Eight Teams or More?: No conference has ever sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament. Will the bigger Big East become the first? Conference coaches think that there will be at least eight teams worthy of NCAA consideration, and they point to West Virginia, which finished tied for seventh in the league last season but nearly advanced to the Final Four, as proof of the strength of the middle-of-the-pack teams. Commissioner Mike Tranghese, a former chairman of the tournament selection committee, is confident that all the deserving teams, no matter how many, will be invited and points to a rule change that allows the committee to pair teams from the same conference as early as the second round. And after all, eight teams would represent only 50 percent of the league. Last year, the Big East sent 50 percent of its teams (6 of 12), and in 1991, it put 78 percent (7 of 9) in the tournament.
Louisville: The Cardinals are the jewel in the Big East's expansion, bringing both a rich tradition (eight Final Fours) and a bit of style (Coach Rick Pitino). Pitino was the star of media day, reminiscing about his previous tour in the Big East (at Providence from 1985 to '87): "It was an Italian league back then," he said. "It was [Lou] Carnesecca, it was [P.J.] Carlesimo, Dom Perno, [Rollie] Massimino, myself, Thompson . . ." The Big East, in turn, gives Louisville the one thing it lacked in its great history: a home in a marquee league.
Kevin Pittsnogle: This time a year ago, the West Virginia big man was just a 6-foot-11 backup center with a funny name and a lot of tattoos. Now, after a breakout performance in the NCAA tournament, he's a preseason Wooden Award candidate. Pittsnogle, now a senior, averaged 18 points (six above his season average) in the NCAA tournament as the seventh-seeded Mountaineers advanced to the Albuquerque Region final, where they lost in overtime to Louisville. His ability to play on the perimeter and make three-point shots (he had six against the Cardinals) made him a folk hero and turned that funny name into a verb -- as in, "You just got Pittsnogled!"
Schedule: Each school will play 10 teams once, three teams twice and two teams not at all -- a 16-game schedule that even Tranghese refers to as "dysfunctional." Repeat opponents are determined by rivalries, geography and television, which results in the top teams having to play tougher schedules. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim calls that arrangement "ridiculous" and "stupid." Pitino -- whose team, like Syracuse, faces Cincinnati, Connecticut and Villanova twice -- sees something else at work. "It's a Catholic conspiracy," Pitino joked. "Look at the Catholic schools: They're all playing rebuilding schools."
Villanova's Health: The Wildcats already have lost two players to potential season-ending injuries: Forward Curtis Sumpter, the team's third-leading scorer (15.3 ppg), tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last month and will undergo surgery, and reserve forward Marcus Austin has a torn rotator cuff. Forward Jason Fraser underwent hand surgery and microfracture surgery on both knees in the offseason, bringing the total number of surgeries during his college career to seven.
Connecticut's Point Guards: The Huskies have the best front court in the league, if not the country, but who will feed the ball to Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong? Marcus Williams, the incumbent starter, is suspended until Jan. 3, and backup A.J. Price has been suspended for the season, leaving freshmen Craig Austrie and Rob Garrison. At media day, Coach Jim Calhoun cracked that the rookies did something he thought impossible: They finished one practice with a 1-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio.