May 20, 2012 – The Big East Conference is consistently one of the most competitive conferences in the country. There’s no doubt that the conference is one of the best by their showing of 3 teams in this years NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. This year won’t be any different as all the teams return to full strength looking to better their past year’s success. Here’s a look at how all the teams may fare in the upcoming 2012 season.
UCONN (Favorite): The consensus favorites going into this year lose a wealth of talent, but have arguably better talent returning. One of the most talented and athletic teams in the country will be without MLS rookie standouts Tony Cascio and Andrew Jean-Baptiste. They should have a ton of MLS Draft picks after this year. The team is centered around stud freshman goalie Andre Blake. Defensive midfielder Jossimer Sanchez will be the tough presence they need in the center of the park. Forward Mamadou Diouf (13g,2a), and playmaker Carlos Alvarez (6g,8a) will be the two primary players in the Huskies attack. Stephane Diop (5g,7a) should raise his stats playing alongside Diouf and with their speed, they will be a tough duo to stop. Junior Colin Bradley who started every game last year won’t get the headlines, but he is an important player and a leader in this star-studded lineup. UCONN will be one of the nation’s most elite teams. Don’t be surprised if you see the Huskies in the College Cups semis.
Louisville (Top Contender): The Cardinals lost a handful of players to the MLS draft. They are consistently a top five side in the Big East and this year shouldn’t be much different. They lost to UCLA in the Quarterfinals of the NCAA tourney in a difficult game after advancing past Bradley and Maryland. The squad will be hurting with the loss of MLS draftees Nick DeLeon, Kenney Walker, Colin Rolfe, and Austin Berry. They were among the top seniors in the country and are irreplaceable. This year’s team is led by seniors, Paolo Del Piccolo (0g, 6a) and Michael Roman (4g, 3a) who will be key to the team’s success. Roman, the youth national teamer, will run the field for a squad that will seek to repeat the success they enjoyed last year on the offensive side of the ball. Louisville is a team based on high scoring offense as they outscored their opponents by more than double last year. Buck Tufty (4g, 2a) will return as a senior leader and will look to start, as he was much more of a bench threat last year. Junior Andrew Farrell (1g, 5a) will return to the lineup as an athletic solid presence to clog up the middle and create assists. Louisville is always a top team in the conference but a repeat run to the Quarterfinals of the NCAA Tourney looks to be a stretch goal for the 2012 squad.
St. John’s (Top Contender): The Johnnies lose seniors Connor Lade, Pablo Punyed, and Walter Hines to the MLS draft, but retain a solid core of guys. They have a good recruiting class led by New Jersey midfielders Danny Bedoya, Jelani Williams and Brandon Savino. The team has a great midfield and solid defense led by sophomore Tim Parker, but will have to rely on inexperienced and freshman players up top to score. They are always the most fit team in the conference so depth shouldn’t be an issue. Last year the Johnnies won the Big East tourney, but had a disappointing second round NCAA tourney exit to Brown University. St. Johns will be looking for vengeance and even though spring games don’t mean much, SJU tied UCONN 0-0 in their vigorous spring season. Playmaker Jack Bennett, (6g, 6a), who scored the game-winner in the Big East finals will be the maestro they need in the midfield. If Red Shirt junior goalkeeper Rafael Diaz can return to full strength, St. Johns will be extremely tough to beat. Also, if senior forward Andres Vargas stays healthy he will be the energetic spark the Red Storm needs up top. Redshirt Junior Mulligan (1g,4a) will be another playmaker along with junior Jamie Thomas in the middle. St. John’s is a well-coached and talented team who will likely challenge for the Big East title and have the potential to make a good run in the NCAA tournament.
Rutgers (Dark Horse): The Scarlet Knight’s coaching staff has added a great local recruiting class. Coach Dan Donigan, who led Rutgers to the Sweet Sixteen last year, has turned the program around and has started getting all the top New Jersey recruits. Donigan has already locked up some top 2013 recruits and they will be a team for the future. Rutgers is very young and raw but they will look to make another surprise run in 2012. The Scarlet Knights have a lot of promise and should be a consistent contender from now on in the Big East. Forwards junior Kene Eze (6g,3a) and sophomore J.P Correa (6g,5a) are their main threats up top. Great local products coming into squad this year include the Red Bulls Academy duo of Mael Corboz and Ross Tetro who were rated by College Soccer News as the number 38 and 55 recruits respectively in the class of 2012. Sophomore Nate Bruccoleri (2g, 1a) had an impressive freshman year and ended the 2011 season on a good little run. Rutgers needs leadership and consistency from senior Dragan Naumoski, who started every game last year for this otherwise very young team. Don’t underestimate the Scarlet Knights, as they’re a dark horse to win the Big East.
