Kirschman: What to look forward to in Big East basketball

By Lauren Kirschman

Watching the men’s basketball season opener against Rhode Island this week, I couldn’t help… Watching the men’s basketball season opener against Rhode Island this week, I couldn’t help but think that the intensity of the game matched something you’d normally see in March, not November.

In its own odd way, this strange moment served as a reminder that there is a whole Big East season yet to be played, a season that should be full of intrigue.

With teams made of fresh faces and some with new coaches, there are more than a few things that I’m waiting to see unfold.

At the top of my list is how the new coaches at Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s and DePaul will work.

The new Rutgers head coach is a familiar face, former Pitt assistant and Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice. The Big East coaches picked Rutgers to finish No. 15 out of 16 conference teams, and with Mike Rosario and Greg Echenique transferring out of the program, that seems about right.

With Rutgers, there aren’t many places to go but up, so it’ll be interesting to see if Rice can work some of his magic right away.

That sudden calm you felt come over Seton Hall? That was former head coach Bobby Gonzalez leaving New Jersey and Kevin Willard waltzing in. Unless they have their yearly dose of surprises, the Pirates might actually have a chance of using all the talent they have on their roster, which includes Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope.

One Big East coach picked St. John’s to finish first in the conference. Although I wouldn’t go that far, I really liked the hire of Steve Lavin for the Red Storm. And with a roster loaded with veteran talent, including standout D.J. Kennedy, it’s certainly plausible that with the right coaching, the team will make some noise in the Big East this season.

Oh, poor DePaul. The Blue Demons have only one win in the Big East over the past two years. With Rutgers, there was hardly anywhere to go but up. With DePaul, there is literally nowhere to go but up.

Former Clemson head basketball coach Oliver Purnell took the job shortly after the national championship game last season. He guided Clemson to the NCAA Tournament last season, compiling a 21-10 record. Nobody is expecting an NCAA tournament berth for DePaul, or a postseason at all, for that matter. It’s all about baby steps for the Blue Demons. Two Big East wins, perhaps?

Here’s another thing I’m waiting to see in the Big East, and it’s something that will make Pitt fans smile: Scottie Reynolds no longer at Villanova. Does that mean those 2009 NCAA highlights will stop replaying every five seconds? Maybe. Hopefully.

But it also means that the Wildcats will have to win games without their leader. Some experts seem to think it will be addition by subtraction, but we’ll see.

The Coreys — Stokes and Fisher — are the most eligible to step up and fill Reynolds’ shoes. They’ve spent most of their careers in the background with Reynolds taking the spotlight and the majority of the big shots. But Reynolds won’t be there this season, and much like the Pitt players last season, somebody is going to have to step up.

There will be some of the same in Syracuse, where Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph will attempt to fill the vacancies left by Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku. I’m still not sold on the Orange as one of the Big East’s top teams, but I could be if Jardine and Joseph step up to perform like many people seem to expect.

As a side note, I’m also anxious to see how the Oakland Zoo greets Jardine after he accused Pitt of playing dirty and the referees of letting the Panthers get away with it.

Georgetown also faces its fair share of changes in the absence of Greg Monroe. Chris Wright and Austin Freeman are still in Hoya uniforms. No, you aren’t alone: It does seem like they’ve been there for 17 years and counting. The Hoya offense will be a lot more guard-oriented this season, and Wright and Freeman make up one of the most talented backcourts in the country.

Speaking of talented backcourt players, the Connecticut Huskies return All-Big East guard Kemba Walker. But will that be enough to pull the Huskies from their dismal 18-16 season and back into the Big East Championship and NCAA Tournament discussions? We’ll see.

Connecticut faced an offseason full of NCAA violation accusations and replays of the season that landed it in the NIT  in Storrs, Conn.

It almost seems natural that the Huskies will rise to the top of the Big East, but I don’t think they will this season. So I don’t know what I’m more eager to see — whether the Huskies put together an NCAA Tournament-caliber season or if their fans have a level-four meltdown if they don’t.

And finally, there are the Pitt Panthers. What do I want to see?

I can’t wait to see whether they live up to their billing, win a Big East regular-season or tournament championship, and eventually end up in the Final Four. It seems like the Panthers definitely have the talent and athleticism to do so. But despite how the game against Rhode Island seemed, it is still November.

We’ve got a long season left to go.