The Big East was the talk of college hoops in 2009. With both UConn and Villanova advancing to the Final Four, it was easy to see why.
On the recruiting trail the league has also faired quite well. Five Big East teams made our final Top 25 recruiting class rankings. Time will tell if that success in the hunt for top prospects results in a Big East team winning it all come April.
Cincinnati commits: one
The Bearcats currently have only one prospect slated to join them in the fall in 6-5 SG Sean Kilpatrick (White Plains, N.Y./Notre Dame Prep). With guards Deonta Vaughn, Larry Davis, Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright (returning from injury) set to man both guard slots, bringing in Kilpatrick gives Cincinnati a legitimate 3-point threat with size on the perimeter. Kilpatrick can drain shots and stretch defenses and create space for Cincinnati's penetrating guards as well as its inside presence, Yancy Gates. Kilpatrick has an emerging offensive game using the dribble and does a nice job of finding open teammates.
Connecticut commits: four
With the departures of A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet and Craig Austrie, UConn will have to replace the scoring void left by four of its top seven scorers as it tries to repeat its Final Four run of last season. Luckily for the Huskies, they have two top-40 players in 6-8 C Alex Oriakhi (Lowell, Mass./The Tilton School) and 6-6 SF Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (Boston/The Tilton School) who headline their four-man recruiting haul for 2009. Oriakhi provides the Huskies with an inside presence who can anchor UConn's defense. He should help continue the recent tradition of UConn having at least one big capable of owning the paint defensively. Oriakhi also can score with his back to the basket, using his surprisingly reliable jump hook with his nondominant left hand. With Ater Majok declaring for the NBA draft -- he has yet to decide if he's withdrawing his name -- Oriakhi may have to contribute rather soon for UConn. Coombs-McDaniel provides the intangibles as well as an outstanding basketball IQ to contribute almost immediately. He continues to improve offensively and has enough versatility to play all three perimeter positions if his team needs this option. PG Darius Smith (Chicago/Marshall) will become the ball-hawking defensive guard that every team needs, while 6-5 SG Jamaal Trice (Los Angeles/Mount Zion) is another athletic wing player who can create and get to the rim. Smith and Trice will provide the Huskies with depth behind current featured guards Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker.
DePaul commits: two
Coming off a tough 2008-09 campaign that saw DePaul go winless in the rugged Big East, the Blue Demons will have to look to their recruits to contribute almost immediately, especially when you factor in that two of their top three scorers, Dar Tucker and Mac Koshwal, have declared for the NBA draft. PF Tony Freeland (Los Angeles/Fremont), though undersized at 6-5, will have to use his impressive length, athleticism and intensity to contribute very soon in the event that Koshwal does not return. Freeland has a never-ending motor and understands how to use his body, which makes him a very good rebounder on both ends of the floor. He will have to continue to work on his post moves and add countermoves to his repertoire as well as improve his stroke from the perimeter to overcome his lack of height for the post. Juco transfer Mike Stovall (Mineral Area College, Mo.) gives the Blue Demons a scorer from the shooting guard slot who can help fill the scoring void that Tucker will leave if he opts for a professional career.
Georgetown commits: three
The Hoyas faded down the stretch after getting off to an impressive start last season. They will likely lose leading scorer DaJuan Summers to the NBA, but they dodged a huge bullet when Greg Monroe decided to stay for another year. With Summers gone, Georgetown will look to 6-7 SF Hollis Thompson (Concord, Calif./De La Salle), who enrolled early to get a jump on the competition, to help replace that scoring punch. He has very good leaping ability and will have to continue to develop his body as well as his perimeter touch and consistency. Vee Sanford (Lexington, Ky./Lexington Catholic), a 6-3 SG, has the ability to connect on jumpers from deep as well as get to the hoop. PF Jerrelle Benimon (Warrenton, Va./Fauquier) has a tremendous amount of upside, which greatly complements his impressive athleticism and rebounding skills.