Seton Hall (Rebuilding): The Pirates have had a tough past few years, but are ready to make a turnaround. Highly respected Manny Schellscheidt left after twenty-four seasons as the head coach at Seton Hall so 2012 will mainly be a rebuilding year. Former Seton Hal star and assistant coach EcGerson Echeverry, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant coach of the U.S. Soccer Federation U-17 men’s national team, takes over the reigns of the program. Seton Hall is another young and inexperienced squad, but they have some talented upperclassmen to balance it out. The Pirates added a slender 2012 recruiting class, but expect a larger class for the upcoming 2013 season. The 2012 team is led by junior forward Max Garcia (5g, 1a), who will be the focal point of the Pirates’ attack. They also return the athletic sophomore duo of Kai Greene (1g, 2a) and Jason Wellington (2 g, 0a) who will look to expand on their solid first seasons. Other returning players include extremely talented sophomore Bolu Akinyode (15 starts, 1g, 0a), big presence Conrad Plewa up top, and bench threat Mateusz Brela. Seton Hall will stay in many games, but they don’t have enough experience to close out games. They aren’t likely to make an instant impact, as this is a team in rebuilding mode. The Pirates will need more than a few balls to bounce their way to have any hope of keeping pace with the Big East’s top teams.
Marquette (Consistent): The Golden Eagles won their first ever Big East Blue Division title last year with 7-2-0 conference record. They lose Co-Big East Midfielder of the year and College Soccer News Second Team All-America selection Callum Mallace (3g, 6a), to the MLS draft. However, the squad will look for a repeat good year. Marquette will rely on Big East unanimous All-Freshman team forward James C. Nortey (9g, 2a) who was highly impressive in his first year in coach Louis Bennett’s system. Junior Paul Dillon (19 starts, 0g,1a) will run the midfield and try to replace Mallace’s dominant presence in the center of the park. Andy Huftalin will be the senior leader for the squad while they will bring back senior goalkeeper David Check. The Golden Eagles didn’t earn an invite to the NCAA Tourney last year despite an exceptional season in Big East play. Marquette will need to stay strong at home if they want to compete for an NCAA berth in 2012. Marquette has become very competitive so don’t expect a drop off in play by the reigning Big East Blue Division regular season champs.
Notre Dame (Solid): The Fighting Irish were solid as usual last year. They return transfer and key player, senior forward Ryan Finley (7g,2a). The New Jersey native has good pace and can hold the ball up well with his back to goal. Notre Dame will look to bounce back this year to assume their normal position as a national powerhouse. They are a very hit or miss team. On a good day no one can beat them, but when they’re off, they struggle especially in the tough Big East Conference. The Irish lose athletic center back Aaron Maund to the MLS, but keep senior defensive midfielder Dillon Powers. Powers had an off year in 2011, but if he gets back into form he will be one of the Big East’s best midfielders and on the MLS Radar as a top pick. Junior Harrison Shipp will look to have a breakout year after his (5g, 2a) 2011 season. Junior Leon Brown (1g, 2a) will need to use his athleticism to contribute to the team this year. Meanwhile, senior Danny O’Leary (3g, 1a) won’t produce outstanding numbers but he does much more for the team. This Irish squad is built around great athleticism and a main attacking core up top. If they can hit their stride at the right time they will vie for the Big East title.
