With the start of the 2012-13 college basketball season fast approaching, ESPN Insider is looking at the five burning questions facing each of the major conferences. In this edition, Jay Bilas looks at the Big East.
1. Is this the last great season for the Big East?
The Big East hasn't faced many big questions over the past decade. In my judgment, the Big East has been the best basketball conference in the country for several seasons now, and has been the toughest regular-season and postseason gauntlet in basketball. But even with the great success, one cannot help wonder whether this is the last season of Big East greatness, where the Big East is unquestionably the best basketball conference in the nation.
There is a tinge of sadness in this upcoming season because this is, arguably, the last season of the traditional Big East. The prospect of losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame just a year after losing West Virginia will cause anyone who holds the Big East dear to shed a few tears. In a very real way, it will never be the same.
That said, this could be yet another banner season for the league, with the Louisville Cardinals and Syracuse Orange leading the way. The Big East isn't dead, but it has been wounded and it will never be the same. For those remaining, the charge is to make the best of things going forward, because it will no longer unquestionably be the best.
This will be another unforgettable Big East season. But it will be a sad one, as well.
2. Who will win the Big East player of the year award?
I'm going with Peyton Siva of Louisville for this one. Siva spent much of last season battling injury, yet he stepped forward to lead his team to the Final Four. Explosive and fast in the open court, Siva will have a healthier and deeper supporting cast this season, including some shooters to spread the floor.
In an up-tempo, faster game with chaotic full-court pressure, Siva should thrive. His speed and defensive ability allow him to have an impact on a game without scoring. Rick Pitino wants Siva, who is not a gifted long-range shooter, to play more like Maurice Cheeks. If he does, the 'Ville will be in Atlanta.
Siva's biggest competition for POY may be Georgetown's Otto Porter, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick, Providence's Vincent Council and Syracuse's Brandon Triche, all of whom will play starring roles this season.
3. Which team could surprise?
Can Pittsburgh be considered a surprise after a surprisingly rough season in 2011-12? Jamie Dixon hadn't experienced real Big East adversity until last season, but to his great credit, he never changed his approach and toughed it out. The Panthers have a healthy Tray Woodall at the point and really good newcomers in center Steven Adams, transfer Trey Zeigler and physical combo guard James Robinson.
The Panthers need to get back to defense and rebounding, but I think you can expect Pitt to be Pitt again.
4. Who will be the Big East's top newcomer?
I'll go with Adams, Pittsburgh's incoming freshman center. He is a true center who is a very productive rebounder and shot-blocker, in addition to being a skilled passer with a great feel for the game. He is mature and fully prepared to step in and play at a high level.
Adams is physical, and he is unafraid. One of 18 children (he has a sister who competed in the shot put in the Olympics), Adams is a future pro who will be relied upon from his first day at Pitt.
5. How many NCAA tournament bids will the Big East get?
After putting 11 teams into the NCAA field in 2011 and nine last season, the Big East should have eight teams in the field in 2013. With Connecticut unable to play in the postseason, the league will take a minor hit. But with Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and South Florida, the Big East will have the most teams in the field again.