| ||Monday, November 1|
Special to ESPN.com
|A few years ago, people were saying the Big East was down and not the same. Now, with the defending national champion among its schools, it's safe to say the conference is back.
It's a cyclical process. Things change when a team -- in this case, Connecticut -- wins a national title. One positive effect is that recruits tend to flow to the conference. As a result, several conference schools -- not just UConn -- had great recruiting seasons.
The top half of the league is extremely strong, with Connecticut, Syracuse, St. John's, Miami and potentially Georgetown. It would be easy to say UConn is the best team in the conference, but there could be a few surprises. Among the second tier of teams, Seton Hall has the potential to make a big impact. Tommy Amaker has done a great job of recruiting. Providence and Rutgers also have promising futures, and Steve Lappas, despite losing some key players to the NBA, is confident about his program at Villanova.
Gone are players like Richard Hamilton and Ron Artest, but there are still enough marquee players like Khalid El-Amin to make the Big East as exciting as it has ever been.
Troy Murphy, sophomore, F/C, Notre Dame: 19.2 ppg, 9.9 rpg
Khalid El-Amin, junior, G, Connecticut: 13.8 ppg, 3.9 apg
Kevin Freeman, senior, F, Connecticut: 12.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg
Erick Barkley, sophomore, G, St. John's: 13.5 ppg, 4.7 apg
Johnny Hemsley, senior, G, Miami (Fla.): 17.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg Player of the year: Khalid El-Amin
With what El-Amin has done already at Connecticut, he has to be the favorite. There will be a lot of responsibility with the loss of Richard Hamilton. Even though the Huskies had a great recruiting year, El-Amin needs to step up and show his leadership. It seems like El-Amin is always talking a lot of trash, but coach Jim Calhoun says he just loves to play. He has a genuine enjoyment of the game that affects the whole team. When you combine that with his skills, you would be hard-pressed to find a better player of the year. All-newcomer team
Samuel Dalembert, freshman, C, Seton Hall
Ajou Deng, sophomore, F/C, Connecticut
Karim Shabazz, junior, C, Providence
Doug Wrenn, freshman, G/F, Connecticut
Xavier Singletary, junior, G, Boston College Newcomer of the year: Samuel Dalembert
Dalembert gets the nod over Deng. A 6-11 center, he may have a bigger impact because he will really stand out for Seton Hall and play some good basketball. Deng, a skilled and athletic 6-11 forward, will have to blend in more at UConn. Best backcourt: St. John's
Erick Barkley is a big-time point guard who will play an even bigger role as a sophomore. At the two-guard, Bootsy Thornton is capable of exploding, as we saw against Duke last year. He does so many good things. I also like the young backcourt at Georgetown, with Anthony Perry and Kevin Braswell. Best frontcourt: Syracuse
Etan Thomas is the premier shot-blocker in the conference. He has gotten better every year. Ryan Blackwell is a complementary player, the ribbon and the bow of the package for the Orangemen. On a given night, he can put up tremendous numbers. Damone Brown is ready to have a great season. The frontcourt has good size and athleticism, and all three can go outside to hit a perimeter shot. Team on the rise: Seton Hall
Tommy Amaker has done a tremendous job. He had a great recruiting year. Samuel Dalembert will do great things for the Pirates. Shaheen Holloway is one of the league's most underrated players. If he makes his shots, he changes everything on the floor because of his quickness. The Pirates are a team to watch out for. Team on the fall: Pitt
You don't really know where the program is going. The Panthers have had a coaching change, hiring Ben Howland. They don't have much talent coming back. There are some variables that could change things for the Panthers.
Unsung player: Jason Hart, Syracuse
When Gampel Pavilion is rocking and the Huskies are rolling, coaches say this is the place to be. Postseason teams
NCAA: Connecticut, Syracuse, St. John's, Miami (Fla.), Seton Hall
NIT: Rutgers, Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame