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Big East Men

Predicted finish

1. Louisville

2. Syracuse

3. Notre Dame

4. Cincinnati

5. Georgetown

6. Pittsburgh

7. Marquette

8. South Florida

9. Connecticut

10. St. John’s

11. Rutgers

12. Villanova

13. DePaul

14. Seton Hall

15. Providence

Top 3 teams

Louisville

Why they’re good: The defending Big East tournament champions, who reached last season’s Final Four, succeed with defense. The Cardinals held opponents to 61 points per game last season, and they are anchored by 6-foot-11 forward Gorgui Dieng, who averaged 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks.

Tough stretch: Louisville closes the regular season with the three teams picked to finish behind it in the Big East. The Cardinals travel to Syracuse on March 2 and close with home games against Cincinnati (March 4) and Notre Dame (March 9).

X-factor: The Cardinals will need guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith to provide enough offense to win. Siva, who was slowed last season by an ankle injury, averaged 9.1 points, and Smith is the team’s top returning scorer after averaging 11.5 points last season.

Syracuse

Why they’re good: The Orange is an efficient team. Last season, Syracuse was second in the nation in turnover margin at 5.5, and it was first in the conference in field-goal percentage at .467.

Tough stretch: Syracuse plays four of the Big East’s top six teams over a five-game span, starting with a trip to Louisville on Jan. 19. The Orange then plays Cincinnati at Jan. 21, and after a trip to Villanova on Jan. 26, Syracuse plays at Pittsburgh on Feb. 2 and plays host to Notre Dame on Feb. 4.

X-factor: The Orange has to replace four key players as Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and Fab Melo were lost to the NBA draft and Scoop Jardine graduated, while also dealing with the distraction that this is the team’s final year in the Big East before joining the ACC next season.

Notre Dame

Why they’re good: The Irish return all five starters, who regrouped after losing star forward Tim Abromaitis to injury last season, to finish with a 22-12 record and reach the NCAA tournament.

Tough stretch: Notre Dame plays back-to-back games against the two teams picked to finish in front of it in the Big East. The Irish travel to Syracuse on Feb. 4 and return home to play Louisville on Feb. 9.

X-factor: Notre Dame has to handle high expectations better than it did last time. Entering the 2008-09 season, the Irish were ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press preseason Top 25, but the team faltered and ended up playing in the NIT.

tkrausz@jg.net

– Tony Krausz, The Journal Gazette

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