Louisville commits: four
Louisville will have a very good team next season because last season the Cardinals played a fair share of young players, led by Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings. However, the Cardinals have to replace their two best players, Terrance Williams and Earl Clark, who led them to the Elite Eight this past season. In 5-foot-11 PG Peyton Siva (Seattle/Franklin), Louisville may have the good point guard it lacked last season -- it was pretty remarkable how much on-court success the Cardinals had with the inconsistent play from the position. Siva's penetration and passing skills in transition should make him a perfect fit for the Cardinals' up-tempo attack. He can also connect on jumpers if teams sag off him in anticipation of his penetration. PF Rakeem Buckles (Miami/Monsignor Edward Pace) uses good athleticism and quickness to make plays off the dribble. He runs the floor very effectively and should score a good amount of points on fast breaks. Six-foot-5 SG Mike Marra (Smithfield, R.I./Northfield Mount Hermon) has in-the-gym range and connects on jumpers from well beyond 3-point range. Stephan Van Treese (Indianapolis/Lawrence North), a 6-9 power forward, gives the Cardinals another quality big man they can use with Samuels and Jennings. Van Treese also runs the floor well and should score in transition as well as on putbacks with his offensive rebounding ability.
Marquette commits: seven
The Golden Eagles lost their three-headed backcourt monster in Jerel McNeal, Wesley Mathews and Dominic James and will look to 6-2 PG Junior Cadougan (Toronto, Ontario/Christian Life Center), one of three ESPNU 100 recruits heading to Milwaukee, to step in and stabilize the team from the perimeter. Cadougan must continue to improve his conditioning and alleviate his tendency to over-dribble. However, he can get almost anywhere he wants on the floor using his adequate quickness and his ability to use his power to overtake smaller guards. He also has good vision and finds open teammates when he looks for them. Six-foot-6 PF Jeronne Maymon (Madison, Wis./Madison Memorial) has a rapidly improving perimeter game, but he does damage close to the bucket. He uses his strength to dominate the opposition. SF Erik Williams (Katy, Texas/Cypress Springs) has very good athleticism and upside, which should help him to become a very good wing player in the Big East. Marquette continues to build frontcourt depth with prospects such as 7-2 C Youssoupha Mbao (Simi Valley, Calif./Stoneridge Prep) and 6-10 Brett Roseboro (Quakertown, Pa./Quakertown). Mbao gives the Golden Eagles a shot-blocker who needs to continue to improve his offensive game, strength and focus for the next level. Roseboro provides Marquette with another big body who can clog the lane and play the high post due to his ability to hit free throw-line extended jumpers. The Golden Eagles will also rely on two junior college transfers, Darius Johnson-Odom (Hutchinson Community College) and Dwight Buycks (Indian Hills Community College). The pair of guards has the quickness and athleticism needed to help in the backcourt.
Notre Dame commits: four
The Fighting Irish, similar to Georgetown, started the season off very strong then ran out of gas as the torturous Big East schedule progressed. Notre Dame will depend on its recruiting class, comprised of exclusively frontcourt prospects, for scoring, depth and to offset the potential loss of All-Everything power forward Luke Harangody to the NBA draft. Notre Dame will depend on three interior players, 6-8 PF Jack Cooley (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South), 6-8 PF Mike Broghammer (Minnetonka, Minn./Hopkins) and 6-8 C Thomas Knight (Dixfield, Maine/Dirigo). Cooley uses his effort and physical style of play to impact the game on both ends of the floor. These two traits also make him a very good rebounder on both ends of the floor. Broghammer has a nice turn-and-face game in the midpost and the ability to play in the high post because of his passing skill and shooting prowess in the midrange. Knight has deceptively sneaky athleticism and runs the floor well. He can also play in the high post due to his shooting ability and range that extends out to the 3-point line. SF Joey Brooks (Houston/Strake Jesuit) has a very powerful body and the ability to score on the perimeter using his strength and his athleticism. He can also connect on jumpers from the 3-point line.
