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Previewing the Big East Conference

College basketball season is here!

Media Day signage/ scoreboard
Media Day signage/ scoreboard
Wendell Cruz

In a year with no coaching changes, the Big East won’t be filled with stylistic surprises. The league’s coaches are settled in, none are on the hot seat (though a rough year for Georgetown could start a conversation in the nation’s capital), and from top to bottom, there are exciting young players entering the league.

The conference has whatever validation it needed nationally after sending five teams to the NCAA Tournament last season with Villanova winning the championship.

Creighton has a chance to move into the top echelon of the league, but Georgetown’s talent should trigger a bounceback. Xavier and Villanova should be on top of the league.

The middle of the conference, however, is filled with question marks - from what Seton Hall will do after losing Isaiah Whitehead, to how Marquette will play without Henry Ellenson, to what Butler will do without Roosevelt Jones, to what Providence will do without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil.

And St. John’s and DePaul have a large hill to climb, though the Red Storm’s talent and balance will make them more competitive this year.

First, make your predictions.

Rumble Big East Preseason Poll

1. Villanova Wildcats

2. Xavier Musketeers

3. Georgetown Hoyas

4. Creighton Bluejays

5. Seton Hall Pirates

6. Marquette Golden Eagles

7. Butler Bulldogs

8. Providence Friars

9. St. John’s Red Storm

10. DePaul Blue Demons

Five Games To Watch

  1. Georgetown @ Marquette (12/28/16)
  2. Villanova @ Creighton (12/31/16)
  3. Xavier @ Villanova (1/10/17)
  4. Seton Hall @ Villanova (1/16/17)
  5. Seton Hall @ St. John’s (2/11/17)

Five Players To Watch

The big names in the Big East, players like Josh Hart, Trevon Bluiett, and Mo Watson get most of the love in the preseason chatter. Whether being named to All-American teams in Hart's case, or just the conference team like Bluiett and Watson, that is what people like to talk about, and deservedly so.

In order for teams like Xavier, Georgetown, Creighton, and the rest of the Big East to challenge Villanova for the Big East title, as well as receive at-large bids in March they will need under the radar guys to step up. Here in this piece we took our five favorites:

Jessie Govan, Georgetown

Every Big East fan, St. Johns fan, or just college basketball fan in general knows Georgetown was a major disappointment last year. In order for them to get back to there roots of good basketball they will need a lot of things (all possible things) to go right. Govan was a small bright spot as a freshman last year. As the #67 rated recruit out of high school, according to ESPN, Govan had high expectations. He averaged 6.8 PPG and 4.1 RPG and showed even greater potential on the offensive end. Defense is an issue that he will have to work on.

In terms of his role for the Hoyas, he won't be in the starting lineup on opening night. Starting center duties for now belong to senior Bradley Hayes. The key for Govan is to continue to develop into the star he can be, when that happens it will force Coach Thompson to increase his role.

To read more of Govan look to our friends at Casual Hoya.

Eli Cain, DePaul

Unlike DePaul themselves, Cain has high expectations going into his sophomore campaign. Senior Billy Garrett is the star of the Blue Demons once again but joining him in the backcourt will be the 6-6 sophomore Eli Cain. Cain's numbers last year (10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.8 apg) were very promising. He started 29 games last season and was selected to the Big East All-Freshman Team. He finished second in the Big East in 3-point percentage (.425) and showed big game ability with four games of 20 points plus.

Although DePaul is better than they were last year it still won't be a top half finish unless something special happens. It will have to start with backcourt mates Eli Cain and Billy Garrett making plays on the perimeter. It should be fun to watch them all season long.

Tyler Lewis, Butler

The only McDonalds All-American ever to attend Butler, Lewis' first active season with the Bulldogs was an adjustment period. He practiced with his teammates during his sit-out season back in 2014-2015, but needed last season to learn how to play with them. Although his role got smaller as the year progressed his 3.56 assist/turnover ratio led the team.

The expectations this year are much higher. No more Kellen Dunham or Roosevelt Jones to lean on, he has to lead himself. Coach Holtmann and the Hinkle faithful expect to see more of what made Lewis a McDonald's All-American and Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year in 2012 this season.

Traci Carter, Marquette

Marquette is a very interesting case in the Big East. They have four returning starters, the fourth starter in terms of people knowing is 6-0 sophomore Traci Carter. Carter took over the point guard duties last season and when he was on the court he knew how to pass the rock. His total assists converted to one every 5.2 minutes, projecting to nearly eight per 40 minutes, a great stat (Thanks Blue Ribbon!). His assist to turnover ratio was a splendid 2 to 1.

This year there is a big jump expected from Carter. As a freshmen his defense and his number were good but now his role is bound to increase. With Henry Ellenson gone the rest of the team needs to step up and Carter will be right in the middle of it.

Rashid Gaston, Xavier

Xavier is going to be really good this season. In order for them to be final four good they will need help up front. That is where Gaston, the Norfolk St. transfer needs to step up. The 6-9 senior averaged 15.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg in 2014-15 as a Spartan.

He sat out last season and therefore learned from playing against James Farr and Jalen Reynolds last year in practice. He will be starting from day one, Xavier has a soft schedule in the non conference for the most part which should help him ease into the system.

Xavier has a lot to replace upfront but Gaston's resumé shows he can be that guy to pick up the slack.

Other players to watch:

  1. Justin Patton, Creighton
  2. Kyron Cartwright, Providence
  3. Myles Powell, Seton Hall
  4. Richard Freudenberg, St. John’s
  5. Tre’Darius McCallum, DePaul

In graphics: returning...

Returning Minutes

Returning points, Big East
Norman Rose

Returning Points

Returning points, Big East
Norman Rose

Returning Rebounds

Returning rebounds, Big East
Norman Rose

Brief Outlook

Villanova Wildcats:

The Wildcats lose two key pieces from last year's championship team - the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu - but the Wildcats are capable of reloading around possible All-American Josh Hart and title game hero Kris Jenkins. The goal? To claim the league crown for the fourth consecutive year and win another National Championship. Sophomore guard (and former five-star recruit) Jalen Brunson should see an uptick in minutes as Villanova's primary option at the 1, and senior Darryl Reynolds will help anchor the frontcourt. Given the Wildcats' lack of depth at power forward and center (top-20 RSCI recruit Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible), expect them to roll out plenty of small-ball lineups, with Hart and promising sophomore Mikal Bridges playing multiple positions.

  • Jack

Xavier Musketeers:

After being unranked to start the season, the Musketeers rattled off 28 wins, reaching a high of #5 nationally in the AP poll. But the season ended with a thud in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Wisconsin.

This season should be as good if not better for Xavier. Returning is junior wing Trevon Bluiett, and veteran guards J.P. Macura and possibly Myles Davis. Talented sophomore point guard and projected first-round draft pick Edmond Sumner will be handed the keys to the offense for the second straight season, while Macura is expected to blossom into a leader. Rashid Gaston, a Norfolk State transfer, will need to fill big shoes in the paint for the team, the second-most prominent question mark.

The biggest story of the offseason for Coach Mack (other than his singing) was New Jersey native Myles Davis' suspension for incidents involving his ex-girlfriend that warranted a restraining order. They have a relatively light non-conference schedule (aside from trips to Waco and Boulder for games against Baylor and Colorado) which should soften the blow to start the season.

  • Jack & Norman

Creighton Bluejays

The best kind of NIT run is the one that involves players who will return the next year, hungry for more. Creighton rode 5’10” point guard Maurice Watson to 20 wins last season, which included wins over Butler, Xavier and Seton Hall along the way to the third round of the NIT. With most of the team’s regulars returning, and the addition of Kansas State scorer Marcus Foster, the Bluejays feel that they have a deep set of scoring options on the perimeter.

Meanwhile, returnee Cole Huff brings a stretch-four punch while highly-rated Justin Patton and Ronnie Harrell could be breakout factors in the front court. If everything breaks the right way, the team could be a force come March.

  • Norman

Georgetown Hoyas

The season started poorly with an 82-80 double overtime loss at home to Radford and didn't get much better from there, amid rumors of internal discord and bad defense. It ended with the first sub-.500 record in John Thompson III’s 12 seasons.

This season can only be better. L.J. Peak, Isaac Copeland, and Bradley Hayes return as starters. The graduate transfer from Robert Morris, Rodney Pryor, should be a productive if not star player for the Hoyas; the Hoyas also add Jonathan Mulmore to add a creative, attacking skill set to the backcourt that seeks to replace D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s scoring.

