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November 26, 2008

Big East loads up on talent for the future

MORE: Conf. breakdown | VOTE: Big East's top class? | No. 1 Big 12 | No. 2 ACC | Next: No. 4 Big Ten

The Big East loaded up with instant-impact players last year in recruiting. Samardo Samuels, Greg Monroe, Devin Ebanks, Kemba Walker, Greg Echenique and others are all making their presence felt with their respective teams.

Fast-forward to the class of 2009 and things are a bit different. The star power isn't nearly as strong, but several schools loaded up with players who should help early - as well as down the road.

Villanova, a team known for securing great guard talent, wanted to get bigger and better in the post. The Wildcats succeeded. Coach Jay Wright and his staff secured the nation's fastest summer riser in Mouphtaou Yarou. The 6-foot-10 post player was a complete unknown at the start of the spring, but by the end of the summer nearly every high-major school had watched the big man from Benin. Yarou is the highest-rated player coming into the Big East next year.

Yarou won't be alone in the low blocks. His Montrose Christian teammate Isaiah Armwood also officially joined the team last week. The 6-8 forward has inside-outside capabilities.

The Wildcats did lock up the best point guard to come from Philly since Kyle Lowery and Sean Singletary. Maalik Wayns, a five-star prospect, is as tough as his city mates and one of the best battle-tested guards in the class of 2009.

Best of the Big East
Best perimeter scorer: Peyton Siva, Louisville
Best low post scorer: Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova
Best passer: Junior Cadougan, Marquette
Best shooter: Mike Marra, Louisville
Best rebounder: Dante Taylor, Pittsburgh
Best shot blocker: Alex Oriakhi, Connecticut
Best defender: Maalik Wayns, Villanova
Most versatile: Dane Miller, Rutgers
Best in the clutch: Junior Cadougan, Marquette
Best basketball IQ: Dalton Pepper, West Virginia
Best pro prospect: Mouphtaou Yarou, Villanova
Best speed: Dwight Buycks, Marquette
Best motor: Alex Oriakhi, Connecticut
Best strength: Dan Jennings, West Virginia
Best leaper: Tony Freeland, DePaul
Best leader: Junior Cadougan, Marquette
Impact player: Dante Taylor, Pittsburgh
Biggest sleeper: Deniz Kilicli, West Virginia
Sleeper class: Pittsburgh
Louisville snagged four players en route to a top-15 program. Connecticut only signed two players, but Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel have been committed to the program for so long that they have been playing with the UConn mind-set for nearly three years now. Marquette rounds out the Big East's ranked classes at No. 18.

Biggest recruiting coup

Of all of the teams in the Big East, it can be argued that Pittsburgh does the best job of finding players that fit the identity of its program. The Panthers did it again in the class of 2009. Big man Dante Taylor, a five-star prospect, is a rough and tough forward who should see plenty of minutes from the outset.

The 6-9 star picked the Panthers over Connecticut and Syracuse, which were deep in the mix with Taylor along with Kansas and Memphis.

Rick Pitino is big in Seattle. The Louisville head man has done a fine job of mining talent out of the Pacific Northwest, and he struck again with point guard Peyton Siva.

The top-50 prospect was coveted up and down the West Coast, and he was on the speed dial of every major coach in the Pac-10. Siva is the latest talented player from the rich basketball area of Seattle to be recruited nationally. Washington and Arizona were high on his list. But with the lure of playing for Pitino and listening to a hard sell from fellow Seattle star Terrence Williams, Siva said goodbye to Seattle and hello to Louisville.

Budding rivalry

Big East: Inside the Numbers
4 Teams ranked in the top 25
21 Rivals150 prospects coming to the Big East
4 5-star prospects coming to the Big East
9 4-star prospects coming to the Big East
8 3-star prospects coming to the Big East
26 Non-ranked players coming to the Big East
4 Players from Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas who signed with a Big East school
The Big East's class of 2009 recruits are big and sometimes brash. And for any good Big East fan, that's perfectly OK.

Villanova's incoming duo of Yarou and Armwood, along with Pittsburgh's Taylor, should help immediately. Connecticut big man Oriakhi has never backed down from a challenge and should be a major contributor for the Huskies.

Rakeem Buckles, a Louisville signee, shouldn't be overlooked. The Cardinals have a potential star in the South Florida prospect. He's one of the toughest matchups in the frontcourt among his peers.

Marquette has a sleeper in Brett Roseboro, and Jeronne Maymon is a major mismatch problem. West Virginia won the sweepstakes for Deniz Kilicli before the doors truly blew open with heavy pursuers.

The depth at the power forward and center positions is strong in the Big East class of 2009, making for great matchups in time within conference play.

Biggest miss

Both Aaric Murray and Zeke Marshall spurned high-major interest, mostly coming from Big East programs, for a chance to play early and often at a mid-major school.

Murray, a 6-10 center from Concordeville (Pa.) Glen Mills, signed with La Salle. Marshall, a 7-footer from McKeesport (Pa.), inked with Akron.

Murray, a top 40 national recruit, was on the short list for Villanova, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Murray entertained the Big East schools but felt comfortable with La Salle and should prove to be one of the best big men in the Atlantic 10.

Marshall was on the radar for Pittsburgh. He committed in the spring, long before many of the high-majors had a chance to recruit him. Akron did its homework and closed the door before it swung open with Big East coaches.

Durand Scott is one who got away. The four-star guard considered a pair of Big East programs but went elsewhere during the signing period.

Pittsburgh has deep New York ties, and Scott said throughout his recruitment that he felt a bond with the team - citing his relationship with its New York players. Connecticut was also a major player for Scott's signature. His former Rice teammate Kemba Walker is a freshman at Connecticut, and the Huskies have recruited Rice High School quite well over the years.

In the end, however, Scott couldn't turn down the warm weather and beach life at Miami. Scott, a top 10 shooting guard, spurned the Big East for the ACC.

Best storyline to watch

Keep an eye on the Lance Stephenson recruitment. Basketball mavens in New York believe that the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln star could join St. John's if he doesn't pursue a European career next year, a la Brandon Jennings.

Stephenson has been on St. John's campus often this year, and coach Norm Roberts and his staff are working hard to keep the local star.

If Stephenson does decide for college and does decide on St. John's, Stephenson will be the prized recruit who has eluded Roberts since he took over the fragile program.

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