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December 28, 2007

Conference Previews: Big East

MORE: Rivals.com Countdown to First Pitch

The Big East had a 2007 season to remember.

Louisville reached the College World Series in Dan McDonnell's first season as head coach, while Rutgers and St. John's made postseason appearances.

Moving forward, Louisville and St. John's are the frontrunners in the 2008 regular season title race, while Rutgers and South Florida could be in the mix.

Elsewhere, Notre Dame hopes to rebound from a tough 2007 campaign, while Pittsburgh hopes to show more improvement.

We preview the Big East.

Rivals.com's Big East Preview
Predicted order of finish Preseason all-conference

1. Louisville
2. St. John's
3. South Florida
4. Rutgers
5. Notre Dame
6. Villanova
7. Pittsburgh
8. Cincinnati
9. Connecticut
10. Seton Hall
11. West Virginia
12. Georgetown
1B. Tom Edwards, Rutgers
2B. Dexter Butler, South Florida
3B. Gil Zayas, St. John's
SS. Derek Shunk, Villanova
OF. Tony Campana, Cincinnati
OF. Brian Kemp, St. John's
OF. Chris Anninos, St. John's
C. Derrick Alfonso, Louisville
SP. Zack Pitts, Louisville
SP. Justin Marks, Louisville
SP. David Phelps, Notre Dame
RP. Shawn Sanford, South Florida
DH. Chris Dominguez, Louisville
Big East breakdown
Team on the rise
St. John's
Outside of Louisville, no team has a more impressive resume than St. John's. The Red Storm is no stranger to big-time college baseball. However, they have a chance to become one of the nation's elite this season. In addition to offensive contributors Gil Zayas and Chris Anninos, the Red Storm welcome back one of the nation's most talented pitching staffs. Weekend starters Scott Barnes and George Brown each had ERAs under 3.10 last season. They also welcome back Matt Tosoni and Jared Yecker, who combined for 21 starts last season. After earning a share of the Big East regular season crown in 2007, the Red Storm hope to take the next step in 2008.
Coach on the rise
Dan McDonnell
After spending six seasons as an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator at Mississippi, Dan McDonnell decided to take the reins of the Louisville program. Upon arrival, McDonnell's aggressive style of play was welcomed with open arms. In just his first season with the Cardinals, McDonnell took the program to unchartered territory. Not only did the Cards win over 40 games, they also made it to Omaha by beating Missouri in the Columbia Regional and Oklahoma State in the Super Regional round. Even with higher expectations, McDonnell and the Cardinals remain confident. UL has its sights set on another Omaha berth.
Best pitcher
Zack Pitts
As the Cardinals shocked the college baseball community in 2007, several players rose to the occasion. Veteran right-handed pitcher Zack Pitts was part of the group. Freshman pitcher Justin Marks earned a plethora of headlines last season, but Pitts was the staff ace. The senior right-hander finished last season 10-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 121 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 91 and walked 24, while opponents hit him at a .231 clip. Additionally, Pitts finished the year with one complete game in 18 starts. He had 20 total appearances. As Louisville hopes to make a return trip to the College World Series, Pitts will once again be a key cog.
Best hitter
Tom Edwards
Much like Louisville, Rutgers put together an impressive 2007 campaign. Not only did the Scarlet Knights reach the NCAA Tournament, they also finished the year with a 42-21 overall record. Though talented shortstop Todd Frazier earned most of RU's offensive headlines last season, first baseman Tom Edwards also had an impressive campaign. Edwards finished last season with a .340 batting average. He also hit seven homers and knocked in 48 runs. Additionally, Edwards ended the year with a .471 slugging percentages and a .416 on-base percentage. If Rutgers wants to return to the NCAA Tourney, Edwards must once again rise to the occasion.
Kendall's analysis
Barring a surprise, the Big East title race should come down to two teams Louisville and St. John's. Other teams like South Florida and Rutgers could easily factor into the question. However, the Cardinals and Red Storm lead the way Louisville has an outstanding weekend rotation with Zack Pitts and Justin Marks leading the charge. Meanwhile, the offense should be in good shape despite the departures of several key players. Third baseman Chris Dominguez is expected to show more consistency, while Mississippi transfer Andrew Clark should be an immediate contributor After finishing fifth place last season, South Florida is expected to make another push forward. Additionally, Notre Dame should be vastly improved in Dave Schrage's second season Rutgers is another team to watch. The Scarlet Knights must replace offensive contributors Dave Williams, Todd Frazier and Ryan Hill. However, they welcome back first baseman Tom Edwards and pitcher Casey Gaynor.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.