Most in the college basketball business regarded the Big East as the premier conference in the land this past season, and through dominating play, it did not disappoint. The Big East placed seven teams into the 2009 NCAA tournament field, and Louisville earned the top overall seed. The conference lived up to its lofty standards when four teams advanced to the Elite Eight and two played in the Final Four. Big East teams took advantage of their on-the-court success by delivering very talented 2009 recruiting classes. With five teams in the top 25 of our final recruiting class rankings, several Big East teams will use their impressive collections of talent to maintain the high level of success they established this past season.
Top class: Villanova Wildcats
Jay Wright and the Wildcats broke out with a Final Four appearance this past season, and it doesn't look as though there will be any sort of letdown next season. Wright has brought in one of the country's top classes that features four ESPNU 100 prospects, led by Mouphtaou Yarou (Rockville, Md./Montrose Christian) and McDonald's All-Americans 6-foot-6 SG Dominic Cheek (Jersey City, N.J./St. Anthony) and 6-0 PG Maalik Wayns (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic). Yarou's prep teammate, 6-8 PF Isaiah Armwood, rounds out this impressive group.
Yarou's game is a work in progress, but few 2009 prospects have as much upside. He'll be an asset for Wright as a freshman because of his big body and defensive skills. Wayns is a playmaking guard who could lessen the pressure on Nova's returning guards. Like Wayns, Cheek should fit right into Villanova's guard-oriented system. Finally, Armwood's athleticism in the frontcourt will make him an immediate contributor.
Suprise class: Providence Friars
Now entering his second year on the job, Friars coach Keno Davis hit the trail hard this past year, and his work paid dividends with a seven-man 2009 haul. The Friars' deep class has a little bit of everything, which helps this team improve the overall talent on its roster.
Top recruit: PF Dante Taylor, Pitt
Pitt's frontcourt will look much different next season with Sam Young and DeJuan Blair having departed for the pro ranks. Enter Dante Taylor (Greenburgh, N.Y./National Christian Academy), who could be the most lauded recruit in Pitt's history. Taylor will have to play big right away and is capable of doing so. He'll be a bit of a departure from the bruising game Blair displayed. Taylor will impose his will with his athleticism, which will allow him to rebound and block shots with the best of them. His post game is pretty good, but he certainly can refine his skills in that area. Regardless, Taylor will fill a major need for Pitt and should make a major impact for coach Jamie Dixon.
Top newcomer (transfer): PF Herb Pope
Herb Pope, formerly of New Mexico State, has very good leaping ability and athleticism that he uses to rebound the ball on both ends of the floor. He has the ball skills to draw bigger, slower defenders whom he can drive past on his way to the rim. Or, if they do not honor his perimeter shot, Pope will connect on jumpers with range that extends out to the 3-point line. He must mature as player and not display negative emotion when he faces adversity on the court. Because he won't be eligible to play during the 2009-10 season, his year off probably will help him in that department and improve his strength.
Sleeper recruit: SF Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, UConn
Coombs-McDaniel (Boston/The Tilton School) has a very mature game and thinks the game in the same fashion as a grizzled veteran. He understands how to run a team, and his basketball IQ, passing skills, ballhandling and leadership skills allow him to play as a point forward at times. He also has good strength and is willing to guard the opposing team's best player -- regardless of position. As he becomes a better perimeter shooter, Coombs-McDaniel will develop into a very good wing player for UConn.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.