Pittsburgh commits: four
The Panthers lost a heartbreaker to Villanova in the Elite Eight last season and will have to depend on their incoming recruits to help sustain their success because Pittsburgh lost DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields, its top three players from last season. Six-foot-8 PF Dante Taylor (Greenburgh, N.Y./National Christian Academy), a McDonald's All-American, will have to come in and help offset the loss of Blair's imposing presence in the paint. While he does not possess the strength and craftiness of Blair, Taylor does have impressive athleticism, which makes him a strong rebounder as well as a good shot-blocker. He can also score with either hand when close to the basket. Another ESPNU 100 prospect, 6-5 SF Lamar Patterson (Lancaster, Pa./St. Benedict's Prep), gives Pitt the traditional undersized PF who has a tremendous motor and pounds the glass, which has come to define Pittsburgh basketball. C Talib Zanna (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) also dominates the boards and contests shots at a high rate. He has a tremendous amount of upside. The last big body in this talented class is PF J.J. Richardson (Missouri City, Texas/Hightower). He also does the dirty work and has the type of game that makes him mesh perfectly with the Pittsburgh way of playing basketball, which rests on getting the most out of players and allowing them to play with a healthy mean streak.
Providence commits: seven
The Friars had an up-and-down season in their first year under coach Keno Davis' direction and will lean on this big recruiting class to help offset the loss of five of their top seven scorers. The Friars run an up-tempo attack and will need a guard to orchestrate their system. Davis will look to 6-2 PG Vincent Council (New York/Patterson School) to help lead the charge. Council has good size and quickness for the point, and he can get into the lane with ease. He also has good vision and passing skills, but he needs to continue to work on his perimeter shooting. Providence also has another point guard who can help initiate the offense in 5-10 Johnnie Lacy (Milwaukee/Notre Dame Prep). Lacy can get to the bucket with ease and needs to continue to involve his teammates. SG Duke Mondy (Grand Rapids, Mich./Catholic Central) has range that extends right out to the 3-point line, and he should help the Friars immediately as a shooter. Providence will also look for help inside and should get it with the arrival of 6-7 PF Kadeem Batts (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern). Batts has very good strength and can connect on jumpers out to 15 feet -- a valuable asset in an up-tempo attack. Big man James Still (Detroit/Community) uses his athleticism and length to wreak havoc on both ends of the floor, especially as a shot-blocker. Junior college forwards Kyle Wright (Monroe Community College, N.Y.) and Russ Permenter (Temple College, Texas) give the Friars even more options in the frontcourt.
Rutgers commits: three
Rutgers initially had another prospect slated to be part of this class but Greg Echenique graduated early and made his debut last season for the Scarlet Knights. In this class, the Scarlet Knights are bringing in good size to complement Echenique. Seven-footer Brian Okam (Orlando, Fla./Lake Highland Prep) will join Echenique in the frontcourt and give Rutgers even more depth, which the Scarlet Knights will need in the bruising Big East. Okam has to continue to work on his footwork in the paint, but he can score in the paint using his strength and athleticism. Dane Miller (Rochester, N.Y./Rush Henrietta), a 6-7 SF, has very good athletic ability and versatility, which allows him to play some point forward. Austin Johnson (Blairstown, N.J./Blair Academy), a 6-7 PF, has very good quickness that he can use to drive past bigger, slower defenders. These recruits should come in and help Mike Rosario & Co. next season.
Seton Hall commits: one
The Pirates will have almost everyone back including scoring machine Jeremy Hazell as well as the additions of transfers Keon Lawrence (Missouri) and Herb Pope (New Mexico State). With this type of firepower returning, the Hall has only one recruit currently on the board: 6-7 SF Ferrakohn Hall (Memphis, Tenn./White Station). Hall competes at a very high level and plays with a good amount of attitude and emotion. He crashes the boards and plays a very energetic brand of hoops.
South Florida commits: six
The Bulls struggled some in the tough Big East, but they have a good amount of talent returning, including leading scorer Dominique Jones. The incoming recruits will help coach Stan Heath continue to collect talent as he builds this program. Mike Burwell (South Amboy, N.J./South Kent School), a 6-6 SG, has the ability to beat teams from 3-point range very consistently, especially when he sets his feet. He also has to continue to improve off the dribble -- though he does play hard and defends the ball solidly. SG Shaun Noriega (North Port, Fla./North Port) also has range that extends well beyond the 3-point line and can stretch defenses. The Bulls clearly felt that they needed shooters; they have another accurate one with deep range in 6-5 SF Jordan Dumars (Birmingham, Mich./Detroit Country Day). PG Anthony Crater (Flint, Mich.), a one-time Ohio State prospect, gives the Bulls another option in the backcourt. Carter can break down defenders and spot open teammates. PF Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (Tampa, Fla./King) has good strength and uses it to rebound the basketball and score in traffic. Big man Jarrid Famous also gives the Bulls some shot-blocking and rebounding down low.
