Big East preview: New favorites

The Big East is changing. No longer can you close your eyes and just throw Rick Pitino and Jim Calhoun at the top of the league.

Now, it’s Jamie Dixon and Jay Wright who are positioned to run the league in the future — and that’s clear this season as the two coaches and their respective programs, Pittsburgh and Villanova, are the clear-cut favorites in the Big East.

From there, it’s anyone’s guess as teams like Syracuse, Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia all lost their top player from a year ago.

BIG EAST PRESEASON PREDICTIONS

1. Pittsburgh: The Panthers were the surprise of the league a year ago — and return just about everyone from last season.

2. Villanova: ‘Nova still has a terrific corps of guards despite the departure of Scottie Reynolds.

3. Syracuse: The ‘Cuse lost Wesley Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku. Now it’s time for Kris Joseph to step up.

4. Georgetown: It’ll be tough to sustain the loss of Greg Monroe, but the Hoyas have a seasoned backcourt of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark.

5. Marquette: It’ll be difficult to replace Lazar Hayward, but Buzz Williams will get his guys to overachieve by playing harder than most of their opponents.

6. West Virginia: Bob Huggins lost a lot — Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks — but Kevin Jones and point guards Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant are all back.

7. UConn: No one’s sure what to expect, but the Huskies still have one of the elite floor leaders in the nation in Kemba Walker.

8. Louisville: This is a mediocre team talent-wise, but the Cardinals still have some talent. The keys are Peyton Siva and Terrence Jennings.

9. Notre Dame: Luke Harangody is history and so is Tory Jackson, but Mike Brey still has enough back and will add a healthy Scott Martin.

10. St. John’s: New coach Steve Lavin has experience with a ton of seniors, but I’m not sure much will change in terms of where the Red Storm will finish.

11. Seton Hall: I’m going to miss Bobby Gonzalez and his fiery personality, but Kevin Willard may not be able to deal with what Gonzo left him.

12. South Florida: Stan Heath will have to try and replace Dominique Jones, but now the Bulls strength will be up front.

13. Cincinnati: Mick Cronin will rely heavily on talented big man Yancy Gates, but the Bearcats are tough to figure out entering the season.

14. Providence: The Friars have a quality backcourt with Vincent Council and freshman Gerard Coleman but need Marshawn Brooks to be consistent.

15. Rutgers: It’s going to be a long year for new coach Mike Rice with what he inherited from the Fred Hill regime.

16. DePaul: See Rutgers, and just replace Mike Rice with Oliver Purnell and Fred Hill with Jerry Wainwright.

PACK YOUR DANCING SHOES

Pittsburgh

Villanova

Syracuse

Georgetown

Marquette

West Virginia

UConn

ALL-LEAGUE ACCOLADES

Preseason Player of the Year: Kevin Jones, West Virginia

Preseason Rookie of the Year: Vander Blue, Marquette

Preseason All-League First Team:

F – Kevin Jones, Jr., West Virginia

F – Kris Joseph, Jr., Syracuse

C – Herb Pope, Jr., Seton Hall

G – Kemba Walker, Jr., UConn

G – Austin Freeman, Sr., Georgetown

Top Backcourt: Villanova

Top Frontcourt: Syracuse

Coach on the Hot Seat: Keno Davis, Providence

Most Underrated: Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh

You Don’t Know Him … Yet: Shabazz Napier, UConn

THREE CAN’T MISS FROSH

1. Vander Blue, Marquette: He may not put up huge numbers, but he’s the perfect guard for Buzz Williams.

2. Fab Melo, Syracuse: It may take some time, but he’s a legitimate center who has the size and ability to be a star.

3. Nate Lubick, Georgetown: With Greg Monroe gone, the Hoyas will count on the skilled forward to step right in and play.

TOP FIVE STORYLINES

1 Wide Open: Pittsburgh and Villanova certainly look like the clear-cut favorites in the league, but it’s not as though either are overpowering. Could one of the other teams — Syracuse, West Virginia or even Marquette — challenge for league supremacy?

2. Can new Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard handle his team? Bobby Gonzalez recruited some questionable character guys — and that’s part of the reason he’s no longer the coach. Willard will have a challenge on his hands with guys like Herb Pope and Keon Lawrence.

3. Will Jim Boeheim be able to replace the leadership and talent of Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku? The key here will be how the dual point guards of Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine assume those leadership duties.

4. Is this Jim Calhoun’s Swan Song? UConn’s Hall of Fame coach signed an extension in the offseason, but he’s had medical issues, is still waiting to hear the verdict from an NCAA investigation and has a mediocre team — especially by UConn standards.

5. Steve Lavin takes over a St. John’s team with nine seniors. College hoops in New York City has basically been irrelevant for a long time now. Can Lavin get this team into the Big Dance with its experience?