Before developing my projections for this season, I think it would be best, equal parts act of contrition and caveat emptor, to review my projections from last season. You will then know how seriously to take my preview of this season. As you might recall, rather than try to predict an exact ranking for each team, I thought I would start out by trying to place the teams by quartiles (first, second, third and fourth). An alphabitized list of the teams, their record (conference wins & losses only), their seed in the BET, where (by quartile) they actually finished where and where (by quartile) I projected they would finish. Yeah, there is an ugly patch or two...
The worst miss was Notre Dame, especially grievious considering Coach Brey's squad finished with a 24-8 record (11-5 in conference) in 2006-07. I had the Fighting Irish fading to somewhere between #9 and #12, instead of muscling their way into the ranks of the conference elites, tying for #2 (with Louisvlle) at end of of the conference regular season, and locking up the 2nd seed in the BET with a tie-breaker over the Cardinals. Wow, I badly underestimated the talent Coach Brey has assembled in South Bend. And I really did not think Luke Harangody would follow a very solid, All-Big East Rookie Team freshman year with a Big East POY sophomore season. Mike Brey managed to couple his potent offense with another "just enough" defensive effort. The Irish still need to overcome their post season jitters/lack of experience. When they do, Coach Brey will no doubt get some well deserved recognition for his offense. Virtually my entire third quartile was wrong, though I did tab West Virginia as a team that had a good chance to move up (they ended up ranked #6, good for a spot in the 2nd quartile) and Seton Hall as most likely to move down (they did, finishing with a #14 rank, firmly ensconced in the 4th quartile). Passable I guess, if you ignore the fact that Notre Dame jumped an entire quartile. Oh well.
I'm sort of pretty good...
That I managed to do well in the first and fourth quartiles demonstrates that really good and really bad teams are easy to identify. Rutgers was every bit as bad as predicted (except on the night of January 23 darn them), while St. John's proved to be a bit more resilient than DePaul. If Notre Dame was the a miss as a top quartile conference pick, none of my first quartile finishers landed lower than the second quartile (Marquette), and all of my "fours" finished in the cellar or one quartile away (again just one school -- St. John's). Did I overestimate the offensive capabilities of the Three Amigos? Or maybe underestimate the value of a dominant center. Those who have followed Villanvoa basketball over the Coach Wright Era know the Wildcats have muddled through a season or two without a game changer in the middle. That may again be the challenge for the Warriors and their rookie (to the Big East anyway) head coach Buzz Williams as potential game changer Trevor Mbakwe transferred suddenly at the end of August.
I did manage to control my impulse to engage in some boosterism, and placed the Wildcats in the 2nd quartile for my preseason projection. The expectations ran wild in the Nova Nation last fall as many anticipated instant stardom for the two Coreys and the debut of undervalued Antonio Pena. As it turned out Stokes struggled early while Fisher struggled late. And Pena had a very decent, but not Harangody-level, rookie season among the Big East bigs. The 'Cats were a very young team and they played that way through the middle part of the season.