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Big East Season Preview: Roundtable Discussion with CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, and USA TODAY's Nicole Auerbach

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Cliff Hawkins

Leading up to the start of the 2014-15 college basketball season, Big East Coast Bias was lucky enough to secure a roundtable discussion with CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, and USA TODAY Sports' Nicole Auerbach.

Parrish is one of CBS Sports' national basketball columnist, and is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network. He is the host of The Gary Parrish Show, a radio show on WMFS-FM 93.2 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Auerbach, meanwhile, is a columnist for USA TODAY Sports and covers both college basketball and football, and is a contributor to the Big Ten Network as well.

We would like to once again thank Mr. Parrish and Ms. Auerbach for joining us for this Q&A.

1. First thing’s first: How do you view the Big East Conference as it relates to the other conferences in America, in its second year as a 10-team league with most of its storied powerhouses having since departed?

Gary Parrish: It's obviously nowhere near what it used to be, and that's too bad. Total casualty of realignment. It no longer compares to any of the so-called power-five leagues, and it's arguably no better than the American Athletic Conference. So these aren't the best of times, obviously.

Nicole Auerbach: It's certainly not the "old" Big East. I guess in my mind, I sort of group the Big East and the Atlantic 10 together now. They're both basketball-centric leagues with at least a couple of teams talented enough to play deep into March/April.

2. Villanova is a near unanimous favorite to win the Big East Conference, even with the loss of their best player in James Bell, with 4/5ths of the starting lineup coming back this season. What do you see their ceiling being, and what’s their worst possible scenario?

GP: Well everybody's possible-worst is always bad because you can't predict injuries, suspensions and such things. But I agree that Villanova should be the pick in the Big East, and I'll be surprised if the Wildcats don't win it. Honestly, I don't see how anybody could reasonably pick anybody else to win the Big East, at least on paper.Villanova looks really good on paper.

NA: The ceiling should be a national championship. I didn't put Villanova in my preseason Final Four -- which means nothing, really -- but I wouldn't be shocked if the Wildcats get there. I loved last year's team and was shocked to see them bounced so early in the NCAA tournament. I'm a big fan of Ryan Arcidiacono and the way he runs this team. I would say worst-case scenario would be a first-round NCAA tournament exit. I'll be really surprised if Villanova doesn't end up winning the league.

3. The Georgetown Hoyas had a disappointing season last year, but expectations have risen with the addition of a solid recruiting class. Do you sense that this team will rebound off of their tough 2013? Which, truthfully, began with their shocking loss to Florida Gulf Coast.

GP: Georgetown can be good, but I don't see a roster built for greatness. The Hoyas are probably a borderline Top 25 team, at best. But I do think they'll make the NCAA Tournament. And I really like D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera.

NA: ​I expect the Hoyas to rebound from last year. I was higher on most entering last season, and I think it was a bunch of factors that led to the disappointing season (Whittingham, Josh Smith, etc.) as well as a way-too-tough schedule. I think Georgetown regroups and bounces back quite well. I've enjoyed watching D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera ever since he was a freshman. I was there for his breakout game against DePaul -- 33 points, which I think was the best by a Georgetown freshman in almost 20 years. He's going to have a big year.

4. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was tabbed as the Big East Preseason Player of the Year, and D’Angelo Harrison has been getting rave reviews from many others. Aside from Smith-Rivera and Harrison, who do you see as a player that could rise as a contender for the award by season’s end?

GP: Villanova's best player, whether you like Darrun Hilliard or JayVaughn Pinkston, will obviously be in contention because the best player on the best team typically is. A wild card might be Isaiah Whitehead. He's certainly talented enough to do it, provided Seton Hall is relevant at all.

NA: Someone on Villanova's team. I'm really high on that group, and I already mentioned Arcidiacono. He might not have the numbers because he may not need to score a ton, but he could be in consideration. Or JayVaughn Pinkston. But if Villanova is head and shoulders above everyone else this season -- which I think it will be -- it'll have someone stepping up to contend for this award.

5. What team do you see making the biggest rise, and also the biggest fall from how they played in 2013?

GP: Biggest rise: Georgetown. Biggest fall: Creighton. I just can't see the Bluejays being too good immediately after losing Doug McDermott. And McDermott, as you know, isn't the only important piece Creighton lost.

NA: Xavier will have the biggest rise, and Creighton will have the biggest drop. But that's life without Doug McDermott -- which I think makes all college hoops fans a little sad. I know I'll also miss all the times people mixed up Greg and Doug McDermott's names on teleconferences.

6. Jerry Palm of CBS Sports projects four teams (Villanova, G’Town, Xavier, St. John’s) to make the 2015 NCAA Tourney with Providence as one of the first four out. Too little teams, too many teams, or is this prediction just right?

GP: Jerry is my friend and colleague. So I'm going to publicly insist that he has it just right.

NA: I think four teams sounds about right, but I'm not sold on St. John's just yet. People were high on them last year entering the season, too. Particularly after getting the news that JUCO transfer Keith Thomas would be ineligible ... I just can't get on board with the Johnnies just yet. I agree with the other three teams, and I think there will be one surprise we don't see coming.

7. Who are you taking to win the Big East Conference: Villanova or the field?

GP: Villanova. Again, barring injuries or suspensions or something similar, I just don't see any reason to bet against them. The Wildcats were the unanimous pick for a reason, I think.

NA: Villanova. Easy question!

8. Going forward: Are there good things to come for this one-time powerhouse conference? Or, are they stuck in neutral for the moment?

GP: The league is still good ... in its own way. But if the question is whether we'll look up in 10 years and see a better version, honestly, I doubt it. Everything is so football-driven now, and it's difficult to grow as a league without football schools. This is the tough reality for the Big East. It's unfortunate. But the power-five will continue to separate themselves going forward with TV contracts and money, and I'm not sure how anybody could intelligently suggest otherwise.

NA: ​I'm not sure the league will ever be as deep, top to bottom, as it was at its heyday. But I do think the top teams in this league will always be in the national conversation and will always be championship-caliber teams. I'm interested to see how NCAA reform affects leagues outside of the Power 5, but as long as student-athlete welfare benefits are permissive and schools in this league adopt them as well, it's impossible to imagine a huge drop-off competition-wise.