1. Louisville

Head Coach Rick Pitino’s defending Big East tournament champions return most of last year’s squad. The Cardinals boast an aggressive zone defense — led by junior shot-blocker Gorgui Dieng and ball-pressuring senior point guard Peyton Siva — that might be the best in the country. If Siva can pick up more of the scoring burden, don’t be surprised if Louisville ends up with a second-straight trip to the Final Four.

2. Syracuse

Georgetown’s perennial rival has a tall order in replacing four key players from last season’s 34-3 squad. Senior guard Brandon Triche and the Orange’s deep bench will have to step up to replace FabMelo, leading scorer Kris Joseph and guards Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine. That bench, however, is likely to make a big impact, and Syracuse will likely contend for the Big East title in its final season before leaving for the ACC.

3. Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish lost Tim Abromaitis, but they played much of last season without him and still finished with 22 wins. The backcourt tandem of playmaking juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant should support senior forward Jack Cooley. Notre Dame also has shored up its frontcourt with senior center and Michigan State transfer Garrick Sherman and freshmen Zach Auguste and CameronBiedscheid.

4. Cincinnati

Although their brawl with Xavier might be the lingering memory of last season, the Bearcats finished 26-11 with a Sweet 16 appearance. Cincinnati loses forward Yancy Gates but returns junior perimeter shooter Sean Kilpatrick and senior point guard Cashmere Wright. Junior forward Titus Rubles andredshirt freshman forward Shaquille Thomas will help the Bearcats maintain up-tempo play, making them sure contenders.

5. Georgetown

6. Pittsburgh

Adding to last season’s disappointment, the Panthers have lost the heart of their team, sharpshooting guard Ashton Gibbs. Five of Pitt’s seven top scorers return, though, including senior point guard TrayWoodall and emerging junior forward Lamar Patterson. Woodall’s ability to lead a young backcourtand the performance of two newcomers — freshman center and Big East preseason rookie of the year Steve Adams, and junior transfer Trey Ziegler — will determine if the Panthers will catch fire in the Big East.

7. Marquette

The Golden Eagles lost a combined 35 points per game and major defensive flexibility with the departures of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Head Coach Buzz Williams has many talented wing players to pick up the slack, however, with junior forward Jamil Wilson likely seeing an increased role. The team’s most intriguing player is 6-foot-5 Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett, a senior guard. He, along with returning guards Vander Blue, a junior, and Todd Mayo, a sophomore, should keep Marquette competitive.

8. South Florida

The Bulls surprised the Big East with a 12-6 conference record that led Head Coach Stan Heath to be named the conference’s coach of the year. Leading scorer Augustus Gilchrist has graduated, but sophomore point guard Anthony Collins — who established himself as one of the league’s better young players — should step into a bigger role. USF also scored a strong recruiting class and boasts a strong veteran frontcourt. While the Bulls may not sit atop the league at the end of the season, they can no longer be ignored.

9. Connecticut

No Big East team lost more than the Huskies after last season. Not only did defensive standout Andre Drummond and smooth scorer Jeremy Lamb graduate, but Head Coach Jim Calhoun retired after 26 years at the school. His replacement, Kevin Ollie, has big shoes to fill but will be helped by the strongbackcourt of clutch junior Shabazz Napier and slashing sophomore Ryan Boatright. It hardly matters, though, because sanctions from Calhoun’s tenure mean the Huskies are ineligible for the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

10. St. John’s

The Red Storm lost only one notable player — Moe Harkless — but they are still a young team made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores. St. John’s will have to turn to sophomore guard D’AngeloHarrison, who led all Big East rookies in scoring last season, in the backcourt, while hoping fellow sophomore guard Phil Greene will step up to lead. While the Johnnies have a lot to sort out, they will have Head Coach Steve Lavin back this season, given that he seems to have won his battle with prostate cancer.

11. Rutgers

Very green last season, the Scarlet Knights now have experience to go along with last year’s talented recruiting class. Forward Gilvydas Biruta, Rutgers’ most consistent big man last year, transferred to Rhode Island, but 6-foot-9, 250-pound Kansas State transfer Wally Judge, a forward, should help make up for his absence. A backcourt led by sophomore guards Jerome Seagears and Eli Carter will also be a strength for the Scarlet Knights, who seem poised to surprise some of their Big East rivals.

12. Villanova

After finishing 5-13 in the Big East last year, the Wildcats were hit with the departures of starting guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek. That means Head Coach Jay Wright will have to reinvent Villanova’s backcourt while depending on returning senior center Mouphtaou Yarou — the team’s top returning scorer — sophomore guard JayVaughn Pinkston and junior forward James Bell to lead the team without a top-notch incoming class.

13. DePaul

The Blue Demons finished last season with just three conference wins, but Head Coach Oliver Purnellhas his squad moving in the right direction. The team returns its top four scorers from a year ago, including stellar junior forward Cleveland Melvin, the top returning scorer in the Big East. DePaul is undersized down low, however, which will make it difficult for it to contend in the Big East.

14. Seton Hall

Seton Hall took some big hits in the offseason, losing leading scorers Jordon Theodore and Herb Pope to graduation. The Pirates turn to versatile wing Fuquan Edwin, who established himself as an elite Big East defender last season. Seton Hall hasn’t finished above .500 in the league since 2005-06, however, and its roster is filled with too many question marks and no reliable big men to turn that around this year.

15. Providence

With guard Gerard Coleman’s transfer, the depleted Friars are picked to finish at the bottom of the conference. Head Coach Ed Cooley has assembled a highly rated recruiting class, but its gem — point guard Kris Dunn — will be sidelined early with a shoulder injury. PC’s other blue-chip recruit, Ricardo Ledo, has been ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA, leaving Providence without many viable scoring options or much reliable depth.

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