Georgetown (Top Contender): The Hoyas have a great midfield and have added a great recruiting class that includes tons of forwards. They toured Spain this spring season, which is always a good team bonding experience. They were unlucky not to make the NCAA tourney last year, as they were one of the last teams out. The Hoyas are centered around one of the best attacks in country. The team is built around Junior Steve Neumann (11g, 7a) (6 game winners) and senior Ian Christianson (6g, 1a) who is one of the Big East’s finest midfielders. They only lose one starter and keep the rest in tact along with bringing in a top-notch recruiting class. Coach Brian Wiese brings in forward Brandon Allen who is rated by College Soccer News as the number nineteen recruit coming out of the class of 2012. Allen has a cultured left foot and is a natural finisher. They also bring in forwards, Melvin Snoh (#64) and former St. Johns commit, Cole Seiler (#51) who will add more depth to their already bolstered attack, Junior midfielder Andy Reimer (5g, 3a) is among the key veteran starters returning that add stability, experience, and leadership to the squad. The Hoyas also return an impressive group of younger players like sophomore midfielder Tom Skelly (3g, 4a). Georgetown is an extremely underrated team that could have a big time breakout year. Talent-wise this team is good enough to challenge for the Big East crown and a trip to the College Cup is not out of the question.
DePaul (Hard-working): The Blue Demons suffered plenty of tough losses this past year. DePaul is built around Antonio Aguilar (7g,4a) who is an undersized playmaker but he makes up for it with speed and passing ability. Aguilar covers the field well and single-handedly keeps the team in games. They are a team with a bundle of talented youth such as All-Big East Freshman team forward David Selvaggi (7g, 1a), midfielder Michael Stankiewicz (started every game), and midfielder Thiago Ganazcio (started 18 games). The young Blue Demons will have to rely on their returning sophomores to carry the load. DePaul is a team that usually plays well to start off, but once they go down they deplete. The Blue Demons will look to be competitive, but will likely find it tough to be a top team in Big East, unless their young guns continue to build on their impressive first years.
USF (Dark Horse): South Florida is coming off a great season, finishing Big East play undefeated, (7-0-2). The Bulls made a promising Elite Eight run last year that was brought to an abrupt end in overtime by number two ranked Creighton. South Florida is always an athletic team with tons of promise, but lose Big East Forward of the Year Dom Dwyer (16g, 2a) to the MLS Draft. They also lose one of the best goalkeepers in the country in Chris Blais who had an outstanding 0.81 goal against average. That trend continues as they also will be without athletic senior, Audrey Perry, an MLS combine invitee and current Columbus Crew defender. South Florida will have to discover other ways of scoring as the next leading goal scorer behind Dwyer was Leston Paul (3 pks) (4g, 1a). The Bulls are a team that often comes up big in key games as reflected in their undefeated record (5-0-1) last year against ranked teams prior to the Elite Eight. Production in 2012 may come from Tyler Junior College transfer, “Samu” Hosseini. The German/Iranian playmaker led the JUCO powerhouse to an 18-1-4 record while accumulating seven goals and five assists. USF still has loads of experience as they return eight players who earned consistent playing time last year. The Bulls will need to rely on quick senior Stiven Salinas and senior maestro, Kyle Nicholls for production in front of the net. Their defense should stay sturdy. South Florida isn’t going to wow you every time they go out on the field and may face a learning curve in 2012. However, this is a bunch that will continue to improve and will manage to get the job done. If everything falls into place the Bulls are capable of another solid run in the NCAA Tourney in 2012.
Syracuse (Underdog): The Orange has had a couple disappointing years, but they are ready to make a statement. They’re a well-coached side that will welcome a very strong recruiting class, ranked one of the best in the country. The newcomers include one of the top goalkeepers in the country in Alex Bono who is ranked as the number seventy-six recruit in the class of 2012 by College Soccer News. However, the biggest addition may prove to be US youth national team standout forward Stefanos Stamoulacatos ranked #143. The Orange lose playmaker and free-kick specialist Nick Roydhouse, but keep a good core of the 2011 squad including senior forward Louis Clark (6g, 2a). Clark was last year’s leading scorer and he will need to carry the Orange for they only accumulated 20 goals this past season. There is also a lot of international flair in the squad as five different countries are represented in this cultured group. One of these includes Canadian U-20 center back Skylar Thomas (2g, 1a) who will be the holding piece in the middle of the defense. Fellow defender and Canadian Youth National Team player Jordan Murrell (1g, 0a) will be an essential piece to the backline if the team hopes to successfully compete in the Big East. This is Syracuse’s last year before transferring to the equally demanding Atlantic Coast Conference. The Orange are young and inexperienced, but they are getting better and may be able to challenge the top of the pack.
