Big East hoops: USF has it easy, sorta
Using the Big East's new preseason poll as a guide for valuing strength of schedule, USF has a favorable schedule on its side as the Bulls try to make their first trip to the Big East tournament.
As part of the new 18-game schedule, each Big East team now has three "mirror" opponents that it plays both home and away. For USF, those three are Syracuse (picked fifth), Seton Hall (13th) and Rutgers (15th). That means the Bulls have five games against teams picked to miss the Big East tournament. Rutgers and Seton Hall can boast the same, but they have a tougher third mirror opponent -- the Knights have to play Louisville twice, while the Pirates get a double-dose of Marquette.
If you add up the preseason ranking of the mirror opponents, only Seton Hall (34) has an easier score than USF (33), with no other team higher than 30. Toughest? Louisville scores a 19, with two games against Georgetown and Marquette; Georgetown is close behind at 20, doubling up with the Cardinals and Syracuse. Notre Dame has the rawest deal, picked ninth but with the second-toughest mirrors, scoring a 20 with two games against fast-rising Connecticut and Marquette.
The men's preseason poll naturally bears close resemblance to last year's final standings -- 11 of the 16 teams were picked to finish within two spots of their finish last season. Which teams were picked to improve most? Definitely Connecticut, which finished 12th last spring but is now sixth; Marquette, which finished sixth last year, was picked third; Cincinnati, which finished last, has been picked to make the Big East tournament at 12th. Falling? Notre Dame finished fourth but is now picked ninth; St. John's finished 11th but was picked 14th.