strong years at Arizona State, most recently averaging 13 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals last year as a junior. Sadly, his mother was diagnosed with lymphoma in March, prompting Lockett -- who graduated in May after three years of school -- to move closer to his native Minnesota for his final year of collegiate eligibility. At Marquette, which is about six hours from his hometown of Golden Valley, Lockett is expected to be cleared to play immediately, which will provide the Golden Eagles a much-needed boost of offense after the graduations of do-it-all forward Jae Crowder, last season's Big East Player of the Year, and fellow all-conference first-teamer Darius Johnson-Odom. Lockett is an aggressive scorer who can get to the line (his rate of free throws per field goal attempt ranked fifth in the Pac-12 last year) and who, along with senior point guard Junior Cadougan, junior Vander Blue and possibly the currently suspended sophomore Todd Mayo, should give Marquette a strong backcourt stable.
3. Bad news and good news: Notre Dame fans were bummed in early May when forward Tim Abromaitis, who played just two games this past season before tearing his right ACL and had already redshirted as a sophomore, was denied a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. But less than two weeks later, the governing body gave the Irish faithful some good news when it ruled the other way on guard Scott Martin, a 6-8 former Purdue transfer who coach Mike Brey calls the team's "glue guy." Martin came to South Bend after his freshman season in 2008 in order to be closer to his father as he battled cancer in his eye; after sitting out the 2008-09 season due to NCAA transfer rules, he tore his left ACL and missed the following season too. He's since started 66 games for the Irish, helping them reach the last two NCAA tournaments, and as a captain last season he averaged 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
The Big East has a few strong recruiting hauls: Pitt landing 6-10 Kiwi center Steven Adams and point guard James Robinson, Syracuse bringing in big man DaJuan Coleman and power forward Jerami Grant, rebuilding Villanova signing a pair of strong local products in big man Daniel Ochefu and point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. But it was Ed Cooley and Providence that made the most noise -- that is, until what should have been an unmitigated cause for celebration became a more complicated, potentially delayed batch of gratification.
The Friars' top-10 class was headlined by hometown signee Ricardo Ledo, a dangerous 6-6 perimeter scorer. But Ledo, who attended four high schools in five years, remains in NCAA eligibility purgatory, even meeting with officials last week. McDonald's All-American Kris Dunn, arguably the 2012 class's top point guard prospect, found out in June that he tore the labrum in his right shoulder in March, requiring surgery that will likely keep him sidelined until midseason and could mean redshirting. The same fate may await three-star point guard recruit Ian Baker, who tore an ACL during an open gym this summer. This was shaping up to be an exciting fall in Providence, but now it will be interesting to see when (or for that matter, whether) this vaunted class comes to fruition.
Buzz Williams kept his team afloat all the way to the Sweet 16 last season despite playing an extremely small lineup after losing 6-11 center Chris Otule to an ACL injury in January and 6-8 power forward for all of February with a knee sprain. Davante Gardner returned to play in short stints during the postseason and his rate stats -- for the season, he averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds on 56.1 percent shooting in 19.2 minutes per game -- were impressive. At 275 and 290 pounds, respectively, Otule and Gardner are very big bodies, which means the strains of playing extended time could keep their minutes low even when healthy. But if these two can stay on the court, their size will be difficult for anyone to match and their pairing with Marquette's promising backcourt could make for the kind of season that leads to a third straight visit to the NCAA tournament's second weekend.
1. Louisville: Last season's rollercoaster squad -- which began with lofty preseason rankings before a precipitous tumble out of the rankings in January -- surprised many by reaching the Final Four before being halted by Kentucky, but a smoother journey deep into March should be expected for this year's Cardinals. True, two of last year's top three scorers, swingman Kyle Kuric and guard Chris Smith, have graduated, but newly eligible 6-6 George Mason transfer Luke Hancock (10.9 points, 4.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds per game in 2010-11) will help replace some of the missing offense, as should expected second-year improvements from Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear. At the top and bottom of Louisville's lineup is the unmatched combo of senior point guard Peyton Siva, a strong candidate for conference player of the year, and junior center Gorgui Dieng, who averaged 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks while anchoring the nation's most efficient defense last season. And yes, don't worry, there will be plenty more Russ-diculousness.
2. Syracuse: The Orange's Big East swan song won't be as dominant as last season's 17-1 run through league play, but Jim Boeheim, fresh off serving as an assistant for the United States' gold-medal winning team in London, should again be in pursuit of a title. Gone are a quartet of last year's top six scorers -- two-guard Dion Waiters and center Fab Melo declared early for the NBA draft, while point guard Scoop Jardine and forward Kris Joseph graduated -- but senior guard Brandon Triche and junior forward C.J. Fair will lead another balanced attack aided by increased efforts from sophomores Rakeem Christmas and Michael Carter-Williams. The Cardinals will be heavy favorites, but 'Cuse could leave the conference wearing its crown.
3. Notre Dame: With the NCAA clearing Martin, all five starters will be back from a team that finished third in the Big East last March after being pegged by media before the season for a ninth-place finish. Guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins can both shoot from outside and 6-9, 244-pound senior forward Jack Cooley had 13 double-doubles last season; all three are coming off averaging 12-plus points. With all of its key pieces returning and the possibility of further improvement from Grant, a redshirt sophomore, it's hard to imagine the Irish finishing lower than this same group already did.