St. John's commits: four
The Red Storm will not lose any of their better players and they will add Anthony Mason Jr. for a full season after injuries derailed him last season. St. John's clearly made it a priority to address its backcourt and came away with three good players in 6-4 SG Omari Lawrence (New York/South Kent School), 5-10 PG Malik Stith (Hempstead, N.Y./Bridgton Academy) and 6-2 SG Dwight Hardy (Indian Hills Community College, Iowa). Lawrence, as he continues to improve his conditioning, has the strength to get to the rim and defend. He needs to continue to refine his shooting ability and range. Stith gives the Red Storm depth at the point guard slot and a cool leader who can create offense for himself as well as others. Hardy has deep range from the perimeter and can get to the rim. They will be joined by junior college prospect Justin Brownlee (Chipola Community College, Fla.). The small forward gives the Red Storm scoring and athleticism from the wing.
Syracuse commits: three
The Orange will most likely lose their top perimeter players in Jonny Flynn, Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf. Therefore, they will look to their returning players and 2009 recruits to help ease those significant losses. Brandon Triche (Dewitt, N.Y./Jamesville-Dewitt), a 6-3 SG, has the shooting ability to consistently knock down shots from 3-point range. He does need to improve his ability to get to the basket, however. SF James Southerland (Queens, N.Y./Notre Dame Prep) also has good range on his jumper and needs to improve off the dribble to take advantage of his very good athleticism. Late addition DaShonte Riley (Detroit/Detroit Country Day), a 6-11 C, has the potential to develop into a dominant presence in the paint. He can score with his back to the hoop and shoot 15-foot jumpers. Riley, however, has to keep his focus and always give consistent effort.
Villanova commits: four
Fresh off a Final Four appearance, the Wildcats have used their great season to fuel their recruiting success, with four ESPNU 100 prospects, led by Mouphtaou Yarou (Rockville, Md./Montrose Christian), along with 6-6 SG Dominic Cheek (Jersey City, N.J./St. Anthony) and 6-0 PG Maalik Wayns (Philadelphia/Roman Catholic), both McDonald's All-Americans. Yarou's prep teammate, 6-8 PF Isaiah Armwood, rounds out this impressive group. Yarou gives the Wildcats an imposing presence in the paint with a tremendous amount of upside. As he continues to improve his post moves, Yarou should become dominant over in the paint. Wayns gives the Wildcats another point guard with good vision, and he has a penchant for making winning plays. He should help lessen the burden on Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds, should he decide to return to school. Cheek gives Villanova an elite talent at the shooting guard slot with prototypical height for the position. He needs to continue to work hard to improve his ability to create off the dribble. Armwood has a very good amount of upside and athleticism, but he needs to continue to improve his strength level as well as his perimeter skills.
West Virginia commits: four
The Mountaineers put a very young team on the floor and should make a serious move in the Big East, with Alex Ruoff being the only senior on the roster. The four incoming prospects should help continue to build the talent as well as get the team even closer to taking the mold of coach Bob Huggins as a tough, intense, physical group. The Mountaineers have three ESPNU 100 players making their debut in the fall with 6-9 PF Deniz Kilicli (Beckley, W.Va./Mountain State Academy) leading the way. Kilicli has a impressive set of skills and finishes everything in the paint with his left hand, though he's a righty, similar to Carlos Boozer. He has to keep his effort level up and Huggins will definitely help in that department. PF Dan Jennings (Staten Island, N.Y./St. Thomas More) gives the Mountaineers a tough guy who can block shots and take ownership of the paint for West Virginia. Dalton Pepper (Fairless Hills, Pa./Pennsbury), a 6-5 SF, provides a physical presence on the wing who can knock down shots from 3-point range. Juco transfer Casey Mitchell (Chipola Community College, Fla.), a 6-4 SG, also gives the Mountaineers another scoring threat from the wing.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.