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October 29, 2006

New look Big East loaded with young talent

Preseason Top 25
Media Days Central
The College Basketball Wire

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Rivals.com selected the top 25 storylines for the upcoming 2006-07 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 10 storyline focuses on how the Big East has reloaded with an influx of young talent.

The Big East enjoyed what may have been the most successful season for any conference when it expanded to 16 teams in 2005. A record eight teams made the NCAA Tournament and four reached the Sweet 16. Four others went to the NIT.

Now, it must almost start over from scratch.

No league lost more of its top players or more experience.

Eighteen of the top 20 scorers are gone. Thirteen of the teams lost their leading scorers. Seven players were first-round draft picks.

The league's best teams must replace the most.

Connecticut and West Virginia - which finished first and third, respectively, in 2005-06 - each lost all five starters.

Villanova lost three starting guards who accounted for 50 points per game while carrying the Wildcats to the Elite Eight.

The departures have given hope to the teams who finished in the bottom half of the standings, like Notre Dame. Last season, the Fighting Irish lost nine games by four or fewer points.

"The stat about us losing so many of our top scorers, combined with our unbalanced schedule (not all teams play each other twice, although the league tries to match up the best perceived teams with home and home series), really stand out," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said at the Big East media day Wednesday in New York City. "It's such a cliché to say, but it really is wide open this year. Everybody is saying it."

Expecting a big drop-off in terms of depth or changes at the top of the league could be a mistake. The Big East is getting a tremendous infusion of young talent this season.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun put together his largest recruiting class ever, an eight-man group that landed at No. 3 in Rivals.com's 2006 team rankings.

They also add former five-star point guard A.J. Price, who was part of the 2004 class but hasn't played due to health and discipline problems. The Huskies bring back promising sophomore power forward Jeff Adrien, who averaged 6.5 points and 5.0 rebounds while playing behind first-round picks Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone last season. Big East coaches voted Adrien to the 10-man All-Big East preseason team.

"This is my chance to shine," Adrien said. "It was really hard at times last season, but I'd put myself as the No. 1 (big man) in the conference. I want to show the country what I'm capable of."

Villanova gets back former All-Big East forward Curtis Sumpter, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. The Wildcats also added a six-man recruiting class that includes McDonald's All-American guard Scottie Reynolds.

Georgetown adds a pair of forwards ranked among the top 50 prospects: DaJuan Summers and Vernon Macklin (another McDonald's All-American).

Syracuse's Paul Harris, a five-star guard, was selected the Big East's Preseason Rookie of the Year.

West Virginia coaches and players say they are "more athletic" thanks to the arrival of seven recruits. Butler transfer Jamie Smalligan, a 7-foot center with a shooting range similar to Kevin Pittsnogle, is also eligible.

It all points to another strong season for the Big East, and perhaps another remarkable one in 2008.

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