My predictions are below. Let me know if you agree/disagree.
1. Louisville (12-1): Anything less than a Final Four appearance would be a disappointment for the Cards, who return the core — Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng — from a squad that reached the national semifinal a year ago. Louisville is dominant inside and out, and may even be the favorite to win it all.
2. Syracuse (12-1): After losing Dion Waiters, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine, the Orange are still in position to contend for a league title and a high NCAA seed. Credit sophomore point guard Michael Carter-Williams, averaging 12.2 points, 10.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds through 13 games.
3. Georgetown (10-1): If you like run-and-gun, the Hoyas aren’t for you. Georgetown held three consecutive opponents — Tennessee, Texas and Towson — below 41 points each earlier this season. Its lone loss came to then-No. 1 Indiana in overtime.
4. Cincinnati (13-1): The backcourt nucleus of Cashmere Wright, Sean Kilpatrick and JaQuon Parker is one of the best in the league. Cincinnati played a fairly light non-conference schedule, but turned some heads with a nine-point victory at Pittsburgh in the Big East opener.
5. Marquette (10-3): Bulky center Davante Gardner is an extremely tough matchup. He’s 6-foot-8, 290 pounds and is shooting 84.7 percent from the free-throw line. Even in the rough-and-tumble Big East, he’ll be difficult to slow down.
6. Notre Dame (12-1): Because he looks exactly like Luke Harangody, it seems as though Jack Cooley has been playing college basketball for eight years. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound bruiser is finally a senior, and Notre Dame has an experienced backcourt to complement him.
7. UConn (10-3): With no postseason, UConn has still been engaged and, for the most part, efficient under Kevin Ollie. Shabazz Napier has taken a major step forward, but the frontcourt of Tyler Olander and DeAndre Daniels has not.
8. Pittsburgh (12-2): It’s difficult to judge Pitt off a flimsy non-league schedule that included Howard, Delaware, Oakland, Lehigh and Fordham. Until the Panthers beat a relevant team, they stay here.
9. South Florida (8-3): The Bulls, who reached the second round of the NCAA tournament a year ago, return the frontcourt tandem of Victor Rudd and Toarlyn Fitzpatrick. It’s been a rocky start for USF, but there’s a chance it surprises and punches a ticket to the Big Dance again.
10. Villanova (9-4): The Wildcats got blitzed by Columbia 75-57 on Nov. 20, but have recently put together a five-game winning streak. Although this isn’t an NCAA tournament team, the bottom of the Big East is pretty weak. ‘Nova may be the best of the bunch.
11. Rutgers (9-2): Two solid sophomore guards — Eli Carter (16.9 points) and Myles Mack (14.5 points, 58 percent from the field) — might help the Scarlet Knights compete in conference play.
12. Seton Hall (11-2): Don’t let the record fool you. The Pirates have been thoroughly unimpressive to date. Their best wins: A four-point victory over Wake Forest and a one-point triumph against Stony Brook.
13. St. John’s (8-4): The season hit a low when the Red Storm were defeated by UNC-Asheville 72-65 on their home floor. The only upside: Sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison is averaging 20.9 points per game on 45 percent shooting from the field.
14. Providence (8-4): New London’s Kris Dunn has returned from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Friars’ first nine games. There’s some talent here — 6-foot-1 junior Bryce Cotton is averaging 22 points per game and 6-foot-8 sophomore LaDontae Henton has put up 17.3 points and 7.9 boards — but not enough to escape the cellar of the Big East.
15. DePaul (9-4): It wouldn’t be the last season of true Big East basketball without DePaul holding down the fort in last place.