Pittsburgh (Rebuilding): The Panthers went a poor 4-13-1 and didn’t win an away game last year. There are some positives to look forward to this season. Coach Luxbacher (29th year) brings in a strong nine member recruiting class. They also retain junior leading goal scorer Nico Wrobel (5g, 1a) (4pks). Goal scoring is obviously an issue for Pitt as they only scored 14 goals this past year. They will need to rely on incoming freshman and a strong defense in order to compete in the Big East this year. Goalkeeper Lee Johnson will only continue to grow and the two-time Big East honor roll member will be an essential piece to holding the group together. If Lee can maintain his .787 save percentage then Pittsburgh will be able to stay in games as long as possible. This squad is well coached and this year will be more of a rebuilding year, but if they can continue to gain experience they may soon be able to challenge the Big East’s finest.
Cincinnati (Cinderella): The Bearcats finished the season with a 6-11-1 record, but have promise. They only lose three starters, two to graduation and one, Alex Hadley due to transfer to Indiana University. They return sophomore phenomenon forward Cole DeNormandie (7g, 1a) who was one of the best freshman in the country this past year. Their freshman class was one of the best this past year with Emmanuel Appiah (1g, 3a), Will Diebold (1g, 2a) and Matt Remaley (2g, 1a) as key contributors. Cincinnati’s incoming freshman class is just as solid as they bring in a slender, but talented group of players including forward John Manga ranked #129 in the class of 2012 by College Soccer News and Jamaican youth world cup representative Richardo Isreal. Cincinnati has youth, but they also bring back some experience such as senior midfielder Shamar Shelton (2g, 3a). Give the Bearcats a year or so and they will have talent and experience, but right now they still can compete and try to make a surprising run into the Big East tournament.
Providence (Hit-or-miss): At times the Friars can be one of the Big East’s elite, but at other times they have significant drop offs in the level of their play like their 2011 Big East tournament game versus Louisville (5-0 loss). They ended the season on a hot streak winning four of their last five regular season games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA’s before losing narrowly on the road to the UCSB Gauchos 3-2. The Friars will be hurting without forward Greg Davis (6g, 3a) who transferred to Marist for the upcoming fall season. The Friars also will be under new management since Chaka Daley, who served as the head coach at Providence for twelve seasons, departed to accept the head coaching job at Michigan. Providence is another Big East team with talent galore such as sophomore Marcos Ugarte (6g, 3a) and senior playmaker Marc Cintron (3g, 5a) who will be the core piece to setting up goals for the squad. Meanwhile, redshirt junior Wilder Arboleda (3g,0a) will look to add to his tally. Sophomore Brandon Adler was highly impressive and composed in the back for a freshman last year so expect him to anchor the back line for a couple years. Providence also welcomes a freshman class of three midfielders from development academies who will add to their already stacked midfield. The midfield plays an attractive brand of soccer, which helps the Friars keep possession in pivotal games. Providence has the talent needed to control their own destiny and if they go into the 2012 season as they finished last year, they should have no problem making a repeat appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Villanova (Experienced): Villanova ended the 2011 season on a roll winning its first two post season games in program history. The Wildcats went a respectable 8-9-4 last year on their way to the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament where their season came to an end when they were topped 2-0 by a tough St. John’s squad that they had beaten just a couple of weeks earlier. Nova will rely on big forward junior Dylan Renna (3g, 6a) to make plays for the squad along with sophomore freshman forward Aaron Dennis (5g, 1a). Playmaker Kyle Soroka (5g, 0a) and Emerson Lawrence (4g, 0a) will be expected to use their versatility to lead the team during their senior years. Senior defender Kyle McCarthy will use his height and athleticism to command the back line with the loss of MLS draftee and fellow defender Kevin Garcia. Sophomores Hayden Harr and Matt Wiltse were both impressive as freshmen and will vie for more playing time this upcoming year. Villanova is a very large and athletic team that has an advantage in that department over most Big East teams. The Wildcats under the direction of head coach Tom Carlin have the motor and depth in the midfield and up top to score multiple goals every game. The senior leaders will need to step up and set the pace if the Wildcats hope to build on last season’s postseason success.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer to College Soccer News. He can be reached at Ben.firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on twitter at Benrothpda16.