Their non-conference schedule will test the squad, as they play Syracuse, Maryland, and Oregon. Thompson is feeling his seat get warm in DC, and will hope for a return to the NCAA Tournament with their talent.

  • Jack

Seton Hall Pirates

Yes, Seton Hall lost Isaiah Whitehead to the NBA after the 25-win season. But Kevin Willard’s Pirates return a number of talented juniors to the team that surged late to win the Big east Tournament - taking out Creighton, Xavier and Villanova, which is probably the hardest gauntlet last year had to offer.

Can Khadeen Carrington and a dedication to team defense replace what Whitehead brought? The Pirates supplement Carrington’s scoring with freshman shooter Myles Powell, a strong inside game from Ismael Sanogo and Angel Delgado and in December, welcome quick point guard Jevon Thomas, originally from Rosedale, Queens.

The schedule has solid opportunities for strong wins over the likes of Iowa, South Carolina, California, Hawai’i, and Columbia - but those games also give a chance for a team to slip.

  • Norman

Butler Bulldogs

Last season, the Butler Bulldogs lost in the second round of the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Virginia after a double digit win over Texas Tech in the first round. Along the way to their 21 win season and fifth-place finish in the Big East, Butler’s defense fell from a top-10 defense in points allowed/ 100 minutes to 97th in the country.

With stars Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones gone, the Bulldogs will lean heavily on junior forward Kelan Martin, the reigning scoring leader of the Big East. If Butler hopes to improve on their performance last season he will need more help.

Transfer guard Kethan Savage and freshman Kamar Bladwin will be splitting playing time at guard over their best returning offensive playmaker, Tyler Lewis. Incoming freshman center Joey Brunk and returnee Nate Fowler will complement Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler Wideman up front for Chris Holtmann’s team.

The schedule against nonconference opponents will be more competitive for Butler as they have, Arizona and Indiana on their schedule, who are ranked number 11 and 12 respectively.

  • Akeem

Marquette Golden Eagles

In year three for head coach Steve Wojciechowski, the goal is to reach the NCAA Tournament. Despite 20 wins and a player picked in the NBA Draft lottery in Henry Ellenson, Marquette has now missed the tournament in three straight seasons.

The Golden Eagles have made a great leap from the 2014-2015 season after finishing with 13 wins overall, but now, Marquette must find a balanced offensive attack with a very unbalanced roster. The team has only two players (Luke Fischer and Matt Heldt) who are over 6’10. All other players are between the height ranges of 6’7”-5’10”.

The Golden Eagles may be a poor defensive team due to their lack of size on the inside, so to counter that weakness they must look to push the ball and create as many offensive possessions as possible for star returnee Haanif Cheatham, senior JaJuan Johnson, emerging point guard Traci Carter and transfers Katin Reinhardt and Andrew Rowsey.

  • Akeem

St. John’s Red Storm

See our season preview.

Providence Friars

Following a season in which they were eliminated from the NCAA tournament in the second round by the number one seed North Carolina, The Providence Friars will be looking to come back from losing their one-two punch in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. The two combined for more than 35 points per game and were picked in the first and second round, respectively, of the NBA Draft.

The Friars finished with a 23 wins on the season, and head coach Ed Cooley will be leaning heavily on juniors Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock for continuity. With the departure of Dunn and Bentil, they will be looked at as the leaders of this team.

The Friars do not have the most favorable schedule to begin the season as they will take on Ohio State, Iowa and Virginia. The Friars are also an extremely small team and should be looking to take advantage of their speed on the perimeter and will attempt to improve on their three-point shooting from last season.

Providence’s toughness will be tested in nonconference play, but will look to take advantage and take care of the teams in the Big East that they handled last season.

  • Akeem

DePaul Blue Demons

DePaul finished last season with nine wins, and lose much of their interior presence, after Tommy Hamilton was kicked off of the tea, and Myke Henry graduated. Can this team get better as Dave Leitao implements his style of play?

Senior point guard Billy Garrett is talented enough to carry the team for stretches, joined by electric sophomore scorer ELi Cain. Despite that returning talent, the questions will be up front, where walk-on Peter Ryckbosh is a hoped-for presence when he returns from injury, and the other true big man options are true freshmen.

Still, with tough junior college player Tre’Darius McCallum and some talented freshman guards, the hope is for incremental improvement.

  • Norman