MBB: Wild, wild east

Tim Richer

This season promises to be another strong year for the Big East. Last season, the conference sent seven teams into the NCAA tournament and four more teams into the postseason NIT tournament. In the ’06-’07 season, expect the conference to receive at least eight entries into the NCAA tourney, a number that would tie the league record set in 2004.

Connecticut Huskies

(32-5, 14-2 Big East)

The Huskies are coming off a big season, where they remained ranked in the top 10 all year and reached the Elite Eight. After losing graduating stars Ann Strother, Barbara Turner and Willnett Crockett to the WNBA, look for sharp-shooting junior guard Mel Thomas to take over this powerhouse. After 18 straight NCAA tourney appearances under newly Hall of Fame-inducted Coach Geno Auriemma, expect UConn to be a contender again this year.

DePaul Blue Demons

(27-7, 11-5 Big East)

DePaul is coming off one of the best seasons in school history after it reached the Sweet Sixteen. This season, they lose three-time All-American and leading scorer Khara Smith. Fortunately for the Blue Demons, Smith is the only significant loss for a team that figures to have strong post-season aspirations again.

Louisville Cardinals

(19-10, 10-6 Big East)

After a strong season and an NCAA tourney appearance, the Cardinals return all four of their leading scorers from last season. Led by senior center Jazz Covington, Louisville should be in the top 25 all season.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

(27-5, 16-0 Big East)

Like UConn, the Scarlet Knights had an outstanding season last year, ranked in the top 10 all year and making it to the Elite Eight. Rutgers takes a blow this season by losing Big East Player of the Year and All-American Cappie Pondexter. They will rely on star junior guards Matee Ajavon and Essence Carson to lead them to another strong season. One of their incoming freshmen is guard Brittany Ray, sister of All-American Allan Ray.

Cincinnati Bearcats

(17-12, 7-9 Big East)

Senior guard Treasure Humphries leads this young team that finished last year with a decent 7-9 in the tough Big East. Humphries led the Bearcats in scoring and assists in her junior year. The key to the Bearcats’ success lies in the improvement of Humphries, and sophomores Shelly Bellman and Michelle Jones, who both figure to carry the team behind Humpries.

St. John’s Red Storm

(22-8, 11-5 Big East)

The surging Red Storm looks to improve on last year’s surprise NCAA tourney bid, where it reached the second round. Its chances look good as they return two All-Big East First Team members in the senior pair of Angela Clark and Kia Wright.

West Virginia Mountaineers

(15-16, 4-12 Big East)

The Mountaineers are coming off an unusual season, losing their final eight regular season conference games. However, they ran the table and made it all the way to the Big East championship game. This year, West Virginia should be more consistent, since it is returning all five of its starters and bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the country.

South Florida Bulls

(19-12, 9-7 Big East)

USF is coming off a season in which it advanced to the NCAA tourney. The Bulls return All-Big East First Team senior forward Jessica Dickson. They expect to have a very strong season as they return four out of five starters.

Marquette Golden Eagles

(22-11, 9-7 Big East)

The Golden Eagles finished out the season strong last year, making it all the way to the WNIT finals before losing to Kansas State. Without a dominating presence, this experienced Marquette team will look to senior forward Christina Quaye, who has led the team for the last two seasons in scoring and rebounding.

Pittsburgh Panthers

(22-11, 9-7 Big East)

After a surprising season which saw the Panthers reach over 20 wins for the first time in 12 years, Pitt looks to gain acceptance as a legitimate threat. The team is led by star junior center Marcedes Walker, the team’s leader in points and rebounds last season. Walker was only one of two sophomores to be All-Big East First Team last year, and was also named a preseason All-Big East Team player this year. Guard Mallorie Winn was also voted to the team.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

(18-12, 8-8 Big East)

Despite losing All-American Megan Duffy, this experienced Irish team looks to make this season its 12th consecutive in the NCAA tourney. This guard-oriented team often struggled last year and will probably do so again this year without a proven scoring threat. Look for sophomore guard Lindsay Schrader to lead the team.

Villanova Wildcats

(21-11, 9-7 Big East)

‘Nova had a very successful year, finishing with a record above .500 in the strong Big East and making it to the third round of the WNIT before losing to Western Kentucky. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they will be working from the ground-up after graduating four of their five starters. The lone remainder is senior forward Jackie Adamshick, who averaged 10.7 points per game and had a team-high 6.3 rebounds. Coach Harry Perretta will need his 28 years of coaching experience to rub off on this relatively inexperienced team.

Syracuse Orange

(9-18, 2-14 Big East)

After struggling in the Big East with just two wins, the Orange returns all five starters and has one of the most experienced teams in the conference. The team will be coached by Quentin Hillsman, an assistant from last season who was promoted. Expect ‘Cuse to improve, but not to finish with better than a .500 record.

Seton Hall Pirates

(6-21, 3-13 Big East)

The Pirates look to rebound after a poor 6-21 season. They return all five starters, making this team experienced. Seton Hall lacks the talent to make it into the post-season.

Georgetown Hoyas

(10-17, 3-13 Big East)

The Hoyas are coming off a disappointing season in which they struggled in their conference. This season looks to be just as disappointing for a young team that features only one senior. The lone bright spot on this team is junior forward Kieraah Marlow, who finished fifth in the Big East for scoring last season.

Providence Friars

(8-19, 3-13 Big East)

Returning senior forward Shauna Snyder, who has led Providence in scoring for the last two seasons, is the only bright spot on this basement team. In order for the Friars to move up, they must find a way to defeat their Big East opponents. The Friars hold a 3-45 conference record for the last three seasons.